I grew up in rural Cambridgeshire, a few miles outside the city. Back in the 1980s, my village was a farming community with huge areas where wildlife could be seen all through the year. In the past 30 years, I have seen a shift from relatively traditional agriculture to more intensive farming, gravel extraction and housing development.
Whilst I understand the economic reality of this change, it has also been sad to see previously wild places disappear, and the chance to see many species disappear with them.
One thing that has not changed is the local Wildlife Trust nature reserves. These reserves often seem like an oasis amongst all the change going on around. In many cases, these reserves are maintained by replicating ancient agricultural and forestry practices. Coppicing, pollarding, grazing, hedgelaying and hay cuts continue as they have for hundreds of years, but now utilising modern technology as well.
The activities of the Trust have also helped local landowners adopt management practices more sympathetic to wildlife. It is great to see wildflower meadows restored and hedgerows returned to their former glory.
The huge amount of development in our three counties has also provided opportunities for wildlife. Cambourne, Trumpington, Lilbourne and Rushden Lakes have all shown how we can work with developers to actively improve the condition of sites and encourage wildlife.
When I first started at the Trust, I was lucky enough to work at the Great Fen for a few years. Being a part of this internationally important habitat restoration project was a very exciting period of my life. The sheer scale and ambition of the Great Fen is remarkable, and there were new wildlife sightings for me and the team every week. This included rare tansy beetles, return of the common crane, tusked Chinese water deer and my first sight of a purple emperor butterfly at Woodwalton Fen.
As head of the Monitoring & Research team, it is great to be part of a Trust that supports positive conservation research. This includes the successful reintroduction of hazel dormice at Brampton Wood, restoration of heather at Cooper’s Hill and developing a comprehensive monitoring programme for our grassland reserves.
The recent 30 Days Wild campaign made me realise how many amazing things I see on our reserves every week. My photographs this year included orchid-rich meadows, wild strawberries and bug hotels. Some of the photos can be seen on this page.
Lastly, I am always impressed to see how many people come out to volunteer on our reserves, helping with woodland management, surveying, teaching and even fundraising.
As a dad to a two-year-old, it is great to feel that I am doing something that will protect local wildlife for his future and for everyone who visits or lives in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.
Josh Hellon manages the Monitoring & Research team at the Wildlife Trust BCN. The team organise a range of wildlife surveys across the three counties and regularly report on what they find.