The National Lottery is 25 years old today!  I remember the excitement of watching the first draw live on telly, but never realised that the Lottery would contribute so much to the causes I hold most dear: nature conservation and the engagement of people with the natural world.

Looking at the landholdings I manage in the north of the county, the National Lottery, through its various distributors, such as the Heritage Fund, has been the major financial supporter in the purchase of most of them. Reserves, including Clattinger – one of the finest examples of floodplain meadows in the UK – Lower Moor Farm, Echo Lodge and Distillery Meadows, might not have come to fruition without Lottery funding.  Reserves in the south and centre of the county have benefited too, including Green Lane Wood, Jones’s Mill (The Vera Jeans Reserve) and Langford Lakes.

Blakehill Nature Reserve was one of the lucky ones. The National Lottery Heritage Fund (then known as the Heritage Lottery Fund) awarded us a 75% grant of £868500 to purchase the site known as Blakehill Airfield from the Ministry of Defence in 2001.  At the time, our work on Blakehill was the largest grassland restoration project in the UK, and we are now proud to support a large population of breeding skylarks, good numbers of brown hare, and several wintering short-eared owls. 

Skylark at Blakehill by David Kjaer 

The National Lottery doesn’t just fund land acquisition though. As part of the Blakehill project, Lottery funding extended to capital works on the reserve, including access improvements, hedge and pond restoration, and building repairs.  More recently, in 2017, the Heritage Fund awarded a grant of £814100 towards an extension to Coombe Bissett Nature Reserve, which includes an ambitious programme of hedge planting, arable reversion, livestock housing, access and infrastructure improvements, interpretation, ecological monitoring and a suite of community events.

Six-spot burnet moth at Coombe Bissett by Emma Kirkup

People engagement is central to the work we do on the reserves, and National Lottery-funded projects, such as Wild Connections and Building Bridges, have helped to bring new visitors to our sites.  The Wild Connections project, funded by the Heritage Fund and other generous donors, ran between 2015 and 2018 and delivered 194 public events on our reserves, which were attended by over 6700 people.  The project also brought new volunteers onto the reserves and improved accessibility on some our key sites for people with disabilities.  The Building Bridges project, jointly funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and European Social Fund, is aimed at moving people with significant challenges towards the world of work.  It has been a pleasure to see the transformation in people’s wellbeing from spending time in nature, but we have also gained a lot from their new-found conservation skills.

The National Lottery has played a hugely significant role in nature conservation across Wiltshire and Swindon since it first began 25 years ago. Importantly, it has added to other funds from key organisations and friends of the Trust, such as the Hills Group, increasing the scope and breadth of work that we can deliver to support wildlife and local communities in our county. 

Happy birthday, National Lottery!

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