The wildlife property developer of the fens

At first glance the Fens landscape surrounding the Ouse Washes does not feel like a place that is rich in wildlife, indeed it is has a strong farming heritage and is well known in the UK for growing salad crops, root vegetables and wheat in the low lying fertile soils. However, I was to learn something different as I was to meet Cliff Carson the Environmental Officer for the Middle Level Commissioners, the organisation that manages the flood defence and water levels in the Ouse Washes area and beyond.

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The Middle Level Commissioners.

As I drove down a narrow fen road to meet Cliff I passed by several half – built and now derelict bungalows which for some untold reason had been abandoned by the owners before they were completed and they looked a real mess and blot on the landscape. I met up with Cliff and we drove off in his truck to survey work he has done over the last five years for the Middle Level Internal Drainage Board Biodiversity Action Plan. Essentially wildlife improvements for the most threatened plants and animals that require some conservation help along the way, both to increase their numbers and the places where they live.

Over the length of the day we visited pumping stations to inspect on bat boxes and barn owl boxes that Cliff had constructed over the last five years. In fact, 92 barn owl boxes to be exact, erected in barns and on the sides of pumping stations – these boxes are well used and are really important for the breeding success of the owls as there is precious little natural nesting sites for the birds.

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Inspecting a barn owl box on the side of a pumping station.

The reason for meeting Cliff was as part of my Elements in the Landscape project to photograph people who live and work in the Ouse Washes landscape and who have some connection with it – and Cliff certainly fitted my criteria as he spent over 30 years with the RSPB at the Ouse Washes reserve and more recently 10 years with the Middle Level Commissioners.

Under a road bridge Cliff showed me the difference between otter spraints and mink scats, with the former apparently having a strong musky smell, not that I noticed that much on the cold February morning! It is good to know the otter is holding its own in the area, although some are being found drowned in the illegal eel nets as eel numbers begin to increase.   Cliff has helped the otter population too with constructing over 70 otter holts along the banks of the drains with the help of funding from Landfill Community Fund grants.

 

 

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Clearing out kingfisher holes in the metal revetment.

The Kingfisher is another species that has had a helping hand – here Cliff has bored over 150 holes at over 80 locations in the metal revetments to create artificial nest sites and during our trip around the Washes Cliff got busy deepening the holes to get the right angle so that the Kingfishers can fly up from just above the water into the nest.

Our day finished, we drove back and Cliff joked that he is sometimes referred to as the wildlife property developer of the fens as so much of his time is spent constructing homes for wildlife.  It is more than likely that much of his wildlife home making will last for decades and will a great legacy for wildlife, which is more than can be said for the property developer of the decaying bungalows I passed on my way home.

Pete Johnstone.

 

 

 

 

PJ.elements have been awarded a small grant by the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership Scheme to deliver Elements of the Landscape, a project to photograph people living and working in the Ouse Washes landscape and document their story through images. The people captured in the portraits will have a connection to the land or water, farming, biodiversity crafts or community life.

The Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership Scheme is a 3-year project largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The scheme focuses on the promotion of the area surrounding the Ouse Washes, the heart of the Cambridgeshire and Norfolk Fens, and on encouraging community engagement with the area’s diverse heritage.

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Little egrets and whooper swans in the distance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crowdfunding Nature: Love a Duck campaign!

Duck End is a much loved nature reserve on the edge of Maulden in Bedfordshire. It has ponds, marshy areas, pollards and a wildflower meadow and home for lots of wildlife. The reserve is also the last remnant of Maulden Moor, where peat was cut for fuel in the 18th century, so it has wildlife and some history but walking around the reserve, especially in winter, is getting increasingly difficult as it can be a very wet place.

The Greensand Trust who manage the reserve want to replace the old boardwalk with a new one and will be running a crowdfunding campaign, called Love a Duck!  to help raise funds for the new boardwalk.

Crowdfunding will be used to replace the old boardwalk

Crowdfunding will be used to replace the old boardwalk.

I met Jon Balaam from the Greensand Trust on the day of filming the crowdfunding video who explained that the volunteers have really enjoyed preparing for the video and the crowdfunding idea and that the Trust hopes to be launching the campaign next week.

The crowdfunding video

The crowdfunding video

The Greensand Trust is one of a number conservation organisations who are taking part in Crowdfunding Nature a pilot project run by the East of England Biodiversity Forum to test the potential for crowdfunding to raise funds and profile for nature based projects.

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Watch out for the Love a Duck crowdfunding campaign coming soon!

Photo: Pete Johnstone

 

 

New environmental grant programme – Wales, Scotland and England

Greggs Foundation:

Improving people’s lives by improving their environment.

It is good to see that the Greggs Foundation have launched a new environmental programme funded by the 5p levy on carrier bag sales in Greggs shops across the country. The programme is a pilot and the outcomes will be reviewed after six months.

The programme is community focussed and applicants need to show how people, particularly disadvantaged people will benefit. All projects must have an environmental benefit. Only organisations with a turnover of below £300,000 are able to apply. There are two grant levels, £2500 and £10000. When applying think about where your nearest Greggs shop is located.

This new environmental funding is to be welcomed and I very much hope that the Foundation publish the findings of their review once completed as it will be useful to see how communities make use of the grant and the benefits gained. Having previous experience of assessing grants I think that one finding may be that the time taken to assess a mass of grants up to £2500 may be too time consuming for their committees and the £300,000 cap on organisations may again be too low, but time will tell.

http://www.greggsfoundation.org.uk/environmental-grants

Photo: Pete Johnstone

Crowdfunding Nature with Froglife

Project Update. Froglife’s campaign is now live – please support it if you can: http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/hoppy-families

 

At last the vision of Crowdfunding Nature is beginning to take shape. I spent a lovely morning with Cat Duerden from Froglife at their Boardwalks Local Nature Reserve in Peterborough as they filmed their pitch for their first venture into crowdfunding.

Cat explained: Froglife are planning to launch our exciting new crowdfunding campaign in early February to raise £3500 to create a ‘Hoppy Families’ Nature Trail. As part the campaign we want to encourage more people to visit the Boardwalks as although the reserve is free and easily accessible and close to the city centre, few people seem to know about this beautiful greenspace.

Getting the filming script right

Getting the filming script right.

Crowdfunding Nature is a pilot project being run by the East of England Biodiversity Forum with Natural England to test the effectiveness of crowdfunding to help raise the profile and funding for nature based activities in the East of England. Close behind Froglife are 6 other environmental groups working up their own crowdfunding project to be launched in the coming months.

The Crowdfunding Nature project initiated by PJ.elements with the help of CrowdfundUK is providing training and ongoing support for the environmental groups involved in the project.

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The Boardwalks Local Nature Reserve, Peterborough.

Crowdfunding has proved itself as an effective way of doing commerce in the business world yet I believe their are real opportunities for nature to benefit as well. We just need to get the right mix of people and projects together and inspire public to get involved. I am looking forward to the Froglife crowdfunding campaign coming out and seeing the video too – it is going to be fun!

I will be sure to blog the crowdfunding campaigns on this website and on Twitter as they go live – all help in promoting the campaigns once launched we be gratefully appreciated.

Pete Johnstone

PJ.elements

Photos: ©Pete Johnstone.

Main picture: Katie with video, Cat Duerden centre and Richard with Lionel the Frog.

PJ.elements awarded Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership Community Heritage grant.

PJ.elements has been awarded a Community Heritage grant from the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership to photograph people living and working in the landscape of the Cambridgeshire and Norfolk fens.

Pete Johnstone the owner of PJ.elements said:

This is a great opportunity and I’m looking forward to being able to meet and photograph some of the people who live and work in the area and to try and tell their story. I am aiming to photograph farmers, people who are responsible for the water management of the Ouse Washes and those involved with local crafts in the area.

Mark Nokkert, project manager for the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme said:

In awarding the grant we like the fact that Elements of the Landscape  will leave a photographic record of people living and working in the Ouse Washes.  We look increasingly to use images of the 1947 floods and earlier ones showing life and people living in past times, and so we  think that this project will  add an important  landscape-specific  contribution to an image library of  fenland life today. 

Pictured are Sara Marshall and Mark Nokkert of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership team.

Photo by Pete Johnstone.

The Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme (OWLP) is a 3-year project largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The scheme focuses on the promotion of the area surrounding the Ouse Washes, the heart of the Cambridgeshire and Norfolk Fens, and on encouraging community engagement with the area’s diverse heritage.

 

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Crowdfunding Nature Workshop

Through the East of England Biodiversity Forum we are encouraging 6 projects to be worked up as crowdfunding campaigns  to be launched over the coming months.

All of the projects covering the counties of Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire will have a focus on nature and will aim to test and demonstrate the effectiveness of using crowdfunding as a mechanism to raise funds and profile for nature conservation work.

The workshop in November gave the participating groups an opportunity to learn more about how crowdfunding works and to help each other build a stronger case for their individual campaigns.

Some of the feedback included:

  • De-mystifying the whole crowdfunding thing and helped that it was such a friendly atmosphere;
  • Aware now of how to build a strong campaign and avoid the pitfalls;
  • Pooling collective ideas and experience.

    Crowdfunding Nature workshop, Cambridge

    Crowdfunding Nature workshop, Cambridge

The workshop was facilitated by Anne Strachan of CrowdfundUK and funded by Natural England.

Pete Johnstone of PJ.elements said, If crowdfunding can deliver benefits for business, then it can work for nature too, we have just got to get better at engaging a wider audience in the work that we do.

As the campaigns get launched we will be promoting them on this website as well as elsewhere so watch out for them and please support them if you can.

Thanks to Watergull Orchards for donating a case of their excellent apple juice for our lunch!

Apply for the Greenspace grant programme, Scotland, Wales, England

Here is some good news for once on green space funding. Groundwork are working with Tesco to improve greenspaces in England, Wales and Scotland. It’s called the Tesco Local Community Scheme.

The money raised from the 5p bag charge in Tesco stores will be used to pay for a large number of local projects to improve green spaces in communities. Projects that will get the green light as a result of the funding will include building new pocket parks, sports facilities, woodland walks and community gardens.

Administration of the local funding will be managed by Groundwork, which specialises in transforming communities and the local environment for the better.

Deadline for the first round: 12 noon on 27th November 2015

More Details:http://www.groundwork.org.uk/Sites/tescocommunityscheme/pages/grants-tes

Good luck – please let me know if you apply and whether you get any funding.

Photo: Pete Johnstone ©

Wisbech Missing Links

Over the next couple of months PJ.elements will be joining forces with Cambridgeshire ACRE to undertake the Wisbech Missing Links project.

Wisbech and the surrounding fenland villages having been recognised as having poor access to local services and the surrounding countryside due to a fragmented rights of way network. This project aims to make access from the villages surrounding Wisbech into the market town through joining up the rights of way network.

One of the Bridleways to be found around Wisbech

One of the rights of way to be found around Wisbech.

The Wisbech Missing Links project aims to:

1. Improve the existing rights of way network around Wisbech to make it more accessible and ‘user-friendly’ for local people to use and;
2. Increase the number of local people using the rights of way network in and around Wisbech for both access to services and for leisure purposes.

The project is funded by Cambridgeshire County Council and is undertaken with the support of the Cambridgeshire Local Access Forum (CLAF).

The CLAF played a major role in the development of the Cambridgeshire Rights of Way Improvement Plan and it identifies Fenland as one of the areas for for right of way network improvements.

Notes:

Cambridgeshire Local Access Forum (CLAF), is a statutory body, set up under the Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW), to provide advice to local authorities and other statutory undertakers on access to the countryside, is keen to work with others on improving the rights of way network, in and around Wisbech; and as a way of increasing the opportunities for local residents to access local services, surrounding countryside and green space.

 

Cambridgeshire County Council

Cambridgeshire Local Access Forum

National Federation of Parks and Green Space

The National Federation for Parks and Greenspace is the leading voluntary body supporting Regional greenspace Forums and Friends groups in the UK. The NFPGS was set up in 2008 to share learning, develop good practice and most importantly to raise the issues impacting on open spaces and their volunteers and to recognise the value that greenspace can bring to communities and the environment.

With funding from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation the NFPGS is developing it’s work in the coming year by organising regional conferences to help increase the Network and encourage closer working between the different Forums and Friends groups. Sarah Royal CEO from the NFPGS said: “we are looking forward to meeting lots people from the member groups but we would also be keen to see new people at the events and indeed join the Federation to help strengthen the greenspace movement.  The first regional conferences is the East Midlands to be held in Nottingham on the 7th November and this is closely followed by West Midlands in Coventry on the 14th November”.  For more information on the regional conferences and the NFPGS please contact: info@natfedparks.org.uk

Funding from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation is also supporting the development of a Strategic Business Plan for the NFPGS which will help lay out a clear framework for the Federation to become a sustainable and long term organisation to champion the community parks and green space volunteer sector over the coming years. Pete Johnstone from PJ.elements and Jane Thomas from Milton Contract Ltd have been appointed to develop the plan and will aim to complete in the New Year. Part of Pete’s role will also be looking at funding options to maintain and develop the work of the NFPGS.

To us with the business plan please take part in our survey https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MKBW2KZ

 

 

Photos:  © Pete Johnstone

 

Pop up consultations on the Secrets of the Sands

PJ.elements joined forces with Resources for Change to undertake community consultations in the ‘Secrets of the Sands’ landscape area and nearby Bedford and Milton Keynes to discover how much people know about the Bedfordshire Greensand Ridge.

 

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Consultation in Flitwick, Central Beds. Photo: Pete Johnstone

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An avenue of parkland trees on the Greensand Ridge. Photo: Pete Johnstone

The Research is part of our work with the Interpretation consultancy TellTale and the Secrets of the Sands Landscape Partnership Scheme funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The results of our work will feed into the Interpretation and Audience Development Plan for the Project’s stage two Heritage Lottery Fund application. More information on the Secrets of the Sands Landscape Partnership Scheme can be found here

‘Secrets of the Sands’ is the landscape partnership scheme for the a long narrow wooded sandstone ridge running 35 miles south west to north east from Leighton Buzzard to Gamlingay to the south of Bedford. It is a fascinating area of woodlands, heathland and many old parkland estates with their ancient trees. Certainly a hidden landscape and one worth exploring!

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Rowney Warren, a Forestry Commission Woodland not far from Shefford. Photo: Pete Johnstone

 

Images © Pete Johnstone