Author Tony Whitbread
As 2014 draws to a close it might be nice to look back and see what we've done over the past year. What was 2014 like and what were some of our major projects?
The Sussex Wildlife Trust carries out a wide range of work in many different areas so it is impossible to cover everything in a short blog. However, perhaps it is worth highlighting just a few projects – with apologies to all those I miss out!
Click here to see Sussex Wildlife Trust Projects in more detail
We will never achieve any nature conservation if people do not care for nature. So the starting point for all our work is to inspire, educate and motivate people about nature.
Our Wildlife Rangers and Youth Rangers are good examples of how we connect young people (from ages 12 to 25) with nature. In this programme they can get their hands dirty learning conservation skills and work as volunteers to help improve local green spaces. In a similar vein our Forest Schools programmes have been extremely valuable linking children with nature through bush craft type activities and at the very young end of the spectrum our Nature Tots events hope to spark a very early interest, maybe with mum or dad in tow as well.
Sussex Wildlife Trust Youth Rangers at work on the Craven Estate in Brighton
We work with local communities around Sussex, with the help of funding from a range of partners. The Gatwick Greenspace project had its 20th anniversary this year, a project that is only possible because of support form Local Authorities and Gatwick Airport. Our Access to Nature project, funded by BIG Lottery, enabled us to work with communities in Hastings and in Brighton & Hove, a funding stream that has sadly come to an end now. But support for a project in Worthing (Wild about Worthing) has enabled us to move forward there and a charitable trust has enabled us to link with communities in Lewes as well. In addition, projects with intriguing names like “Growing Forward”, “Nature Train” and “Wellbeing in the Wild” have all been supported by funds from unusual sources in order to engage with different groups of people. The key point in all these is the linking of people to nature, doing activities to enhance nature and in the process gaining all sorts of personal benefits.
We also have several large landscape-scale projects, improving nature further out in the wilds of Sussex.
Our West Weald Landscape project, part funded by a charitable trust, celebrated its 5th anniversary this year in a major event at Kew Gardens, Wakehurst. This is a significant lowland landscape partnership project aiming to connect ancient woodlands and habitats covering 24,000 hectares in the Sussex Weald. It is perhaps one of the most important areas in England for bats (and other species) and we have plotted significant population improvements as our work has progressed.
Starting off as a project with a focus on otters, our current wetlands projects aim to achieve habitat enhancements at a landscape scale. The Arun and Rother Connections project and the Sussex Flow Initiative are examples of how we are looking at whole river catchments in order to achieve improvements for nature. A recent change, however, has been an increasing recognition that if we improve a catchment for wildlife then it is also likely to improve it for all sorts of public benefits as well (flood risk reduction, soil erosion reduction, improved water resources and so on).
We may forget that about 50% of our wildlife (numbers of species) is actually under the sea. Our “Making Waves” project is therefore active in engaging with children to encourage them to find out about marine wildlife. Activities include “Wild Beach”, family seaside events and “Undersea Explorers”.
And I haven’t even mentioned nature reserves yet! Heathland restoration, conservation grazing, woodland management, wetland enhancement and so on. Major areas of activity with significant funding needs. But that’s another story! (Follow our nature reserves link to find out more)
I am very enthused by the range of work we do and the wildlife conservation activities we deliver but we must bear a sad truth in mind. The general trend for nature in England is downwards. We have many good specific examples of wildlife improvement but nature is under massive threat and is unfortunately on a long term decline. We can celebrate the work that SWT, and other wildlife charities, has done over 2014, but this is against a permanent need for us to do more. And, with the help of our members, supporters and partners, maybe we can redouble our efforts in 2015.