Funding aims to restore populations of some of the UK’s rarest species

A rescue project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund aims to pull our most threatened species back from the brink.

The willow tit is one species that will benefit from the lottery funding.
The willow tit is one species that will benefit from the lottery funding.

More than 100 species, seven conservation organisations and £4.6m – those are the bare statistics of a fresh attempt to pull some of the UK’s most threatened wildlife back from the brink of extinction.

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The money has come from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), and some of the key species receiving targeted management include the grey long-eared bat, pasque flower and sand lizard. It’s hoped that sufficient funding will eventually be secured to enable the work to carry on until 2020.

Tom Tew, an HLF trustee and formerly chief scientist at Natural England, said he hoped the project would be a “game-changer” for English wildlife, enabling thousands of citizen scientists to get involved in protecting rare species.

“There’s too often a lack of awareness about the dramatic declines of our native species, and if we don’t act soon, it will be too late,” he added. 

4 species to receive help

1. Willow tit (above)

What’s the problem?  The species’ population has plummeted by 94 per cent since the 1970s, the largest decline of any UK resident bird. The loss of damp scrub woodland is believed to be a key driver.

What will be done?  Habitat management in its stronghold of the Dearne Valley, South Yorkshire, will be carried out over a larger area. Willow tits require bigger territories than blue or great tits, so the need to connect suitable sites may be correspondingly more important.

2. Chequered skipper

What’s the problem?  The species became extinct in England in the 1970s, and is now confined to north-west Scotland. Changing forestry practices have reduced the quality and occurrence of the woodland rides and glades that it prefers.

What will be done? Butterfly Conservation is to bring forward a proposal for reintroducing it to Rockingham Forest, Northants. Measures that make woodland more butterfly-friendly could benefit other species, eg adders.

3. Yellow centaury

What’s the problem?  The species is extinct in much of its historic range, and only survives in five sites in one of its stronghold counties, Dorset. Historically it was found growing along seasonally flooded cart tracks and around shallow, temporary pools.

What will be done?  Work to restore ephemeral pool habitats will be carried out in Dorset, and new ones will be created and connected. This will also benefit other specialist heathland wildflowers.

4. Greater horseshoe bat

What’s the problem?  The species has suffered the greatest documented decline of any British bat – over 90 per cent. It forages on beetles, moths and flies, particularly those associated with cattle dung.

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What will be done?  Hotspot areas of limestone grassland within the Cotswolds will be identified, and landowners and conservation managers will be advised how to improve habitat. Scrub management, different grazing regimes and other solutions will all be tried.