Chester Zoo has received a £318,323 National Lottery Heritage Fund grant to accelerate nature recovery and ensure a brighter future for wildlife in Cheshire.
The funding will enable the zoo to develop detailed plans to create and restore vital habitats for wildlife and empower local communities to connect with the conservation of severely declining UK species, through a new project named Networks for Nature.
The Networks for Nature initiative will also provide comprehensive conservation skills training, establish a wellbeing and accessibility programme, engage young people and create volunteering opportunities, all designed to help ensure wildlife can thrive alongside people across the region.
The project is being led by the zoo, in partnership with a host of other organisations including Cheshire West and Chester Local Authority, Cheshire Wildlife Trust, the Canal and River Trust, Sustrans, the Land Trust, and Cheshire West Communities Together. Each of the organisations has committed to improving their own land holdings in the area to contribute to the enhancement of Cheshire’s natural landscape.
Hannah Brooks, Community Engagement Manager at Chester Zoo, said, “We’re in midst of a global biodiversity crisis. The UN estimates that one million species are at risk of extinction, including many here in the UK, meaning there’s never been a more pressing time to stand together for nature.
“Nature is in need of urgent help and our new Networks for Nature project will create a thriving, better connected, wildlife-rich landscape across northwest Cheshire, benefitting both nature and the surrounding communities.
“Maintained through a strong partnership of local organisations, this grant will enable a comprehensive and joined-up response to tackling habitat fragmentation and degradation, and urban isolation from nature.
“We plan to drive nature recovery by creating and connecting a diverse set of habitats for species to thrive now and long into the future, make nature more accessible and inclusive for everyone to improve wellbeing and empower more people to have an active role in conservation, with the skills and know-how needed to create and grow biodiverse habitats.
“By coming together, we can make a significant difference to improving nature in Cheshire, and contribute to the global effort to protect and restore biodiversity.”
Much of Britain’s wildlife is disappearing with 50% of UK species reported to be in decline. These include:
- The water vole, the UK’s most rapidly declining mammal, which has been lost from 94% of places where they were once prevalent since the 1960s. The species has declined by 30% in the UK since 2006 due to habitat destruction and water pollution
- Great crested newts, who’s number has dramatically declined over the last 50 years having lost essential breeding ponds sites to pollution, development and farmland
- The black poplar, thought to be Britain’s most endangered native timber tree, which has been in decline for the past 200 years.
Helen Featherstone, Director, England, North at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said, “Thanks to National Lottery players, we’re delighted to support the first-round development phase of this project that will enable Chester Zoo and its community partners to work towards creating a thriving, wildlife-rich landscape that will not only benefit nature but also local people across Cheshire. It is vital that we value, rebuild and protect our natural heritage so it is sustained for the future, and this project has that at its core.”
Chester Zoo will now work closely with local communities and partners over the next 14 months to ensure a robust second-round application can be submitted to The National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2025.
Already the project has led to the creation of four new jobs in the area, while the team heading up the project is now looking for local landowners to join the movement to transform natural landscapes across Cheshire.
Images: Chester Zoo