The Trust has been developing a number of landscape-scale nature conservation initiatives over the last few years, as have many other Wildlife Trusts. These are collectively known as Living Landscapes.
Living Landscapes represents a bold vision of restoring, recreating and reconnecting fragmented habitats to create a resilient and healthy environment, highly valued and accessible for people; full of wildlife and rich in opportunities for learning, health and well-being. This will require new thinking and fresh approaches.
A Living Landscape is not a scaled-up nature reserve, but a mosaic of nature reserves, farmland, amenity land and the built environment, maintained in such a way that both wildlife and people can flourish. The area must be able to function ecologically. For example, in a floodplain the river must be connected to its floodplain and not be separated by flood banks. Otherwise the floodplain will be dry and will not contain the rich wildlife that it should. This is all a tall order indeed in a crowded and intensively used land. It is therefore vital that support can be gained from the people who live, work and visit these areas and that the goals we set are long-term - it will not happen overnight.
The quality of land for wildlife has declined sharply almost everywhere in recent times. A few good places remain, but they are separated by land that wildlife finds it difficult to move through – its ‘permeability’ is low.
Permeability can be increased through changes in land management. Existing good habitats act as important reservoirs of wildlife which, given the chance, can move through more sympathetically managed land instead of being marooned on what are effectively islands in the landscape.
Many ecologists therefore advocate expanding and linking isolated habitats, thereby creating habitat networks to reverse the effects of fragmentation. Wildlife needs room to thrive and must have more opportunity to move across the countryside in order to adapt to whatever unpredictable conditions arise in the future.
The map shows the areas where the Trust is already developing Living Landscape schemes and projects.
The Trust works everywhere in Leicestershire and Rutland of course, but we are trying to focus resources particularly in Living Landscape scheme areas, so that we do not spread ourselves too thinly. Briefly, they can be described as follows:
The most important area for wildlife in Leicestershire, Charnwood Forest contains a high concentration of Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Local Wildlife Sites. These places have become increasingly isolated by activities such as hedge removal, ploughing of grasslands and development. The building of the M1 motorway in the 1950s effectively split the area into two.
The Trust is already a big landowner in Charnwood Forest, managing 800 acres of land as nature reserves. We need to link these together by working with neighbouring landowners and others, promoting government grant schemes, and perhaps even building wildlife bridges over the motorway.
The Charnwood Forest Living Landscape Project, in partnership with Aggregate Industries, aims to conserve and enhance the unique wildlife, geology and character of Charnwood Forest. Click here to find out more.
Soar and Wreake Valley
Restoring wildlife and wild places to the floodplains of the Soar and Wreake - two of the most signficant rivers in Leicestershire - is a priority for the Trust and encouraging progress has been made to date with this Living Landscape scheme. Our goal here is to enable the floodplain to function more naturally, which has huge benefits for nature and for people
The Trust has acquired over 350 acres of land on the Soar floodplain since 2004, offered advice to landowners and carried out extensive habitat restoration work, centred around Cossington Meadows nature reserve. This large nature reserve is managed lightly to create a mosaic of rough grassland, wet woodland, scrub and pools of water, using hardy native breeds. The emphasis is on allowing natural processes to shape the site as much as possible.
Since 2008 we have surveyed a large part of the floodplain from Sharnford in the south to Lockington in the north and provided habitat management advice to around thirty landowners. In 2011-12 we surveyed the River Soar through Leicester and its associated green spaces such as Aylestone Meadows. This survey showed that the river corridor is of enormous value for wildlife as it forms a vital link with the river valley to the north and south of the city, facilitating species movement between fragmented habitats within and beyond the urban area.
Click here to download a copy of Rewilding the Soar Valley - a leaflet the Trust has published describing this scheme in more detail .
The National Forest
Charnwood Forest and The National Forest overlap, but the latter also includes much of north west Leicestershire. The Trust has been a supportive partner since The National Forest was launched in the early 1990s to create a new wooded landscape across 200 square miles of central England.
The Trust has purchased three new nature reserves in The National Forest area and is working with staff at The National Forest Company to try and deal with issues such as developing better habitat networks.
Straddling the boundary between Leicestershire and Rutland, this former Medieval hunting forest contains numerous ancient woodlands (some managed by the Trust) that have become increasingly isolated from one another through activities such as hedgerow removal. The Trust has successfully lobbied for Forestry Commission funding to assist the creation of new woodlands to link the old ones together, but much more needs to be done.
This huge man-made reservoir contains Rutland Water Nature Reserve - the Trust’s largest nature reserve. The Trust is already working outside of the reserve to enhance other wildlife habitats, but ultimately we also need to address the river catchment that feeds the reservoir. Activities throughout the whole catchment ultimately affect the water quality of the reservoir, which is important to people and wildlife alike.
This area covers the Jurassic ‘Oolitic’ limestone of north east Leicestershire and east Rutland - there are other limestones in the two counties. The Trust is working with the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and Natural England on limestone grassland conservation in the area, and is aiming to develop a truly holistic Living Landscape scheme that addresses the whole landscape.