The helpings of Christmas pud were characteristically generous at my sister-in-law’s house just outside Stratford-upon-Avon, and the afternoon walk was a necessary physical recovery for the dog and I both. Getting outside for a walk – or ‘reconnecting with nature’ to use the modern-day jargon - is an important part of life for many of us, and could be so much more important for so many more, if only they were able to do it as easily as I did, when I slipped out of the backdoor and onto a footpath to local fields and the river beyond.
There is a now lot of evidence that ‘reconnecting with nature’ does us serious good – it lowers our blood pressure, clears our lungs, calms our spirit and our mind, and recharges our batteries. Our kids need it too – places to explore, to get dirty, let off steam, ride the bike, places to learn about themselves and their world. So we need safe green spaces to walk in, natural places to be quiet and watch wildlife, urban parks perhaps to be noisy and kick a ball.
Lottery funding has made a big difference to natural heritage projects, both big and small. To look at the extremes, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) gave just under £10,000 to the Severn Rivers Trust to run the Teme Rivers Communities project, a great example of ‘citizen science’ where local people learned to identify all sorts of different river flies – there’s more to midges and mayflies than you think!
With just a single letter change, a much larger scale project is the Tame Valley Wetlands Landscape, led by the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust but with lots of partners. The Tame Valley Wetlands are more urban than they sound, running from Tamworth in the north through to Coleshill in the south, and running right by the M42. The £2.5million HLF project is doing a range of powerful things, from restoring both natural and built heritage features, improving accessibility for local people, to providing training opportunities in both built heritage and nature conservation projects - the individual projects up and down the Tame Valley include both ambitious nature projects (bringing the booming bittern back to Middleton Lakes), and fantastic people schemes (such as Kingsbury Community Wetlands).
All of these projects have relied on HLF-funding to get them going, and they all deliver real benefits for nature, for people and for places. Looking after that river (or wetland, or canal, or heath, or wood, or park) is of course good for the wildlife, and particularly so when it’s outside the relatively few ‘nature reserves’. But it is also good for us, and for our children.
Here in the West Midlands we are blessed with a fantastic diversity of both cultural and natural heritage, and at HLF we look forward in 2015 to supporting lots more projects, from local community groups to national Trusts, who want our help to look after it.
Dr Tom Tew is a nature conservationist, currently Chief Executive of the Environment Bank, a private sector company that works with planning authorities, landowners and developers to deliver sustainable development that produces a net gain in wildlife.