May 16

Lowland heaths, mountains, lakes, marshes, peat bogs, chalk grasslands, ancient woodlands and Caledonian woodlands – these are just few examples of the natural habitats found in the United Kingdom, each home to unique collections of plants and animals. We are still able to explore and enjoy these habitats today thanks to the hard work and dedication of The Wildlife Trusts. Established to curb the widespread devastation of natural habitats in the UK, The Wildlife Trusts celebrates its 100th birthday today.

Bluebell wood

A bluebell wood - one of the many natural habitats in the UK

On 16th May 1912, the banker, landowner and naturalist Charles Rothschild formed the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves (SPNR), precursor to the The Wildlife Trusts.

For the first time in the UK, conservation efforts were focused on protecting the habitats of species, rather than focusing solely on species. Without this innovative movement, many of the natural habitats we now take for granted would no longer exist.

The society carried out the first ever national survey of wildlife sites in the UK, identifying ecologically important areas. From this, local Wildlife Trusts were set up to protect some of these special places of nature. A big breakthrough came in 1949, when the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was passed, making the protection of nature a matter of law.

This move from conserving individual species to protecting habitats is still relevant today. There are now 47 Wildlife Trusts managing 2,300 reserves all over the UK. However a recent review on these protected areas found that many are too small and isolated. Connecting existing reserves is the next step in conserving our natural habitat.

Dartford warbler image

Dartford warblers can be found in sites managed by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust

Many worldwide conservation projects now focus on conserving habitats and ecosystems. It is amazing this approach was adopted here in the UK 100 years ago!

In the UK? Find a Nature Reserve near you.  

Watch the Wildlife Trusts’ centenary film on the Wildlife Trust website.

Lauren Pascoe, ARKive Media Researcher