Living Landscapes - a healthy future for wildlife and people
Creating what we call 'Living Landscapes’ is a different way of looking at conservation and how we manage land to achieve more for wildlife, people and the economy. Traditionally, nature conservation in this country has focussed predominantly on protecting specific sites - or nature reserves. However as the demand for agriculture, housing and other development has increased over the last decade particularly, the room for wildlife and natural processes has decreased, and we are at a point where we now have smaller, isolated, yet wildlife rich pockets of land - like nature reserves - that are surrounded by land that is inhospitable for many plants and animals. Natural habitats as a result have been lost on an unprecedented scale, and both common and rare species are now in decline as they cannot travel freely to feed and breed. It is essential that we reverse this - and quickly.
Put simply, a Living Landscape joins the dots
A Living Landscape links up remaining wildlife-rich sites across an area to create a dynamic, robust and naturally functioning large scale landscape for the benefit of wildlife in the long term. The first step is to ensure that ‘core’ sites, nature reserves and protected sites are managed in the best way for wildlife, but beyond that we then look at how to connect whole river catchments and entire tracts of land and put plans in place that may take many decades to achieve, but will have the maximum impact in terms of protecting our beautiful landscapes and precious wildlife into the future.
We work with farmers and landholders and provide wildlife-friendly advice to not only them, but also to, communities, smallholders and individuals who all have a part to play in terms of connecting green spaces of all sizes for the benefit of wildlife across our county. We also work closely with local authorities to help influence those plans and policies that either help us to promote a Living Landscape, or could prevent it. For example, flood and water level management issues are likely to become more acute on the Somerset Levels and on the coast, as climate change starts to bite and our Living Landscapes approach provides a geographical focus to this work.
Somerset's Living Landscapes
Each Living Landscape scheme covers a large area of land: a naturally functioning landscape (such as a river catchment) often encompassing several of our nature reserves and other important wildlife areas. Each Living Landscape scheme consists of:
Core areas of high quality wildlife habitat
Often these will be protected areas, nature reserves, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) etc. These are the vital sanctuaries from which wildlife will be able to re-emerge into the wider landscape once it is restored.
Connections between core areas
Continuous corridors of suitable habitat, such as river valleys or diverse hedgerows, act as ‘wildlife highways’ allowing species to travel through areas disturbed by human influence as they disperse through the landscape to find suitable living conditions – this is even more important in the face of climate change. Habitats can also be connected by a series of stepping stones, rather than a large swath of continuous habitat. Stepping stones are smaller, unconnected natural areas, pockets of protected land that act as stop-off points for wildlife on the move – for example a series of copses in open grassland.
Permeability across the whole landscape
Land between the core areas and connecting habitats needs be more accessible to wildlife. It may not all be pristine habitat but we can make changes to the way that land is managed so that it is easier for wildlife to move through and re-colonise the landscape.
It is also important that we manage the wider countryside more sustainably so that we can continue to benefit from the essential ecosystem services provided by the natural environment, such as clean air and water, healthy soils, food and flood management.
People and communities
Our Living Landscape work aims to reconnect people with the natural world and promote the benefits it provides - from the technical and functional (food production, clean water), to the spiritual (nature makes people happy!) We work closely with local communities to promote the wildlife on their doorstep. Living Landscape schemes improve access to wildlife and green spaces and provide opportunities for recreation, education and hands-on volunteering. In fact, our volunteers are often vital to the success of our Living Landscape schemes.
Sustainable local economies
Many Living Landscape schemes also make sustainable, low carbon contributions to the local economy by providing employment opportunities, promoting locally grown food or marketing conservation grade beef from grazing herds.
Find out about more about Somerset’s Living Landscapes: