One hundred years ago, on Wednesday 16 May 1912, Charles Rothschild held a meeting at the Natural History Museum in London. On the agenda was the idea of protecting not only individual species but whole natural habitats within nature reserves: now a well-recognised idea but radical at the time.
The meeting led to the formation of the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves (SPNR), the body which would later become The Wildlife Trusts, and the compilation of a list of 284 wildlife sites that were 'worthy of preservation'.
The list of wildlife sites, published in 1915, included four sites in Lincolnshire: sand dunes near Skegness (Gibraltar Point), Scotton Common, two parallel dykes at Huttoft, and Freshney Bog & Blow Wells. Though it took many years for any of the places to receive protection, it was the first step in creating a network of nature reserves across the UK.
County-based Wildlife Trusts began appearing independently: Norfolk in 1926, Yorkshire in 1946 and Lincolnshire in 1948. Soon founder, and now President, of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust Ted Smith began helping Wildlife Trusts establish in other counties. By the end of 1950 it was clear that this growing movement needed national representation.
Ted Smith chose the SPNR for the job: "We felt that each Trust, whilst losing nothing of its independence, would benefit from association with others and that the conservation movement generally would thereby be strengthened." Led by Ted Smith, the SPNR became the co-ordinator. Within 15 years Wildlife Trusts covered the UK mainland.
Today, the 47 Wildlife Trusts manage 2,300 nature reserves across the UK, the Isle of Man and Alderney. Almost 100 of these reserves are in Lincolnshire and include the sand dunes to the south of Skegness, protected as Gibraltar Point by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust since 1949, and Scotton Common, protected since 1954.
Owning and managing protected sites as nature reserves remains a core part of the Wildlife Trusts work but the ensuing hundred years has seen the Trusts expand and develop. The nature reserves are now at the heart of Living Landscapes.
There are over 100 Living Landscape schemes in the UK, covering an area of over 1.5million hectares. Each scheme covers a large area of land: a naturally functioning landscape (such as a river catchment) and encompasses Wildlife Trust reserves and other important wildlife areas. The schemes see individual Wildlife Trusts up and down the UK working with partners, landowners and local communities to restore the natural landscape. These local schemes are all pieces of the jigsaw that will combine to form the wider Living Landscape we envisage: a national network of high-quality natural areas for people and wildlife.
A 12 minute version documentary about the history of The Wildlife Trusts, featuring former Presidents Professor Aubrey Manning and Sir David Attenborough, will be available to watch online from today (Saturday 12 May). www.wildlifetrusts.org/100