My Wild Winter

My Wild WinterDespite being the coldest and darkest time of the year, there’s a wonderland of wildlife experiences waiting to be had during the winter months – so wrap up your young ones in preparation for their wildest winter yet!

Grab your gloves, pull on your wellies and immerse yourselves in The Wildlife Trusts’ brrr-illiant route to spending time with nature this Christmas. My Wild Winter is an online wildlife and activity guide jam-packed with ideas and information, complemented by places to go and things to do. All will help families to explore nature and wild places, at home or on days out over the festive period. There’s also a reading list from which young readers can choose some great nature-inspired books – perfect for curling up in comfy chairs over Christmas.

Exploring nature at a young age can bring a lifetime of pleasure and winter offers a multitude of wildlife experiences to be had – build a shelter for yourself and a nest box for a bird, muck about with snow, ice and in the dark and identify wildlife from the tracks and signs they leave behind. Look out for deer, foxes, rabbits and different types of bird prints.

My Wild Winter activity guide is our free downloadable guide to wildlife, habitats and activities to look out for and try this winter. It includes:

Places to go
Our nature reserves are great places to visit all year round, with loads to see and do in winter. Try a frozen wetland for a chance to see secretive bitterns. Be amazed by flocks of winter waders at the coast. Explore a woodland under snow and look for fox and badger footprints. And don’t forget to stop at one of our cafés to warm up afterwards!

Things to do
The Wildlife Trusts across the UK run hundreds of events every year, from guided walks and talks to bat detecting, bird ringing and photography courses. There are also hundreds of regular children’s groups where young ones and families can try pond dipping, wild camping and much more! Browse our events calendar to find an activity taking place near you and explore our interactive map which contains more than 200 regular children’s groups across the UK.

Spotting sheets
Ducks, geese and swans all visit the UK in winter. Look out for large flocks of migratory geese, especially at the coast, and starling ‘murmurations’ where hundreds of birds swoop through the sky together before settling down to roost for the night. Tick off the wildlife you see this winter with our spotting sheets. They may help to identify different species or you may like to challenge yourself to find different kinds. There’s a wide choice to choose from here, including a special winter spotting sheet.

Activity sheets
Ever wanted to try plaster casting or discover animal tracks and signs? Need a bird feeder or nest box and would like to make your own? Fancy creating your own ice decorations? Try our easy-to-use guides for loads of winter nature activities here.

Help winter wildlife by making your own bird food and feeder – watch these great videos from nature nut Nick Baker and he’ll show you how.

Nick said: “On frosty mornings, wrap up warm – don thick socks and woolly hats – and head out on a bracing birdwatching walk. Bird movements can be seen pretty much anywhere we care to look in winter, from the nut feeder to the wild open estuaries. Winter can be bleak but it can also be beautiful and there’s something about the sharp sometimes biting air which is so invigorating! When you’re home, warm up with a hot chocolate, then bake a bird cake and watch the garden birds come to you. Prepare a feast and watch them flock in!

#wildwinterdays
Follow and share tips and inspiration on twitter and facebook using the hashtag #wildwinterdays.

Competition time
As part of My Wild Winter, The Wildlife Trusts are running a competition to win a break at Center Parcs. Everyone who takes action for wildlife between Fri 19 Dec and Sat 31 Jan 2015 – whether it’s making bird feeders, providing water for garden wildlife or putting up a nest box – could be in with a chance of winning the break, just by sharing a picture via facebook, twitter or instagram using #wildwintersdayscomp. Visit www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildwinterdays for details.

Please share this post

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Wild Youths

Youth Ranger in action

Youth Ranger in action

Author Tom Forward
Gatwick Greenspace Partnership Community Project Officer

What a year it has been for both our Wildlife Rangers (12-16s) and Youth Rangers (16-25s) groups! These great young people have been out there in all weathers and got hands-on in 20 different practical projects which reflect the ‘people & wildlife’ focus of our work. I won’t list everything we’ve done but to give you an idea…

  • Building a wildlife pond
  • Laying a hedge
  • Surveying for reptiles, small mammals, dragonflies & butterflies
  • Removing invasive species from woodlands
  • Clearing birch and willow scrub from heathland
  • Creating a woodland path way
  • Constructing wooden saw horses
  • Managing a Forest School site to make a safe and sustainable setting for our Nature Tots
  • Visiting school groups
  • Harvesting wild flower seeds to bring on in our wildlife garden and plant out in local school grounds
  • Using organic methods to grow fruit and vegetables
Examining the catch in a mammal trap

Examining the catch in a mammal trap

However, for me there were some stand out highlights and achievements this year to reflect on. Firstly, on a bright and chilly day in March the Youth Rangers set up base in one of the conservation areas belonging to Gatwick Airport and assisted the site ecologist Rachel Bicker with a small mammal survey. This involved checking longworth traps, processing any small mammals and constructing stands for selective live trapping of harvest mice. The Youth Rangers learnt how to set and check traps, and identify and record species (we caught bank vole, wood mouse, yellow-necked mouse and common shrew) while also gathering biometric data. Secondly, the Youth Rangers managed to plant an incredible 150m of native hedgerow in on a nature reserve in Capel in one session! An outstanding achievement!

We had fun with the Wildlife Rangers too and our final session of the summer holidays involved an evening firing up the earth ovens we had built to cook pitta pizzas, while enjoying using bat detectors to pick up common pipstrelles overhead and checking the Robinson’s MV trap to discover what moths were about.

Motivation to join our groups is varied whether it’s to gain valuable practical experience to enhance prospects of a career in conservation; complete volunteering or skills elements of Duke of Edinburgh awards; carrying out tool safety and habitat work to support Environment BTech studies in college; giving something back while in between jobs; or a placement as part of a university course, the young people we work with are gung-ho and not afraid of a bit of graft.

Our Wildlife Rangers meet up Fridays weekly during the school holidays squeezing in 12 sessions each year and the Youth Rangers meet Wednesdays weekly during term time for 35 sessions annually. Young people attend from across the Gatwick Greenspace project area and get stick into tasks at our base in Tilgate Park and at sites belonging to our partners too.

So here’s a BIG THANKS to all of you who joined in and worked really hard this year! I am already looking forward to 2015!

For more info on how to get involved please visit Youth Groups page at www.gatwickgreenspace.org.uk

Youth Rangers tree planting

Youth Rangers tree planting

Please share this post

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Major Projects in 2014

tree planting / Tom Forward

tree planting / Tom Forward

Author Tony Whitbread
Chief Executive

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.

Please share this post

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Catch-up on conservation at Gatwick Airport

Author Tom Simpson
Gatwick Greenspace Project Assistant People and Wildlife Officer

Last week Gatwick Airport was awarded the Wildlife Trusts Biodiversity Benchmark Award in recognition of the protection and enhancement of the airport’s landholdings for wildlife. Providing such services to Gatwick’s landholdings, some 72 acres, is no small task and a great deal of the hard graft has come from volunteers giving up their free time to come out and help.

Volunteers from the Mace Group show off their dead hedge

Volunteers from the Mace Group show off their dead hedge

As the temperature has steadily dropped over the last few months, bizarrely, the numbers of volunteers have steadily increased and Gatwick’s woodlands in particular have reaped the benefits of this conservation drive.

Upper Picketts in spring / Rachel Bicker)

Upper Picketts in spring / Rachel Bicker)

Upper Picketts Woods, located in the land to the east of the railway line, is a typical low weald woodland. The abundance of multi-stemmed hazel in the understory suggests coppicing has been practiced here for some time. This traditional technique of cutting Hazel and allowing it to re-grow produces a healthy crop of straight, strong and flexible poles, and diversifies the woodland structure to support a variety of wildlife – an all-round good practice.

With this in mind we recently set to work on a neglected coppice compartment. Over a three-week period from late October, our volunteers helped to manage a healthy woodland habitat by coppicing hazel stools, grading and sorting the usable poles (into hedging stakes and binders), and creating habitat piles from the left-over brash.

Using a drawknife to remove bark from hedging stakes, which may cause them to rot once in the ground.

Using a drawknife to remove bark from hedging stakes, which may cause them to rot once in the ground.

The Biodiversity Benchmark Award is a great way to round-off the year. It shows just how important the input from GAL and all of the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership’s volunteers has been. We’re all looking forward to building on Gatwick’s conservation credentials as we head into 2015.

Please share this post

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Money to burn! A road building bonanza marks the end of austerity?

burn

Photo credit: Images_of_Money / Foter / CC BY

Author Tony Whitbread
Chief Executive

£15 billion to spend on vanity roads projects around the country is a clear indication that the government has given up on any serious attempts to solve congestion.

Ignoring the evidence, and years of direct experience that shows how new roads create new traffic, government has decided to throw money we don’t have at environmentally destructive roads schemes. These will make congestion worse throughout the country – especially in Sussex with the A27 proposals.

Look out for the inevitable consequences. You may be able to speed around Arundel (having created a swathe of damage through ancient woodland and across the Arun valley), but the increased traffic will then simply stack up elsewhere. Imagine any part of Sussex where the traffic is already high. These will all become congested. Towns, cities, villages, country roads, even current main roads (think how busy the Washington roundabout is at present) will all get jammed with inevitable demands for yet more roads. More roads, more traffic and then demand for more roads. A familiar and circular treadmill that we’ve been around so many times before. There really is no excuse for anyone thinking that this will cure congestion.

It’s a huge waste of public money that could so much better be spent productively.

Cost-benefit analyses of these proposals, even when heavily loaded in favour of new roads, struggle to reach a two to one return on investment – and that’s with economic benefits exaggerated and environmental costs ignored. Compare that to investments that enhance nature (when economists bother to do the sums). When conservatively costing the benefits to people from improving the natural functioning of rivers, and the benefits to nature, we often find a return of 6:1. Environment Agency flood defence schemes are expected to achieve 8:1. A costing of the public benefits of the Forestry Commissions public forests returned about 20:1. International studies have shown that protected areas for nature return between 10:1 and 100:1 against investment.

£15 billion spent on roads will fail, wasting tax-payers money and cause economic loss rather than benefit. But even if take a glowingly optimistic return, it will struggle to deliver £30bn in public benefit. The same amount invested in nature, like for example in a public forest estate, could deliver £300bn in public benefit.

It happens frequently – governments give up on evidence and write themselves anecdotes to support what they wanted to do anyway. Eventually reality will raise its head and more sensible policies have to prevail. But that could be after another round of irreversible environmental damage and another cohort of angry business leaders annoyed at being hood-winked by false promises.

Please share this post

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Rampion Wind Farm

Author Olle Akesson
Marine Officer

Teeside Offshore Wind Farm / Howzey

Teeside Offshore Wind Farm / Howzey

E.On has announced the final plans for Rampion Wind Farm. 116 turbines, each one standing 142 meters tall, will generate 1,366Gwh each year. It’s enough to power 290,000 homes and replace 600,000 tonnes of CO2. To put those numbers into context there are roughly 114,500 homes in Brighton & Hove and it is equivalent to the CO2 emissions of 125,000 passenger cars for a year.

Even if opinions on wind farms vary, I think everyone can agree that clean energy is a good thing. But construction, especially of marine turbines, must be carried out with a great deal of care and consideration for the environment.

The cable routes must be carefully chosen to ensure that they don’t disrupt or destroy sensitive habitats. In particular there are rare chalk reefs on the coast of Brighton and if damaged these will never recover.

Most turbine foundations are hammered into the seabed using a method known as piling. This is an extremely loud process, exacerbated as sounds travels faster and further underwater. The developers will need to work in the appropriate season and use safeguards to ensure that sensitive species such as herring, seahorses and cetaceans are not harmed.

Once the site is operational there are other concerns. The foundations and pillars of the turbines create a new habitat and can be beneficial, acting like artificial reefs and sanctuaries for fish. But in some cases this new habitat is not aligned with the natural ecosystem and can alter the balance or facilitate invasive species.

The Sussex Wildlife Trust has been asked to take part in E.ON’s Rampion Offshore Wind Farm’s Environmental Project Liaison Group meetings. This gives us an opportunity to influence when and how work will be carried out so that environmental impacts can be avoided.

Wind farms have the potential to do a great deal of good but (and please excuse the pun) with great power comes great responsibility.

Please share this post

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Messing around on the river – with big logs and a digger!

Knepp Estate / Fran Southgate

Knepp Estate / Fran Southgate

Author Fran Southgate
Wetlands Officer

It has to be said that I am never more happy than when I can be found paddling around in streams. These days I tend to find myself working more with data streams than real ones, but recently I got a chance to truly mess about on the river.

With help from a willing gang of volunteers kitted out in chest waders and wellies, along with Andy Thomas of the Wild Trout Trust and Pete King from the Rivers Trust, we went to work on the river at the Knepp Estate in West Sussex. Last year a major river restoration project was completed by the Environment Agency, who helped to ‘unstraighten’ and ‘unstraight-jacket’ around eight km of historically engineered river channel. The river now has its wiggles back, but it still lacks the many of the natural features that a river needs to help support a healthy range of wildlife. The uniform river channel shape provides no real refuge for fish, birds, insects and plants. For example, when the river floods there are no areas where young fish can shelter, so instead they are often swept out to sea.

Kitted out with chainsaws, spades and mallets, we set about creating shallow areas, pools and riffles, stills and deeps, patches of vegetation and dead wood, and diverse water flow patterns, both fast and slow, all of which help to provide shade and shelter, breeding habitat and food for a range of species. We did this mainly by digging large pieces of living and dead wood into the banks and bed of the river, creating disturbances in the flow which in turn help to kick start natural processes such as the deposition of soils and gravels, the natural erosion of pools and the binding of riverbanks by tree roots.

By restoring the natural processes in the river – the ones that the erosional force of the water itself is the driver of – we can help the river to restore itself, which is a most satisfying feeling. When it comes to rivers, nature often knows best and it is human interference in the first place which has made many of them unhealthy and unnatural. Many thanks to all our volunteers who spent two days covered in mud and water. By next spring we should be able to see the full fruits of our labours, but even as we laid the brash mattress in the river, dragonflies were already depositing their eggs on it, so we have high hopes for the future of this particular patch of river.

The willing gang of volunteers

The willing gang of volunteers

www.knepp.co.uk

Please share this post

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Look Forward in Anger

Author Mike Russell
Senior Wildlife Advisor

Simon Barnes © Robert Beckinsale

Simon Barnes receiving the Charles and Miriam Rothschild medal © Robert Beckinsale

I’ve been so lucky for most of my working life, doing a job that I love involving what I’m interested in and passionate about; no-one could have a better job than me, no-one that is, except Simon Barnes.

Many of you will know Simon Barnes through his columns in conservation publications and books such as How to Be a Bad Birdwatcher, but for me he had the most perfect job, being the chief sports correspondent for The Times as well as writing extensively about wildlife; writing about football and wildlife, life doesn’t get any better than that! His role with The Times came to an end in July of this year but through his writing he continues to enthuse, stimulate, provoke thought and sometimes inspire rage about wildlife and what is happening to it.

This month, Simon was awarded the prestigious Charles and Miriam Rothschild medal by the Wildlife Trusts for inspiring so many for so long to the wonders of nature. This is what is so good about his writing, it comes from the perspective of someone whose love for wildlife and the environment comes from the heart. It is a passion that derives from what he sees around him and he is able commit that so eloquently to print. His knowledge is very comprehensive but he doesn’t write from the scientific perspective and that is why he resonates so profoundly with the general public.

As well as prompted by Simon’s receiving this award, I was also stimulated to put finger to keyboard by reading a very recent article by him in the November edition of British Wildlife on the long-term view for the conservation of wildlife in Britain. Again it is a thoroughly well thought out and well-written piece of prose based on the premise that wildlife is under more pressure than ever before, and that at best in the current political climate wildlife and conservation is irrelevant and at worse, it is actually seen as a hindrance to economic progress.

While praising the work of organisations such as the Wildlife Trusts, who work within the framework of trying to influence strategy at the highest levels as well as all the excellent work they do at the local level and through their educational work with many thousands of children across the UK. But we need another approach, something that the Trusts should not supply; people need to get angry. Angry at how our wildlife is becoming marginalised, angry that powerful lobby groups are trying to reverse hard fought legislation that have brought some species like birds of prey back from the brink, angry that designated wildlife sites are being lost to development. We need radicalism; as what happened back at Offham Down many years ago when locals marched back up the hill to put back the precious downland turf that had been ploughed up.

Simon’s view is that conservation has become too polite. If we want to see lapwings, once common birds, return to anything like their former numbers then we will have to get radical. We also need writers like Simon to keep on inspiring us, galvanising us to get out there and do something. I for one think there is no one more deserving recipient of the Rothschild Award than Simon Barnes.

Please share this post

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail