Celebration as main landscape-scale nature restoration challenge in Kent will get £1.9M money enhance

Celebration as major landscape-scale nature restoration project in Kent gets £1.9M cash boost. The Government has today announced that the Seasalter Levels, Blean Woods and Wraik Hill Local Nature Reserve will receive £1,884,900 from the Green Recovery Challenge Fund.

The funds have been awarded to a partnership led by RSPB in partnership with Kent Wildlife Trust and Canterbury City Council and will be used to restore nature at a significant landscape scale over all three connected sites.

The Green Recovery Challenge Fund is a short-term competitive fund to kick-start environmental renewal whilst creating and retaining a range of jobs. The aim of the fund is to support projects that are ready to deliver and focus on nature restoration, nature-based solutions and connecting people with nature, delivering against the goals of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, whilst helping to sustain and build capacity in the sector.

Nightingale, copyright Glyn Sellors, from the surfbirds galleries

Seasalter Levels 

Large parts of Seasalter Levels, to the west of Whitstable, have been suffered from a lack of appropriate management for decades. Since 2007, the Seasalter Partnership, including RSPB, Natural England, Canterbury City Council, Environment Agency and Swale Borough Council, has worked hard to gain control of the site and develop a nature reserve that benefits wildlife and local people.

However, whilst the area managed for wildlife has increased since 2007, a large part remains in poor condition. This funding will enable the partnership to deliver large scale restoration of 228ha of wetland and finish the job.  This will be done by installing new wetland features, including banks, sluices and pools, and by introducing grazing by cattle. When complete this will transform Seasalter into a wetland nature reserve for many rare bird species such as lapwing, redshank and curlew plus other wildlife, such as water voles, the shrill carder bee and rare dragonflies.

Blean Woods 

Blean Woods, managed by a partnership that includes the RSPB, Kent Wildlife Trust, Natural England and the Woodland Trust, is one of the most extensive and important woodland landscapes in England. Its broad stretch is around 4000ha. It is a stronghold for specialist woodland birds that are under threat and holds the largest population of one of the UK’s rarest butterflies, the heath fritillary.

However, the site is beginning to come under pressure from climate change, particularly an increase in dry, warm summers in Southern England. These changes will have a big impact on the wetter parts of Blean Woods, which will reduce its value for insects; this in turn will have a knock on effect for many woodland birds.

This project will build on the RSPB’s experiences at experimental sites in Suffolk and Gloucestershire and will prevent the loss of water that leaves woodland dry in most years. Using the new funds, the RSPB and Kent Wildlife Trust will install features that will reduce the loss of water from the woodland, including the installation of earth dams and working with local people to build and install natural dams using woodland products.  These actions will slow water loss and increase soil moisture and renovate rare ancient bog habitat. The partnership will also selectively open tree cover and introduce grazing to increase the mix of different habitats in these new wet woodland areas.

Wraik Hill Local Nature Reserve 

Wraik Hill Local Nature Reserve, which is managed by Canterbury City Council in partnership with Kent Wildlife Trust, is a valuable green corridor and wildlife site providing a direct link between Seasalter and the Blean. The individual landholdings have been acquired by Canterbury City Council over the past 30 years to create the reserve which is comprised of scrub, ponds and species-rich grassland, a rare habitat combination in Kent.  The site benefits from a Kent Wildlife Trust Canterbury Area Warden.  The site requires new fences, pond clearance, accessibility improvements, interpretation and scrub removal to reach its full potential. It already holds significant interest with species such as nightingale and green-winged orchids found there.

Connecting People and Nature 

The funding will also be used to connect more people to nature through improving visitor access. This will include new access gates and interpretation at Wraik Hill and new bridges in the Blean to allow people to cross streams.  It will also create a diverse task force of over 150 local volunteers and 4.5 FTE new paid jobs. In particular, the project will encourage participation from young people and those from BAME backgrounds, of whom there are a higher representation in the local population than in the wider county.

Alan Johnson, RSPB Area Manager, Kent & Essex, said: “We are all absolutely delighted to have received this funding and with it be able to restore nature across a large part of north Kent. It is these landscape scale projects that are crucial if we are going to deliver the UK’s ambitions for 30% of land protected by 2030. We are also delighted that we will be able to give more people from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to both get involved with the work and enjoy the results.”

Cllr Ashley Clark, Canterbury City Council’s Lead Councillor for Open Spaces, said: “While most of us are constantly reminded of the continual encroachment of development, it is most reassuring that we are able to both protect and enhance extensive tracts of land as wildlife havens and pools of diversity. As we have witnessed in both lockdowns, close contact with the natural world is vital to our physical and mental wellbeing and if we look after nature it, in turn, will look after us. This is absolutely splendid news and we commend our lead officer Anna Stevens and the RSPB for their diligence and determination especially as grants like this are subject to enormous competition.”

Chloe Sadler, Head of Wilder Landscapes at Kent Wildlife Trust, said: “We are delighted by the news that this project has been successful in securing investment from the Green Recovery Challenge Fund. This funding will enable transformative action to restore nature and enhance climate resilience across two of Kent’s iconic landscapes and an important ecological corridor between. It will also prove hugely valuable in strengthening the connection of local communities with their local wild spaces, and by cementing partnerships working collectively to deliver meaningful nature-based solutions to the nature and climate crises, such as through Wilder Blean.”

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