Protecting and restoring places for nature - how we do it

The Wildlife Trusts have been protecting and restoring special
places for nature since our formation more than 100 years ago



Saving places for nature

Saving land for nature and protecting it was often the most effective emergency measure that could be taken against the tide of widespread destruction to our natural habitats.

During the twentieth century the UK’s landscape changed beyond measure as farming industrialised, transport links improved and rural areas were developed for housing and other development.

Saving land for nature and protecting it was often the most effective emergency measure that could be taken against the tide of widespread destruction to our natural habitats.

Against this backdrop, Wildlife Trusts saved local woods, marshes, meadows, moorland, heaths, beaches and islands, safeguarding them for future generations.

Today The Wildlife Trusts care for 2,300 nature reserves around the UK as well as working with thousands of farmers, businesses and organisations to help others manage their land for nature.

It is our great privilege to look after so many wonderful places, valued by local people and communities. Almost all of our nature reserves are free to access and we estimate that our  reserves receive around 6m visits a year.


L-R: Nightingale at Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust's Whisby reserve (Amy Lewis), view over Ben Mor Coigach (Mark Hamblin/2020Vision), dog walking at Oare Marshes, Kent

But outside these protected sites, there is no escaping the fact that natural habitats have been lost on an unprecedented scale and many species, both common and rare, are in long-term decline. These isolated areas of protected land are now the basic minimum we need to conserve nature into the future.

A main focus for us now is our Living Landscape work – targeting conservation efforts over larger areas of land and working with others to create and restore wildlife habitats, not jus on our own nature reserves.


Looking after our places

Many of our nature reserves are monitored regularly to help guide their ongoing management. Local volunteers often help with management of our nature reserves and a good example is the Beds, Cambs and Northants Wildlife Trust’s Ecology Groups. These are teams of voluntary wildlife 'monitors' who undertake regular studies of Wildlife Trust nature reserves. The aim is to fine-tune habitat management techniques, through monitoring and taking a scientific approach. Many of the local monitoring projects are ongoing and designed to feed into nature reserve management plans long into the future. Read more about this

  • Around 1/3 of our landholding in England is classified as Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – around 35,000ha (Wildlife Trusts also manage several hundred nature reserves across Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man and Alderney - some of which are designated SSSI (or ASSI in Northern Ireland)).
  • The SSSIs we look after in England are monitored and their condition assessed regularly by Natural England. In April 2013, 94.7% of the SSSIs we manage in England were classified by Natural England as 95% ‘favourableor recovering’ - a 1.7% increase on the previous year.


Different types of management

We use a range of different management techniques and approaches – from creating brand new areas for wildlife to protecting places where nature is left to its own devices. Our approach differs from place to place. Our task is to protect and restore wildlife so that it can thrive, disperse and recolonise our landscape. 

Here are a few examples of places we look after and the ways we manage them:

a woodland butterfly haven

Grafton Wood

Grafton Wood (photo:Wendy Carter)


  • Grafton Wood is an ancient woodland jointly owned by Worcestershire Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation.
    Until the 1950s it was traditionally managed by coppicing to provide materials for products such as broom handles, clothes pegs and firewood. Centuries of woodland management created a haven for wildlife, with many flowers, insects, birds and trees of different ages.
    Management today aims to replicate this tradition and involves widening the rides through the woodland, coppicing and creating woodland glades. It also ensures that there are scrubby areas containing young blackthorn bushes - vital for the rare brown hairstreak butterfly to survive.
    The wood is the centre of the only brown hairstreak colony in the Midlands. These rare butterflies have been the subject of a long-term project to ensure their survival. By working with local landowners and encouraging appropriate maintenance of hedgerows, volunteers from both conservation charities have helped the butterflies to increase in range and in numbers.

brand new habitat creation

Thurrock Thameside Nature Park


  • This is a brand new nature park created by Essex Wildlife Trust by the side of the Thames Estuary.
    The park has been created from one of Europe’s largest landfill sites - transforming what was once a ‘no go’ area for locals into a nature park that will eventually cover 860 acres with grassland, woodland and wetland habitats. An innovatively-designed visitor centre has superb views over Mucking Flats SSSI and the Thames Estuary.
    The mudflats are home to important numbers of ringed plover and avocet, as well as nationally important numbers of grey plover, dunlin, black-tailed godwit and redshank. Other important species on the nature park, or adjacent to it, include: yellow wagtail, reed bunting, Cetti’s warbler, cuckoo, skylark, nightingale, barn owl, short-eared owl, brown hare, harvest mouse, wasp spider, adder, great crested newt, grass vetchling and various orchids. Harbour porpoise and grey seal can sometime be seen in the estuary from the visitor centre. 

natural woodland regeneration

Rockingham Forest Woodlands

Short and Southwick Woods (photo:Rupert Paul)


  • This is an area of former farmland where the BCN Wildlife Trust has created a project to link two ancient woods (Southwick and Short Wood - visible far left and right in the photo above).
    These two woods are fragments of the ancient Rockingham Forest that originally stretched from Stamford down to Northampton. The Wildlife Trust is allowing the trees to regenerate naturally over a longer period of time rather than planting new ones.

wild untouched countryside

Harray Road End, Orkney


  • Harray Road End is a Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve on Orkney.
    It is an example of a nature reserve where no type of management is undertaken at all. This area of wet heath is an important oasis in the drained and fertilised farmland that now covers much of Orkney Mainland.
    The Orkney vole is abundant here and is an important source of food for hen harriers and short-eared owls that sometimes hunt over the reserve.

a popular inner city wildlife retreat

Gunnersbury Triangle


  • Gunnersbury Triangle is a Local Nature Reserve situated in West London close to Chiswick Park tube station.
    The ‘triangle’ the name refers to is an area of land between three railway lines which became cut-off and colonised by woodland. In 1981, the site was proposed for development, provoking a local campaign to save it. This led to a Public Inquiry in July 1983, which in a landmark decision ruled that the site should be protected and devoted to nature conservation. As David Bevan (Chair of the London Natural History Society) explains - “the woodland that had grown up on it provided the only genuinely wild place for miles around and it was greatly cherished by local people.” Gunnersbury Triangle is managed by London Wildlife Trust, on behalf of Hounslow Council, who through a devoted volunteer group maintain a suite of different habitats on the reserve, paths around the reserve and co-ordinate visits by local school groups who learn about ecology and and study nature on the reserve.

restoring natural processes in the uplands

Yorkshire Peat Partnership


  • This is a blocked drain on an upland in the Yorkshire Dales restored by the Yorkshire Peat Partnership.
    Blocking drains helps to retain water and rebuild the hydrology of peatland ecosystems so vital for its restoration. This type of work is a good example of where we are trying to re-instate natural processes. The Yorkshire Peat Partnership led by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, has been working with landowners to help restore Yorkshire’s peatlands.
    Since its formation in 2009, the Partnership has already undertaken successful restoration work on fifteen sites, blocked over 350,000m of drains, revegetated more than 36 ha of bare peat, with contractors, constructed over 40,000 drain dams and taken over 20,000 peat depth measurements across Yorkshire, with work set to continue over the next few years.
    As well as improving conditions for rare peatland wildlife, upland restoration work like this can also help with carbon sequestration and floodwater storage.

wildflower meadow with conservation grazing

Foxlease Meadows


  • Foxlease Meadows is an area of small, wet fields, which are being managed as part of the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s partnership with the Ministry of Defence.
    In May-July the fields are awash with thousands of rare flowers. Despite its noisy neighbour (the M3), the site retains a historic feel – small fields surrounded by ancient boundaries. The site has been sympathetically grazed for nearly 20 years using highland cattle and horses.
    This type of ‘conservation grazing’ - with low numbers of livestock at certain times of the year – is used on Wildlife Trust reserves across the country. These are often lowland sites where habitat fragmentation has left sites isolated - heathland surrounded by housing estates and meadows surrounded by intensive arable fields. The right type of grazing can help to maintain wildflowers and associated wildlife.
    At Foxlease Meadows, two meadows have been upgraded from a 2B category to 2A to reflect the improved herb-rich meadow as a result of grazing management.

a famous  island haven for seabirds



  • Skomer Island is one of the UK’s most famous nature reserves.
    A rocky island located off the tip of the Permbrokeshire coast it has been a Wildlife Trust nature reserve since 1959, but has been studied by ornithologists for much longer. Today Skomer welcomes thousands of visitors each year who make the short journey by boat from the mainland to see its amazing wildlife.
    Skomer is renowned for its seabirds and a third of the world population of Manx Shearwaters nest on the island (128,000 pairs nest on Skomer and its sister island Skokholm). The puffin colony is the largest in southern Britain and Skomer’s cliffs are also homoe to guillemot, razorbill, gannets, shags and kittiwakes. The island is also surrounded by a marine nature reserve and grey seals can be found breeding around Skomer every autumn.
    Porpoises and Dolphins are also a relatively common sight in the waters around Skomer.


Living Landscapes and the future

Nature is dynamic and any return to a past condition is not possible; the world (temperature, climate, soil chemistry, air chemistry, and available species) has all changed. Similarly they way we manage land for wildlife will continue to change in response to the world around us. We need to build a new ecology that will create a rich web of life fit for the future.

Our Living Landscape approach - where we are working with partners and other landowners to target conservation efforts over larger areas - is now a key focus for our work. Wildlife Trusts are leading more than 120 Living Landscape schemes around the UK. Generally, this approach: focuses on landscapes or large areas; uses a multi-disciplinary approach (e.g. habitat creation and restoration, provision of landowner advice); is carried out in partnership with a range of other organisations and local communitie; delivers environmental benefits for people as well as improving conditions for wildlife.


Further information

Each Wildlife Trust has its own website which has information on its work and places.