The government has announced that Seasalter Levels, Blean Woods and the local Wraik Hill Conservation Area will receive £ 1,884,900 from the Green Recovery Challenge Fund.
The funds were awarded to a partnership led by RSPB in collaboration with the Kent Wildlife Trust and Canterbury City Council and will be used to restore nature to a significant landscape scale in all three interconnected locations.
The Green Recovery Challenge Fund is a short term competitive fund designed to stimulate environmental renewal while creating and maintaining a range of jobs. The aim of the fund is to support projects that are ready to promote nature restoration, nature-based solutions and connecting people with nature, focusing on the goals of the government’s 25-year environmental plan while preserving and building Capacities to contribute to the sector.
Much of the Seasalter Levels west of Whitstable has suffered from a lack of adequate management for decades. Since 2007, the Seasalter partnership, which includes RSPB, Natural England, Canterbury City Council, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Swale Borough Council, has worked hard to take control of the area and develop a conservation area that welcomes wildlife and locals benefits.
Redshank, Copyright Steve Round, from the Surfbirds Galleries
Although the area cultivated for wildlife has increased since 2007, much of it is in poor condition. This funding will enable the partnership to restore 228 hectares of wetland on a large scale and complete the contract. This will be achieved through the installation of new wetland features such as banks, locks and pools, as well as the introduction of grazing by cattle. When this is complete, Seasalter will transform into a wetland nature reserve for many rare species of birds such as the lapwing, redshank and curlew, as well as other wildlife such as water mice, the shrill cardoon and rare dragonflies.
Blean Woods, managed by a partnership that includes the RSPB, Kent Wildlife Trust, Natural England and Woodland Trust, is one of the largest and most important woodlands in England. The wide stretch is approx. 4000ha. It is a stronghold for specialized forest birds that are threatened and is home to the largest population of one of Britain’s rarest butterflies, the heather.
However, the site is gradually coming under pressure from climate change, particularly due to the increase in dry, warm summers in southern England. These changes will have a big impact on the more humid parts of Blean Woods, reducing the value to insects. This in turn has an impact on many forest birds.
This project builds on the experience of the RSPB at trial sites in Suffolk and Gloucestershire and prevents the water loss that keeps forests dry for most years. With the new funding, RSPB and Kent Wildlife Trust will install features that will reduce water loss from forests, including installing earth dams and working with local residents to build and install natural dams using forest products. These measures slow down water loss and increase soil moisture and renovate the rare old bog habitat. The partnership will also selectively open tree cover and introduce grazing land to improve the mix of different habitats in these new wet forest areas.
Wraik Hill Local Nature Reserve
Managed by Canterbury City Council in partnership with the Kent Wildlife Trust, Wraik Hill Local Conservation Area is a valuable green corridor and nature reserve that provides a direct link between Seasalter and Blean. The individual lots were acquired by Canterbury City Council over the past 30 years to create the reserve, which consists of scrub, ponds and biodiverse grassland, a rare combination of habitats in Kent. The site benefits from a Kent Wildlife Trust Canterbury Area Warden. The site requires new fences, pond clearance, improvements in accessibility, interpretation and removal of scrub to achieve its full potential. It already has great interest in species such as nightingales and green-winged orchids that are found there.
Connect people and nature
The funds will also be used to connect more people with nature by improving visitor access. This includes new access gates and interpretations on Wraik Hill, as well as new bridges in the Blean to allow people to cross streams. A diverse task force of over 150 on-site volunteers and 4.5 FTE new paid jobs will also be created. The project will particularly encourage the participation of young people and people with a BAME background, of whom the local population is more represented than in the entire district.
Alan Johnson, RSPB Area Manager at Kent & Essex said: “We are all very pleased to have received this funding to restore nature to much of North Kent. It is these landscape-scale projects that are crucial if we are to achieve Britain’s ambitions for 30% of the land protected by 2030. We’re also excited to give more people from different backgrounds the opportunity to engage with both the work and enjoy the results. “
Cllr Ashley Clark, the senior open space councilor for Canterbury City Council, said: “While most of us are constantly reminded of the ongoing interventions in development, it is extremely comforting that we can both protect and enhance vast swaths of land as sanctuaries and pools of diversity. As we have seen in both cases, close contact with the natural world is vital to our physical and mental wellbeing. If we take care of nature, it will take care of us in turn. This is absolutely great news and we commend our executive Anna Stevens and the RSPB for their diligence and determination, especially as such grants are highly competitive. “
Chloe Sadler, Head of Wildlife Landscapes at Kent Wildlife Trust, said: “We are pleased to hear that this project has successfully received investments from the Green Recovery Challenge Fund. This funding will enable transformative action to restore nature and improve climate resilience in two of Kent’s iconic landscapes and an important ecological corridor between them. It will also prove extremely valuable in strengthening the connection of local communities with their local wildlife areas and cementing partnerships that work together to deliver meaningful nature-based solutions to natural and climate crises, such as through Wilder Blean. “