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Community Network for Wildlife Wins £83,000 Lottery Boost

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BBOWT project officer Lily O’Neill, centre, at a training session. Picture: BBOWT

A project helping community groups to help wildlife has been awarded £83,000 in Lottery funding to expand and reach more people.

Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) has already worked with hundreds of nature lovers across the three counties as part of its Community Network, helping groups carry out wildlife surveys on their village green, manage their meadows and teaching teams to use tools.

Now the scheme which connects communities has received a grant from the National Lottery Community Fund to help even more people help wildlife where they live.

Lily O'Neill, BBOWT Community Network Project Officer said: "I love doing this project so much because, like a healthy plant, it's taken on a life of its own: I run these training sessions then months later I see people again and they tell me all the incredible things they've been doing. There have been a million tiny moments like that which add up to make a huge difference.

"Loads of the people who join our network are already doing great things for wildlife. We're able to support them by providing resources via our toolkit as well as running interactive workshops, but most importantly we bring them together so they can forge connections and share their expertise. I've been so inspired by the first year of this project and I can't wait to help hundreds more people to help wildlife over the next two years."

BBOWT launched the Community Network in July 2022. The aim was to enable the dozens of community conservation groups already going across the three counties to help wildlife on their doorsteps.

A Facebook group for the project now has more than 240 members, and project officer Lily hosts free online monthly meet-ups where group members can chat, swap stories and get expert advice from the Trust on helping specific species like hedgehogs, owls and badgers.

Lily also runs regular free workshops on topics such as how to manage a green space for wildlife, how to carry out a basic species survey, how to run a public event as a community group and how to lead a community groups doing practical conservation work.

Groups can access a website with training videos and expert guidance documents on subjects including the benefits of hedgerows and great crested newts. Communities are also invited to add their projects to an interactive online map where anyone in the three counties can find work for wildlife near them.

The network is helping to tackle the nature and climate crisis by protecting more wildlife and creating more nature everywhere, but volunteering and practical work also offer mental and physical health benefits.

Liz Shearer, BBOWT Community Engagement Director, said: “We are facing a nature and climate crisis, and wildlife urgently needs our help. We are calling on our Government to do more, but we cannot wait for those in power to solve this problem – every one of us needs to do our bit to help. The good news is, each one of us can make a real difference today: taking action to protect wild spaces, feeding the birds and spreading that message really do help plants and animals survive.

“Studies show that if just one in four people takes action, that can be enough to shift the way an entire community behaves, and that’s the philosophy behind our #TeamWILDER movement: by working together, we can bring about the change we want to see ourselves and protect our beloved wildlife for future generations to enjoy and benefit from.”

Over the next two years Lily is planning to hold regular free networking events across the three counties with stalls and talks, and more training sessions, including one on plant identification which is expected to be particularly popular.

Anyone interested in being part of the BBOWT Community Network can join the Facebook group or email teamwilder@bbowt.org.uk to be added to the mailing list and get regular updates.

To add your community group to the networking map visit www.bbowt.org.uk/team-wilder/team-wilder-community-groups

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A project helping community groups to help wildlife has been awarded £83,000 in Lottery funding to expand and reach more people.