The Bigger Wildlife Issues (Part 3 - follows on from ‘Domestic Wildlife Questions’) In our conversation about wildlife, we moved on from domestic issues to what we will simply call Bigger Wildlife Issues.
RL: Something else I wanted to ask you about is the location of nature reserves or wildlife areas in the county. I look at the fortnightly list of events of EWT but there is never anything around this area. Grant: There will be. There’s the Belfairs appeal that you will have seen so you’ll have Belfairs, but because we can’t necessarily have nature reserves all over the place – we’d like to but as a wildlife charity we’re often constrained by resources and money etc. - but we do have two sites over in Canewdon and of course there is the Wallasea nature reserve run by the RSPB, but also we work very closely with Rochford District Council so you have Cherry Orchard Country Park. Now we are working in conjunction with Castle Point Council, Southend Council and Rochford Council to map out what we call the living landscapes of these areas, so you have a very big woodland living landscape that stems from Hockley Woods through to Grove Woods, incorporating bits of Cherry Orchard Country Park, and there are Gusted Hall Woods, and then that backs onto New England Wood and Lower Wyburn Woods. RL: OK, that’s woods, but here in Rochford we have the Roche which must be good for wildlife. Grant: In the Roche Valley, some of it is classed as what we call SSSI, that is Special Site of Scientific Interest, so some of it is highly protected by law anyway and if there are water voles and things like that on those sites, otters, and so on, any evidence of those types of species that are heavily protected, under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act any land is protected. We have a map of what we call local wildlife sites, a map of SSSI sites, and you can probably get that information off the web-site of Natural England (see http://www.naturalengland.org.uk and also http://magic.defra.gov.uk/ ) So any developer or any landowner has a duty of care under Planning Law, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act etc., to make sure that any development is sympathetic to those things . You often find that when people go to Planning for instance they have to have certain ecological surveys in place and EWT sometimes does those surveys. RL: It is quite a significant thing protecting this land, isn’t it. Grant: Oh yes. Unfortunately, as much as we look after lots of land, I think we’re up to 8800 acres of land now, that is still a very small percentage of Essex, so it is important for us to work with Local Authorities, farmers, the Forestry Commission and other conservation bodies and join up all of these pieces so that we can make sure that there are wildlife corridors. The wildlife trust movement is a hundred years old this year and it was the foresight of Lord Rothschild in 1912 to start mapping the areas of Britain that had the most beauty or most amount of wildlife, the sort of areas that we would not want to lose as part of our heritage, and if it hadn’t been for people like him a hundred years ago mapping that out then much of our beautiful places would have got grubbed up for either food or wood or whatever we needed in the two wars, for instance, so it took the foresight. RL: And you do that too, mapping our important areas? Grant: Yes, we’re the same really, we’re constantly looking for new areas. At the moment we haven’t got many nature reserves in the north west of Essex, so it would be great for us if an organisation or rich individual came along with a passion for creating a nature reserve or buying up some existing land round there that had some already great wildlife interest, to start something in that area, but we need a catalyst to do that . We would like to have a big nature reserve in north west of the county because it is one area where they haven’t really got much, but we don’t have the resources to go out and buy several thousand acres and also it’s intensively farmed over there, so you need something to come up. It’s like this land fill site over at Mucking that we’re just in the process of turning into the Thurrock and Thameside Nature Park. The visitor centre opened on the 1st July this year and the official opening is 15th September. It is open to the public every day except Mondays, I think 9 to 5. We recommend that you go on to our web-site or find out the address because it is not that easy to find at the moment because the main entrance that we will have is still being used by the Contractors. RL: You recently had, a bit closer to home, an appeal for Belfairs didn’t you? Grant: Yes, the Belfairs Woodlands Resource Centre will be opening in 2013. We’ve just successfully raised over £50,000 as part of the match funding. We got the £855,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, so all of the funds are in place to build that Centre. The appeal exceeded the fifty thousand pounds that we were after, which was fantastic. RL: You are continually seeking to develop wildlife concerns in respect of land? Grant: Yes. We rely upon the public’s eyes and ears and if there is anything happening to land in general we’re happy for people to ring us up and say, do you know this is happening. We can’t be everywhere. We do monitor all the planning applications that go into the local authorities but you can imagine across the County there are thousands. The sad thing recently, is that by stopping out-of-town developments we’ve been encouraging developments of brown-field sites which are often larger houses which are knocked down to build flats, and as far as wildlife is concerned, those larger houses invariably had large gardens and they were quite well established and wildlife has adapted to those. Now, suddenly those gardens are completely flattened and flats are put on with virtually no garden, or what garden they do provide is so heavily landscaped there is no wildlife element to it. RL: But what can you do about that? Grant: What we need to do is get developers thinking differently. We get developers who will build small gardens but they invariably build them as walled gardens or with fences that have gravel boards, and suddenly you are crating barriers to wildlife, and very few species can get over or under such walls or fences. You are immediately stopping wildlife corridors and what we find is badger setts being fragmented or isolated. We have to get planners, developers and ourselves around a table and work out ways in which wildlife can thrive, because if we don’t we’re just setting up a very sterile environment for the next generation. It will be sad when we lose the wildlife that we take for granted around us. You might not necessarily appreciate it but it is around you all the time. Even if it’s just taking your dog for a walk in the park, you re walking in the wildlife, so you don’t actually have to know about all the species that you can’t see, but it is all part of what we call bio-diversity, and that’s why we try and get as many people interested as possible. RL: Do you do much with Schools Grant: Yes, we’ve helped a number of schools across the County, and in Rochford. At one school in the area they have put in, not just a wildlife pond but also an outdoor classroom which has a green roof, and the sides of the building are big ladybird houses but not just for ladybirds of course. They also have a viewing area where they can have binoculars and look at birds, and they have bird feeders. The pond itself has decking around it so they can do pond dipping. If you don’t capture the imagination of a child about the countryside and outdoors and wildlife then as adults they’re unlikely to be interested. If you don’t get them at a young age, getting outside, running round, and getting dirty, what we’ll end up with is a whole generation that just sits in front of the X-Box and doesn’t appreciate the outdoors at all. It’s vital for kids and that’s why we spend so much time working with kids. RL: How far can you go with this? Grant: We work with a lot of local authorities because there are a lot of them who just cut the verges thoughtlessly and there are lots of wild species of plant that used to exist in meadows but, as we don’t have many meadows now, they exist on grass verges, things like wild orchids, so what we try and do is get people who spot these plants to let local authorities know. There’s nothing wrong with cutting the verges but instead of cutting them before the species starts growing, let it grow and seed and then cut it. Thus you’ll end up with a better, colourful verge for future years. It’s the same with cutting hedgerows. Sometimes you get these big flailing cutters and they do it in the Spring and they massacre these hedges at the time when everything is trying to nest there. RL: That’s worth thinking about. Grant: Yes, it is. A lot of people volunteer for Essex Wildlife Trust and they want to do all their voluntary work between the months of May and August because the nights are shorter, it’s warmer and it’s pleasant and so on. Then they are quite surprised when we turn round and say actually we have no need for that type of labour at the moment. We might need some work around Visitor’s Centres say, like painting, or we might need to put in some fencing, but general cutting back and clearing, and cleaning out ponds, and all sorts of jobs like that out of doors, we don’t need to do that in May to August. So we say to people, ideally we’d like you to volunteer between October and February. It’s not us being awkward, it’s just the best time to do a lot of our work is during the Autumn and Winter months. RL: Well, OK, we’ve covered a lot in our time together. Grant, thank you for sharing so much. It’s been really good. Top of page Return to Part 2 - Domestic Wildlife Questions Return to Part 1 - Investors in Wildlife