Our mission and vision
Our vision is of people close to nature, with land and seas rich in wildlife.
Our mission is to bring about living landscapes, living seas and a society where nature matters.
In 25 years
Wildlife, wild places and natural habitats will be abundant and thriving. They will be a significant, commonplace and everyday part of the countryside, our towns and cities, our coasts and seas. Our landscape will be full of flowers and alive with birdsong. Wherever you are, you will be able to see and hear wildlife near by, and know that even the most rare, threatened and endangered species have populations that are stable, resilient and recovering.
Out at sea, communities of slow-growing species such as sponges, sea-fans and sea-pens will be re-establishing themselves across much of the seabed; whales, dolphins and porpoises will be abundant and commercial fish stocks will have recovered. The UK will be recognised as somewhere where people live long, healthy, active and fulfilling lives. Among other things, this will be driven by the quality of its natural environment on a global scale and society’s recognition of the contribution it makes to the quality of life, health and prosperity of people living here.
Evidence shows that we are continuing to lose wildlife and wild places at an alarming rate. A landscape-scale approach to conservation - where habitats are bigger, better managed and more joined-up - lies at the heart of The Wildlife Trusts' efforts to address this. We call this Living Landscapes.
Living Landscapes stands for working over bigger areas of land (not just the nature reserves we own), and usually in partnership with others, to find and make space for nature. Our nature reserves have become small oases of wildlife-rich land in an often inhospitable landscape for many species, and Living Landscapes aims to connect up these spaces. Often there is a focus on restoring wildlife habitats; examples include working with landowners to restore peat bogs in the uplands, or working in river catchments to 'naturalise' riverside habitats.
Many Wildlife Trusts are running projects involving landowners, farmers, councils, businesses, individuals and communities working together to make more space for nature, combat the climate emergency, and enable more people to enjoy these special places.
The science behind Living Landscapes
The UK’s overall track record of looking after wildlife and the natural environment is poor although some species are faring well (State of Nature Partners, 2019; Maclean, 2010; Defra, 2017; Morecroft, 2009; Lawton, 2010).
Nature conservation in the UK has traditionally focused on protecting specific sites (Lawton, 2010), but outside these nature has been lost on an unprecedented scale. Although there are some conservation success stories, the majority of our species are in long-term decline (State of Nature Partners , 2016; Maclean, 2010; Natural England, 2010; Fuller, 1987; The Wildlife Trusts, 2015; Lawton, 2010).
As the demands made on land from agriculture, forestry, housing and development have increased, so the space available for UK wildlife has decreased (Lawton, 2010).
The founders of Wildlife Trusts and their successors have fought to save wildlife-rich places for decades - woods, marshes, meadows, and moorland – protecting many as nature reserves. But these were emergency measures, taken against a tide of widespread destruction to our natural habitats. It was always hoped that nature would be able to re-colonise the wider landscape from these refuges when conditions were right (Sands, 2012).
The task of making that wider landscape better for wildlife is an urgent priority if the UK is to reverse the recorded declines in wildlife and wild places.
Now almost every Wildlife Trust is working on this across a defined geographical area or Living Landscape Area. Many Wildlife Trusts run multiple projects in this way. This approach is based on the principles of landscape-scale conservation (Lawton, 2010; Benedict, 2006; Hilty, 2006; Southern, 2015) which considers the landscape and environment as a complete whole – as a dynamic, complex and linked system.
We believe that bring wildlife back is the right thing to do – for wildlife’s own sake. But we also believe that it makes common sense. Natural solutions can solve or play an important role in preventing and/or resolving difficult problems; whether it’s climate change and how wildlife adapts to it (BRANCH partnership, 2007; Davies, 2006; Hannah, 2007; Smithers, 2008), flooding (Purseglove, 2015), the economy (Natural Capital Committee, 2015) or the increase in non-communicable diseases such as Type-2 diabetes (van den Bosch, 2017), mental health and cardio-vascular disease.
Landscape-scale conservation has emerged from the recognition that conservation needs to move beyond nature reserves and consider the full range of factors in the landscape that influence wildlife and people (Ahern, 2012).
The scale at which we think and act is critical. If our action is to be effective, we need to work at a scale that is relevant to species, habitats and processes in the living landscape (Drechsler M. and Wissel, 1998). Nature reserves have been vital in safeguarding wildlife but, as isolated fragments of wild places, they are not enough on their own (Lawton, 2010; Hilty, 2006). It is also important to recognise that whilst people draw lines on maps and define boundaries across the landscape, other species use the landscape differently and don’t recognise human boundaries (Warwick, 2017).
Each Living Landscape Area tends to follow a number of key principles that have emerged from the experience gained through many successful programmes (Southern, 2015; Benedict, 2006; The Wildlife Trusts, 1996; The Wildlife Trusts, 2013).
These are some of the main ones:
- Engage people in developing a vision and strategy for their living landscape
- Good planning and a spatial approach
- A focus on people and local communities
- Sustainable local economies
- Achieving practical delivery in partnership and collaboration with others
- Monitoring and evaluating progress
- Sustaining the effort over time to achieve long-term results
What type of conservation work is required?
At the heart of Living Landscapes and landscape-scale conservation (Lawton, 2010; Benedict, 2006; Hilty, 2006) is the idea of a joined-up core network of wildlife-friendly places (Hodgson JA M. A., (2011a); Hodgson JA T. C., 2011b; Johst K, 2011; Riordan, 2015), and the need to give wildlife more space and room to manoeuvre (Lawton, 2010)- and to enable natural processes to function (The Wildlife Trusts, 2013).
Wild plants, animals and fungi need to be able to move and disperse (Clobert, 2012) across the landscape for many reasons (Freckleton, 2002; Husband, 1996; Brudvig LA, 2009) – but fragmentation reduces the capability for species to move (Bruckmann SV, 2010; L, 2003; Rybicki J, 2013; CD, 2000). For example, isolated species groups may interact with each other to maintain their genetic health. Some plants and animals live in patches which can only support a certain size of population and depend on the movement and interchange of individuals for their survival – some patches are ‘sources’ of new recruits, others are population ‘sinks’ and need topping up by the arrival of new recruits.
Dispersal is an inherent survival strategy for many species to find new habitats to increase their distribution and abundance (Hanski, 1999). Many species appear to be poor at moving around the landscape – often because their dispersal mechanism is missing from the modern landscape (e.g. they may ‘hitch’ a ride on particular animals that are no longer present), and connectivity is an important factor (Bright, 1998).
The ways in which plants, fungi, bacteria and animals disperse are many and varied. We know remarkably little about many species but a living landscape approach aims to provide a range of features and processes which allow as many species as possible to sustain their populations and disperse (Clobert, 2012).
The needs of different species vary, but increasing the degree to which habitats are joined up can increase wildlife populations (Smith, 2015; Feber, 2015; Merckx, 2015; Buesching, 2015; Riordan, 2015)
Changing weather patterns and climate change may also have a direct influence, amongst other factors, on the relationships and competition between species; some may be displaced or will need to move to find suitable conditions. Studies have observed how species are moving in response to warming (Gian-Reto Walther, 2002; Hickling R. R., 2005; Hickling R. R., (2006); Walther, 2002).
To help wildlife to thrive at a landscape-scale, we need to:
- Protect and maximise the wildlife value of existing rich sites – or core sites (Lawton, 2010; Possingham HP, 2015; Thomas CD, 2012; Ye X, 2013).
- Expand and buffer these core areas by restoring or creating new habitats in strategic locations; and create connections, corridors (Burel, 1990; Falcy, 2007; Gilbert-Norton, 2010; Sullivan, 2017; Bennett A. , 2003; Damschen EI, 2006) and stepping stones between them (Hilty, 2006; Jongman, 2004; Sutcliffe, 1996; Prevedello JA, 2018; Rosenberg DK, 1997; Simberloff D, 1987; Pearce-Higgins, 2014). These may include continuous features like river valleys and diverse hedgerows which can act as ‘wildlife highways’. Stepping stones are smaller, unconnected natural areas; close networks of patches that act as stop-off points for wildlife on the move – for example a series of copses or ponds in open grassland.
- Restore damaged or degraded landscapes across large areas and create new habitats in appropriate locations (Lawton, 2010; Possingham HP, 2015; Gilbert, 1998; Blakesley, 2016).
- Restore natural processes as far as possible to their full function. Natural systems provide a range of services such as pollination, the cleansing of polluted water, and carbon capture by healthy soils (Bardgett, 2016; Wall, 2012). They can also reduce risks and hazards such as flood alleviation and the effects of drought by rewilding the way water moves through the landscape, and allowing it to flow and move in as natural a way as possible. In many areas, for example, rivers have been constrained and cut off from their flood plains, reducing their ability to absorb flood events (Purseglove, 2015).
- Re-establish populations of missing keystone species. Our aim is to make the environment wilder, and as wild as possible whilst recognising that potential conflicts may need to be addressed. Many keystone species that once did useful jobs across landscapes have disappeared – and their return could bring benefits. For example, the beaver can bring useful benefits to communities and wildlife at low cost (Campbell-Palmer, 2016). In many areas, the natural processes of soil formation have been disrupted and our soils have lost fertility and their capacity to soak up and retain water. Encouraging natural processes to rebuild soil organic matter (Wall, 2012; Bardgett, 2016) and working with earthworms and dung beetles (Jones R. , 2016) could provide significant benefits to reduce flooding and improve resilience to drought. The Wildlife Trusts support the re-establishment of missing keystone species using IUCN Guidelines (IUCN / SSC, 2013).
- Make the wider landscape of farmland, urban areas and forestry friendlier (and more ‘permeable’) to wildlife between the core sites (Prevedello JA, 2018; Riordan, 2015; Macdonald D. a., 2015; Moorhouse, 2015; Macdonald D. R., 2015). These areas need to be accessible and useful to wildlife. If the wider countryside is managed more sustainably, society and farmers will continue to benefit from the essential services provided by the natural environment, such as clean air and water, pollination (Ricketts, 2008), healthy soils (Wall, 2012), food and flood management.
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Around half the UK's wildlife lives in the sea - from microscopic plankton to mighty whales. But decades of over-exploitation have left our seas damaged and degraded.
However, it's not too late to save them. Our vision is for Living Seas, where better protection and management of our seas means that species which have declined can become common again.
Plastic-strewn beaches, fisheries on the verge of collapse, unsustainable infrastructure development and the ever growing effects of global climate change. These are the pressures altering the balance of our seas today, depleting its resources beyond safe limits and jeopardising what we take from it - from the fish stocks to feed our country to energy to the air we breathe.
Our report, The Way Back to Living Seas, outlines a new approach to the way we manage our seas that will create a UK surrounded by inspiring, life-filled and sustainable Living Seas. This means thriving fish stocks and healthy marine habitats on the seabed, creating a marine ecosystem that will benefit wildlife and people for generations.
Five challenges facing our seas
We have identified five challenges that must be addressed. Whilst some good progress has been made over the past 10 years there are still massive problems facing our seas. Our fishing industry is not yet sustainable, our network of Marine Protected Areas is not yet complete, marine creatures are killed every day by pollution and our marine planning system does not yet incorporate all the activities in the sea. We believe that the UK can do better in balancing the needs of both people and wildlife.
Through a new marine planning system based on Regional Sea Plans and a joined-up network of Marine Protected Areas, we can safeguard marine wildlife and help the livelihoods of the many people who depend on the sea.
The first responsibility of the Government is to ensure that we bring across existing European regulations which provide protective measures for our seas and sea-life – we need to safeguard existing protective law, as promised in the Withdrawal Bill.
The five challenges remain:
- Not enough protected areas at sea - there are not enough protected wild places at sea. The UK’s network of Marine Protected Areas needs to protect the whole range of wildlife in our seas.
- Fishing – after the significant reform of the Common Fisheries Policy we have begun to see some of our fish stocks recover. But there are still significant discard issues. We need to make sure that this process is continued which will benefit jobs, consumers and wildlife.
- Lack of planning of competing interests – fishing, oil rigs, wind farms and gravel extraction from the seabed all take a huge toll on UK seas, fragile seabed habitats and the wildlife that lives in them; we need to plan our seas so that we have space for wildlife to recover and to provide certainty to industry as to where they can develop and fish.
- Severe pollution – sewage, farming chemicals, plastic litter washed out to sea, abandoned fishing nets and noise pollution from new developments at sea are killing wildlife and adversely affecting human health.
- Human behaviour – our success in tackling these threats ultimately rests on people’s understanding and accepting the need for change.
What we've lost
This picture shows a bluefin tuna landed at Scarborough, Yorkshire in 1949. The North Sea bluefin tuna fishery collapsed in 1963 and today it is effectively extinct here as a commercial fish stock. If we improve how we manage our seas and protect marine habitats, we could see the proper return of bluefin tuna and many other magnificent animals to the UK.
What are The Wildlife Trusts doing?
- Campaigning for Marine Protected Areas - we campaign for parts of the seabed and the sea to be protected from damaging activities
- Fisheries policy - balanced fishing policies that help to protect our marine environment and ensure a sustainable fishing industry
- Surveying - we run surveys along the coast and under the sea to gather information on marine habitats and wildlife
- Advising on development - we help to ensure that developments at sea, like wind farms, avoid the most important parts of the sea for wildlife
- Inspiring people about the sea - we run events around the coast from talks to rockpool rambles and underwater snorkel safaris
A society where nature matters
We inspire and empower people to take action in their lives to help wildlife. We believe that everyone deserves to live in a healthy, wildlife-rich natural world, and that everyone should have the opportunity to experience the joy of wildlife in their daily lives. We're working hard to make these beliefs a reality.