An Update from Sarah Kessell
CEO of The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales
We earn around half of our income through tourism, which has been switched off since the lockdown began. The financial hit has meant that we will need to find at least £500k in additional income or savings for this year. We have built up earnt income over the last 10 years because grant income dropped after the 2009 recession. Covid-19 came hot on the heels of flooding damage and the impact of Ash Dieback across our woodlands, and at our busiest time of year, when the birds are returning to Skomer and Skokholm Islands, so for us it could not have happened at a worse time.
We have had to furlough over two thirds of our staff and we are concerned about the impacts on our nature reserves if we can’t afford to bring staff back soon. A lack of management can benefit wildlife on over-managed land that previously had little valuable wildlife habitat, but nature reserves are different because they are already very valuable for wildlife. The conservation work across our nature reserves is continuous – not only to keep public access open and the infrastructure sound, but to deal with invasive species, and to manage our precious habitats and the rare species that need specialist intervention.
If this work starts to fall behind, we lose ground, and may well lose more species in the process. We are also seeing a rise in anti-social behaviour, including fly-tipping, wild fires and littering, and we know the best way to combat this behaviour is for our staff and volunteers to be seen on our nature reserves.
We are still facing a climate and ecological emergency, and we can’t risk that crisis worsening while we are dealing with the public health emergency. People depend on a healthy natural environment whether or not they care about the intrinsic value of nature, and although for many people that link was blurred or hidden, this crisis shows how badly we are impacted by not being able to connect with the natural environment. It impacts our physical health and our mental wellbeing.
Coronavirus has also shown how the natural environment can benefit from a change in our behaviour. Air quality has improved markedly and less traffic, noise and disturbance has meant wildlife is safer and bolder. If we can change our behaviour for a pandemic, can we change it to protect wildlife and help our planet recover from decades of abuse and exploitation?
We could work towards a better version of ‘normal’ when we do come out of this crisis. Better local links between consumers and food producers have highlighted the value of locally-produced, seasonal, high quality food. People are appreciating their very local environment and connecting with nature in a slower way, which is not dependent on travelling vast distances. We have realised that we don’t need as much ‘stuff’ as we thought and appreciating the things that really matter.
Many communities have become better connected, with a real appreciation for the role of volunteering. We have learnt that working from home is possible, and that virtual meetings can work so perhaps in time we will have less reliance on cars. I hope that our government and businesses will start investing in a ‘green recovery’. The Wildlife Trusts are key partners in helping to bring back wildlife, and our nature reserves are the oases from which wildlife can return to the wider countryside, so we need to ensure we can survive this crisis to do that.
Please support us through this difficult time by making a donation here.