David North, Head of People and Wildlife at Norfolk Wildlife Trust explains about the work of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and the tools of conservation that they can utilise to protect and preserve Norfolk’s wildlife.
Conservation is undoubtedly a tricky business. So many issues to think about; from the declines of wildlife in our wider countryside, so graphically described in the recent State of Nature report, to making difficult decisions about how to encourage more visitors to our nature reserves while at the same time ensuring those same reserves remain wild, unspoilt and havens for rare wildlife. With limited resources of both money and staff (and volunteer!) time then it’s essential we use the best conservation tool to achieve real conservation successes. But what are those tools?
My list may not be comprehensive but these are some of the tools that Norfolk Wildlife Trust, with the support of our members, local businesses, charitable trusts and local communities, can and does put to good effect.
Land purchase: NWT is of course well recognised for its exceptional nature reserves. And as a tool of last resort there is a lot to be said for safeguarding sites through land purchase. But this option does not come cheap. With the support or our members and supporters we have just successfully purchased 143 acres at Pope’s Marsh adjacent to our first and best known nature reserve, Cley Marshes. The cost? Nearly one million pounds. There are huge conservation advantages of course to owning a site. It is perhaps the only way to ensure that land can be safeguarded permanently for nature and gives a measure of control that few other conservation tools can achieve. There are downsides though: once purchased there will be annual costs to managing and wardening these unique and special places – potentially for ever. And of course nature reserves, however wonderful, cannot be the answer to declines of wildlife in the wider countryside.
Campaigns: Another conservation tool is campaigning to bring about better protection for wildlife through changes in legislation or changes in policy on key conservation issues. A good example of this is our support for the Wildlife Trusts national Living Seas campaign which has recently resulted in the designation of the first Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in England.
Education work: The future of conservation depends on a well-informed public who understand the importance of nature and care personally about living in a world rich in wildlife. Our work with Norfolk schools and families may at first seem far removed from conservation on the ground but without a new generation of people who understand the value of the natural world then conservation has little future. Norfolk Wildlife Trust is at the forefront of working with children to provide opportunities for direct, outdoor experience of nature which we hope, at least for some, begin a lifetime’s interest.
Advice to landowners: Most of Norfolk is of course privately owned, whether as farmland, gardens or development land. Our conservation team, working in partnership with others, has identified more than 1,000 county wildlife sites (CWS) which are the very best sites for wildlife outside of SSSIs and formally protected nature reserves. Every year we offer free advice to the owners of these sites and seek to help owners value and manage these very special areas for wildlife. They are wildlife gems in the wider landscape helping wildlife flourish in the countryside and providing vital stepping stones linking nature reserves and SSSIs.
Planning Advice: Through our conservation officers, NWT keeps a watchful eye on proposed developments which might damage wildlife in Norfolk and by commenting on planning applications seeks to mitigate where possible impacts on wildlife. We can’t comment on every planning application but where developments are likely to impact on nature reserves, protected sites or County Wildlife Sites we will be a voice standing up for nature ensuring that proper regard is made to the presence of protected species and the need to protect wildlife habitats. With new housing schemes and road projects proposed in many areas of Norfolk and of course issues like quarrying and minerals extraction this tool will be an increasingly important one over the next few years.
Reintroductions: A tool which needs careful use and again is often a measure of last resort. NWT has played an active role in the reintroduction to sites of species ranging from pool frogs to silver-studded blue butterflies. For a small number of species which have low dispersal ability and depend on specialised habitats then reintroduction may be the only conservation tool that can bring these species back.
Living Landscapes: Landscape scale conservation is now increasingly recognised as crucial to delivering conservation that is sustainable in the long-term. It’s a tool to climate-proof our conservation work and give our wildlife the best chance of adapting to new climates and changed conditions. Not so much a tool as an idea it will (and is) changing the way we work putting increased emphasis on working with partners and thinking big to ensure that the needs of both wildlife and people get considered. We have recently begun a project, ‘Delivering Living Landscapes’, funded in part by Heritage Lottery Fund which will enable us to try out new ways of working with local communities to bring nature to the places where people live and work.
These are just some of the tools that a conservation organisation like NWT can make use of but only if our members and supporters continue to provide us with two more tools – funds and support – without which we can achieve very little. We may well need to develop new tools as new challenges come our way. The balance of which tools to use: site protection, campaigning for legislation, education, advocacy, or habitat management will vary with each issue we face. I wonder if there are tools out there that we are not currently using which could be commandeered for the conservation cause? Could we perhaps work more closely with artists, writers and poets to inspire more people to take action for nature? Or dare I say it, could we even pinch some tools from the advertising and marketing world to get our messages more effectively to new audiences in less traditional and more inspirational ways? Perhaps we need to be able to use the tools of economics to value nature more effectively and ensure the services it provides us for free – clean air, climate control, flood prevention, gene-pools, pollination services and more – do actually get factored into balance sheets when decisions are made about land use and development?
One thing I am sure of is that we need more people to be out there using some of my tools listed above. Which ones can you use to help nature? Perhaps we should be investing in training more people outside of conservation, whether in business or in retirement to pick up a conservation tool and get outside and start helping nature locally.
NWT can’t save nature on its own but with enough people’s support we can make some very big differences. Try some of these tools for yourself. They might just become habitat forming…
Bure Valley Living Landscape: Mike Page
Pope’s Marsh, Cley Marshes: Nicky Talbot