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Warning issued over the future of Kent's wildlife


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Around 26% of mammals in the UK are at risk of becoming extinct within the next decade.

This shocking statistic includes Kent's rich fauna of hedgehogs, bats, water voles, insects and birds, which you may have seen during a lockdown walk which many of us have taken during the pandemic.

The county's green pastures should be protected for years to come
The county's green pastures should be protected for years to come

As the county prepares for the end of the stay at home rule, the Kent Wildlife Trust has called on walkers to continue to protect nature - which has been there for many over the past year.

The trust appealed to people's love of biodiversity following antisocial behaviour after initial lockdown restrictions were eased last June.

Director of conservation for the trust Paul Haddaway said at the time: "We want people to enjoy nature and green spaces, but our reserves are fragile places which are critical havens that provide protection for our most vulnerable wildlife.

"At what is already a very tough time for us, we have sadly seen vandalism, fires, fly-tipping, littering to name a few of the issues.

"Wildlife is still in serious decline and needs our help and protection..."

"As a charity we pay the cost, draining the resources that should be invested in our vital conservation work to protect wildlife.

"Lockdown does not mean that the crisis that nature faces is on hold, wildlife is still in serious decline and needs our help and protection."

The trust has since been working towards restoring and protecting natural habitats in Kent - whilst also calling on individuals to play their part.

It says existing laws are too weak and the climate and ecological crisis the country faces is not being taken seriously enough.

It has called for the implementation of ambitious natural climate solutions that reduce and capture carbon, stop ecosystem destruction and make our towns and cities cleaner and greener.

Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, in the woodland at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, near Cranbrook
Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, in the woodland at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, near Cranbrook

Paul said: "Nature has been there for many of us in the last year when we've needed it most - the outdoors, our green spaces, gardens and watching wildlife have given us much needed solace and moments of calm.

"Enjoying wildlife, wild places and gardening can also reduce stress and lower blood pressure. Despite this greater connection with nature, many of us have experienced how our nature is in crisis.

"Many populations have been declining for decades - 26% of UK mammals are in danger of disappearing altogether.

"Insects, which underpin our way of life, and are vital to the Kent economy crop pollinator, have also seen their numbers freefall.

Close up of wild British flowers in field of grass including poppy, cornflower and daisy blooms
Close up of wild British flowers in field of grass including poppy, cornflower and daisy blooms

"As the world once again opens up to us, we can help by creating chemical free wildlife habitats in our gardens, respecting and protecting our wild spaces and nature reserves and joining Kent Wildlife Trust's campaigns, and our call on the government for better protection for wildlife and wild places."

Housing developments have begun to sprout across the county as many more applications for sprawling communities make their way through the relevant authorities.

Although plans could impact natural habitats and contribute to the 26% statistic, some developers have ensured Kent's rich ecosystems will be protected, if not championed, in their builds.

Earlier this month, plans for 1,500 homes to be built next to the River Thames near the canal basin in Gravesend were submitted to Gravesham council.

Revised diagrams for the Albion Waterside Development in Gravesend. Picture: JPT / Joseph Homes
Revised diagrams for the Albion Waterside Development in Gravesend. Picture: JPT / Joseph Homes

The Albion Waterside Development, by Joseph Homes, would see the creation of 400 jobs if approved.

Not only does it promise to rejuvenate an area of derelict land, it will also ensure the build comprises of more than 65% open space, creating a biodiversity net gain of 250%.

Development director Craig Carson said: "We recognise the importance of delivering accessible green spaces and enhancing ecology when bringing forward any regeneration project.

"That is why, our Albion Waterside development in Gravesend comprises of over 65% open space which will create a biodiversity net gain of circa 250%.

"This includes the Riverside Walk and gardens and connecting the River Thames to The Cut which will open up the area to local residents.

The seasonal water park proposals were scrapped. Photo: Aqua Parcs
The seasonal water park proposals were scrapped. Photo: Aqua Parcs

"There is also a unique opportunity to establish new habitats.

"The Cut will provide a route to bring nature, ecology and biodiversity into the heart of the development, through the creation of new green connections.

"Proposed streets and yards incorporate a series of rain gardens and swales, while the new waterway and green roofs create an opportunity to plant a range of new planting species."

A campaign was launched last Tuesday to protect Bluewater's Nature Trial in light of plans for a new "Aqua Park" at the shopping centre.

The proposal for an inflatable obstacle course on the main lake was met with disapproval from locals who fear the loss of animal habitats and cherished "tranquil" lockdown spaces.

A new detailed impression of what the London Resort theme park will look like
A new detailed impression of what the London Resort theme park will look like

And on Thursday, March 25, the importance of wildlife prevailed over the seasonal money earner as plans were scrapped in favour of preserving the living conditions for the lake wildlife.

One of the biggest developments planned for Kent is the London Resort on the Swanscombe peninsula.

If approved, the £2.5bn theme park will be the largest of its kind in the UK.

In January, an application to protect the site was lodged after it was discovered the area was home to a rare species of jumping spider.

And earlier this month the marshland was declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) following a joint campaign from the RSPB, Buglife and The Kent Wildlife Trust.

Dandelion seed head. Picture: David Wanostrocht
Dandelion seed head. Picture: David Wanostrocht

The status granted by Natural England - the government's environmental advisory group - means any future development plans must take into account the abundance of wildlife in the area.

RSPB's England director Emma Marsh said: "This is unashamedly good news and we applaud this step by Natural England.

"Recognition as an SSSI should end any debate about developing a theme park here.

"The focus should immediately turn to how Swanscombe Marshes can be effectively managed and monitored so that the species and habitats continue to thrive with their newfound status."

But how can you play a part in tackling the worrying statistic from your home?

Seals off Pegwell Bay. Picture: Victoria Sutherland/Kent Wildlife Trust
Seals off Pegwell Bay. Picture: Victoria Sutherland/Kent Wildlife Trust

Even small actions can make a big difference - you don't need lots of space, time or even a big garden.

The Wildlife Trust has guidance on how you can build a log shelter for small insects and frogs, a bat box and a hedgehog hole amongst a range of other eco-friendly garden additions.

A log shelter is pretty straightforward to create - of course, you'll need some logs.

You can then arrange them in a variety of ways: scattered, neat and tidy or natural - all of which will encourage critters to burrow in and keep warm.

The UK is home to 18 species of bat, and installing a bat box is the perfect way to encourage them into areas that have limited roosting space.

Jim Higham's picture of Canterbury in the Kent Wildlife trust photographic exhibition. Jim Higham
Jim Higham's picture of Canterbury in the Kent Wildlife trust photographic exhibition. Jim Higham

One mammal that will be familiar to many homeowners and avid walkers is the humble hedgehog.

To display your garden as a welcome spot for these prickly customers, all that is required is a 13cm x 13cm hole to be cut out of the bottom of a fence panel.

This way hedgehog families can roam freely in search of warmth, nesting spaces, food and water.

But one critter that is usually overlooked when people think about ways to help the local wildlife are beetles.

On Wednesday, March 24, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and The Wildlife Trusts launched 2021's Wild About Gardens campaign.

Walking has proved to be an effective outlet as a way to release stress over lockdown
Walking has proved to be an effective outlet as a way to release stress over lockdown

The two charities are calling on gardeners to create habitats for these important insects which are a vital part of every healthy garden.

Providing a patch for beetles, including ladybirds, ground beetles and rose chafers, is a great way to encourage balance in the garden and boost biodiversity, with many species under threat from habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change.

There are more than 4,000 beetle species in the UK and, although a handful may eat plants, many are predators, pollinators and decomposers, feeding both the soil and larger garden visitors such as birds and hedgehogs.

The Kent outdoors is full of rich, biodiverse landscapes
The Kent outdoors is full of rich, biodiverse landscapes

Green-fingered enthusiasts can build a beetle bank - a mound of soil which creates shelter for lots of invertebrates.

Or you can make a dead hedge, which is a structured pile of branches and twigs that can divide an area of a garden to provide a residence for beetles.

Finally, filling a bucket with rotting wood and leaves makes a comfortable home for a wide variety of insects.

Actor and ambassador of The Wildlife Trusts Alison Steadman said: "I love making space for wildlife in my garden - and despite their tiny size, beetles are no exception.

"I embrace my beetle visitors as I know they help keep a natural balance in my garden and provide food for the birds that I love watching, like nuthatches, goldfinches and wrens.

Helen Knight and her husband Barry collected nine bin liners worth of litter in The Lines, Gillingham. Picture: Barry Knight
Helen Knight and her husband Barry collected nine bin liners worth of litter in The Lines, Gillingham. Picture: Barry Knight

"I think it's so important to set aside space for nature in your garden, and there's a real joy that comes from spotting the red flash of a ladybird or the jewelled green of a mint beetle."

And a couple used their time during lockdown to tackle the growing litter problem in Medway.

Barry Knight described the plague of rubbish as "mind-boggling" after he and his wife Helen collected more than 150 bags of refuse from roads in Chatham and Gillingham.

When the world (hopefully) returns to normal, people will be able to ditch walking and visit loved ones, have a pint in the pub, shop till they drop and cross the oceans to white sand beaches.

And although though no one will expect anything less from anyone - the conservation and care of Kent's wildlife and biodiversity must be maintained.

We owe it to our vast fields, dense woodlands and picturesque nature reserves, which have been there to break up the bleak reality of the pandemic, to maintain them and ensure they are there for the future generations.

If you want to volunteer for the Kent Wildlife Trust or find out more about what it does, visit its website.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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