Caring about nature at the moment can feel a bit like being an art-lover in a world where every year another priceless art collection is burnt to the ground. But don't give in to despair.

Here in Norfolk we have wildlife areas that are globally significant and it falls to us to value and protect them; our part in what is now a global conservation movement of people with shared values, passions and love for the natural world.

Norfolk boasts internationally important habitats: freshwater wetlands, globally rare heathlands and some of Europe’s best ancient bluebell woodlands. 

Our saltmarshes, which run for miles along the north Norfolk coastline and around the Wash, are some of the finest in the world. They form a vital part of the greatest bird migration flyway on Earth. From the huge skeins of Icelandic pink-feet and Russian Brent geese to whistling wigeon and diminutive snow buntings, countless birds chose our coastal marshes for their winter home. Hundreds of thousands of waders and waterfowl also use these coastal marshes to rest and feed on spring and autumn migrations that link Arctic breeding sites and African wintering areas.

But the challenges facing wildlife today are daunting. The evidence is clear that as human populations and economies have grown, our impact on other species and the world’s natural habitats has been catastrophic. 

Vital work carried out to restore wetlands is helping little terns, photo by Lyn Ibbitson-Elks

This is the first time in human history when we can both see and understand that the loss of other species and ecosystems is not just heart-breakingly sad, but is also rapidly undermining the natural systems on which we ourselves depend. This knowledge must become the catalyst for even more action and a fundamental shift in how nature is valued.

We may feel as individuals we have little power, but when we find common cause with other people, both locally and globally, we become powerful agents for change. 

We can join with others by being part of conservation bodies. Many of Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves are internationally important and are designated as Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protection Areas or Ramsar wetlands in recognition of this. The nature reserves at Holme Dunes and Cley Marshes both help protect important saltmarsh habitats. Vital work carried out to restore and recreate wetlands is helping protect populations of some of the UK’s rarest birds, from common cranes in the Broads to little terns on Norfolk coast.

Of course nature reserves alone will not solve the climate and biodiversity crisis.  Joined up and strategic action to protect nature is needed by councils, landowners, and businesses. Too often government and planning policies have operated in silos and not taken full account of their impact on the natural environment. For example we need policies in local plans to ensure that new housing developments in Norfolk have zero carbon targets and incorporate provision of green space for nature and people.

If businesses, planners, communities and government agencies work together in Norfolk we can not just protect our existing special places for nature, we can restore and create vital new habitats creating a more connected landscape. Our currently isolated nature reserves can become part of a much larger habitat network that wildlife can move across. Norfolk has the potential to lead the way, creating a world class environment for both people and wildlife. But

Our gardens can become mini-nature reserves, credit Richard Burkmarr

this will only come about when planners, statutory agencies and conservation charities all work together to help communities by providing easily accessible advice and information so that it becomes easier to take action to help our wildlife and progressively harder, less socially acceptable, and  in some cases illegal, to do things that damage our local or global environment.

We can all be part of this change and play our part in giving nature a helping hand. When we think about our personal impact on the planet, rather than just stopping doing things to lower our carbon footprint or reduce our consumption of single use plastics, let’s also think about how we can positively improve our local environment. Our gardens can become mini-nature reserves helping to protect declining species such as hedgehogs or providing our bees with rich nectar sources from spring to autumn if we plant the right mix of flowers. We can act together to make our towns and villages more wildlife friendly, by planting hedges, creating wildlife meadows and corridors.  

If you would like to do more why not consider volunteering with a wildlife organisation. If you have space consider planting a tree or even better join with others to create a community woodland. Support vital campaigns to protect wildlife on land and at sea and let your MP and Councillor know that you want stronger and more joined up policies to help Norfolk become a world leader in protecting nature.

Every action makes a real difference. Never doubt that positive environmental change is possible and that when enough individuals care and take action, great things are achieved. 
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