WildEast nature movement celebrates its community wildlife heroes
- Credit: Jillian Macready
WildEast is celebrating some of the “exemplar pledgees” which it hopes will inspire even more nature-friendly communities and individuals to join this growing conservation movement.
A groundswell of community action for nature has been galvanised by East Anglia’s new conservation movement – and now it is hoped these wildlife heroes can inspire many more.
WildEast, which launched in June, has an ambition to return 20pc of the region to nature by 2050. To achieve that, it is asking everyone to pledge 20pc of their landscape to wildlife, whether it is a school, church yard, allotment, farm or their own back garden.
Hugh Somerleyton of the Somerleyton Estate, one of the founding trustees of WildEast, said: “In a nutshell, WildEast is about the democratisation of nature. Everyone has a stake, and every stake is as important as each other. Whether you’ve got 10,000 acres or a 10ft back yard, they are both equally important in terms of a shift of culture, because what is important is a person engaging with nature recovery, not the scale of what they are doing.”
WildEast has been inundated with early pledges, ranging from people pulling up paving stones in their gardens, to planting wildflower borders in their villages. Here is a selection of the “exemplar pledgees”, which the group hopes will inspire others to join the movement.
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• Warren School, Lowestoft
Warren School caters for children and young people with severe learning difficulties from the ages of three to 19. Tucked away in a quiet corner of the sports field, its much-loved wild patch provides an invaluable, and calming, space for learners throughout the week. The plot has a pond, orchard, and wildlife meadow that is left largely un-mown.
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Katie Foster has been teaching at the school for four years and said the space brings tremendous benefits. “Some of our more able learners understand the importance of biodiversity and really value it. At the less able end, it’s more of an experience that helps improve their emotional and physical wellbeing,” she said. “When children and young people spend more time outdoors, they appreciate it more, and understand the importance of preserving it for future generations.”
Pond dipping, apple bobbing, and habitat creation are among the activities learners engage in when visiting the patch, which they do on a weekly basis.
• Great Massingham Biodiversity Project
Great Massingham Biodiversity Project boasts a pond, wood, and a wildflower meadow that are all accessible by a footpath that snakes around the site. Visitors can read about the important work being done for biodiversity on one of the many information boards, and there is also disabled access and seating.
The mid-Norfolk project has been running for around 10 years on a site owned by the parish council. Volunteers from around the village help in its upkeep, with the local school also using the site as an educational resource. Varieties of bees, butterflies, and insects flock to the wildflower meadow, making it a huge summertime success. Native plants around the pond also make good nectar providers, and much of the flora and fauna identified by members of the community can be found on the project’s website.
“We’ve got log piles in the wood for invertebrates, different types of fungi, nest boxes for birds, and we’ve even got an owl box,” said project chairman Tim Baldwin. “It really has become a much-loved part of the community.”
• Bury Water Meadows Group
The Bury Water Meadows Group began in 2013, and now manages several sites along the rivers of the Lark and Linnet in Bury St Edmunds. Focusing on an area known locally as The Crankles and Ram Meadow, volunteers work on conservation and restoration projects both in the rivers and the water meadows that surround them.
Pastures full of wildflowers are mown in March and September, a process that allows seeds to drop and germinate for the following season. Keen to embrace traditional methods, some volunteers have even taken up using the scythe, choosing it over the more conventional petrol-driven mowers. Kingfishers patrol the town’s waterways, while rare water voles, egrets, and coots are also spotted by the eagle-eyed.
“The group has been hugely important to a large number of people,” said founding member Jillian Macready. “We have all realised that nature hasn’t been looked after that well, and we want to do something about it.”
• Tiffany Wallace, Roots and Shoots
Roots and Shoots is an initiative teaching children and young people across Norfolk about the importance of biodiversity. Tiffany Wallace from Norwich started the group as a service for young people who wanted to engage in conservation but found access difficult.
“I noticed that a lot of young people were anxious to do something about climate change and habitat loss, so I wanted to help them implement projects locally that would make a difference,” she said.
With a degree in environmental science and conservation and an MSc in genetics, Tiffany uses her scientific experience to offer practical advice in areas like project design, identification, and surveying. Roots and Shoots currently has members fostering hedgehogs, picking litter, and running a rewilding project at The Kings Head in Hethersett with owner Justin Harvey, manager Ben Woof, and the community. “Rather than constantly worrying about whether people in power will get on and save nature, we are just getting on and doing it ourselves,” said Tiffany.
• Risby Wildlife Friendly Village
The Wildlife Friendly Village in Risby, near Bury St Edmunds, started life in 2019 when local resident Sophie Flux approached her parish council to ask if they had any policy for biodiversity. On hearing that they didn’t, she went on to interview local residents, businesses and landowners, asking them what they were doing for wildlife, and how they might make space for nature in the future.
Armed with supportive testimonies, she was given the green light by the parish council to create wildlife areas around the village. Wildflowers now grace Risby’s greens, and can also be found on verges, bordering the village duck ponds, and on the recreation ground next to the village hall.
“Simply letting the grass grow has had an amazing effect on insect populations, which then also provide food for the birds,” said Sophie. A grant from West Suffolk District Council allowed packets of wild flowers seeds to be distributed to every resident. Suddenly front gardens across the village were awash with wild flowers, that hummed with insects.
• WildPatch, South Yare
Wild Patch was born from the belief that biodiversity thrives when a community comes together to make space for nature. “People were worried about the big national declines in biodiversity, and wanted to do their bit,” said Jake Zarins, a WildPatch member.
It all started in 2017 when a group of residents from the South Yare Valley decided to dedicate part of their gardens towards nature recovery. Sprouting from the South Yare Wildlife Group, WildPatch went on to create a series of factsheets for residents, with helpful tips on how to make their gardens greener. Bug hotels made up of piles of logs, natural ponds with native plants, and wildflower meadows of varying sizes suddenly began to spring up in gardens across the community.
Meanwhile, those lucky enough to have orchards left windfall apples as food for birds, with some verges also being intentionally left un-mown. Peregrine falcons, swallow-tailed butterflies, and rare orchids are just some of the flora and fauna now enjoyed by residents.
• Dingly Dell Pork
Matching sustainable farming practices with habitat creation has been a three-year project for Paul Hayward at Dingly Dell Pork in Butley, west Suffolk. At any one time, up to 50pc of the land earmarked for the farms pigs is sown with specialist pollinator mixes including clover and basilica, a particular favourite of bees.
“We have lost 97pc of our wildflower meadows since the 1930s, which means our bees and insects are experiencing massive declines,” he said. “Add intensive agriculture into the mix, and you have a perfect storm of biodiversity loss.” Rather than using all of his fields all of the time, Paul now uses half of them, half of the time, planting behind the animals as they rotate around the farm. It’s a process that boasts multiple benefits. From protecting against soil erosion to keeping nutrients in the soil, and providing habitat for a variety of insects, bees, and birds.
“If we keep saying: ‘Oh we’ll leave it, we’ll leave it’, there will be nothing left to save,” said Paul.