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Wildlife Trust volunteer lands prestigious marine prize

Posted: Thursday 2nd November 2017 by LivingSeas

Fred Booth, winner of Marsh Volunteer Award

Each year, the Marsh Christian Trust Volunteer Award for Marine Conservation is granted to a Wildlife Trust volunteer, recognising an outstanding contribution to the field of marine conservation. This year the top prize went to Fred Booth, a volunteer for Kent Wildlife Trust who has been championing the protection of marine life in the county since the 1980s.

With no formal background in marine science, Fred’s passion came from a lifetime of enjoying the Kent coastline. But the marine environment was an unknown and unrecorded frontier, a fact that dawned on Fred whilst working for the Trust in the 1980s. Recognising the need for change, he set out to make it happen.

It began as an amateur pursuit, a quiet weekend walk along the shore to record the nature of the Kent coastline, growing into an organised large-scale survey that was the precursor of the national ‘Shoresearch’ initiative. Kent Marine Group was established, and soon Fred had up to 100 volunteers taking part, encouraging them each to adopt a stretch of coast and record the nature, usage and species of their patch. 

Fred admits there was a learning curve, growing from impassioned amateur to marine expert, and praised the support of Ian Titley of The Natural History Museum. Ian, though primarily focussed on his study area of algae, brought a lot of professional knowledge to the early stages of the movement. Over the years many volunteers contributed so many hours of surveying that they became experts in their own right.

These amateur surveys quickly mapped out the Kent coastline, regularly discovering species previously unheard of in the county – a feeling of discovery that’s as exciting as it sounds, according to Fred. The data collected in this pioneering work was critical in identifying the location of most of Kent’s Marine Conservation Zones, the protected areas established to help safeguard the vulnerable wildlife of the marine environment. 

Fred’s work has covered many important marine conservation features, such as ross worm reefs. These structures, created by tube-building worms, provide a home for a range of seabed-dwelling creatures, but are vulnerable to damage from practices such as dredging and trawling. Fred’s data helped secure protection for some of these reefs along the Kent coast. He also identified the arrival of invasive non-native species such as wireweed, and recorded climate change indicators such as the purple topshell.

Reflecting on the decades that saw a quiet weekend walk become a national movement, Fred cites the appointment of a Kent Wildlife Trust Marine Officer as the turning point, the moment at which the movement he had started became truly professional. From that point on he was an inspiring mentor, supporting the new marine staff and continuing well into his 80s to survey, engage and train numerous new volunteers with his intimate knowledge of Kent’s coast and its wildlife.

When asked about his contribution, Fred very humbly offered, “We achieved what we set out to do.” The award, which comes with a £1000 prize, was presented to Fred at the Kent Wildlife Trust AGM, recognising a remarkable contribution from a remarkable man. 

Two other Wildlife Trust volunteers were also honoured for their contributions. Dr Melanie Broadhurst, of Alderney Wildlife Trust, and Pauline Gillings from Norfolk Wildlife Trust were awarded £500 and £250 respectively for their marine conservation work.

Melanie came to Alderney Wildlife Trust in 2007, as the second ever volunteer Ramsar site officer. 10 years and a PhD later, Melanie is still using her extensive knowledge and experience to support the Trust in a purely voluntary role, including mapping over 70% of the island's intertidal coastline.

Pauline has been involved in beach cleans at Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Cley Marshes since early 2015, eventually taking over running of the events. Her constant enthusiasm and promotional work has increased the number of volunteers attending, and resulted in huge amounts of litter being removed from the marine environment.


 

The Marsh Christian Trust was founded in 1981 with the sum of £75,000 by its current Chairman, Mr Brian Marsh OBE. His aim was to create a sustainable way to give something back to society, by supporting the organisations and people who are making a difference, as best he could.

From the outset the Trust has aimed to create long-standing relationships with the organisations it supports and partners through both its principle areas of work; the Grants Programme and the Awards Scheme.

The Trust supports around 300 charities every year through the Grants Programme and gives over 80 different Awards to individuals and groups from across the charity sector, who make a difference to a cause that they believe in.

The Trust’s activities are financed by income derived from its investment portfolio and it does not accept any public donations.

 
By Tom Hibbert, Communications Support Officer
 
 

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