Local Nature Reserves

As I hope the title of my blog implies, I have a special interest in the wildlife that lives alongside us and survives, even thrives in our managed and contrived public ‘natural spaces’ from gardens to reserves and the local beaches.

Some of the places I have regularly visited since I’ve been staying in the county of Conwy, North Wales are designated as Local Nature Reserves (LNRs). In this particular area they are areas that have historically been well-used by local people, as well as by folk visiting or holidaying in the area that have been taken over and re-labelled as Local Nature Reserves (LNR). I was unsure as to what an  LNR actually is and the aims and objectives behind their establishment and maintenance.

Seeking an official definition I began with the web pages of the Countryside Council for Wales, the official environmental arm of the Welsh Government Assembly. Although all categories of nature reserve in the country are well indexed and information is easily accessible there, I had to go to the Natural England  website for more a detailed overview.

“Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) are for both people and wildlife. They are places with wildlife or geological features that are of special interest locally. They offer people special opportunities to study or learn about nature or simply to enjoy it.”

All district and county councils have powers to acquire, declare and manage LNRs. To qualify for LNR status, a site must be of importance for wildlife, geology, education or public enjoyment. Some are also nationally important Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

LNRs must be controlled by the local authority through ownership, lease or agreement with the owner. The main aim must be to care for the natural features which make the site special.

There are now more than 1500 LNRs in England. They range from windswept coastal headlands, ancient woodlands and flower-rich meadows to former inner city railways, abandoned landfill sites and industrial areas now re-colonised by wildlife. In total they cover about 35,000 ha. This is an impressive natural resource which makes an important contribution to England’s biodiversity.

Local authorities, often in partnership with other bodies, manage Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) to maintain and enhance their special wildlife and geology and provide access to nature for local communities.

Natural England recommends that LNRs should be:

  • normally greater than 2ha in size
  • capable of being managed with the conservation of nature and/or the maintenance of special opportunities for study, research or enjoyment of nature as the priority concern.

LNRs should also be either:

  • of high natural interest in the local context or
  • of some reasonable natural interest and of high value in the local context for formal education or research or
  • of some reasonable natural interest and of high value in the local context for the informal enjoyment of nature by the public.

A growing number of LNRs are managed by local community volunteer groups, “Friends of” groups or organisations like county Wildlife Trusts, in agreement with the local authority. Where the reserve is managed by the local authority itself, management committees with representatives of local organisations can offer helpful advice. Some LNRs now have Junior Management Boards, made up of local school children, to offer a young person’s perspective on the reserve. Many LNRs are used extensively by schools. All LNR managers should seek the involvement of the local education authority so that the full potential of the LNR for education is realised.

Site-based rangers (funded, for example, by the local authority, sponsorship, or through Lottery projects) are particularly useful in helping to make the most of the LNR for both people and wildlife.

Many LNRs have ‘Friends of’ groups, who carry out practical work on the reserves. Some local groups of the BTCV may also get involved. Contact them to find what they do in your area.

So, in summary, the fate of these ‘nature reserves’, once declared and established, appears to be in the hands of already over-stretched local authorities and dependent on local support and goodwill to maintain them.

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