Shropshire's National Nature Reserves

PUBLISHED: 17:07 01 December 2010 | UPDATED: 16:17 20 February 2013

Shropshire is home to some of the most beautiful and environmentally prized species and habitats in the country.

In celebration of the Act of Parliament that first protected our finest landscapes 60 years ago, Natural England, the body that has responsibility for our natural environment, is encouraging families to get their hands (and feet) wet and dirty, with a programme of wildlife and nature days. Research last year showed that woodlands, countryside and parks have become out of bounds to a generation of cotton wool kids with under ten per cent playing there or being allowed to do so on their own. The research also showed that children love nature-based activities, such as pond dipping, climbing trees and playing conkers when they can take part and 81 percent of children wanted more freedom toplay outdoors. Three-year-old William Dargan is certainly no cotton wool kid. With stout shoes, backpack, hat and suncream he's an old hand at this nature lark. William went with his dad Steve to an All Creatures Great and Small day at Aqualate Mere National Nature Reserve, close to Newport, to do a bit of birdwatching, pond dipping and mammal hunting. "We moved here from Surrey," said

Steve, "my wife was originally from this area and we knew we would never be able to afford a house of our own in the south east so we moved back here. Luckily the IT company I work for was just starting a work from home scheme, so William will grow up with this wonderful wealth of nature on the doorstep." Aqualate Mere is the largest natural lake in the West Midlands, thought to be an example of a kettle hole, a depression formed by the melting of a large mass of glacial ice. From inside the large hide, overlooking the vast expanse of natural water, William spotted a bearded tit, much prized by twitchers, while outside the Natural England team was busy organising a mammal hunt, bird box making and a badger walk. There are 222 National Nature Reserves in England, half of them managed by Natural England, and one of the most valuable is Britain's third largest raised bog. The Fenn's Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses NNR between Ellesmere and Whitchurch is a haven for young children from five upwards, with bog safaris, treasure trails and night walks, encouraging an interest in beetles, dragonflies, wetland birds and other bog creatures that flourish there. Joan Daniels, Senior Reserve Manager said: "It's the first time we have hosted so many activity days here and it's a wonderful chance for kids to see and handle wildlife and while having fun they realise how important bogs are not only for wildlife but also for helping to reduce global warming." The 1,000 hectares site was torn apart by commercial peat cutting for gardens, which not only destroyed habitats but contributed to flooding and carbon emissions (bogs store large quantities of carbon). The peatlands of England and Wales would absorb around 41,000 tonnes of carbon a year and their restoration and enhancement could save the equivalent of gas emissions from 84,000 family sized cars.

While the management of National Nature Reserves is helping our carbon emissions it's also helping to reconnect a generation of with their own natural environments. Natural England's team has set a target of getting a million children outdoors this year and the summer's programme's success has encouraged them to continue through the winter. Tim Coleshaw, Nature Reserve Project Manager said: "We think that it's essential for the next generation to understand their natural environment and how important it is that it is properly managed and protected." Molly Griffin who's nine came all the way from Bath. "I had a brilliant day. I loved using the squidgy fat to make the bird cakes and making the bird box was amazing fun," she said. And it's not just small children who are getting the bug. Stuart Edmunds from Telford did a degree in Media Studies but now wants to become a reserve warden. He is volunteering on the reserves to get some experience. "I never thought it would be possible to see so much wildlife close to home and I am now hoping to do an NVQ in wildlife management and work on a reserve."

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