Looking back over Cheshire Wildlife Trust's 50 years - Part One

PUBLISHED: 13:55 06 March 2012 | UPDATED: 21:01 20 February 2013

The great crested grebe is firmly set in Cheshire’s natural history, and remains the title of the Wildlife Trust’s magazine to this day Photographs by Ben Hall

The great crested grebe is firmly set in Cheshire’s natural history, and remains the title of the Wildlife Trust’s magazine to this day Photographs by Ben Hall

This year Cheshire Wildlife Trust celebrates 50 years at the forefront of nature conservation in the region. In the first of a two-part feature looking back over the Trust's history,Tom Marshall discovers how it all began

The 1960s were not only swinging, but also a decade of radical change. The summer of love was a big hit, miniskirts were all the rage and Rachel Carsons groundbreaking Silent Spring was published waking everyone up to how badly we had been treating the natural world around us. And also in 1962, a quiet corner of Cheshire was seeing a revolution for our local wildlife the formation of what has now become the Cheshire Wildlife Trust. They say if you were there in the 1960s you cant remember, but fortunately those who attended on the evening of March 10th 1962 still can.

During the 1950s and 60s a number of counties in the UK were forming naturalist groups under the umbrella of the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves and the Cheshire Conservation Trust, as it was then known, was no exception. At the time, resources were pooled between Cheshire and neighbouring Lancashire, and while the same umbrella body known today at the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts (RWST) led the national thinking, Cheshire and Lancashire Wildlife Trusts now operate independently, but with regular partnership projects.

Like much of the concern in the early years of conservation movement, there was a real worry in Cheshire that species could become extinct. Remarkably though, a level of pragmatism still found in how the Trust operates today was evident in 1962, as the then president Professor Alan Gemmell said the Trust would not stand in the way of progress in his first address to the group. This continues in 2012, as the Trust aims to work with developers and commercial interests to seek the best overall gains for wildlife with the minimum possible impact, however complex or challenging that may be.

The same night in 1962 also saw an important decision on the Trusts emblem agreed to be a great crested grebe, replaced in later years by the nationally recognisable badger logo. The grebes had a special significance in Cheshire, which as pond capital of the UK and with many private estates, had remained something of a last refuge for the species as they battled against hunting in the early 20th century for the prized feathers that gave them their name.

It was not long however before the Trust faced its first test, that of the Ringway public inquiry as part of the newly proposed Manchester Airport. Despite a stern challenge to protect areas of the beautiful Cotterill Clough woodland, the plans were approved. However the remaining areas are still in the Trusts nature reserve network to this day.

The modern Wildlife Trusts movement relies on thousands of volunteers and this was also the case in the early years in Cheshire, with the first paid member of staff not appointed until 1969. The Trust had already acquired more than a dozen reserves and a similar number of nature trails and with this growing portfolio it was decided that the fledgling conservation organisation needed to spread its wings into the dizzy heights of a headquarters a portable building in Marbury Country Park.

While the Trust now takes a wider landscape scale approach to conservation side-by-side with its nature reserves, in the 1970s reserves were still at the core of the Trusts remit. The original Society had in fact purchased two nature reserves Cotterill Clough and Marbury Reedbed, almost 40 years earlier in 1934 with funds raised for a memorial to naturalist Thomas A. Coward.

Marbury Reedbed has seen a transformation for the Trusts 50th anniversary as more than 150 metres of brand new boardwalks and planting of native trees now allows visitors a unique perspective on this fascinating habitat a view Thomas Coward may have dreamed of.

The expanding Cheshire Conservation Trust now found itself in need of a new home once again, and in 1991 moved to the aptly named Grebe House on the Reaseheath College campus, the move also celebrating the first 30 years of the Trust and providing an opportunity to officially change its name and logo to Cheshire Wildlife Trust. Perhaps of most comfort to the staff of the time was a building that enabled them to use toilets that didnt freeze in winter!

The early 1990s saw the Trust back where it had begun and another battle this time for a second runway at Manchester Airport. The intervening decades though had seen a growth of a vocal conservation movement across Britain meaning that although the development went ahead, there was now a clear opportunity to achieve more for wildlife.

As a result, both bats and amphibians were well cared for as part of the mitigation process when the runway received planning permission, and this set the scene for a new era with wildlife and the environment increasingly at the forefront of both the political and public conscience.

In next months Cheshire Life, Tom will look at the impact of Foot and Mouth disease, species back from the brink, expanding the Trusts nature reserve network and a host of four-legged staff lead a new approach to conservation.

* The history of Cheshire Wildlife Trust and the 100-year Wildlife Trusts movement across the UK is celebrated in Wildlife in Trust, by Tim Sands, which will available from Easter this year.

As part of Cheshire Wildlife Trusts 50th birthday celebrations, the irreverent host of the BBCs popular Springwatch and Autumnwatch live shows, Chris Packham, heads to the region next month for a very special evening.

An award-winning natural history filmmaker, photographer and broadcaster, Chriss passion as a naturalist has seen him in front of and behind the camera for almost 30 years.

He will be at Chester Racecourse from 7.30pm on Thursday March 29th. Tickets are 15 and the event is strictly booking only. Call Cheshire Wildlife Trust on 01948 820728 or visit www.cheshirewildlifetrust.org.uk

The print version of this article appeared in the February 2012 issue of Cheshire Life

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