Looking back over Cheshire Wildlife Trust's 50 years - Part Three
As Cheshire Wildlife Trust celebrates its first 50 years, Tom Marshall considers what the next half century may hold, and a new approach that stretches far beyond the nature reserve boundary
For much of the Trust’s 50 year history, the focus has naturally been on securing those vital gems within the countryside which offer a refuge for wildlife, however in recent years that emphasis has changed dramatically.
While acquiring and maintaining nature reserves remains a cornerstone of the Trust’s work with more than 40 sites across the Cheshire region, the last ten years has seen a new perspective, as the Trust’s Richard Gardner says: ‘For some time now conservationists have been standing on the edge of nature reserves looking in, but now we’re turning around and looking out as well.’
This groundbreaking approach is what the Trust calls ‘A Living Landscape’. The concept is simple: it’s not much good creating and maintaining high quality habitats for wildlife within designated and protected sites, when as soon as species venture further, the wider environment becomes unwelcoming and even a barrier to wildlife trying to colonise new areas.
But how do you help everything from beetles to birds to move across a landscape that is largely unrecognisable to that of a century ago, or perhaps even the 1960s when the Trust began? This is where another change in attitudes comes in.
As we have attempted to twist the hand of natural processes along our rural arteries like rivers and streams, we’ve rarely had success, and sometimes caused irreversible damage.
A Living Landscape is about reversing that trend and using these habitats to our advantage: from creating new green spaces for people to enjoy, to cleaner water supplies and reducing flood risk to our industry and urban centres.
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Cheshire Wildlife Trust is achieving this by working with their neighbours alongside nature reserves and making the most of rural funding schemes which embrace positive change in the countryside.
Projects as simple as reinstating hedgerows, managing rivers without the need for hard engineering and using traditional cattle to graze riverside meadows are all contributing to allow our natural habitat corridors to flourish and in turn link up the pieces of that all-important habitat jigsaw.
And the successes are already happening. Lapwings, one of our most charismatic farmland birds with their sometimes clumsy-looking flight and electronic call are back in the wet meadows of the River Gowy, while new wetlands further along the river are providing a home for water voles and otters.
While restoring, re-creating and reconnecting habitats along river corridors is helping some of our more recognisable wildlife, a similar approach may also benefit species just a few centimetres across that many of us may have never seen.
We’ve all heard of Venus fly traps, but did you know that Cheshire has its own carnivorous plant in the shape of the sundew? This and other tiny plants are to be found in meres and mosses, the delicate floating green carpets that hang on in just a few special places in the region.
Delamere Forest still holds a vital network of these amazing habitats in miniature, where the airborne wildlife is just as small and fragile; dragonflies quartering their territories as they have done for millions of years, before the ice age created the meres and mosses they now call home.
But these pockets of habitat are naturally at risk from outside influences, and so the Trust is working with the Forestry Commission and all those involved in the wider Delamere landscape to secure their future, by carefully managing the forest and surrounding areas.
In turn it’s hoped that species like the white-faced darter – one of the UK’s rarest dragonflies, may soon return to old flight paths through Delamere Forest, where it was last seen more than a decade ago.
The continuing challenge
Alongside this holistic and practical approach to protecting our wildlife is the rather more formal pen and paper, as the Trust continues to scour dozens of development proposals every year to ensure wildlife is not overlooked as the region continues its commercial progress. Just like their first-ever meeting in 1962 however, the Trust regularly works with developers in pragmatic conversation and not in front of the bulldozers, thrashing out the best outcomes for both wildlife and people.
To maintain this unbiased approach, the Trust continues to be a proudly independent charity and like all Wildlife Trusts across the UK, acts as what is often the largest local representative voice for wildlife – and in the case of Cheshire with the backing of more than 12,000 others who feel the same.
Right now the mood is one of celebration. There’s a year of improvements across the Trust’s 500 hectare reserve network, more landowners keen to make their mark on a Living Landscape, the opening of a visitor centre at Wigg Island overlooking the Mersey, and visits from some of wildlife’s biggest names to kick-start a very special anniversary year.
Doing the best for wildlife and those who enjoy it will always remain at the heart of the Trust’s vision, and with thousands of people standing behind it, the Trust’s mandate is clearly there for the next half century.
The print version of this article appeared in the April 2012 issue of Cheshire Life
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