We recently spoke to Mark Ward, Wilder Coasts Project Manager at Somerset Wildlife Trust. We awarded the charity a £92,330 grant over 3 years from the HPC Community Fund. Mark told us how the continuation funding will allow them to further develop the charity’s Wilder Coastal Action Network, working with communities from Minehead to Brean.
“The sea in Somerset has always been a bit neglected because it’s thought of as the ‘muddy old Bristol Channel’. But there’s a lot going on out there. We have to make our communities aware of that and then engage them to help us protect the wildlife.
Our target is to engage with at least 8 different communities over the course of the project. That doesn’t just include communities on the Somerset coast, they can be slightly inland. It’s very much up to the communities themselves what they want to do.
For example, in Highbridge people wanted to have walkable paths all the way to Glastonbury. There are pathways next to the river – but they then peter out into muddy fields and rarely-used footpaths. They also want people to really appreciate local green spaces. So, we’ve done some training with them using an app to record the wildlife that live on the paths. Next summer we’re also going to do more ‘citizen science’ with them such as a bumblebee survey and a butterfly survey.
This kind of citizen science is very important. It helps us collect some really good baseline data of what’s actually happening along our coasts. That could be people getting out on the seashore and seeing what’s there. Or encouraging people to go to headlands and harbours to spot sea mammals – which in Somerset tends to be harbour porpoise – and get a better idea of those populations.
We’ve also been working with youth clubs in more disadvantaged areas. That’s involved camping weekends on the coast that young people have found really enjoyable and rewarding. Foraging sessions have also been popular. One adult group went out for a walk with a trained forager who went through what it was possible to eat. Then they went back to a café where she made tea out of different kinds of local wild herbs.
The HPC Community Fund grant has allowed us to move faster on all of this. There are lots of hard-working volunteers but it’s good to have people who can bring it all together. We’ve got lots planned for the future – I think that if people understand the nature that’s out there then they’re more likely to want to protect it.”