13th February 2022

Truly Back from the Brink

Grey long-eared bat. Photo (c) Hugh Clark

Almost one hundred threatened species in England have seen their prospects of survival improved after 5 years of concerted emergency work by nearly 100 organisations funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The Back from the Brink (BftB) programme has been a game-changing partnership of organisations who have worked together to turn the tide for some of England’s most threatened species, and to inspire the nation to connect with and care for our vulnerable wildlife.

The prospects for targeted populations of our threatened species have been improved thanks to the practical actions carried out to support them, with more people knowing about and acting for them, and more effective collaborative working by conservation bodies on species recovery.

  • 96 priority species have made recovery progress to improve their conservation status and prospects as a result of the project, which has contributed to 561 nationally identified priority actions benefiting a total of 188 species.
  • More than 59,000 people have been directly engaged. This included over 10,000 who have learnt skills and nearly 4,000 active volunteers, who contributed over 25 years’ of time in total.
  • The eight Back from the Brink partners worked effectively together and with 90 other organisations across England to significantly boost more joined-up efforts for species recovery. This has been underpinned by a new framework for the conservation sector to work in partnership for the future.

Nineteen species conservation projects were spread across the breadth of England from Lands’ End to the Scottish Borders on around 600 sites, located in places as diverse as: the Dorset heaths, North Downs, Cotswolds, Breckland, Rockingham Forest, Dearne Valley, Sefton Coast and the Yorkshire Wolds.

The organisations warn, however, that full species recovery takes much longer than five years, and improving the prospects of the species targeted is only the vital first stage – with further populations still to address, and many more species also at risk.

Although the Back from the Brink programme has now finished, it leaves a living legacy with an army of trained volunteers continuing the work, a wealth of information available on-line and continued funded projects from some of the partner organisations working on endangered species. Work is also now underway in Scotland with the Species on the Edge partnership project and in Wales Natur am Byth completing funded development stages ahead of launching large scale species recovery projects.

Dr Carol Williams, Bat Conservation Trust's Director of Conservation: "Grey long-eared bats remain one of England’s rarest mammal species. The collaborative approach taken by the Back from the Brink project has enabled us to work with farmers and other land managers to increase the potential of this bat species surviving to the future. The legacy of Back from the Brink has already created new collaborations such as the Return of the Nightrider project with East Devon AONB. We are planning to build on the foundations of Back from the Brink project further so we can make sure grey long-eared bats can be seen hunting insects in the night skies by future generations"

Rich Howorth, BftB Programme Manager: “The BftB programme has been an incredible mission to improve the conservation prospects of some of England’s most threatened species, supported by one hundred organisations, engaging with almost one thousand land owners and managers, and involving thousands more members of the public through our work to inspire a nation. Following such successful efforts over the last five years, we are passing on a legacy of recovering species and engaged people that are committed to their continued conservation.

Drew Bennellick, Head of Land and Nature Policy, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “This project was one we recognised as of huge significance to our natural heritage. A collaborative, visionary and ambitious project delivered by an exciting partnership working together for the first time to improve the future of so many threatened species across England. It was a hugely significant project that has succeeded on so many levels – not only in saving species from extinction but in preserving precious habitats and building strong partnerships that will hopefully see this work go from strength to strength. We are proud to have been involved.

Truly Back from the Brink

Bechstein's bat. Photo - Derek Smith

Back from the Brink boasted a suite of seven multi-species integrated projects:

  • Ancients of the Future, Buglife and partners worked across 20 key ancient tree locations – focussed on 28 highly threatened species of insects, lichens, fungi and bats – to carry out 32 surveys and site management works to improve their prospects and increase site managers’ knowledge.
  • Colour in the Margins, Plantlife worked with partners on a range of arable species, including birds and insects. They led work on ten rare arable plants, involving 69 reintroductions, and produced best practice guidelines for the arable community- with targeted advice provided to over 150 farmers and land managers.
  • Limestone’s Living Legacies, Butterfly Conservation carried out habitat management on 31 sites and provided landowner advice at 49 sites benefitting over 700 ha of land in the Cotswolds, aiming to restore and manage a network of limestone grasslands to improve the fortunes of 15 threatened species.
  • Dorset’s Heathland Heart, Plantlife worked with partners to target 19 rare species from various groups to create the suite of micro-habitats needed for them to be able to expand their populations; over 400 patches of heathland microhabitat were created or restored at 13 sites across the Dorset Heaths.
  • Gems in the Dunes, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation worked with partners and landowners along the Sefton Coast, with strong local public support, to carry out management including scrub clearance to improve habitat quality for Natterjack toads, Sand Lizards, Northern Dune Tiger beetles and other species.
  • Roots of Rockingham, Butterfly Conservation worked to reverse the fortunes of 14 priority species in Rockingham Forest, including reintroducing the Chequered Skipper butterfly, through woodland management across a network of 16 sites, widening seven km of woodland rides and creating 23 ha of open space.
  • Shifting Sands, Natural England led a partnership to secure a future for the Brecks, focussed on 14 priority species including rare plants and beetles, with habitats restored on 12 key sites, 4.5 km of forest corridors widened, and Rabbit enhancements trialled to encourage bare ground.

Plus a further 12 single species projects that looked at:

  • Barberry carpet moth, Butterfly Conservation have strengthened the remaining populations in Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Dorset by planting over 4000 Barberry plants across 166 sites between and around the colonies to strengthen and link them up, enabling populations to increase and expand over time.
  • Black-tailed godwit, the RSPB and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust increased the population of this charismatic threatened bird from 38 to 53 pairs at the Nene Washes and Ouse Washes. 155 captive-reared birds were released and 8 wetland scrapes created, protected by 7 km of new anti-predator fencing.
  • Cornish path moss, Plantlife sought to conserve this very rare species, found only on three former metal mine sites worldwide, by carrying out surveys and creating over 500 m2 of suitable habitat under a new management protocol, and linked up with local bodies to sustain it in the future.
  • Field cricket, RSPB increased the resilience of this rare insect in Sussex and Surrey by releasing crickets on to ten ha of restored heathland at Pulborough Brooks to create a stepping-stone between two existing populations, and by boosting the isolated population at Farnham Heath through translocations.
  • Grey long-eared bat, the Bat Conservation Trust worked with landowners in Devon to improve habitat conditions around and between colonies of this very rare bat, creating enhanced foraging habitat on over 80 hectares of land and increased awareness on over 200 land holdings.
  • Ladybird spider, Buglife worked with partners to benefit this beautiful very rare species by increasing the number of populations from 14 to 19 (involving 95 translocated spiders) now made up of around 1000 individuals, with their heathland habitat carefully managed and the public engaged at RSPB Arne.
  • Lesser butterfly orchid, Plantlife worked on two nature reserves with the Devon and Cornwall Wildlife Trusts to carry out trial conservation management work for this attractive widespread declining species, to seek to address the needs of this poorly understood plant and advise other site managers.
  • Little whirlpool ramshorn snail, RSPB worked on one of just three remaining national populations of this species at its Pulborough Brooks reserve in Sussex, to trial different ditch management techniques and create new areas of occupied habitat and thus increase the robustness of the population there.
  • Narrow-headed ant, Buglife worked with Devon Wildlife Trust on the sole remaining site for the species in England, to manage habitat, monitor nests with dedicated trained volunteers, and trial new nest translocation techniques to establish experimental colonies at two further sites nearby.
  • Pine marten, the Vincent Wildlife Trust monitored the natural recovery of this critically endangered species in northern England to develop a better understanding of the distribution, gathering 60 observations of this nascent population, and facilitating the spread by installing den boxes and informing local people.
  • Shrill carder bee, Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Buglife worked on this endangered bee in Somerset and the Thames Gateway, to carry out surveys and monitoring across 55 sites and provide advice to landowners to enhance 189 ha of habitat for bee foraging and nesting.
  • Willow tit, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust worked with RSPB in South Yorkshire’s Dearne Valley, a key area for this rapidly declining bird, to research and monitor the population and carry out targeted management on 11 sites over 108 ha, producing a management plan and species handbook.

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