Herefordshire People: Protecting Rare Habitats

PUBLISHED: 15:59 09 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:18 20 February 2013

Sixty years after the first Act of Parliament was introduced to conserve our finest landscapes, we not only have National Parks and National Trails but a whole raft of protected sites including National Nature Reserves, Sites of Special Scientific...

The Moccas beetle is only found on a few particular trees, on one reserve at Moccas Park, close to the River Wye in the south of the county, and nowhere else in the UK. There are between 700 and 800 ancient trees here, and the area is a very special site for fungi, insects, flora and fauna. It is one of the top deadwood habitats in the country and its famous resident is at particular risk. "Beetles can't move on if the climate gets warmer," says Tim Coleshaw NNR Project Manager, "so it's vital that we protect them here where they have always lived. It is

increasingly important for us to properly manage and protect such rare habitats." Yet according to research from Natural England a whole generation has lost contact with the natural environment around them, with our food and the agricultural industry that provides it. It showed that woodlands, countryside and parks have become 'out of bounds' to a generation of 'cotton wool kids', with under ten per cent playing there or being allowed to do so on their own. The research also showed that children love nature-based activities, such as pond dipping, climbing trees and playing conkers when they can take part and 81 per cent of children wanted more freedom to play outdoors. This year is the 60th anniversary of the first legislation to protect prized landscapes and habitats, and while some are too fragile to be explored by other than organised groups, Natural England is encouraging families to get their hands (and feet) wet and dirty, with a programme of wildlife and nature days on some of the more accessible sites. Three-year-old William Dargan is certainly no 'cotton wool kid'. With stout shoes, backpack, hat and suncream he's an old hand at this nature lark. William went with his dad Steve to an All Creatures Great and Small day at Aqualate Mere National Nature Reserve in Staffordshire, to do a bit of birdwatching, pond dipping and mammal hunting. "We moved back to the Midlands from Surrey", said Steve, "we knew we would never be able to afford a house of our own in the south east so we moved. Luckily the IT company I work for was just starting a work from home scheme, so William will grow up with this wonderful wealth of nature on the doorstep." Aqualate Mere is the largest natural lake in the region, thought to be an example of a kettle hole, a depression formed by the melting of a large mass of glacial ice. From inside the large hide, overlooking the vast expanse of natural water, William spotted a bearded tit, much prized by twitchers, while outside the Natural England team was busy organising a mammal hunt, bird box making and a badger walk. There are 222 National Nature Reserves in England, half of them managed by Natural England, and one of the most valuable is Britain's third largest raised bog. The Fenn's Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses NNR in Shropshire is a haven for young children from five upwards, with bog safaris, treasure trails and night walks, encouraging an interest in beetles, dragonflies, wetland birds and other bog creatures that flourish there. Joan Daniels, Senior Reserve Manager said: "It's the first time we have hosted so many activity days here and it's a

wonderful chance for kids to see and handle wildlife and, while having fun they realise how important bogs are not only for wildlife but also for helping to reduce global warming." The 1000 hectares site was torn apart by

commercial peat cutting for gardens, which not only destroyed habitats but contributed to flooding and carbon emissions (bogs store large quantities of carbon). The peatlands of England and Wales would absorb around 41,000 tonnes of carbon a year and their restoration and enhancement could save the equivalent of gas emissions from 84,000 family-sized cars. While the management of National Nature Reserves is helping our carbon emissions it's also helping to reconnect a generation of children, with their own natural environments close to home. Molly Griffin who is nine came all the way from Bath. "I had a brilliant day. I loved using the squidgy fat to make the bird cakes and making the bird box was amazing fun," she said. Natural England's team has set a target of getting a million children outdoors this year and the success of the summer programme will encourage them to carry on through the winter. And it's not just small children who are getting the bug. Stuart Edmunds from wants to become a reserve warden. He is volunteering on all the reserves in the area to get some experience. "I never thought it would be possible to see so much wildlife close to home and I am hoping to do an NVQ in wildlife management and work on a reserve."

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