On a soggy summer morning, we trundled down to the Attenborough Nature Reserve and caught up with Erin McDaid of the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. Sat in their cafe, in the middle of a flooded gravel pit, we chatted about what came first (the reserve or David Attenborough), beavers, and their sixtieth birthday…
Happy birthday! Can you give us a bit of a whistle-stop-tour of your history?
The Wildlife Trust’s movement is over a century old. In the late ‘50s, early ‘60s there was a real coming together of people across the country who were fed up with seeing really important habitats being lost. The Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust was formed in that busy period. The people in the county that were keen to see nature conserved all coalesced around the campaign to save what is now the Attenborough Nature Reserve.
This site had been a sand and gravel extraction site since the 1920s, and people liked the wetlands that had started to evolve from flooding these former pits, and didn’t want to see them being filled in. That local campaign led to the formation of the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, then in 1966, the reserve was opened by Sir David Attenborough, who wasn’t as well known at the time. A lot of people think the reserve is named after him, but it’s actually named after the village where he also takes his name from.
You’ve got several nature reserves under your care. How many are there, and what sort of work are you doing at them?
We’ve got over forty nature reserves across the county, ranging from small sites in the city like Woodthorpe Meadow, and small areas of traditional wildflower meadows, but then we’ve also got some larger areas of ancient woodland, particularly in the north of the county, like Rainworth Heath. Then we’ve got sites like Attenborough and Idle Valley where we’ve helped to shape new habitats - former industrial sites that are now real havens for nature and people who visit.
Could you tell us more about your Nextdoor Nature programme?
Many Wildlife Trusts are rural in their focus but Nottinghamshire has an urban focus. We have always believed that we should be protecting nature close to where people live. I’ve been at the Trust for thirty years now, and I was originally brought in exclusively to work in the city. We wanted to ensure that local people were aware of green spaces on their doorsteps and had the opportunity to visit and enjoy them.
So, with Nextdoor Nature, which is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we’re putting community at the heart of that work. Local communities know their patch better than anybody else, so what we’re trying to do is co-create and work with them to see what they want to do on their patch. We want to give a platform to people who haven’t had a voice about their local green spaces before. With the state of nature as it is today, everyone needs to be able to have a role in protecting their green spaces.
Your Keeping it Wild programme provides a great opportunity for thirteen to 25 year olds to be a part of conservation efforts in the city. How can they get involved?
We’ve always had programmes for young people. In the past they were very much about education, but over the last decade or so we’ve been shifting our focus to programmes that enable young people to take an active part in our work. Through the Keeping it Wild programme, young people have the opportunity to manage a couple of our nature reserves, and have more of a role in decision-making and planning for the future of those sites.
We’re now into our second cycle of having youth trustees, so we’re able to listen to the needs of young people and benefit from their experience, and make sure that they feel they have a voice. We’ve got about 120 young people getting involved, including our Young Rangers programme, which is more on the traditional volunteering side. So, it’s very much focused on inspiration, skill development, and ensuring that young people feel empowered to influence their local environment.
We want to highlight the young people that we’re working with, the people who sign petitions, the people that lobby their MPs
You’d expect that over the past sixty years there has been a large decline in the environment of the county - but we’d love to hear some good news! What can we be hopeful about?
One thing we can’t say is that over sixty years the threats to nature have declined. But hope is really important, and demonstrating the positive impact we can have on nature. Over the last few weeks we’ve had reports of the otter that’s been seen at Attenborough. Otters were extinct in the county by the 1970s, but their return is an example that we can get things right.
Another one that illustrates the importance of nature reserves is the dormouse. They were reintroduced into the county in 2007 - we worked very closely with the Nottinghamshire Dormouse group, who do the monitoring and habitat management. Over the last few years, it’s been really exciting to see how they’ve expanded beyond the woodlands where they were originally reintroduced.
Beavers are another species we’ve reintroduced to the county a couple of years ago. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about their habits and roles in the ecosystem - they’ve been missing from our landscape for about 300 years. But people understand now that they are a native creature and they do have a role. At our Idle Valley Reserve, we’re harnessing their habit of chewing willow, meaning they’re managing the landscape for us, opening up the areas for the birds and creating a much more diverse habitat for dragonflies and wading birds. They’re turning what was a homogeneous habitat into a more diverse one.
How do you hope to inspire people in Nottinghamshire to get involved with nature in the future?
This is a focus for our anniversary year - we want to highlight that the people who helped set up the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust were essentially local people who wanted to make a change. So, we want to focus on the people who made things happen, to show that you can make a difference, too. Sometimes people seem to think that there isn’t any hope or it’s not worth it, or that they can’t make a difference on their own, but we see people who are making a tangible difference.
We want to highlight the young people that we’re working with, the people who sign petitions, the people that lobby their MPs. There is a much greater awareness now, compared to when the trust was formed, of the value of nature to our lives. It’s not a niche, specialist interest anymore - we’re much more aware of how vital nature is. So, part of our role now is plugging into that awareness and turning that into increased action.
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