AN AMBITIOUS new project by Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT) to inspire young people to connect with nature has received a £390,000 boost from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

By reconnecting people with the local landscape, the Trust hopes to prevent traditional hedge laying skills and wildlife from going extinct in the county by creating vital habitat for hedgehogs, bees, bugs and butterflies.

The project aims to inspire young budding ecologists, practical conservationists and the wider local community by working with schools, colleges and youth groups. Events such as a hedgerow festival, hedgerow tales storytelling workshops and hedge laying competitions will help the Trust reach its goal of engaging and inspiring thousands of younger people in the project over four years.

“Hedge laying skills need to become mainstream if we are to help nature’s recovery and future-proof our environment,” said Sarah Jane Chimbwandira, chief executive at Surrey Wildlife Trust. “To protect our valuable wildlife and create jobs for our future, younger people need to upskill in nature conservation skills.

“Through our project we hope to give people the opportunity to develop skills and careers in the environment and also improve the health and well-being of young people by reconnecting them with nature.”

In the past these well-connected networks of hedgerows have been essential habitat, providing a source of food, shelter and safe passage for priority species of plants and animals across the landscape.

Since 1945 the intensification of farming and the trend towards larger fields has meant that half of hedgerows have disappeared from the landscape. In addition, 93 per cent of the county’s remaining hedgerows are said to be in poor condition.

This comes at a time when SWT says more than 130 key species that depend on hedgerows are now at risk of extinction. These species include dormice, hedgehogs, bats, butterflies such as the brown hair streak and rare pearl bordered fritillary, bees, bugs and birds such as the white throat and yellow hammer.

The aim of this new project, due to start this year, is to provide a lifeline for wildlife and future generations. It will also leave a legacy of creating, restoring and protecting more than seventy kilometres of hedgerows in the North Downs and Surrey Hills to create a more resilient and wildlife rich natural environment for the future.

For the full story get the 16 January edition of the News & Mail