Written by Dr Adrian Cooper
Felixstowe’s Community Nature Reserve (FCNR), located on the Suffolk coast, was created in May 2015. It was a time when local wildlife was in fast decline. There was no coordinated platform for local people to support wildlife. It was therefore a perfect time to create a community-based conservation project.
FCNR has three aims. First, to educate local people about the decline in local wildlife, and what each of us can do to stop that decline. Second, we encourage our members to move beyond talking about conservation, and to start growing pollinator-friendly plants, building hedgehog homes, installing bird feeders, nesting boxes, and creating wildlife ponds. Third, we encourage other friends, family members and neighbours to do the same. In this way, FCNR has grown to over 1,700 active members in Felixstowe. We have also helped to establish 11 other community-based conservation projects across the UK, plus another one in Portugal. This article reflects on the factors which have helped FCNR to grow over the last seven years, and why there are good reasons to believe that it is sufficiently sustainable to last into the foreseeable future.
Creating sustainability in any organisation requires a combination of at least five factors. First, all team members must understand that their opinions and actions matter. They develop that understanding through the experience of seeing their ideas being adopted. With FCNR, we actively encourage empowerment of our members throughout the organisation. That means that if one of our members has an idea which will help us, we encourage them to put it into action. FCNR leaders offer our support if it is requested. Examples of this empowerment include the start of plant-swapping schemes between friends and neighbours. Plant pot swapping has also been successful, not only as a project in its own right, but also as a way of developing a shared sense of active belonging among FCNR members.
A second reason why FCNR is developing its sustainability is because we have a clear vision: to try and stop the decline in local wildlife populations. Impact Analyses from Felixstowe’s Citizen Science Group shows we are beginning to be successful with that goal. You can learn more about those Impact Analysis projects from the Felixstowe Citizen Science Group Facebook page and their YouTube channel. You can see a recent clustered bar chart to confirm this sustained local impact below:
A third reason why FCNR is developing its sustainability is because we reach out to as many people in our community as possible. Social media is only one method. For local people who do not use social media, we have a monthly article in Spotlight on Felixstowe – a free advertiser magazine in our area which reaches about 15,000 local homes. We have also had team members appear on local community radio. BBC local radio and TV have also covered our progress. We have also had poster campaigns. Collectively, all these methods of communication mean that it is very difficult to miss out on the latest news from FCNR.
The fourth reason why we are developing our sustainability is because we never stand still. We believe in innovation. That means that we are happy to evolve and adapt to new challenges. A good example of recent innovation has been the way we have chosen to raise the problems of climate justice for local debate. Most people know from TV programmes that climate justice is probably the greatest challenge to humankind and wildlife at the present time. However, FCNR has chosen to focus, not on climate justice problems, but on its solutions. Obviously, we have no power to influence the international corporations or national governments, but we most definitely have the power to influence what we do as individuals in our community. We have therefore encouraged local people to suggest their own climate justice solutions. So far, the most frequently employed solution has been to eat less meat. The logic behind that idea is that if less people eat meat, there will be less demand elsewhere for land needed to grow cattle feed. That, in turn, means there will be less need for deforestation. The result of that line of thinking is that trees can feed our atmosphere. If other communities around the world adopt those same ideas, FCNR’s climate justice solution will have global consequences. Although some people might assume that a small seaside town in south east England could never have a global impact, those doubters would be wrong. Already, Sustainability TV in Vancouver, Canada has taken a strong interest in our work. With them, we hope to create podcasts to take our climate justice work further around the world. However, eating less meat is only one of FCNR’s climate justice solutions. Our members are also focusing on the importance of installing PV panels on the roofs of local homes, businesses, schools and other public buildings. A third FCNR climate justice solution is for local people to walk and cycle more, thus reducing carbon emissions, particularly on short local journeys. Support for these ideas has come from a broad diversity of local people. Among them, the Reverend Andrew Dotchin represents local churches. Business supporters include the Rainbow Tea Rooms, The Owl and Pussycat pub / restaurant, The Gallery Box, the Greenhouse Cafe, Grooveyard Records, Mr Cobbler, the Felixstowe Fairtrade Forum, Shelby Trading and the Vaping Emporium. Other businesses are registering their support every week. To give climate justice solutions a fun family appeal, FCNR has also organised a Climate Justice march. It will be an opportunity for local people to create Climate Justice banners and placards in every colour, and to emulate environmental heroes such as Sir David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg, Chris Packham and others. Arising from this climate justice work, other related projects will emerge and develop which will help to support FCNR’s sustainability.
The fifth reason behind our developing sustainability is through our out-reach to the next generation. Our Schools Ambassador, Gillian Atacocugu, has offered local pupils a fascinating host of different ways in which they can express their passion and commitment toward FCNR and local conservation. Recent examples of Gill’s out-reach to local schools has included a very successful Writing, Art and Photography competition. Participants from local schools have therefore contributed their work, which has been shared on FCNR’s Facebook page. Our followers from all over the world can therefore be inspired by our local work. Regarding the writing part of the competition, Gill asked pupils to write to their local Member of Parliament, asking for greater political support for local wildlife. The best letters were read out on local radio. Together, this next generation is learning the importance of local community-based conservation. In doing so, it helps to sustain FCNR’s longevity.
Creating and maintaining longevity is never easy. There are always challenges. The Covid pandemic was a particular concern. However, since that arose five years into our growth, it did not turn out to be as big a problem as it might have been. Quite simply, our members found ways round the Covid challenges. Social distancing was non-negotiable. However, plant swaps were still left on members’ drive ways, or in their porches, or beside their front doors. Supportive conversations were held over garden fences, or at distance across neighbours’ driveways. Together, we made sure that the pandemic could never defeat us.
One of FCNR’s most important features is that we have never had any funding. In fact, we have never even had a bank account. Some observers might find that strange. However, having no money has always made FCNR very creative and gregarious. In other words, instead of having the option of throwing money at a problem, we have to dig deep into our collective imaginations and creativity. We also have to seek new partners, which is always exciting. Examples of our most long-standing partners have included the National Biodiversity Network Trust and NBN (the UK’s largest network of conservation groups). We have also been a network supporter of the European Citizen Science Association. The result of networking with other groups is that we have immediate access to lots of willing helpers. The NBN Trust, for example, has over 200 member organisations.
Creating and maintaining sustainability is always a significant challenge. It needs the active commitment from a broad range of local support. FCNR is fortunate to have an abundance of active support. Our journey into continued sustainability will therefore be an adventure of imagination, hard work, innovation, communication and shared focus on what we want to achieve.