We can stop nature's decline - this is how we're doing it on the Isle of Wight

Peter Fellows
UNESCO has recognised the Isle of Wight as a Biosphere Reserve. Thanks in big part to The National Lottery, we are proving that nature and people can co-exist.

On 19 June 2019, England’s largest island was officially recognised as a Biosphere Reserve.

This is a global accolade placing the Isle of Wight alongside more than 600 other iconic landscapes across the world. They include Germany’s Black Forest, Mount Olympus in Greece, the Rocky Mountains in the United States and the Galapagos Islands.

 

Luccombe Down, Isle of Wight
Luccombe Down. Credit: John Brownscombe.

 

The Isle of Wight is only the third place in England and just the sixth area in the UK to be awarded such a status.

Put simply, becoming an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve means the Isle of Wight is now recognised as one of the best places in the world for the way people and nature coexist.

Helping people to help nature

Our celebrations come with a huge slice of gratitude to players of The National Lottery.

Over the past decade we have been supported not once but twice, with grants for the West Wight and East Wight Landscape Partnership schemes.

These have been all about enabling people to gain new skills and help to conserve and enhance the quality of the local landscape. We have also worked on improving the health and wellbeing of local communities.

 

Volunteers
Green Army of volunteers at Arreton Down. Credit: Claire Hector.

 

How are we doing this?

1. Involving young people

Our Wildbeach project is enabling young people to get up close to their local marine habitats. This could be exploring the Solent’s extensive eel grass meadows or coming face to face with a sea squirt or perhaps a wonderful snakelock anemone.

2. Apprenticeships and sustainable management

People working in woods
Woodland apprentices. Credit: Andy Toms.

 

National Lottery funding has helped eight young Woodland Apprentices develop sustainable management skills. Our woodlands are unique in the UK for supporting populations of red squirrel, dormice and Bechsteins Bat under one canopy.

It has given life to the cooperative of local woodland workers, the Isle of Wight Coppice Group, which promotes the sustainable economic management of the Island’s coppice woodlands and brings local coppice products to new markets.

3. Working with local landowners

We have worked with local landowners through our Catchment Sensitive Farming programme. This means we can advise on, encourage and influence the adoption of new methods of farming that help improve our air, soil and water.

4. Training

We offer training to people of all ages and abilities and from all walks of life to help us look after our chalk grasslands. This very special location contains the majority of the world’s population of Early gentian, a native UK flower.

5. Collecting memories

Headon Hill
Headon Hill. Credit: Liz Cooke

 

We are gathering the reminiscences of local farmers and maritime workers to learn about traditional skills and practices. Now we are pioneering the use of virtual assistant technologies to make these oral histories widely available.

6. Research

There is an innovative environment for research and development on the island. For example, we are bringing together artists, engineers and university students to design new bio-receptive building materials and coastal defence structures.

What does all this mean?

Well, what this all adds up to is that we are proving that nature and people can co-exist on the Isle of Wight and buck the national trend of wildlife decline.

King's Quay
King's Quay. Credit: John Brownscomb.

 

In spite of modern-day pressures brought about by the progress of human beings, nature continues to thrive here.

The Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and its partners will continue to encourage all islanders to take care of the environment for our children and grandchildren, as our parents and grandparents did in their turn.