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Where nature thrives

Words by Dan Warden

Why do we love Cornwall?

© Adrian Langdon

This is a question that, for most, will proffer many answers. Food is of course a huge draw, as is the relaxed lifestyle that seems synonymous with being so close to the ocean. The industrial heritage that characterises much of the landscape, and the history behind it, both provide endless days of exploration and discovery as you delve into what has shaped the Duchy in so many ways, however perhaps the greatest allure is the sense of wilderness here – both in-land, and along the endless miles of dramatic Cornish coastline. But in the modern world, ensuring the preservation of these wild places, and rewilding those that have been lost to human footprints, is becoming increasingly hard.

© Nick Upton

Fortunately, Cornwall Wildlife Trust has made this its mission – championing the growth of wilder places, wilder people, and ultimately, a wilder future for the county we all hold so dearly. By growing Cornwall’s suite of nature reserves and managing them to be the best sites for wildlife, as well as running wildlife projects on land and in rivers and seas, the Cornish ecosystem – thanks to the Trust and the amazing network of wildlife groups that it works alongside – is becoming far better managed for the species that help make our county so unique.

Left © Dylan Donaldson | Right © Tom Shelley

Relying on charitable donations, grants and the generous support of its members and the general public to raise more than £2.2M every year, the money raised is spent on wildlife conservation and education in Cornwall, for present and future generations. One of 47 Wildlife Trusts in the UK, together they make up the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, working both independently and together towards ‘bigger, better and more joined up spaces for wildlife’.

© Ben Watkins

Much of the Trust’s work relies on public awareness – inspiring people to take action for the wildlife around them – and campaigning to help Cornwall’s communities record and understand the state of their local wild places and the life therein. By using their knowledge and experience to influence the plans and decisions of others, Cornwall Wildlife Trust is playing a key part in fulfilling the county’s commitment to environmental growth, engaging and inspiring the next generation whose role as future decision makers is key to ensuring a future for a wild Cornwall.

In simple terms, it’s about creating a Cornwall where nature thrives, and the Trust has been doing so since 1962. Today, it boasts more than 17,000 members, including 4,500 juniors, with a force of over 900 volunteers giving up their time to ensure the implementation of key projects around the Duchy. These are spread across 59 nature reserves managed by the Trust – equating to more than 5,500 acres of land – covering woodland, meadows, wetlands and heaths, not to mention several marine and terrestrial based conservation projects that Cornwall Wildlife Trust runs in partnership with others.

One such project is Upstream Thinking, run by South West Water. With the motto that ‘it’s about more than tap water’, Upstream Thinking aims to change the way we think about water and the landscape, with a view to ensuring a better future for farming, the restoration of wetlands, a future resilient water supply and, of course, improved wildlife habitats. Delivered through a unique range of partnerships, including with Cornwall Wildlife Trust, as well as government agencies, environmental agencies, landowners and tenant farmers, the project is underpinned by the idea that when you turn on your tap, the water has travelled across high grounds, through farm land, rivers and streams, before being stored in reservoirs and eventually processed; that thinking ‘upstream’ of your tap, demands consideration of the land surrounding our watercourses, the human impact on it, and how that eventually affects what ends up in our drinking glasses.

One of the benefits of Upstream Thinking, is the recommendation from South West Water to introduce ‘buffer strips’ next to rivers, to filter the run off from the land and everything it carries with it – manure, pesticides, herbicides and more – before it runs into the watercourse. Buffer strips, according to South West Water, can be planted with nectar-rich plants, which bees, butterflies and birds appreciate. Fish and invertebrates are more likely to breed and thrive in the cleaner water, which in turn will provide food for otters and kingfishers. In short, it’s precisely the kind of project Cornwall Wildlife Trust is all about.

Left © Ben Watkins

Another is the Penwith Landscape Partnership (PLP) – a community of organisations and individuals who, together, share the aim of supporting the understanding, conservation and enhancement of the stunning Penwith landscape, as one suited to a sustainable way of life. A place where farming prospers need not necessarily come at the cost of the landscape’s natural resources, and in fact, the PLP actively works to restore habitat connectivity and enhance the area’s archaeological heritage, ensuring its longevity as a landscape that is loved, enjoyed and supported by local communities and visitors, for generations to come.

Projects like these have perhaps never been more important, especially in light of the findings within the State of Nature Cornwall 2020 report released by Cornwall Wildlife Trust last year. The report – an accumulation of research gathered in partnership with Cornwall Council and the University of Exeter – was commissioned by the Trust in light of the 2019 National State of Nature report. According to this, 41% of UK species have decreased in abundance since 1970, sparking talks of an ecological emergency.

© Ellie Smart

The State of Nature Cornwall report paints a similarly grim picture. Key findings include that almost a quarter of all terrestrial mammals and butterfly species are at risk, that 150km of Cornish hedges have been lost since 1990, and that there has been a 30% decrease in farmland bird species within the county. Not good news at all.

But it’s not all bad: Cornish choughs have been successfully brought back from the brink of local extinction; the report suggests that 75% of people value nature now more than pre-covid; and the fact that beavers and water voles have been reintroduced to Cornwall is a huge step in the right direction. Indeed, after a 400-year absence, the re-introduction of beavers really is of huge significance. The Cornwall Beaver Project can be found on a five acre woodland plantation along Nankilly Water, a stream at Woodland Valley Farm near Ladock. The site, which has been fenced to create a beaver enclosure, is home to two adult beavers – Willow and Chewy – who have been left, since 2017, to re-engineer the area through dam and canal building.

© Nathaniel Barry

Known as a ‘keystone’ species, or ‘ecosystem engineers’, you might think this is a lot for these enigmatic creatures to live up to, yet you need only see how radically they have transformed the north Cornwall site since their introduction to understand just how accurate a job description it is. Dams are continually being extended by the beavers, with new ones cropping up all the time, and while the wider impact of their presence is still being monitored, the potential to alleviate flooding in the downstream village of Ladock cannot be oversold. It’s also hoped that the benefits will extend to increased biodiversity in the area, including the creation of new habitats for amphibians, bats, some invertebrates and fish. You might also be interested to know that the beaver presence over the five years has increased to eight as Willow and Chewy decided it was time to make their undertaking a family business!

At a time when there is so much information about our impact on the environment, and so many ways in which we can change and alter our lifestyles in the fight for a greener, more sustainable future, Cornwall Beaver Project is a signpost in the direction of what can be achieved if organisations like Cornwall Wildlife Trust and other likeminded groups and individials are supported to continue doing what they do. As a charity, Cornwall Wildlife Trust relies on the kindness and generosity of its supporters to carry out its vital conservation work, and whether you decide to leave a gift in your will, to volunteer, become a member, or donate, your contribution will be a lasting one towards revitalising the Duchy as a haven for wildlife – safeguarding the enigmatic wilderness that makes Cornwall so special to us all.


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