“Local” is the Word to Halt the Decline of Wildlife in the UK – BUT only with National Coordination

In order to stop wildlife loss we need to:

  1. Protect and extend existing sites of importance to wildlife
  2. Identify and protect new sites, which are seen as important components of the ecological network.
  3. Coordinate and increase wildlife recording, to create more distribution and trend data for species and so provide the evidence, which identifies the root causes of decline in biodiversity.
  4. Engage, educate and involve the 95% of the population that, at present, have no direct interest in wildlife and conservation.

At a time of cuts in staff and funding across the nation, it really is going to be a challenge to meet our 2020 biodiversity targets, but answers do lie within….

With this in mind, now lets explore the “local” principle in more detail.

Local Communities

I have started here, because this is the engine room that will drive us forward towards saving our wildlife.

Inside our Schools, Places of Worship and local neighbourhoods, there is a force which, if tapped into will really propel us swiftly towards our goals. The fuel is there, we just need it igniting.

A “Your Country Need You” style campaign, which goes into all schools, highlighting the state of nature and what can be done to help, if supported by TV broadcasts, would provide the torch in the engine room, to make it fire up into action.

Amazing organisations like “Natural Connections” in the South-west exist to support wildlife education outdoors, but still the vast majority of our children aren’t being led out as part of their early-years and Science time-tables.

Local Green Spaces (LGS’s)

Introduced under the 2011 Localism Act, and although not solely selected for wildlife value, LGS’s can be a point of first contact for the potential new converts to the love of nature.

A single notice board at the main entrance to an LGS can sign-post people of all ages to their local wildlife clubs and nature reserves, where they can learn more.

Links between LGS’s and local schools are easy to establish, and similar notices at local places of worship would also encourage participation, which would be echoed through the network of incredible Local Parish Groups that exists across the country.

Local Wildlife Sites (LWS’s)

I was amazed to discover that under the National Planning Policy Framework, there are 40,000 LWS’s tagged across England alone.

Nature Improvement Area funding may seem to be significant, but it is inevitable that embracing another 700,000 hectares of country will put new pressures on ranger services and biodiversity management, whilst already trying to improve biodiversity on their LNR’s and parks.

There is an army of volunteers just waiting in society to be encouraged to help, but we must engage and educate them first.

Local Reserves

With over 200 RSPB reserves and 2,300 Wildlife Trusts sites as an example, we are so lucky in the UK to have such a wide network of glorious places tailor-made to convert those with a basic interest, into avid wildlife enthusiasts, with the encouragement of wardens and their staff.

However funding is always stretched, since these sites rely on donations, entrance fees and memberships from the 5% of the population that are switched on to nature.

Just imagine if we just doubled the number of wildlife enthusiasts in the UK through engagement and participation? Imagine the impact that this would have on the levels of visitors, memberships and donations, and how this could be used to start new projects and acquisitions. Positive feedback – more producing more!!

Local Patches and Local Ecological Networks

I have placed these two together, purely because the “patch” watchers and wildlife “bloggers” spend so much time and energy recording nature in “wild Britain”, where there is no protection given to the “patch”, as a reserve or by designation.

So many “patchers” that cover parks or reserves report declines in species, within these protected areas because of what is happening in the surrounding countryside. It is the “guardians” of our unprotected land that will probably hold the key to solving the riddle, of what has caused such a dramatic decline in wildlife over the last 40 years

These volunteers do so much to help us see what is happening across these vital sites, within the local ecological network.

Local Wildlife Clubs and Societies

When I was 10, it was the West Midlands Bird Club that provided all that I needed, to understand and explore birding. Local reports, trips, details of reserves, keys to hides at sites that just grabbed you and dragged you into a magical world of nature through their splendour, and trips that brought people with similar interests together to share, have fun and learn.

I wish I had had greater access to dragonfly, mini-beast, botany and other wildlife groups to make me a rounder naturalist. They are more accessible now and we really need to promote them to our children at a local level. The State of Nature report has taught us that we must not focus just on the trendy areas of wildlife (Birds, Butterflies….). We desperately need more data to help understand what is happening in other areas of our ecosystems. Lets give every beast a chance, be they giant or mini!!

Local wildlife groups are the gateways that draw on the energy of youth and nurture our future recorders, experts and scientists.

Lets link these wonderful clubs and associations into school websites and on display boards within our green spaces. Every convert will be spreading the word, through their local communities - more positive feedback.

Local Experts, Local Recorders and Local Records Centres (LRC’s)

It’s great to have systems, where anyone can access a website and feed information into the wildlife records system, but it must be a nightmare to verify!!

By sign-posting school children and green space users to local wildlife clubs and societies, they are already heading towards their local recorders. The local recorders then have close relationships with local experts and the LRC’s, so that the quality of information is maintained as the volume of data expands.

Verification work is so much easier and faster, if it flows through the local network first on its way to the National Biodiversity Network. This allows local data platforms to serve local areas and meet their unique requirements (in terms of species, habitat, funding requirements etc..). LRC’s should be supported and properly funded as part of the nation’s commitment to biodiversity. To my mind they are a cornerstone of the UK’s biodiversity plans, simply because they are close to source records, and have a good knowledge of their part of the ecological network, working closely with the data providers.

David Attenborough didn’t spend this many years educating us all, only for us to create a cold monster that swallows up data from unknown individuals, clogging up the network with potentially duff data, and jamming the verification system in the process. We need high quality data and coordinated surveys to find answers. Nothing less will do.

If our existing system of verification, validation and data sharing is fine, then why are so many of our “patch” watchers reporting that internet based data platforms are producing lists for their sites that include species, which do not occur and in some cases, have never occurred there!!!…and these were mammals, not bryophytes!!!

The beauty of having the local recording network is that it forms a foundation that can efficiently support Local Nature Partnerships.

Local Nature Partnerships (LNP’s) and Local Wildlife Partnerships

This is the “glue” that will stick everything together. It will link the schools, places of worship, councils, neighbourhoods, local groups, clubs and associations, recorders, experts and LRC’s.

Local wildlife partnerships will have a massive role in supporting unprotected “patches” that contribute to the Local Ecological Network, and which potentially hold the key as to why our wildlife is vanishing. This would give massive support to our army of “patchers” and “bloggers”.

Setting up LNP’s was one of the commitments made in the Natural Environment White Paper 2011 and there are 48 across England. This is to be commended, but most people see local partnerships as covering a smaller area and there are many “wildlife partnerships” being set up on a more local level, to tackle local issues. This will go a long way towards supporting the national initiative, whilst providing accurate information and sign-posting to local communities.

Local Partnerships have a better understanding of local businesses, clubs, groups and recorders that could not so easily be achieved at County level. There are many shining examples of these partnerships already out there, and it will be great when every “patcher” and every school is connected to one for support and sharing. One major benefit that would arise from this is that sites would have coverage of more areas of wildlife, as enthusiasts from different areas of wildlife meet. More and more “blogs” will contain information about all aspects of nature, and with better site information, it will be easier to protect them.

Local Councils and Authorities

Nobody is better able to engage the public, than those that serve the public. This last two months has brought me closer to the officers that manage our green spaces and it has only served to reinforce the feeling that I have developed, whilst working with the council that control my local patch. I see commitment, passion and endeavour.

With LNR’s (1,500 of them), Country Parks and now responsibility for developing 40,000 LWS’s, our biodiversity officers and ranger services need help. Budgets are tight, staff have been lost and yet targets remain high. Failure will let Mother Nature down! No pressure there then!!

One answer lies within reach. Volunteers – thousands of them waiting to be engaged across the country, if only we can reach them and explain, at a local level the economic and social value of nature, in the ways explained above?

The second major aid is the coordination of surveys and recording, so that officers can evaluate their performance on biodiversity easily and accurately. As we engage the public, our experts will be needed to perform greater volumes of verification work. If every dataset can be used to create trend data, no resources will have been wasted. A quick review of old datasets may allow life to be breathed into them too.

Whilst local is the way to enhance records and embrace the nation, we also need national coordination and support, including:

-          Campaigns through schools that highlight the importance of wildlife and lead children of all ages  outdoors to explore and engage with wildlife.
-          Campaigns from central funding that provide information points in LNR’s LWS’s, LGS’s and  Country Parks that sign-post the public towards their local wildlife clubs and associations.
-          Coordination of surveys across the country, which are repeated to allow more trend data and  provide better evaluation tools at all levels.
-          Media coverage which will make the nation aware of the state of wildlife and explain the economic  and social value of nature to our country and its communities. This would compliment the school and  parks campaigns.
-          Removal of the “red tape” from the volunteering system, so that a new, vast army can rise and add  force and resource to the movements. They should be promoted as saviours, by their communities.

MMNN will help towards these goals.

MMNN will also help “patch” watchers raise the profile of their sites, and will give them more support by helping to establish local wildlife partnerships. “Patch” issues have already been taken up on behalf of MMNN members, and this power will increase as soon as we gain official recognition.

Declining species can be protected by sharing your information with those that can help to save them. All the effort and intimate knowledge gained by dedicated “guardians” on their patches will be used to help protect both the site and wildlife in general. It may well lead to future designations being given to your sites.

MMNN has a unique role in being able to influence both recording programs and public participation.

MMNN will help link sites of importance to wildlife with their local communities and local wildlife networks to create a caring protective force around them.

When MMNN has 500 members, we shall gain official recognition and commence fund-raising and educational activities. We now have 164 member sites, with a substantial uptake from councils – an amazing feet, given the network was only launched six weeks ago.

In any event data sharing and coordinated surveying is due to commence early in 2014.

Join the Moving Mountains Nature Network today.

Together, we really can make a difference. 

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