Saving England's most threatened species from extinction




Wildlife in South Yorkshire's Dearne Valley is given special protection

This is a story of hope and optimism and a tale of how, with determination, cooperation and the will to win, one of the most degraded landscapes in Europe has been transformed into a wildlife haven.

Today is the day I have dreamt about for 20 years!

At times I wondered if it would ever happen, and yet here we are. The Dearne Valley Wetlands have been notified as a SSSI (Site of special scientific Interest) by Natural England. An incredible “rubber stamp” from Government and recognition of the nationally important wildlife spaces our local community has created and restored over the past few years.

Within a few miles of my house, in an area once dominated by the coal and glass industries, I can watch flocks of thousands of wading birds wheeling in the sky before dropping to feed on shallow food-rich waters. I can watch Bitterns, a bird that - like the Dearne - has made a come-back from the edge of oblivion, to raise chicks and then watch them fly out over vast reedbeds, where once there were coal shunting yards. Oystercatchers probe the mud while Avocets gracefully sift water in their slender bills in wetlands that just six or seven years ago were fields struggling to grow crops of cattle feed.

“The Lapwing’s call and display to attract partners over waterworks. Geese honk over-head on their migrations. Buzzards soar and display in the sky.”

We are not just talking about a few isolated, protected “nature reserves” here - this is a landscape transformed. We have the vital core areas of reserves where the wetland birds, ducks and waders can feed and breed but between these sites there is a network of connected landscape, small ponds, wildlife friendly farms, parks, waterworks, reservoirs and the sprawling river corridor with a variety of wet woodlands and river banks that provide more homes for wildlife.

The core areas of this network are now ‘notified’ as a SSSI, they enrich the rest of their nature network of wildlife spaces but also rely on the rest of the network too.

Willow Tit Success

The Willow Tit is a nationally important bird, our most threatened resident bird species and yet has a stronghold in the Dearne Valley. The population of Willow Tits in the UK has declined by 94% since the 1970s but Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s work on a Back from the Brink project here has provided a lot of data on these birds and increased our understanding of how to manage habitats and increase their population.

In the Dearne, we have been working on the data for the SSSI designation for at least 10 years. The recognition of the decline of the willow tit had gone under the radar except for a few experts and was not originally a focus of the Dearne SSSI campaign.

The Back from the Brink Willow Tit project focused in the Dearne Valley enabled us to compile a raft of new data on the Willow Tits population, radio tracked maps on their breeding territories and regular intensive population surveys. We were then able to present this to the Natural England team and request them to included critical areas of previously undervalued scrub and wet-woodland that would otherwise have been overlooked. We lobbied hard! The Dearne Valley Green Heart Partnership promotion of the Dearne Wetlands has been a long-haul team effort. The Back from the Brink Willow Tit project, led locally by Sophie Pinder exemplified this by pulling all the organisations like RSPB, various Wildlife Trusts, Barnsley and Sheffield birders and expertise, (not to mention the artists and poets!) together to pool resources.

The Back from the Brink Willow Tit work has also been supported by work with Yorkshire Water Services on their landholding in the Valley. We have also been able to deliver Willow Tit specific habitat works done through Barnsley Rights of way team, Northern Powergrid, the Environment Agency Ops team and others. It’s great to see these large organisations all doing their bit for the unassuming Willow Tits!

An Historic Connection to Nature

The Dearne Valley Wetlands are also about a sense of identity for the area and communities, a sense of “place” and localness and pride. There were always “little gems” of wetlands that people and birdwatchers knew about or visited, sought solace away from work, but nothing on the current scale for decades.

Many of Barnsley’s towns and communities were created, grew and flourished because of the coal industry. The villages are spread like satellites around Barnsley town centre. This means that there is valuable nature space between the towns and villages.

You don’t visit the nature, it wraps around you, a short walk for most people can take them out into a calming greenspace. How we have needed that over the last year or so!

Today the area is a wonderful resource for birdwatchers, walkers and local residents. The improved environment attracts businesses and helps address the need for economic regeneration for local communities and their councils. People can enjoy the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Barnsley council reserve at Carlton Marsh, the RSPB reserve at Old Moor and the Garganey Trusts reserve at Broomhill, and these give opportunities for local people and visitors to experience and connect with the rich wildlife of the valley.

Rachael Bice, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's CEO said of the new protection 

“A truly inspiring transformation has occurred over a few decades to make this place, so culturally important to the residents of Barnsley, into an abundant living tapestry where both wildlife and people can thrive. The Dearne Valley was stripped bare and polluted during the Industrial Revolution as​ coal mines reshaped the landscape and waterways in the area. Yet nature has recovered here with help from a committed partnership stewarding the changes, and this landscape is now a national exemplar for what is possible, when we support nature to flourish again. It is wonderful that Natural England have designated this landscape recognising the impact of the work done with the community."

A Collective Achievement

The transformation of the Dearne Valley to a wildlife haven has involved a lot of people! The Dearne Valley Green Heart Partnership was set up in 2006 to coordinate efforts that were already underway. The Partnership includes,

  • Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster Councils,
  • Natural England and the Environment Agency,
  • RSPB, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, the Garganey Trust
  • Barnsley Biodiversity Trust,
  • Community groups including Friends of the Dearne and local farmers.

We also work in partnership with Yorkshire Water.

We work with dedicated local volunteer groups without whom the dream would still be just a dream. Many people have worked towards this end, some now gone from the Valley but their contributions were vital.

The Partnership creating the wetlands is vital. By working together, all the organisations can achieve their goals here. For example - the Garganey Trust’s new Broomhill Fleet or the RSPBs Adwick Washlands create space for water, flood storage to prevent flooding in heavy rainfall, which the support’s the Environment Agency’s work.

Everyone benefits - from Lapwing chicks, to local people - and a multifaceted project is obviously good value for money for everyone involved. Local residents benefit by having these facilities on their doorstep - and the improvement they bring for physical and mental health.

A Turning Point

Our vison received a huge boost when the Dearne Valley Green Heart Partnership was selected as one of England’s first 12 Nature Improvement Areas by DEFRA in 2012 for investment to trial the restoration of habitats at a landscape scale. This was followed by a successful National Lottery Heritage Fund Landscape Partnership project that continued to change perceptions and celebrate the heritage of the area.

What Next?

This is a day of celebration - it marks the end of one era but this work is never done. After a brief “catching of breath” and socially distant celebrations, work begins on new wildlife habitats and connections on the borough-wide nature recovery network.

I am fortunate to have been involved with the acquisition, planning, creation and care of around 200 hectares of wetland for lapwings, redshank and snipe - and all their friends - in the Dearne and I am keen to do more!

The Dearne Valley Wetlands SSSI, demonstrates what can be done - to tackle climate change, create new habitats, protect threatened species, transform brownfield sites, road verges and redundant land into great homes for wildlife. Even on areas that have seen the heaviest industrial impact, we are watching the wildlife come back and secure long term protection.


Pete Wall

Project Manager

Back from the Brink - Willow Tit


 Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

Last September we happened to chance upon Graeme Lyons at the Knepp Castle Estate with a film crew (as you do), while he was carrying out a saproxylic invertebrate survey on behalf of the Ancients of the Future project. Saproxylic invertebrates are dependent on dead or decaying wood for part of their lifecycle (or dependent on those that are dependent on decaying wood for part of their lifecycle).  This is very niche group to say the least, and not many people will be aware of the work that goes into monitoring their populations. That is why Dr Ross Piper jumped at the chance to find out more about Graeme’s work at Knepp and the needs of these fascinating species.

Saproxylic Beetle (Opilo mollis) (c) Graeme Lyons

The Knepp Castle Estate in Sussex is one of 19 key sites for the Ancients of the Future project. To understand the needs of the saproxylic invertebrate species present on site, Graeme carried out a series of surveys last summer in the central area of the Estate also known as Repton Park, the original parkland around the castle where there is a large density of veteran trees.

When surveying for saproxylic invertebrates, the best place to look is in and around deadwood and veteran trees with a good amount of decay present. They can be very hard to find due to most saproxylic species spending the majority of their lifetime as larva deep within decaying wood and less time in their adult form.

One way to sample these elusive creatures is to catch them during flight using aerial interception traps. A series of these traps are situated in tree canopies or by deadwood in the perfect stage of decay, making an attractive feast for beetles and other invertebrates. The traps are left there over the summer, capturing insects that fly into the trap, day or night.  The insects drop down a funnel into a killing jar which can be removed and replaced regularly throughout the season and specimens processed for identification. This may seem a counter-intuitive approach, after all the work is taking place to protect these species but due to their elusive nature and technical skill required to identify them, taking a small sample of what exists is crucial if we are to better understand their needs and provide appropriate protection in the future.

Trap hanging from dead limb in Oak canopy

Trap hanging from recently fallen Oak

Graeme visited the park on many occasions between May to September primarily to collect and reset four interception traps but while out used other survey techniques to record species in the field such as beating Hawthorn in May, searching deadwood timber stacks, light trapping and searching trees at night.

False darkling beetle (Abdera biflexuosa) is nationally scarce beetle

The click beetle Ampedus elongantulus is another nationally scarce species becoming frequent in West Sussex

A total of 252 invertebrate species were recorded during the 2020 survey, of which 101 species were saproxylic beetle species.  This takes the total for the whole Knepp Estate to 129 species making it one of the top sites for deadwood invertebrates nationally. It is also the second most important site for deadwood invertebrates in Sussex after Petworth Park.

The day we visited Graeme was resetting a trap placed on a recently fallen veteran Oak in the perfect state of decay near a block of mixed woodland. It was in a sunny glade, created by a gap in the canopy from when it fell. The tree was especially large and as a result there was a huge amount of timber with one very convenient branch that the trap could be hung from.

Graeme said “the number of burrows of Oak Pinhole borer (Platypus cylindrus) that appeared on this tree by the end of summer was remarkable, showing that the tree is at a critical stage in decay for recording deadwood invertebrates”. He also recorded a Nationally Scarce Cylindrical bark beetle (Colydium elongatum) and 15 other species with conservation status.  

Oak pinhole borer (Platypus cylindrus) 

“There are many idioms that involve clearing out deadwood, by definition it is something we have come to see as having no value other than for firewood, but this tree is providing an important habitat for rare saproxylic species. If people want to help our woodlands then they should leave deadwood where it occurs naturally”.


Hayley Herridge

Ancients of the Future Outreach Officer



 Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

Having always been a very amateur botanist, over the last few years I’ve taken a more active interest in arable plant communities in particular. This is in part due to living in an arable-dominated landscape on the mid-Hampshire chalk and the 2020 lockdown meant that local habitats were visited often. I’m in the midst of what many might justifiably describe as an archetypal agricultural desert: plenty of huge fields of cereals, legumes or maize with patchy hedgerows.

One good thing about this arable-dominated landscape is that the soils here are seriously poor: some fields are literally nothing but a thin smear of soil over baked chalk and flint shards. This all makes for an exciting substrate, a land pre-charged for arable scarcities even if they’re only found in that thin weedy strip at the edges. I’ve had some great local finds, including Dense-flowered, Fine-leaved and Few-flowered fumitories and Night-flowering catchfly amongst the more regular Dwarf spurge, Small toadflax and Sharp-leaved and Round-leaved fluellens. Every visit is like a treasure hunt and I find it hugely rewarding.

Having been using the superb online resources offered by Colour in the Margins (chiefly for Fumaria ID!) I then stumbled across the amazing Arable Seed Swap on Facebook. I’ve found this to be a fantastic resource and full of friendly, useful advice and support. And, of course, a source of seed and cultivation expertise. The group is full of experts on arable species and their cultivation: I’ve asked for and received advice on sowing times, soil mixtures and seedlings and have put this to good use.

I soon said yes please to packets of seeds from members of the group and now have a collection of some incredible species on the go. I have various seed trays (Christmas presents!) of poor chalky or gravelly soil containing mouth-watering species such as Corncockle, Corn buttercup and Spreading hedge-parsley with dozens of well-developed seedlings from December sowings. I am eagerly awaiting the first signs of growth from Red hemp-nettle, Night-flowering and Small-flowered catchflies and Weasel’s snout. In early March I even built a small bed solely for arable plant species and have already transplanted some Corncockle and Corn buttercup seedlings to their new home alongside some Keeled-fruited cornsalad I already had growing in the garden. I think my wife is wondering why I’ve never shown such enthusiasm for the vegetable beds.

Hopefully my various seeds and seedlings will provide a foundation for a persistent arable margin flora in my garden, allowing me to harvest and share seed as well as to enjoy these incredibly beautiful and scarce plants. I will continue to visit, survey and record the arable flora of my local area and very much hope to contribute to the ongoing conservation efforts for this unique suite of species.

Fumaria parviflora - July 2020

Fumaria densiflora - May 2020

Fumaria vaillantii - July 2020

Silene noctiflora - July 2020


The Arable Seed Swap Facebook group is for anyone that would like to grow cornfield flowers in their garden, vegetable patch, allotment or even window box. It is purely about the enjoyment of cornfield flowers and has the added benefit that it can increase insect visitors to your garden or allotment. To join the group and get growing head over to Facebook, search for ‘Arable Seed Swap’.


Tristan Norton

Arable Plant Enthusiast



Colour in the Margins is part of the Back from the Brink programme, funded by the National Lottery, and led by Plantlife in partnership with the RSPB.

 Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.
Jack Wallington



I am a landscape designer focused on contemporary gardens that are good for wildlife and us. Working with businesses and private homes, I have designed over 60 gardens since switching careers a few years ago. The starting point for my work is studying natural habitats, landscapes and wildlife, trying to capture wild magic to bring to our gardens. Alongside my design work I am a published author of a number of books including Wild about Weeds, focused on wildflowers. When I’m not designing and writing, I’m out in nature drawing and photographing what I see.



I love the timelessness of this piece; it feels like it could come from the past or the future. Using a selection of random natural materials, it called out to me for the creativity we humans have, and our ability to understand abstract ideas like meaning in dreams. It makes me sad and hopeful at the same time for the future of endangered wildlife depending on what we all choose to do next to save our planet, or not.

Wire Sculpture

Wire Sculpture

The modern, almost minimalist structure combined with bright colours makes for an eye-catching work of art that could quite happily sit in Tate art galleries. The lively colours capture the energy and vibrancy of nature.

Gems in the Dunes Drawing

Sefton Coast Drawing

An excellent pencil sketch of a beautiful landscape - by drawing in black and white it captures the atmosphere and feeling of this coastal habitat. Seeing details, texture and shadow we may otherwise have missed if it were in colour. It shows the artist really sees and understands nature.

5) Turtle Dove copy

Turtle Dove

The story of the turtle dove is a sad one, once abundant in the UK and now quite rare, humans have reduced its numbers greatly through habitat loss. Watercolour is a difficult medium to paint with and the artist here has used it to capture the turtle dove’s detail and beauty perfectly.

Long Ears and Narrow Heads


Grey Long-eared Bat

I love bats - they’re cute and fluffy - and this drawing makes fantastic use of light and shadow to draw out the grey long eared bat’s personality. If everyone could see bats in the same light as this artist, hopefully more will take action to protect them.


Necklace Ground Beetle

Our insect life is in dire need of our help, with populations declining by as much as 70% in the last few decades. I know many people are scared of insects, but I feel sure that if everyone saw them up close, to see how exquisite so many are, they would change how they feel. This watercolour captures the shape and unusual detailing of a beetle.

Tracks of Northern Dune Tiger Beetle (Cicindela hybrida) on dune system at Ainsdale Nature Reserve, Merseyside, UK. May. Photographer: Alex Hyde

Tracks of the Northern Dune Tiger Beetle - Alex Hyde

I thought it was clever and sympathetic of the photographer here to allow nature itself to create the artwork, and to capture that so well. There is so much wonder in nature that we walk past every day, hopefully this photo will help others spot that magic.

Barberry Carpet Moth (Pareulype berberata) photographed on a white backgroun in mobile field studio.
Close up scale detail of Barberry Carpet Moth (Pareulype berberata)
Natterjack Toad (Epidalea calamita) detail of eye, Sefton Coast,  Merseyside, UK. April. Photographed under licence. Photographer: Alex Hyde



Barberry Carpet Moth - Alex Hyde

Moths unfairly have a bad name because they tend to flap around us at night, and yet they are as beautiful as butterflies if we only take the time to look. Often fluffy and patterned in earthy colours, these photos show that something, thought to be mundane, is so much more.




Natterjack Toad - Alex Hyde

Toads are quite magical creatures, with golden eyes captured so brilliantly in this photo. For an animal that spends its time in damp, dark places the colour of those eyes glow with its true majesty.

Creative Q & A

It would be great to hear about your experience of wildlife and biodiversity through creativity, for example, do you connect to nature through a creative outlet and have you got an early memory of nature in books, film, poetry that you can think back to having had an influence on you? How about now?

Where the Wild Things Are is one of my favourite childhood works of writing and art linked to nature. Although it’s about imagined creatures, they capture the wonder we feel when looking at true nature, the wild things a representation of that feeling. Today I still love all art tied back to nature, particularly modern abstract art that focuses on feelings, as well as detailed accurate drawings and paintings - they both serve different purposes to me.

How can creativity and painting, drawing, poetry etc., make nature, enjoying wildlife and understanding the big issues more inclusive and diverse?

In so many ways. Art in all its forms, to me, is about a feeling or capturing how each of our unique personalities see the world. Photography can help capture a fast moving bird or zoom in for more detail to show people what they may otherwise miss. Painting and drawing helps convey our feelings and mood in ways photography can’t. As a writer, I love the written word and the experiences that conversation shares with whoever cares to read it.

Do you think our efforts to reach people through creative workshops and events are positive initiatives? Why?

Absolutely, I am delighted the RSPB is exploring the relationship between us and nature through art and creativity. Often the connection we feel to the natural world can only be explained via creative expression and art.

Art and artists often express social issues through art. Nature has long been connected to art and the earliest forms of art depict wild animals. There are examples now, but do you think there is a bigger role for art and artists in raising the profile of biodiversity loss? If so, what might that look like? Do you think this varies across communities and cultures; and why aren’t there more artists working to highlight environmental issues?

Too often art is focused inward on humanity and I believe there is a much bigger role art and artists can do to raise the profile of biodiversity loss by looking outwards. Firstly, by documenting that loss, capturing what is truly happening around the world as habitats vanish, ecosystem collapse because of insecticides, and species going extinct. Also, by helping people to understand the natural world and how we are part of it. Finally, by also showing what a future could look like if we act to protect nature, and if we don’t.

Back from the Brink is an England-wide collaborative partnership programme of major conservation organisations, landowners and farmers – what are you views on collaboration nationally and internationally?

The only way to save wildlife is through collaboration, I am grateful Back from the Brink brings conservation organisations, landowners and farmers together in this way. It’s vital such initiatives are also international because conservation is a global issue, not just a local one, and time is running out.


Jack Wallington

Landscape Designer

@JackWallington - Twitter @JackWallingtonDesign - Instagram


Jess Pugh Image 1024



Personally, I have lots of interests including art and nature. I have always enjoyed creating artwork and I find that drawing or painting a natural scene helps me appreciate the complex and beautiful world that we live in. My adoration of this world is what makes me want to protect it so much hence why I wanted to make somewhat of a difference. As a member of the RSPB youth council, I can start to make the difference I want to see which fills me with lots of hope.

GitD Artwork 1

Walking Art Painting

I selected this piece of art because I love the abstract brush strokes which are layered with the pencil work. The colours in the picture really drew my eye to the piece and it also feels like a view that everyone can relate to.

Artwork-24 800


Natural Inks Postcard

I really like the abstract style of this piece as well as the medium and colour choices. It is very eye-catching and modern.

Detail of fissured wood of an ancient oak tree, Moccas Park National Nature Reserve, Herefordshire, England


Ancient Tree Texture - Neil Aldridge

This piece was impossible to miss with the sharp contrast created by the gnarls in the wood.

Fly Orchid (Ophrys insectifera) growing in woodland clearing, Rockingham Forest, Northamptonshire. 'Roots of Rockingham', a Back from the Brink project site. Photographed in the field against a white background.


Fly Orchid - Alex Hyde

The contrast of the red orchid flowers and the green leaves pull you in to this image as well as the different textures of the plant. My eyes couldn’t stop wandering around the image and exploring new parts of it!

Red Hemp Nettle 500



Natural Inks Postcard

I love the watercolour work on this image as well as the colours chosen. It has a simplistic charm.




Handmade Paper Artwork

This piece is very vibrant with the different textures and colours that pop out of the piece. Although it seems more basic, it really stands out.

Narrow-fruited Cornsalad (Valerianella dentata). Fivehead Arable Fields nature reserve, managed by the Somerset Widlife Trust. This site has one of the most important assemblages of rare arable weeds in Britain. Back from the Brink 'Colour in the Margins' project. Somerset, UK. June. Photographed against a white background in mobile field studio.


Narrow-fruited Corn Salad - Alex Hyde

I love how the artist captured the delicate petals of the flowers whilst also incorporating the sturdiness of the stems. It looks similar to old herbal drawings with the focus of the image solely on the plant.

Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) photographed on a white background in mobile field studio.


Barberry Plant - Alex Hyde

The colours really pop out of this image making it very attractive. The layout also makes sure that your attention is only focused on the plant.

Creative Q & A

It would be great to hear about your experience of wildlife and biodiversity through creativity, for example, do you connect to nature through a creative outlet and have you got an early memory of nature in books, film, poetry that you can think back to having had an influence on you? How about now?

As a child my parents would often take my brother and I out to the Lake District where we would go for walks and often enjoy the abundance of nature there. Overtime, my love for nature has only increased and I often enjoy taking photos or sketching natural objects. It was the close and constant connection to nature as a child that has enabled me to continue to appreciate it now.

How can creativity and painting, drawing, poetry etc., make nature, enjoying wildlife and understanding the big issues more inclusive and diverse?

Although some people do not live close to areas rich in nature, they can still experience it through artwork. I guess this has been true since people began creating artwork as it was a way to record moments in time so that other people could also enjoy them. Art can reach everyone as all civilisations have developed a form of art to retell stories of ancestors, therefore it is a special way of expressing emotions and memories to other people.

Do you think our efforts to reach people through creative workshops and events are positive initiatives? Why?

I think the idea of reaching out to more people through the arts is a fantastic way of giving other people the chance to appreciate and connect to nature. Creating artwork enables the artist to express their personal emotions and feelings and at the end they are left with something that represents all the effort they put in to create the artwork. Giving people the chance to explore their own personal connection to nature could help inspire them to enjoy nature more and this inspiration may flow to others through their artwork.

Art and artists often express social issues through art. Nature has long been connected to art and the earliest forms of art depict wild animals. There are examples now, but do you think there is a bigger role for art and artists in raising the profile of biodiversity loss? If so, what might that look like? Do you think this varies across communities and cultures; and why aren’t there more artists working to highlight environmental issues?

I think that with the development of technology it has reduced the reliance on art to share places and people, however it cannot replace the more personal connection that art creates. I think artists could help reach out to more people as art expresses more than just an image. I think art could help bring nature back into places where people have been cut off from their natural connection. Art could act as a reminder that humans are a part of the natural world and that we do not own the world; we share it.

Back from the Brink is an England-wide collaborative partnership programme of major conservation organisations, landowners and farmers – what are you views on collaboration nationally and internationally?

Collaboration both national and international is vital to help us restore our planet. One person cannot make the changes that the world needs but everyone working together will enable us to change. Humans are relatively weak on their own but are powerful when connected. When people have wanted change, it has only been made possible when people have come together and agreed that change is needed. Martin Luther King Jr. achieved uniting people which then led to change.


Jess Pugh

RSPB - Youth Council Member


Joel Ashton



I am fortunate to have, through my business, designed, created and implemented wildlife havens in gardens, nature reserves and green spaces for around 15 years.  This of course brings me closer to nature on a regular basis and allows me to see the impact that gardening with nature in mind, not against it, can make a whole world of difference to those creatures that are so dependent on what we do – or don’t do.

Lesser Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera bifolia) photographed against a white background. Dartmoor Natioanl Park, Devon. June.


Lesser Butterfly Orchid - Alex Hyde

I find the simplicity of this piece gives this artwork more impact and allows you to focus on the structure and delicacy of these vulnerable and near-threatened species.  It is strongly scented at night and pollinated by hawkmoths.

To Fly Adventurous



Black-tailed Godwits Cut-outs

An important message in this artwork, direct and honest.  We do indeed need to provide more habitat and spaces for many species.

Shrill Carder Bee Nest

Shrill Carder Bee Nest

All of these handmade bee nests caught my eye, intricate, simple and important.  I am of course very keen to see anything that provides habitats for this unfortunately very rare species, but so pleased to see BfTB are working on helping in an area close to where I live.



Cabinet of Curiosity Artwork

Absolutely thrilled to see so many recognisable species in this artwork, by a primary school pupil.  Red Squirrel, Large Blue Butterfly, Amphibians and insects to name a few.  Really striking and shows awareness at such a young age.

Cabinet of Curiosity Bird

Cabinet of Curiosity Woodlark

I actually covet this piece of artwork!  The sound of the Woodlark has always reminded me of a spinning coin on a table.  Love the intricacy and recycled materials used in this piece.

Cabinet of Curiosity Artwork

Cabinet of Curiosity Nightjar

Although not indicated in the description, I immediately recognise this as the Nightjar.  As shown in this fabulous drawing these birds sit on horizontal branches making their famous churring call and can be heard at dusk.

Cabinet of Curiosity Bugs
Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) Male, detail of skin. Ainsdale Nature Reserve, Merseyside, UK. April. Photographed under licence. Photographer: Alex Hyde


Cabinet of Curiosity Moth

Absolutely love the media used here and the creativity in the materials used.  These put me in mind of the Peppered Moth.


Sand Lizard - Alex Hyde

An absolutely wonderful macro-level detailed photo showing the beauty of this rare lizard male. Once again, destruction of their habitat has made them one of the UK’s rarest reptiles.

Walking Art Drawing
Fans Of The Forest Artwork


Walking Art Drawing

Related to my choice of the Sand Lizard, this drawing shows the beneficial habitat required to help this reptile survive.  I love the loose wispy style of this drawing which is very inviting to the viewer.




Fans of the Forest Artwork

A definite choice for me, particularly as I was at the release day for these endangered Chequered Skipper butterflies – and this drawing brings back wonderful memories.

Creative Q & A

It would be great to hear about your experience of wildlife and biodiversity through creativity, for example, do you connect to nature through a creative outlet and have you got an early memory of nature in books, film, poetry that you can think back to having had an influence on you? How about now?

My earliest memory would be building a small pond with my father, spending time in the woods and nature areas local to me as a child and learning while out and about, usually quite by accident.  If you’re out there, you’re more likely to experience things of course.  My mother relies on nature for her art creations and from her influence I have found that not only being in nature, but recognising and appreciating the smaller creatures, can be beneficial for the mind and soul.  Art is most often an expression of how one is feeling and is accessible to all – as a lot of the artists have proven in the work I have chosen, it does not need new materials or to be expensive and it can be done with various media that is recycled, and can make you think in more detail about how these materials can be utilised to express thoughts and messages about helping nature to thrive, and highlighting those creatures that most would not have engaged with previously, but are made aware of by this beautiful artwork produced.

Do you think our efforts to reach people through creative workshops and events are positive initiatives? Why?

I certainly believe that with BfTB’s help in encouraging awareness through art and creative workshops, and particularly the work with schools, that it will not only have a positive impact on the creatures so desperately in need of our urgent help but a positive effect on the people that engage with both nature and the artwork it influences.

Back from the Brink is an England-wide collaborative partnership programme of major conservation organisations, landowners and farmers – what are you views on collaboration nationally and internationally?

Through the book I have written and through my YouTube channel “Wild Your Garden With Joel Ashton” I have managed to engage with people worldwide about making spaces in their gardens and green areas and am so encouraged by the enthusiasm and responses – there are more people than I ever thought possible that are keen to make a difference, even in the smallest of spaces.  While we, as the world, collectively try to manage the bigger picture we need to keep creating safe-havens and habitats for those creatures waiting for the bigger changes.


Joel Ashton

Wildlife Garden Designer and Installer

@_joelashton - Twitter/Instragram


Willow Tit Radio Tracking Tales - Part 2

The last few weeks of freezing temperatures and plenty of snowfall have evoked memories of the ‘Beast from the East’ storm which hit the UK roughly this time in 2018. It was at this time that the Willow Tit project had hit its momentum with the radio tracking programme, and we had already caught and ringed nine Willow Tits. Whilst the cold snap affected our main survey, where we rely on birds responding with a call to a playback recording, we were able to continue tracking, as the technology did the work for us and we didn’t actually need to see or hear the bird to know it was there.

Surprisingly, one of the most interesting Willow Tits tracked was during this cold period, with snow on the ground for much of the 11 days it was being studied. That bird was fitted with its colour ring combination (Red-Dark Blue) and was tagged as #308 (not very catchy… Bob? Sure, why not). Bob was caught the day Beast from the East arrived, 22 February 2018, at Carlton Marsh nature reserve just north of Barnsley town centre.

Freshly fitted with the radio transmitter, Bob spent some time in the scrub with another Willow Tit which had been fitted with colour rings (Red-Yellow) in November 2017. Not long after, it seemed to get bored with Carlton Marsh and zoomed over the main road, using a thin scrubby track next to the scrap yards and into the plantation known as Pool Ings (if you read my last blog, you’ll know that this is the site where the Willow Tit known as Red-Grey called home when he was tracked in 2019).

Willow Tit caught at Carlton Marsh

The following day, Project Assistant and radio tracker Vivien, started the day up at Pool Ings where Bob skulked in the undergrowth. At some point it travelled back down to Carlton Marsh where it spent some time around the feeders before belting it back up the scrubby corridor to Pool Ings. Poor Vivien had to run to keep up with the bird as it flew down the corridor – it wasn’t wasting any time moving from one site to the next! Bob was spotted spending some more time with Red-Yellow, possibly its mate, and called several times, but spent most of the day in bramble without much activity. The next day saw much of the same – very little. Vivien could be standing within metres of this bird, close enough to touch it, but without the radio transmitter you wouldn’t have a clue it was there. No noise, no obvious movement in the scrub. Bob spent three hours in the same spot, the northern-most point of Pool Ings, possibly moving between the scrub and some nearby garden feeders.

On the fourth day of tracking, Vivien lost the radio signal as once again Bob flew between Pool Ings and Carlton Marsh. Luckily, the receiver picked it up back at Carlton Marsh, where it was feeding six metres high in the tops of some hawthorn. A couple of hours later and it returned to Pool Ings. Who knows what it was doing, as Vivien went four hours incredibly close to its location, but not once able to see how it was behaving. Willow Tits seem to have a habit of disappearing for hours on end, no wonder they are such a pain to survey!

The next day was when the Beast from the East really took hold, and Barnsley was hit with prolonged snowfall. Vivien persevered however, and for the first day since we started tracking it, Bob remained in at Pool Ings all day, not bothering with its usual commute down to Carlton Marsh. The bird often visited garden feeders throughout the day, possibly due to the thick snow cover limiting the usual food source. It also spent a lot of time simply sheltering from the snow in the undergrowth, occasionally popping out to check the weather before thinking “nah” and returning to its hiding place (we’ve all been there…).

Unfortunately, the weather got very bad after that, and fieldwork just wasn’t doable. Vivien returned a week later, now in early March, and fortunately the tracker was still on and working, as Bob was found already down at Carlton Marsh first thing in the morning. After spending some time in the usual bramble and hawthorn patch, it crossed over the road to head back to Pool Ings. This time though, it seemed to take its time slowly moving along the scrubby corridor, maybe it felt sorry for making Vivien sprint this track every other time it whizzed through here.

Over an 11-day period, Bob covered an impressive 6.98ha and on most days would venture 1.5km from the top end of its home range (Pool Ings) to the bottom (Carlton Marsh). It spent most of its time lurking in the northern area, which is likely where the core of the breeding territory is established but would travel a decent distance almost daily to feed and forage for a couple of hours.

These two sites are connected only by a thin strip of young scrub along a former railway embankment, but it shows the value of these linear corridors in the wider landscape and, particularly when the surrounding area consists of industrial scrap yards and bare arable fields, they are a lifeline to species with limited mobility. Bob was paired with another Willow Tit and was often seen with adjacent territory holders in both the northern and southern parts of its range.

Willow Tit 308’s (a.k.a Bob) Home Range

Willow Tits require large areas of habitat to thrive, Bob being the perfect example of the sort of landscape network needed to support nesting and foraging. One of the factors contributing to their dramatic decline is loss of natural nest sites, in particular, clearance of deadwood. Willow Tits do not use nest boxes, as they need to excavate a nest is soft rotting wood. With National Nest Box Week coming up, why not try something different to help Willow Tits? If you manage local greenspaces, try and retain some standing deadwood where it is suitable to do so. You could even try strapping rotting logs to living trees to provide more nesting opportunities. Installing more nest boxes every year will likely be a detriment to Willow Tits, as they attract more competitive species, such as Blue Tit and Great Tit, which often chase Willow Tits out of nest sites and will outcompete them for food resources.

Leaving rotting stumps within bramble thickets can help attract Willow Tit


Sophie Pinder

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Back from the Brink Willow Tit

Project Officer


 Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

Willow Tit Radio Tracking Tales - Part 1

On a cold February day in 2019 (which seems like a lifetime ago), a pair of the UK’s most threatened resident bird, the Willow Tit, went about their daily lives, foraging for food in their usual territory at Pool Ings near Royston, Barnsley.

Pool Ings is a semi-natural mixed plantation woodland on the fringes of urban Barnsley, a former mining town in South Yorkshire. To the north is Rabbit Ings Country Park, where old spoil heaps have developed into flower-rich grasslands and heath, a stark contrast to the industrial scrap yards and disused railways lined with maturing scrub to the south of the site.

Project Assistant Anthony had caught this first Willow Tit pair at this site (to be known as Red-White, the female, and Red-Grey, the male, due to the colour combinations of the rings fitted to their legs). Both a healthy weight, they were then fitted with radio tags so Anthony could track their movements over the next few days to understand how they used the habitat. Or so he thought… the pesky Red-Grey managed to remove its radio tag within ten minutes. Sometimes birds just don’t want to play science.

Red-White however, obliged by keeping the tag on and Anthony was able to track her for three days. Following a period of up to ten days, the tags are designed to fall off by themselves so as not to interfere with the birds’ breeding activity.

The elusive male, Red-Grey

Red-White was an incredibly secretive bird, and was hardly seen or heard during tracking. She spent almost all her time hidden away in dense scrub, often simply moving from one spot to the next likely foraging for insects in the undergrowth.

For the most part, the pair remained in a small area within the woodland. Occasionally they ventured further away from this core area for short periods of time. The core area of activity could be the main breeding site, where nest building takes place and the birds prepare for breeding. The surrounding area of the territory is used to forage for food or materials to line the nest. In all, this pair’s home range (the extent of habitat used) measured 7 hectares.

Radio tracking data for Red-White over three days, February 2019

Interestingly, the pair of Willow Tits would occasionally visit the adjacent gardens, several times a day. They were mostly visiting the feeders but would also skulk around in the hedges and bushes. With the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch taking place Friday 29th – Sunday 31st January, it’s always worth looking out for a sneaky Willow Tit visiting your garden feeders. Their secretive nature and tendency to be bullied by more common garden birds means visits may only be fleeting, but it you do get a Willow Tit in your garden, it’s possible they have a breeding territory nearby if they are part of a pair. Any record is really important given their dramatic decline in the UK, so if you’re confident you have a record, send it to your local recording centre or check out the National Willow Tit Survey


Sophie Pinder

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Back from the Brink Willow Tit

Project Officer


 Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

That Was the Year That Was

The intention with this end-of-year blog was to avoid referencing gloomy current affairs and provide some light distraction for both blogger and reader alike, by picking out some highlights for Project Godwit from 2020. Nevertheless, it’s not possible to talk about how the project has fared this year without at least referring to the pandemic – as the vast majority of the team’s activities were either postponed or cancelled altogether. What I can promise is that there is definitely no mention of Brexit here.

How was the project impacted? There was sadly no head-starting of godwit chicks this year at WWT Welney, very little monitoring of the birds took place, all planned events and activities were cancelled, some members of the team were furloughed and those who weren’t furloughed have been perpetually under house arrest. It would take some pretty hefty sugar-coating to make out there weren’t some low points for the team this year.

Despite all this, there has been plenty to celebrate. In 2020, a total of 49 breeding pairs of black-tailed godwits were observed at our three project sites in the East Anglian Fens – this is an increase from 45 pairs in 2019. Of these 49 pairs, 32 pairs bred at RSPB Nene Washes, 10 pairs at WWT Welney (on the Lady Fen complex and the Ouse Washes) and 7 pairs at the RSPB’s Pilot Project site (which is adjacent to RSPB Ouse Washes).

Nests were recorded on the Ouse Washes this year for the first time since 2013 and there has been a 460% increase in breeding pairs (from 3 to 17 pairs) at the Ouse Washes since the project began in 2017. This means the Ouse Washes now has more godwits than in the last 20 years. Godwits were also spotted displaying (to attract a mate) at a recently created new wet grassland site near the Ouse Washes in the spring; a promising sign this threatened wader may breed at other suitable sites in the area in future.

Although no chicks were head-started this year, it is still worth acknowledging that since the project began in 2017 112 head-started chicks have been released into the Fens. Of these birds, 32 head-started godwits returned in the spring – bearing in mind that most young godwits don’t return to the UK following their first migration until around the age of two. Amongst the 49 breeding pairs, one or two head-started birds made up 16 breeding pairs (that’s 33%). For head-started birds to be breeding for themselves as adults is fantastic for the project and really helps bolster this small, vulnerable population.

To date, head-started godwits have been reported from 10 different countries.

The godwit aficionados will be aware that Project Godwit birds have been spotted outside the UK on many occasions now, with some head-started chicks spotted as far away as Senegal and Morocco. Did you know, however, that head-started godwits have been recorded from ten different countries outside the UK? A total of 28 head-started birds have been recorded from 21 sites in 10 countries: Belgium, Netherlands, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Morocco, Senegal and Mauritania.

Who can forget the amazing travels of Cornelia and that hers was the first ever geolocator tag to be retrieved from a head-started black-tailed godwit in the UK. Unlike a GPS tag, a geolocator has to be physically retrieved from the bird in order for the data to be downloaded, requiring for the bird to be caught. Female godwit Cornelia was head-started as a chick at WWT Welney in June 2018 and her geolocator tag revealed she travelled on migration from RSPB Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire in August 2018 to the wetlands of south-east Mauritania in an incredible 48 hours! It is possible this may even have been a non-stop flight.

Cornelia as a chick in June 2018 at WWT Welney

Then there were the adventures of RSPB staff and intrepid couple Jen and Mark Smart, who cycled 600 miles in eight days to raise money for Project Godwit and the International Wader Study Group (which gives out small grants each year to support wader projects around the world). Jen and Mark visited all 11 nature reserves in England where head-started black-tailed godwits reared and released by Project Godwit have been spotted before migrating to Africa. It was not plain sailing for Jen and Mark though, as their endurance challenge coincided with some of the worst weather the UK had experienced all year – including storms with 45mph winds. Multiple punctures and a broken bike chain were also thrown their way, but Jen and Mark’s resilience never wavered. They raised over £6000 for Project Godwit – thank you Jen and Mark!

Jen & Mark Smart at the finish line at RSPB Nene Washes, after cycling 600 miles in 8 days for wader conservation.

During the first national lockdown in the spring, the team asked the public to help us create a virtual godwit flock for an online art gallery here on the Project Godwit website. People of all ages enthusiastically answered our call and sent in an array of wonderful images of paintings, drawings, sculptures and models of black-tailed godwits. This has been a wonderful distraction for the team this year – and we sincerely hope for the artists involved too. Here’s just a handful of our favourite installations as we sign off for the year. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed. Do check out the rest of the gallery for yourself – and it’s not too late to submit artwork.

By Rosie Drew on Facebook
By Chris Jones on Facebook 
By @Single_Source on Twitter 
Mighty godwit by Ray Mathias, WWT Welney volunteer. 
By Lorraine Auton

Thank you for supporting Project Godwit this year. We have some staff changes in the team in the new year, but will be in touch again very soon with the latest news.

Best Wishes for the new year from all the team at Project Godwit.

Much to write home about.....

The days are getting shorter and colder, the four UK countries have been in and out of lockdowns and tiered restrictions like the hokey cokey, and summer seems like a distant memory. November can feel like a dreary time of year at the best of times, so the team at Project Godwit have found it a real boost recently to receive reports of black-tailed godwits from the UK breeding population beyond the shores of Blighty. News of godwits which were head-started by Project Godwit or ‘wild-reared’ birds which were ringed in the Fens many years ago (before Project Godwit had even been dreamt up) helps us understand the movements of these vulnerable waders on migration, the challenges they face and how we can better protect them.

Postcards from Portugal

A Black-tailed Godwit once ringed at RSPB Nene Washes nature reserve in Cambridgeshire has been reported to Project Godwit from Portugal. Its rings reveal it to be an incredible 19 years old! Ringed as a chick in 2001, this female godwit was spotted at the Tagus estuary, Portugal on 3 October by Daniel Raposo. The oldest known black-tailed godwit on record is currently 23.6 years.

This is yet another godwit from the UK breeding population reported to have been using the Tagus estuary for many years – where the building of an international airport is proposed. The Tagus estuary near Lisbon is a crucially important area for 300,000 waterfowl including 80,000 black-tailed godwits, to stop here on migration to rest and feed on the ricefields and mudflats. This godwit was recorded in what would be a part of the airport with the highest levels of noise pollution and disruption if it goes ahead. To learn more about the threats this airport development poses, see our previous blog here.

19-year-old black-tailed godwit at the Tagus estuary, Portugal (Photo: Daniel Raposo).

There’s been another sighting of a 2019 head-started black-tailed godwit from outside the UK – Juno was spotted in Zambujal, near Sesimbra, Portugal by Pablo Macías and Victor Pizarro on 11 October. This female godwit was head-started as a chick at WWT Welney Wetland Centre and released at RSPB Nene Washes in June 2019 (pictured below as a chick).

This is the second sighting of this one-year-old this year; she was also seen near Seville, Spain back in February. Juno wasn’t spotted back at the breeding grounds in East Anglia this spring – but as young godwits often don’t return from their first migration until the age of two, this is common behaviour. Here’s hoping Juno returns to the Fens next spring.

Juno as a head-started chick at WWT Welney (Photo: WWT)

Another black-tailed godwit from the UK breeding population was also reported from Portugal in October – this time from Tavira in the Algarve on 24 October by Ray Tipper. This ‘wild-reared’ male godwit is 17 years old, revealed by his rings which show he was ringed as a chick in 2003 at RSPB Nene Washes. This male breeds at the Nene Washes every spring and was spotted again this year.

Over the years there have been many sightings of this godwit in Portugal in autumn and late winter, making the team at Project Godwit wonder if he spends the winter here, rather than migrating all the way to West Africa.

Godwit known by his rings ‘BB-OL(E)’ in the Algarve, Portugal on 24 October (Photo: Ray Tipper).

Not terribly thrilling, but…

A new fence may not be the most exciting thing to read about, but then on-the-ground conservation isn’t glamorous. This new steel fence was recently installed in the ditches around an area of RSPB Nene Washes known as ‘March Farmers’. It’s for the benefit of black-tailed godwits breeding at the Nene Washes, the stronghold for the breeding population of this threatened species.

Anti-predator fence (and photo-bombing cow) at March Farmers area of RSPB Nene Washes reserve.

Eggs and chicks of this ground-nesting wading bird are vulnerable to predators such as foxes and badgers, so the purpose of this fence is to keep ground predators out and protect breeding godwits, giving them a helping hand. The team will be monitoring its efficacy in the spring and making any minor adjustments to its design if necessary. This permanent fencing barrier is part of a number of fencing solutions the team have been trialling since the project began in 2017. We’ve also been trialling temporary electric fencing around key godwit breeding areas at the Nene Washes.

The metal fence posts of this anti-predator fence will ensure longevity of the structure.

This major asset for RSPB Nene Washes and Project Godwit has been funded thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund via the Back from the Brink programme and the EU LIFE Nature programme.


by Rebecca Pitman, Senior Project Manager for Project Godwit
Back from the Brink


Project Godwit is a five-year partnership project between the RSPB and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust with major funding from the EU LIFE Nature Programme, HSBC 150th Anniversary Fund, Natural England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund through the Back from the Brink Programme, Leica and the Montague-Panton Animal Welfare Trust.