‘Level Up’, a partnership project spearheaded by the Mendip Hills, Blackdown Hills, and Quantock Hills Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), is one of the first environmental projects awarded a grant from the government’s £80 million Green Recovery Challenge Fund.
Defra announced grants between £62,000 and £3.8 million today, to help create and retain thousands of green jobs. The projects, spread across England, will see trees planted - 800,000 in total - and protected landscapes and damaged habitats such as moorlands, wetlands and forests restored, alongside wider conservation work. The projects will also support environmental education and connecting people with green spaces.
The ‘Level Up’ project will be coordinated by the Mendip Hills AONB Unit, hosted by Somerset County Council, in partnership with Avon Wildlife Trust, Bristol Avon Rivers Trust, Somerset Wildlife Trust, Somerset West and Taunton Council, South West Heritage Trust, the Blackdown Hills AONB and Quantock Hills AONB Service.
The project will work across the three AONBs, along strategically important nature recovery networks, to enhance connections for wildlife and transitional habitats between the Hills and the Levels.
Work will involve restoring important grassland habitat through improved conservation grazing and providing benefits in sensitive water catchments, as well as enhancing and creating woodland, helping improve resilience in the face of Climate Change and Ash Dieback. At the same time, the project will help connect people with heritage and support the public’s re-discovery of nature as a result of the pandemic, whilst also supporting local environmental charities and contractors.
Tim Haselden, Project Development Officer for the Mendip Hills AONB, said:
“We’re delighted to have been successful with our bid to ‘Level Up’ for nature across Somerset through a series of projects that collectively support nature’s recovery from the Levels Up to the AONB designated hills, whilst supporting a green recovery. This project is an exciting regional collaboration that will deliver some great outcomes for wildlife and our protected landscapes, and where the whole will be even greater than the sum of its parts.”
The Green Recovery Challenge Fund is a key part of Prime Minister’s 10 Point Plan to kick-start nature recovery and tackle climate change. The fund is being delivered by the National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England and the Environment Agency.
Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow, said:
“These projects will drive forward work across England to restore and transform our landscapes, boost nature and create green jobs, and will be a vital part of helping us to build back greener from coronavirus.
“I look forward to working with environmental organisations as these projects help address the twin challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change, while creating and retaining jobs as part of the green recovery.”
Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive, National Lottery Heritage Fund, said:
“Supporting our natural environment is one of the most valuable things we can do right now. All these projects are of huge benefit to our beautiful countryside and wildlife, but will also support jobs, health and wellbeing, which are vitally important as we begin to emerge from the coronavirus crisis.”
The government’s forthcoming Environment Bill puts the environment at the centre of policy making to ensure that we have a cleaner, greener and more resilient country for the next generation. The fund is supporting a range of nature conservation and recovery and nature-based solutions projects, which will contribute towards government’s wider 25 Year Environment Plan commitments, including commitments to increase tree-planting across the UK to 30,000 hectares per year by 2025.