Nature recovery project spanning England and Wales launched

A project that aims to restore rare habitats across the Marches region on the England-Wales border, has launched this week.

Beacon Hill. Credit: Wildlife Trusts

Shropshire, Herefordshire, Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire Wildlife Trusts ‘Wilder Marches’ initiative stretches across 100,000 hectares and includes headwaters of three rivers – the Lugg, Teme and Clun. 

This area includes ancient woodlands, heathlands and peatland, flower-rich meadows, wood pasture and ‘ffridd’, a special upland habitat of scrub and grassland, as well as areas of intensive farming and extensive forestry plantations. 

The project sets out to enable a “network” of estates, farms, woods, nature reserves and commons to aid nature recovery and restore the rare habitats and species the area is home to, such as pine marten, curlew, and freshwater pearl mussel. 

In turn, the aim is for the area to act as a natural flood defence, boosting climate change resilience, and protecting water supplies.

The initiative is also set to create ‘investible landscapes’ which it says will link landowners and farmers to “emerging green finance opportunities to help generate viable income streams for the rural economy”, as well as promoting regenerative farming such as conservation grazing with native breeds, developing local sustainable food production.

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Helen O’Connor, head of development at the Shropshire Wildlife Trust, said: “Nature doesn’t adhere to country or county boundaries and that’s why we’re so excited to be working at a landscape scale in the Marches. 

“The region might be part of Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire, Herefordshire and Shropshire but it is a single landscape, worthy of defending with a deep sense of place.”

Iolo Williams, wildlife TV presenter and vice president for The Wildlife Trusts, described the project as giving us “a vision to help nature that’s in crisis”. 

He said: “I’d love to see the fields of the Marches full of curlew, lapwing and yellow hammer, ponds brimming with newts and frogs, and flower-rich hay meadows buzzing with insects once again. 

“In Wales we’ve lost iconic birds such as the nightingale and corn bunting – and water voles are now confined to a few isolated sites and are threatened with extinction.” 

Dr Rob Stoneman, director of landscape recovery at The Wildlife Trusts, said the project is also key to the government’s commitment to restore 30% of degraded land and seas by 2030. However, he added that as 80% of land is used for agriculture it is important to support farmers in reaching that target.

He continued: “It’s vital that we green our rural economy in a way that is fair to farmers and to nature at a time when agriculture subsidy systems change and new trading relationships make parts of British farming less profitable. 

“Wilder Marches is all about making that just transition a reality.”  

Tony Norman, a Herefordshire farmer, said that the project will provide support for landowners during the transition from basic payments to environmental land management payments. 

He said: “Accessing payment for services such as carbon capture and storage, Biodiversity Net Gain and flood control, will enable improvements in linking vital nature habitats, as well as supporting activity such as hedgerow management and tree planting. 

"By working together across the wider landscape, it will enable us to help clean up the rivers and streams of the Marches and to see more wildlife back on our farms.”