Quite a lot of meetings

vases in the glass room at maidstone museum
Interesting meeting rooms #1

It’s all about meeting people… In the interests of entertaining you, I will focus on the interesting bits of my work, but will need to shamelessly plunder other people’s activity to write about. Because, it has to be said, that a large part of my time is spent in meetings. That’s not really surprising, as the role of the Conservation Team is to influence what people do, and so I spend a lot of time meeting people and discussing how we can work together to improve Kent’s environment, and then more time in meetings with my colleagues (who are doing all the hard work) discussing how to deliver the work, and yet more time in meetings discussing how all this work might be funded.

One of the things I like about my job is the many and varied places in which meetings are held. I get to see buildings and behind-the-scenes in places that I would never otherwise have access to. Last week I attended a Kent Nature Partnership meeting, in the Glass Room at Maidstone Museum. The room has a display of fascinating objects, although it appeared that the tarantula might have proved too distracting to a recent meeting participant, as it had been discretely tucked away behind a plastic plant.

Museum display
Display in the Glass Meeting Room at Maidstone Museum. Spot where someone has tried to hide the tarantula.

…and finding funding In recent months, a lot of my time has been devoted to trying to secure funding. It takes a lot of money to look after Kent’s wildlife – not just the resources we need to improve wildlife habitat and create more of it, but to pay the skilled staff who run the projects, provide advice to landowners, or make the case for protecting sites and species to those in a position to affect this. The generous support of our members goes a long way to providing this, but the task we face, to stop biodiversity declining and start to recover, is a huge and expensive one.

Several members of the team are working on funding bids to enable us to create networks of wildlife habitat along rivers, to restore wildflower meadows, to involve people in looking after and enjoying our amazing marine wildlife, and to improve the natural and cultural heritage on the Romney Marshes. An advantage of working in Kent is that we are able to work easily with partners on the other side of the Channel, and to seek funding from the European Regional Development Fund. Landscapes and habitats in northern France are similar to those in Kent, and it is very useful to share information on their conservation.

Last week, a group of Kent Wildlife Trust staff set off in the Trust landrover for a meeting in France to discuss a new project. Not being a morning person, I found the 4.45 start a bit of a challenge, but by 9.00 local time we were in Calais, to meet staff from some of the Conservatoires D’Espaces Naturels in northern France. These are very similar to Wildlife Trusts, managing nature reserves and seeking to protect and enhance biodiversity in France. We are lucky to have Camilla in the conservation team, as well as a multi-talented project officer, she is also a fluent French speaker, having grown up in France. She had the incredibly difficult task of translating everything that was discussed either into French or English, which requires a huge amount of concentration. She did a great job, because by the end of the day we had agreed the outline of the project and we hope to be submitting something to the funder soon.

The chance of a lifetime

letter writing coffee break
Kent Wildlife Trust staff write letters in support of the designation of Marine Conservation Zones.

Last week, we held a letter writing coffee break, encouraging staff who wanted to write in response to the government consultation on whether more marine areas should be protected from damage. Fuelled by cake kindly brought in by Bryony and Fiona (the marine officers) and inspired by the talk that Bryony gave, showing us the amazing wildlife hidden under the waves, we wrote to Defra, explaining why we thought the government should designate three areas around Kent as Marine Conservation Zones.

This is such an important time for marine conservation – we take it for granted that there are areas on land that are protected from damage, we have nature reserves, national parks, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Local Wildlife Sites for example, containing much of our most treasured wildlife and landscapes. But very little of the seascape is protected, and it is vulnerable to all sorts of potentially damaging activities. Sadly, because we can’t see the beautiful landscapes and habitats under the sea, we don’t even know this is happening.

Now we have a chance to change this. New legislation, The Marine Act, passed in 2009, requires the government to designate a network of Marine Conservation Zones. £8 million of public money was spent on a wide-ranging and fair consultation of all sea user groups, who finally agreed on 127 sites, which would have protected good examples of each kind of marine habitat (just as on land, habitats on the sea bed are incredibly varied) and formed an ecological network, allowing species to move between protected sites. Since then, only 27 have actually been designated, and another 23 are being consulted on now. Governments are driven by public opinion, so we need as many people as possible to write in to the consultation and say that they think it is important to protect marine wildlife for the future – for its own sake, for the health of our seas and the economic future of the fishing industry.

For people who are not marine experts (this includes me, and 98% of the staff at Kent Wildlife Trust) writing on the subject can be daunting, which is why we organised a letter writing coffee morning. With Bryony and Fiona on hand to answer questions and provide descriptions of each proposed Marine Conservation Zone, we all felt more confident to put our thoughts on paper. Although you don’t have access to Bryony and Fiona, they have provided this information on our website, and there is a page on The Wildlife Trusts national website to give you tips on writing a response to the consultation. So please, write today. Every individual response counts for so much more than a signature on a campaign; it’s a chance in a lifetime to get marine wildlife protected!