In the third of our series of general election blog posts, Wildlife Engagement Officer Ben Devine discusses how wildlife can thrive in our local communities, bringing those communities closer together and demonstrating the value of the natural world around them. As Warwickshire Wildlife Trust‘s Hedgehog Improvement Area project gets underway, we’re putting those principles into action.
When we are asked to consider the best places for nature to thrive here in Britain, we tend to think about our iconic rolling countryside or wild rugged coastlines, with little to no thought spared for our towns and cities, which are often regarded as being unsuitable for wildlife altogether.
However, despite this commonly held view, we are now starting to understand the importance of the urban landscapes, not only for wildlife conservation, but also for the ecosystem services that they provide and the positive impact that they can have on our quality of life, health and general wellbeing.
With this in mind, it is becoming increasingly important that local people work together to protect and enhance urban greenspaces for the long-term benefit of their community and for the wildlife that calls their neighbourhood home. This is a message firmly implanted in Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s new grassroots community conservation project, the Solihull Hedgehog Improvement Area.
An underutilised resource?
Gardens can be excellent places for wildlife to thrive. In the UK we have around 16 million gardens which provide a considerable amount of ideal mixed habitat for all manner of plants, along with a host of different birds and mammals. Indeed it also appears that people are very enthusiastic about attracting wildlife to their gardens, with many of us taking to feeding garden birds and adopting more “wildlife friendly” gardening practices. However, despite these seemingly positive trends, there are a number of key challenges facing many of our iconic garden species, including the nation’s favourite species the hedgehog.
Urban landscapes are characterised by having greenspace patches that tend to be small, fragmented and isolated. Generally speaking, a lack of connectivity between these urban greenspaces means that hedgehog habitat is cut-off in many of our neighbourhoods. Therefore any attempt to conserve the species must “scale-up” from isolated gardens alone to form interconnected networks of hedgehog habitat with surrounding land.
As you can image this is no easy task and requires a co-ordinated approach that is driven at its heart by the local community itself. That is why this year we will be encouraging local residents in Solihull to enhance and connect their gardens and greenspaces for the benefit of hedgehogs, and in doing so together create the nation’s first dedicated hedgehog conservation area.
Communities can very often play an effective role in nature conservation and in the case of improving an urban area for hedgehogs, the support of local people is essential in order to create any meaningful change. However, before communities begin to cooperate and work together for the benefit of wildlife they must first value the nature on their doorstep. Community engagement is essential in this process but with particular species, including the hedgehog, more interactive and hands-on experiences can be utilised. Getting the community actively involved in conservation can ensure that local people feel more connected to nature, and can be crucial in furthering our scientific understanding of the species.
The Solihull Hedgehog Improvement Area incorporates a large-scale citizen science survey where local communities are empowered to audit their neighbourhoods for hedgehogs. There will also be wider community engagement events throughout the year which will raise awareness of the many issues facing the species in order to facilitate local people to take ownership of the cause, and rally together to celebrate and protect the wildlife found on their doorsteps.
If you’ve been inspired by Ben’s work then please cast your vote for nature by signing The Wildlife Trusts’ e-petition urging MPs to pledge their support for a Nature and Wellbeing Act. Follow the campaign on social media using #actfornature and inspire your friends and family to do their bit for nature too!
Remember to return to this blog next Thursday at 8pm for the next installment in our General Election series. Or click the “Follow” button on the right of this post to follow our blog and receive a notification whenever we post.