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Thousands of people get closer to West Berkshire wildlife

Monday 2nd July 2018

Greenham Common Control TowerGreenham Common Control Tower by Adrian Wallington

A five-year project to connect local people with the beautiful landscapes of West Berkshire concluded last week with a celebration at the Greenham Control Tower on Greenham Common.

Linking the Landscape in West Berkshire is a partnership project run by the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust with West Berkshire Council, and supported with a £438,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The celebration event on 30 June was a big ‘thank you’ to the many volunteers, staff and partner organisations that took part in the project. Hilary Phillips, Community Engagement Manager with the Linking the Landscape in West Berkshire said: “It was wonderful to see so many people each of whom had played important roles in the project.

“Jacky Akam and her dedicated small team set it up and they really made a big difference for so many people, by connecting them with their local landscape in ways that could not have been achieved without the grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.”

One of the aims of the project was to inspire local people to make strong links with the beautiful and wildlife-rich landscape, and take an active part in protecting and enhancing it.

Over the five years more than 11,000 people of all ages, including families, children and teenagers, took part in more than 100 events and activities. These included: planting a Community Orchard at the Nature Discovery Centre and celebrating it with annual Wassail and Apple Days, the Big Nature Count and surveying wildlife on Greenham and Crookham Commons, Bowdown Woods and Thatcham Reedbeds as well as on privately-owned sites.

The Big Nature Count at the Nature Discovery Centre attracted more than 300 people including many families to take part in a citizen science project to count different species of moths, butterflies, small mammals and birds. Nearly 600 unique species new to the Wildlife Trust were recorded, during The Big Nature Count, including Daubenton’s bats.

Martin Woolner, one of the wildlife experts taking part in the survey, commented: “It was a quality introduction to the local wildlife, and we surely sowed the seeds of enthusiasm in some young minds.”

At Audrey’s Meadow nature reserve local residents from Greenham learnt how to scythe and then had the satisfaction of cutting the grass and making hay using a traditional wooden small baler. Dozens of teenagers have enjoyed active conservation work on the nature reserves, and several of them were awarded the John Muir Discovery Award.

Hundreds of people enjoyed the many guided walks on Greenham Common, some of them visiting for the first time since the Cold War fences were removed. One visitor remarked: “Our walks in future will be far richer than before, with our eyes open to the wildlife around us.”

Guests attending the project’s celebration on Saturday 30 June were treated to guided walks across Greenham Common to see the range of habitat management work that Wildlife Trust volunteers, trainees and staff have achieved during the project.

The Trust is analysing the results of many wildlife surveys, but already the conservation work on Greenham Common is showing benefits for the elusive nightjar, a rare summer migrant that nests on the ground. It is evident from annual monitoring that the numbers of birds and breeding pairs is increasing every year, with some spotted in places where they had not been found before. This is due to better habitat management and the use of seasonal wardens who help to steer visitors and their dogs away from the birds’ nests.

Twenty-three conservation trainees took part in the project completing wildlife surveys including for beetles and nightjars, assessing the quality of important woodland, wetland and heathland habitats, leading volunteer work parties and assisting with community events.

Although Linking the Landscape in West Berkshire has concluded, the Wildlife Trust’s work continues in the area with volunteers from the project becoming self-led with Key Volunteers taking important roles linking groups to the Trust, or teaming-up with regular work parties led by the reserves team looking after the wildlife habitats of the nature reserves, nature sessions for families and teenagers, and guided walks.