The Wildlife Trusts face huge challenges during coronavirus

The Wildlife Trusts are dealing with unprecedented challenges caused by coronavirus.

Restoring nature in the UK – one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world – has become harder than ever during the pandemic. At the same time, people are seeking solace in nature to relieve the hardships caused by lockdown.

Many Trust staff are furloughed, and vital conservation work has had to be put on hold – leading to an explosion of invasive non-native species, deterioration of rare wildflower meadows, stalled wildlife reintroductions and potential loss of species such as dormice from some areas.

Here in the UK the natural world has co-evolved with humanity over thousands of years.  The majority of the species we cherish, such as bluebell woodlands, wild flower meadows full of butterflies and lakes with wintering wildfowl only support wildlife because they are managed by people, often using centuries’ old techniques.  And it’s this traditional management that is threatened by the coronavirus, for with conservationists and wildlife champions under lockdown restrictions much of this important management work will be unable to take place.

“The lockdown means that teams of dedicated volunteers are unable to work on nature reserves; small or remote reserves are too difficult to graze and our splendid hay meadows, such as Iffley Meadows in Oxford with its ionic snakes-head fritillary, may struggle to be cut for hay,” says Debbie Lewis, Reserves Ecology Manager at Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT).

BBOWT staff counting Snakeshead fritillaries at Iffley Meadows

“All of this means that competitive dominating plants such as bramble, dense grass and scrub will be left to their own devices, choking out specialist wild flowers.  This in turn will have knock on impacts on other species such as pollinators which may be short of nectar sources. 

“Right now it’s the bird breeding season, birds are looking for safe, secret, undisturbed places to nest and bring up their young.  Initially lockdown might seem to provide the ideal conditions, but with the glorious spring weather we have seen many people making the most of their ‘daily exercise’ and exploring nature reserves near and far.

“In fact on some of our sites footfall has dramatically increased; so while our streets and city centres might be quiet, the pressure on our special wild places has actually increased in recent weeks.  This threatens the very nature which brings so much joy and relief to people during this difficult time.”

“Lockdown also means that we are unable to monitor our wildlife.  National schemes which count butterflies and birds, important ‘wildlife health indicators’, have been cancelled for the year and closer to home the Trust’s volunteer surveyors have also become victim to the lockdown restrictions.  This all means we simply won’t know how our precious species are fairing during these challenging times.”

The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust is constantly reviewing the guidance about Covid-19 and is taking the necessary steps to protect the health and safety of members of the public and our volunteers and staff. 

Competitive dominating plants such as bramble, dense grass and scrub will be left to their own devices, choking out specialist wild flowers

Craig Bennett, CEO of The Wildlife Trusts, says:

“People are discovering that they want and need to connect to nature more than ever – they’re finding solace in nature, using our inspiration to help wildlife in their gardens and balconies and educating their children about the natural world. Local nature – in walking distance or a short bike ride from home –  is particularly important for peoples’ mental and physical health at this time.

“With the Environment, Agriculture and Fisheries Bills all now delayed, we have profound concerns about whether these critical pieces of legislation will become law – and enforcement bodies will be in place – before the Brexit transition period comes to end on December 31st.  The challenges faced by the natural environment have never been greater and we need both government and public support.”

Current issues that Wildlife Trusts are struggling to deal with include:

  • Management of rare and historic wildflower meadows – non-maintenance leads to deterioration and this will take time to repair
  • Absence of species protection, species monitoring and special wildlife surveys
  • Delay in legislation across governments – in England, for example, to the Environment, Agriculture and Fisheries Bills
  • Lack of habitat restoration so nature recovery stalls
  • Badger vaccination has stopped
  • Land advisory work stopped
  • No site visits to check planning applications – leading to possible swathe of knock-on effects once lockdown is lifted
  • No beach cleans will lead to pollution problems particularly for marine mammals
  • Gaps in marine data collection
  • Necessary cancellation of all public events and education and community sessions, preventing outreach into vulnerable communities and risk of an ever increasing disconnect between young people and the natural world
  • Flytipping, vandalism and theft on nature reserves
  • Illegal shooting of rare birds
  • Lack of management of invasive non-native species will now require a big effort once social distancing rules are relaxed

Debbie Lewis says:

“During these difficult times it’s important to remember that our natural world is here right now, all around us and it will still be here when coronavirus has run its course.  It sustains us, our bodies and our souls.  There is so much we as individuals can do to look after it, so that it thrives and in turn looks after us.  Now, just as much as ever, your wild world needs you. 

“A good place to start is looking after the nature in your garden.  Leave an area to go wild, rather than cutting the grass short.  Plant lots of nectar sources.  Dig a new wildlife pond; however small it can make an amazing positive difference to the sorts of animals that will call your garden home.”

For more ideas on what you can do and how you can engage your family in the wildlife on their doorstep go to bbowt.org.uk/newsletter-sign-up