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Forty years of looking after our natural habita ats.

AWILDLIFE charity is celebrating a milestone birthday this year. Northumberland Wildlife Trust is marking its 40th anniversary next month. Although the origins of the organisation go back to 1962, with the founding of the Northumberland and Durham Naturalists' Trust, it is four decades since the two split and Northumberland Wildlife Trust was established as a registered charity.

Its aim was - and still is - to protect habitats so people and wildlife can enjoy it.

Working in Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside the trust sets out to promote the benefits of urban green spaces as much as rural nature reserves.

But while its basic mission may not have changed over the last 40 years, the ways in which it works and communicates with members and the level of influence it has on a national level has.

And with changes to the way certain areas of land are managed proposed by the Government, the organisation looks set to become more important. Chief executive Mike Pratt said: "We started off with no permanent staff, just volunteers who did an amazing job with hardly any resources. Now, 40 years later we find ourselves employing more than 50 people, we have 200 active volunteers, we have got big budgets and really big, multi-million-pound projects. Our membership is around 15,000, or 6,000 households. We want to see that double in the next five to 10 years and go beyond that.

"We have learned over the last 50 years that we're a very flexible and adaptable organisation and in the future we have the ambition to take on new things and we will adapt to get new resources to do them. We can't run away from that challenge.

"I think in the next 50 years we will be really important. I think the wildlife trusts will be managing most if not all of the conservation land in the country. We won't be doing it all, but we will be managing lots of land such as Kielder and the Border Mires and the National Nature Reserves. We will be taking these things over and managing them into the future. That's great, but it's a big challenge as well."

Northumberland Wildlife Trust can trace its beginnings to 1912 when the Society for the Protection of Nature Reserves (now the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts) was formed.

Following the Second World War a drive to protect and promote nature reserves led to interested groups springing up around the country.

Then in the early 1960s a group led by Grace Hickling, an honorary secretary of the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne and Hancock Museum curator Tony Tynan, decided the two counties of Northumberland and Durham needed their own local trust.

The single organisation split amicably in 1971 and became the Northumberland and Durham Wildlife Trusts which remain today. Together with the Tees Valley trust they have 30,000 members, a turnover of pounds 3m to pounds 4m and make up the biggest wildlife organisation in the North East.

The organisations are part of the national federation of 47 wildlife trusts, which together have about 850,000 members.

Mike said: "When we started we were probably wanting to get as many nature reserves as we could and secure the best conservation land. The next thing is to make sure we secure not just bits of the landscape, but to connect it all up and have much bigger, wider landscapes that are good for wildlife and people.

"It's always under threat. We have lost some sites through development and there's always that pressure and I think there will be more pressure in the future. There's a big job to be done around the urban fringes of Northumberland to make sure we get that green infrastructure.

"In the rest of Northumberland we're so lucky that it's largely unchanged. The great opportunities are in the uplands of Northumberland connecting places like Kielder, Whitelee, Otterburn and even the Cheviots. It could be the biggest wild area scheme in England. There's already fantastic wildlife and habitat there, but we need to look at it more holistically.

"We're thinking on a much bigger scale than we have ever done."

Nowadays the Northumberland Wildlife Trust works with partners such as the Environment Agency and Natural England and other charities like the RSPB.

Its key focus is on projects like Living Landscapes, a scheme aiming to look at the environment as a whole and make sure it works for both people and wildlife and Living Waterways, which aims to improve urban streams to prevent flooding and create a better habitat for creatures.

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ENTHUSIAST Botanist David Bellamy - back in 1999 when the trust acquired Whitelee Moor
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 22, 2011
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