Willow tit landscapeThe Nature Group held a lively meeting this February, at which the full range of its activities and the depth of members’ experience were on show. Among the many subjects discussed were the management of community orchards, the upcoming Willow Tit/Save Danes Moss event at Macclesfield and the imminent launch of the Nature in Your Neighbourhood project.

Kate Hampton, the new Biodiversity Officer for Staffordshire Moorlands and the High Peak, came to the meeting to introduce herself and talk about her work so far. This included the Plan for Nature, launched last year. A wide-ranging discussion on the Plan followed, including questions on targets, how the Plan might affect planning decisions, and the need to engage with the farming community.

Kate was clear about how much flesh there is still to be put on the bones of the Plan, particularly in light of how recently much of the legislation and guidance under the Environment Act 2021 has emerged.

She said her immediate priorities included fashioning this into a Biodiversity Strategy for the council, including the land the council itself owned, and issuing a Declaration for Nature along the lines drafted by Staffordshire Wildlife Trust (SWT).

A key issue was ensuring that this work is fully taken into the planning system, particularly in the imminent review of the Local Plan.

The group also discussed the upcoming Nature in Your Neighbourhood project that MCA is a key part of. This SWT led project, aimed at improving the ecological management of verges and green spaces and measuring the carbon impact, is expected to go live officially in April, with a public launch at MCA’s HuG event on Saturday 22 June.

Members discussed how to ensure the widest possible participation of community groups and parish councils in a Citizen Science project that aims to bring ecologists and Moorlands residents together. Group parish meetings (for example in the Manifold area) are being planned, and the idea of presenting the project to the Moorlands Parish Assembly was raised.

On Saturday, 16 March, MCA will be having a presence at an event held in Macclesfield with Macc Wild, Buxton Field Club and the RPSB. Held to celebrate the Willow Tit and in support of the Save Danes Moss Campaign, the evening will feature the award-winning nature writer Mark Cocker (an MCA member and well known to many of us for his appearances at our Foxlowe events). There will also be poetry from the superb Steve Ely, music and talks from leading bird experts Laurence Rose and Mark Champion respectively.

More sightings of the threatened and elusive Willow Tit were recently recorded on Danes Moss; the event will see the unveiling of an exciting new Peak Park funded project, mapping the bird’s habitats down from Danes Moss into the Staffordshire Moorlands at Rudyard and Tittesworth.

The Moorlands is a rare (and relative) stronghold of the Willow Tit. Any nature lovers, especially bird watchers, interested in taking part in this project (particularly in the North-West of the district) can contact Macc Wild direct or via the Nature Group.

The Macclesfield event starts at 6.30 for 7.00pm at St Michael’s Church and members are hoping to arrange car shares from Leek.

MCA members are also involved in the RSPB’s Curlew Nest Volunteer programme. Anyone interested in joining this exciting, and crucial, local programme can contact the Nature Group.

The group also discussed the five community orchards in Leek, whose management MCA is now taking over from SMDC. They have already been pruned to ensure healthy growth for the next season – the next step is to manage the surrounding ground and put sustainable weed suppression in place.

We will also be taking forward our idea for a Community Nature Trail, initially around Leek. This is intended to encourage people to get out and fully appreciate the wonders that we have on our doorstep.

A meeting will be held on Tuesday, 27 February to bring the many ideas to final fruition. More details to follow...

Thanks to Wendy Bohme for the wonderful painting of a Willow Tit.