Russ and Marcus write:
As the year draws to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on what we have (and in some cases haven’t!) achieved over the last 12 months, starting with a review of our community benefit activities. But what do we mean by community benefit?
Wild New Forest is a not-for-profit Community Interest Company (CIC) that is committed to working for wildlife in the New Forest National Park. A CIC is defined as “a business with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximize profit for shareholders and owners. CICs tackle a wide range of social and environmental issues and operate in all parts of the economy. By using business solutions to achieve public good, it is believed that CICs have a distinct and valuable role to play in helping create a strong, sustainable, and socially inclusive economy”.
Wild New Forest generates income through a specialist wildlife consultancy portfolio and delivery of guided wildlife walks and talks. The CIC model allows us, as directors to draw a modest salary, but any surplus is ploughed back into New Forest conservation and educational activities, either through provision of our time at no cost, or through purchase of equipment to support these activities. This is what we call our community benefit portfolio. To ensure transparency, our annual accounts and community benefit statement are published online here.
Getting young people engaged in wildlife is one of our primary community benefit activities; this image was taken during our 2021 Young Person's Wildlife Camp
Here, we describe some of the community benefit activities that we delivered in calendar year 2021:
After COVID-related cancellations in 2020, it was great to finally deliver our third Young Person’s Wildlife Camp from 22-24 Oct 2021, which was generously supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust, RSPB, and several expert colleagues. The camp saw 16 teenagers enjoy a residential weekend at Cameron’s Cottage at Franchises Lodge RSPB reserve, and the full account can be accessed here. We both contributed a significant amount of time to the camp at no cost, with vital support from our families, and can safely say that it was one of the most enjoyable, inspiring, and exhausting things we did all year!
We deliver a portfolio of specialist wildlife survey data to Forestry England at no cost, to support their management and conservation activities on the Crown lands of the New Forest (these are separate to our commissioned surveys and research grants). This year, this included resurvey of two breeding wader hotspots to validate our more comprehensive commissioned survey work undertaken in 2020, to ensure all stakeholders are confident in the results - this is important as these data are informing seasonal car park closures, establishment of red-signed ‘quiet zones’, and targeted ranger/keeper engagement with the public. Marcus continues to lead a small and dedicated team in their long-term study of New Forest Hawfinches; in spring 2021 ten GPS/radio tags were deployed to enable tracking of foraging adults. This involved many hundreds of hours in the field tracking Hawfinches across the forest, getting valuable data on foraging, roosting and post breeding movements (see link here). The data are used by Forestry England to minimise impacts of their forestry operations and are highlighting the importance of Holly as a year-round food resource for this threatened species. Marcus has also agreed to take on the role of species advisor to the UK Rare Breeding Birds Panel for Hawfinch, helping to coordinate fieldwork nationally to ensure consistency of data for this difficult to study red-listed species. For some of our surveys, we draw upon local observers to improve coverage, with our two-year New Forest breeding Raven survey being a prime example (see link here). We continue to support national surveys such as the BTO Wetland Bird Survey and Breeding Bird Survey. We will be producing reports and updates on all these surveys in the coming winter and will be offering some for publication in the Hampshire Bird Report and specialist journals.
We continue to provide free wildlife surveys to people engaged in or considering wildlife enhancement projects on their land within or close to the National Park. In 2021 this ranged from provision of survey data to the owner of a 100-acre farm that has informed their submission to new agri-environment schemes, to advising enthusiastic homeowners with large gardens who are now implementing simple but effective measures for the benefit of local flora, fungi, and fauna.
Marcus provides expert training (under British Trust for Ornithology licence) to five local trainee bird ringers, with one successfully progressing to their C permit and one progressing to their A permit during 2021. The ringing team also held three ringing demonstrations in 2021, one at the Lymington-Keyhaven Marshes Nature Reserve Open Day and two for young birders from HOS and Titchfield Young Explorers (see link here).
We continue to provide a community hub for local wildlife images, news, and conservation issues via our blog and social media, including management of the Wild New Forest Facebook page that now has over 8600 members and is one of the largest and most active social media sites in the New Forest. We also produced four vlogs during the COVID lockdown at the start of the year, with the intention of bringing interesting, informative, and inspiring content into the homes of those unable to access the forest at that difficult time. The vlogs have collectively received over 3000 views and can be accessed via the Wild New Forest YouTube channel here.
We have initiated a free Wild New Forest monthly online talk series, that will run from Oct 2021 to Mar 2022. The first two talks, featuring Marcus talking about Pine Martens and Suzanne Kempe talking about communing and livestock, attracted about 150 attendees.
We are not a campaigning organisation, but we do raise community awareness of topical conservation issues by engaging with the media, and offering our own data, images, and first-hand observations; last year we focussed on raising local awareness of the issue of untreated sewage flowing down New Forest rivers, which was a small contribution to a wider national campaign – encouragingly, public outrage about this issue has, eventually, resulted in promised action by government regulators and the water companies themselves. Local media coverage featuring Wild New Forest can be viewed here, here and here.
Most of these activities will continue in 2022, including planned Young Person’s Wildlife Camps at Cameron’s Cottage in both spring and autumn, and a ten-year resurvey of woodland birds in the central New Forest.
Our community benefit activities would not be possible without the support of guests on our guided wildlife walks, and we are grateful for their continued support during 2021
Hopefully this blog has demonstrated how our operating model allows us to channel a significant proportion of our revenue into activities that benefit local people and wildlife. This is of course only possible thanks to the support of those organisations that fund our specialist wildlife consultancy work and invite us to give talks, and the many local residents and visitors that have enthusiastically attended (and promoted) our guided wildlife walks. Thank you!