State of Nature report inspires new Norfolk wildlife charity: The Felbeck Trust

Launch of new wildlife conservation charity, the Felbeck Trust, at Mallett's Meadows in Aylmerton. L

Launch of new wildlife conservation charity, the Felbeck Trust, at Mallett's Meadows in Aylmerton. Left to right, Jane Williams, Lee Delbridge, Phil Hall, Helen Dawson, Trevor Williams, Claire Parkinson. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

A new conservation charity has been launched in north Norfolk, inspired by a village community's determination to reverse the stark declines in wildlife highlighted by last year's State of Nature report.

Launch of new wildlife conservation charity, the Felbeck Trust, at Aylmerton. Claire Parkinson putti

Launch of new wildlife conservation charity, the Felbeck Trust, at Aylmerton. Claire Parkinson putting up a bat box. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

The findings of last summer's State of Nature report highlighted some alarming trends for anyone concerned about conservation.

Of the 8,000 species surveyed by more than 50 wildlife organisations, 56pc were in decline and one in 10 were considered at risk of disappearing from our countryside altogether.

But rather than idly mourning this potential loss, a north Norfolk community was inspired to take positive action.

The Felbeck Trust, a new conservation charity founded in direct response to the challenges outlined in the State of Nature report, was formally launched this week, aiming to restore and improve the Norfolk countryside for the benefit of wildlife, villagers and visitors.

Launch of new wildlife conservation charity, the Felbeck Trust, at Aylmerton. Helen Dawson pictured

Launch of new wildlife conservation charity, the Felbeck Trust, at Aylmerton. Helen Dawson pictured cutting back an overgrown area. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant


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The trust is already restoring and managing five acres of unimproved wet meadow at Mallett's Meadows in Aylmerton, near Cromer, and in January it also became responsible for habitat restoration on the former Sustead Common.

The charity intends to open those sites for public access, and is currently in discussions regarding other locations.

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Manpower and expertise is supplied from the trust's own dedicated volunteers, but also by building partnerships with a host of other local voluntary groups including the North East Norfolk Bird Club, Norfolk Rivers Trust, Norwich Men's Shed, and North Norfolk Workout Group.

Trevor Williams, the chairman of the trust, said the idea was to create pockets of improved habitats, creating vital stepping stones and corridors for nature, linking together larger conservation areas within a predominantly agricultural landscape

A bullfinch. Picture by Trevor Williams / Felbeck Trust

A bullfinch. Picture by Trevor Williams / Felbeck Trust - Credit: Trevor Williams

'Last summer, having been a 'passive worrier' for decades, I decided to act and, together with a small group of supporters, created Felbeck Trust,' he said.

'We are really lucky here in the village, because there is already a nucleus of people interested in doing something for wildlife. The charity is the mechanism for us to acquire leases on land and manage them for the purposes of wildlife conservation.

'We are not competing with the big wildlife groups. Far from it. Norfolk Wildlife Trust does a great job working on a 'living landscape' scale in places like Hickling and Cley, but there is still the opportunity to rescue small parcels of land for nature, and create these important corridors for wildlife.'

Mr Williams said there were many factors putting wildlife under pressure, with the intensification of agriculture being an important one in rural Norfolk.

A painted lady. Picture by Trevor Williams / Felbeck Trust

A painted lady. Picture by Trevor Williams / Felbeck Trust - Credit: Trevor Williams

'The British public wants quality food at cheap prices and the farmers' response was to increase production,' he said. 'It means more heavy machinery, pesticides and fertilisers. Over time, that has had a devastating effect on wildlife.

'We are in the middle of an agricultural heartland, but this is not an agenda of antagonism. Absolutely not. We recognise the pressures farmers are under. There is a lot to be done to make farming more environmentally friendly, but this is not us working against farmers. It is us working in collaboration with landowners and other organisations, and making sure everybody does their bit.

'If farmers are more environmentally friendly, and we provide these nature corridors and the big wildlife organisations work on living landscapes then all these things can work together.'

The charity's volunteers have been working on Mallett's Meadows since November, after striking a management agreement with the landowners, Robert and Brenda Mallett. Brambles have been cleared, nest boxes have been installed, and there are future plans to improve the flow of Scarrow Beck, a tributary of the Bure, and install a permissive path for public access.

A young tawny owl. Picture by Trevor Williams / Felbeck Trust

A young tawny owl. Picture by Trevor Williams / Felbeck Trust - Credit: Trevor Williams

Helen Dawson, trust secretary and chair of the fundraising committee, said: 'We need to raise funds for tools and equipment, and hardware like gates and the equipment needed for the footpaths.

'At Mallett's Meadows it will cost between £10,000 and £15,000 to do what we want to do. In the grand scheme of things, it is small beer. But it shows you can make a really decent impact on the environment for quite a small amount of money.

'We are doing it on a really small scale with low costs, but people are volunteering and the benefits are there for mental health and social inclusion – and the benefits for wildlife are huge for the amount of money we are spending.'

MONITORING THE EFFECTS

The impact of the Felbeck Trust's conservation efforts will be monitored and recorded to ensure the work is effective for wildlife.

Much of the regular monitoring at Mallett's Meadows will be carried out by the North East Norfolk Bird Club, one of the trust's partner organisations. Once a baseline has been established, annual reports will be produced.

Club member and keen birdwatcher Phil Hall, from Gresham, said he hoped to see existing species such as finches, owls, dragonflies and bees thriving, while encouraging the return of birds like song thrushes and willow warblers.

'It is all about creating the right habitats,' he said. 'Bullfinches are a target species but we are also looking at other finches, redpolls and siskins. We have got a very good population of all three owl species – barn owls, tawny owls and little owls.

'Our concern is the overall decline of biodiversity. It is not just birds. It encompasses the wildflower meadows and the old hedgerows that have been grubbed out and that is what we want to re-establish. There are also winter species like redwings and fieldfares. We want to get some fruit-bearing trees established in this area and get the Scarrow Beck cleared up and get a good flow back into it. It is so important. It is all about having the connectivity between these various habitats.

'The bird club is such an enthusiastic group and it dovetails into the trust. We have got people surveying on a regular basis for all the birds, bats and wildflowers we have got someone looking at the moths and butterflies.'

Trust chairman Trevor William said: 'There is no point being idealistic about this. What we need to do in this day and age is to monitor to make sure we are making a difference.'

FROM A CAREER INSIDE TO THE GREAT OUTDOORS

The driving force behind the Felbeck Trust nurtured his passion for the great outdoors while working inside some of the country's biggest prisons.

Former prison governor Trevor Williams worked at facilities including Whitemoor and Pentonville, before retiring in 2014 as operations director for the National Offender Management Service.

The 61-year-old, who lives in Aylmerton, said: 'I have had 60 years of constant enjoyment of nature, but my working life was spent inside. You would be surprised at how many people I have bumped into in prisons that have an interest in wildlife and the outdoors.

'The probation service is really good at making use of that through the Community Payback service. All of these things get connected.

'I used to keep a book of all the birds I saw on prison property. One of my favourite memories is of seeing a tawny owl roosting in a tree in the exercise yard at Pentonville. You can enjoy nature in any environment, even the most hostile environment.'

The trust is planning an event to coincide with national Nest Box Week on February 18, where visitors are invited to watch volunteers install nest boxes around Mallett's Meadows. The event starts from 10am at Aylmerton Village Hall.

For more information about the charity or to volunteer, click here.

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