Update from Sarah Kessell, WTSWW Chief Executive Officer.
I think we are not alone in finding that the planning needed to get back to work after the Covid-19 lockdown is proving far more complex than it was to stop suddenly at the start of the lockdown.
The length of the lockdown has meant that there is a backlog of work needed on the nature reserves, to ensure that the habitats stay in good condition and to meet various grant requirements, as well as cutting back footpaths ready for when the lockdown eases.
Ideally, we need to bring all of our conservation team back in July, but financially, this is not possible. Instead we are carefully planning and prioritising the urgent tasks, to work out the minimum number of staff that need to return to work. We are certainly finding that the busier nature reserves are suffering without the usual staff and volunteer presence.
Teifi Marshes and Parc Slip have suffered from increased anti-social behaviour, including harassment of the buffalo and ponies at Teifi Marshes. At times like this, we are grateful for the links with local people and volunteers who keep an eye out for us and alert us to any problems. It worries us greatly that many nature reserves in England were treated abominably when the countryside reopened, but with the more cautious and phased approach taken by the Welsh Government, we hope that we won’t suffer the same problems.
For our visitor centres, we are starting to plan for a possible reopening in August. With the current rules, we could only provide a limited service and limited facilities, and we need to put in place a number of measures to comply with stricter hygiene and social distancing rules to ensure the safety of our staff and visitors. We will reopen if we can ensure that we can cover all these requirements and still cover costs because we cannot afford any further detrimental impacts on our budget.
Skomer and Skokholm Islands present far greater complexities! The shared accommodation facilities rule out re-opening in the next few weeks at least, and cannot easily be made Covid-19 compliant. If we cannot re-open the accommodation for volunteers and additional staff then we will not have the resources to manage the usual number of day visitors. With the 2 metre social distancing rule, boat travel is also difficult and leisure boats have not yet been given permission to run again.
Overall, planning ahead more than a few weeks is proving hard because of the changing rules. For the skeleton staff still working, Health and Safety has dominated much of the last 3 months and it won’t get any easier.
It is not easy to foresee when we will be back to normal operations across the Trust, but the impacts will certainly be felt for some time to come. The initial impact on our finances has been eased by the emergency grants we have received and we are grateful to The Moondance Foundation, The Waterloo Foundation, the Heritage Emergency Fund and WCVA for the Third Sector Resilience Fund. By the end of June it is likely that we will have received all the emergency funding possible, which if we are lucky, will recover about half of the income we have lost. This still leaves us with a big challenge for the rest of this year to find savings or other new sources of income.
Beyond that, the impact on public finances of dealing with the crisis will mean that grants from NRW and the Welsh Government are likely to reduce over the short or medium term, and as the recession bites, it may impact on voluntary donations as well. We have quite a task ahead of us to ensure we can ride out the storm ahead. We’ve been very heartened by the enthusiastic response to our appeals, and thank you to everyone who has made a donation. At such a difficult time for the staff, your response has given us a much-needed boost and your generosity will help ensure that we are here to work for wildlife next year and beyond!