After Five and a half years at The Grasslands Trust I’ve decided to move on – but not too far, I’m moving across to be Conservation Director at Buglife. I’m up for a new challenge and moving to a bigger organisation with more resources is a big step up for me. And you can’t get much broader than the conservation of all invertebrate life – 80% of the species on the planet!
The Grasslands Trust has transformed over the past five years. We now have two excellent local grassland projects in Durham and the Weald, with very good Project Officers in Paul Evans (and Claire Bending before him) and Dawn Brickwood. And our National Nature Reserve at Carmel in Carmarthenshire has been transformed thanks to the efforts of Charli Evans and Deborah Sazer.
I am quite proud of having created our policy work, which sets us apart from most of other smaller conservation organisations – we contribute to policy development and advocate policies that are better for grasslands alongside much larger players like RSPB, CPRE and The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. As you will have read on this blog we are now starting to have some influence over policy on biodiversity and agriculture.
We have also embraced the world of social media as a way of getting our messages across directly to interested communities without having to negotiate the tricky waters of the traditional media. Thanks to Jemma for her far-sightedness back in 2009 starting our Twitter feed, we now have over 5000 twitter followers – more than many larger organisations. This blog has also had a real impact, even generating a few mainstream media stories along the way and getting our message out very widely.
We have also developed a really good advice service, which is run mainly by Deborah Alexander, with a little help from me on technical issues. Thanks also to Harriet Holloway for her sterling work on the advice leaflets, which have come in so useful, saving countless hours and providing consistent advice.
Deborah has also played an absolutely vital role getting the UK Grasslands Forum off the ground – this is also something I’m very pleased to have done – it brings together all organisations interested in UK grasslands under the chairmanship of the excellent Professor John Rodwell. Deborah and John have worked especially well together over the past 18 months successfully organising an initial meeting with 24 people in the room and six phoning in (initially not very successfully but that was my fault!). This was followed up by a fascinating meeting in West Fermanagh Northern Ireland where we were able to provide advice to the Northern Ireland Biodiversity Group. We finished off 2012 with a seminar in Wales looking at all the different values of grasslands beyond traditional interests of biodiversity conservation. This was massive feat of organisation for Deborah and we did all on a very short shoestring. We’re having a quieter year this year, but planning is already well underway for our coming NIA workshop in September, where once again we will be bringing together grassland experts and practitioners to develop a more co-ordinated approach to grassland conservation in this increasingly disconnected times.
Our community grasslands work has also flourished under Martin Reeves’ leadership. Martin started with the Hocombe Mead project in Chandlers Ford near our Eastleigh head office. This has now expanded into our second Heritage Lottery Funded project covering a wider range of sites across Eastleigh. I think this work will continue to expand and enable us to take up a strong position to influence the future of Green Infrastructure policy development, especially once the economy is up and running again and housing development picks up to the levels of six or seven years ago.
It’s been a fascinating time at TGT and the organisation has developed a great deal in that time. We now have a great conservation team who are working well together, complementing each other’s roles and sharing what works well and things to watch out for. This was exemplified in a recent trip the conservation team (sadly minus Dawn our Weald project officer) to Carmel when we talked about management of the site and how to work with the local community and encourage them to get involved.
Of course The Grasslands Trust is more than the conservation team and we couldn’t deliver our grassland conservation aims without the untiring support of our chief exec Lucy, finance manager Jenny, media officer Sarah, our previous development manager Jemma, Liz our fundraising consultant and Amy running the office. Equally we couldn’t do any of it without our wonderful volunteers whether they be Trustees, conservation committee members and our office and conservation volunteers, working away on the ground on our reserves and projects.
There have been some low points along the way and some frustrations naturally – not being to able to successfully purchase Bury Farm last year was a big blow (especially having raised over £1.5M to fund the purchase and 5 year project), though in retrospect there was a real risk that such a large project would have weighed us down and skewed our priorities.
What about the future? It’s very exciting that we’ve now got our first Communications Director Elaine Shaughnessy, and I am sure she will be putting TGT fully on the media map in the coming months. There’s also going to be a full blown launch and push for membership which will be excellent. We’re also putting together an ambitious fundraising package for new posts to strengthen the conservation team which I have high hopes will be successful.
Conservation priorities will include developing the comprehensive grassland inventory and expanding our work advocating grasslands as valuable carbon stores. I’ve now written our new conservation strategy, and this will provide a solid framework for my successor to build on over the coming years.
I’ll be finishing up my conservation work on 27th July then having a break, before spending a few days “tidying up” before leaving finally on 17th August.
Thanks to you all for reading this blog over the past couple of years – I’ve really enjoyed writing it and reading your comments here and on Twitter. I hope very much to be able to write a blog at Buglife but that’s all up for discussion when I start there in September.