Saturday, 16 June 2007

Accolades and Brick-bats

Family Fun Day was the highest point of our year to date. It was so rewarding to see almost 600 people enjoying a brilliant day out in the country without having to part with wads of money. Over 70 volunteers pulled out all the stops to make the day work and I'm sure it was very worthwhile. It's not about money, or even publicity; what we try to do is to give a lot of young people a "taster", just a little experience of how important our natural environment is to us, so that, when their turn comes, they will fight to preserve it like we do. We hope to form a nature club for young people as a result of the interest raised on the day.

Our neighbours, Bardon Aggregates, put on a terrific display at the works, where youngsters could hunt for fossils or explore the monster trucks that the big boys play with on week-days. On Friday, I was lucky enough to be invited to Rutland Water for an award ceremony where Bardons took two important trophies away. They won the British Trust for Ornithology Challenge for the highest number of bird species on site, and for their wider conservation effort at Paxton. Well done Bardons.

By contrast, last week I reached the level of minor-celeb after a rather negative (but amusing) letter in the Town Crier concerning the Great Meadow project. I see there is another this week. I would like to go on record as saying that I think the project is going brilliantly and the results speak for themselves.

There is a widespread misconseption regarding the goals of nature conservation in the UK, particularly over what is meant by ther word "natural".

There is only one "natural" terrestrial site in the UK. Wistman's Wood on Dartmoor is a tiny, dwarf forest where the ancient trees struggle to grow higher than a man through lack of soil and through exposure to the elements. The trees, mosses and ferns grow in a granite boulder-field where the sheep have no access. Go there; it's brilliant.

The rest of us have to conserve man-made habitats. Meadows were created by Bronze Age farmers who started to cut hay and graze animals. Most of the beautiful flowers we see in our arable fields were imported by man in pots of grain from the Mediterranean. At Paxton we have a post-industrial landscape where we have to make choices about what we can achieve for nature. Our targets are set by European, National, Regional and County Biodiversity Strategies for habitats and species conservation. (These are all on the web, by the way.) In turn, these feed in to our policies and to the reserve management plan.

It's important to understand that we don't just get up in the morning and decide to make a meadow, hedge a field or create a wood. Its a pre-meditated, thoughtful, group-effort based on good advice.

The rural landscape I remember from the 1950s had not changed dramatically for several hundred years. This stability was important for so many species of plants, insects, reptiles, amphibians birds and mammals that depended on farmland habitats. My childhood was full of plovers, lizards, and wild trout. In recent years rapid change has led to the severe decline of once-common farmland species like corn buntings, yellowhammers, skylarks, turtle doves, partridges, harvest mice and many more. These are the very species that we are trying to help in the Great Meadow. Support us please.

Jim Stevenson. (Name and adress not withheld.)