There were some tough times for Tees Valley Wildlife Trust last year when there vans and valuable equipment were ransacked during a break in. The damage totalled a whopping £1400 in all, a big set back. Middlesbrough FC rallied round to help the trust out with a signed Boro shirt. Development Officer Jenny Hagan contacted me for any advice to do with the signed shirt and I decided a meet up was in order and so set off for their Margrove Park HQ to find out all about their operation. I already knew that the Trust works with children on matchdays in the Generation Red Family Zone of the Riverside, hence the signed shirt. I wanted to know more about this and where and what the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust was about and how we could buy tickets for the prize draw to help make up for the criminal damage
Q: Can you tell us your names for the tape please.
Tees Valley: Amy Carrick River Tees Officer; Jenny Hagan Development Manager
Q: We are from Tees Valley Wildlife Trust one of 47 wildlife trusts in the country, we are second or third smallest.
Jenny: The other two are islands.
We have 9000 members and we have been going since 1979 we used to be Cleveland Nature Trust.
Amy: We have 15 nature reserves spreading from Hartlepool, down to Stockton and Middlesbrough all the way down the coast to Skinningrove and Loftus.
Q: What are your responsibilities in the reserves?
A: We own some of them and then others we manage on long term leases on behalf of other companies eg Coatham Marsh was owned by Tata and we manage it on a longterm lease.
Q: Do you have volunteers helping you to manage the reserves.
J: Yes we have 125 volunteers.
A: They do several things. We have three different groups. Dan, our reserves officer has two groups out doing practical things. Matt has two groups at the moment doing practical things. I have got three groups doing practical things. There are a lot of groups out there doing tree planting, tree cutting, ditch clearing, path making, anything goes, it is all managed by our volunteers. Then there are the admin volunteers as well who help deliver magazines, invoices etc. Then we have surveyors as well, bat surveyors, otter surveyors, water vole surveyors as well. And education volunteers too, mainly retired teachers or people that used to be in the profession will come in and give us a helping hand. So volunteers not just practical but all over the spectrum.
Q: So how do you go out and speak to people? Do you go into schools for instance?
A: Yes we do newsletters. They go out to schools where we can offer sessions for a price or free, depending on what projects are going on. We also recruit volunteers via social media and our website. Also by word of mouth as well.
J: We also have a presence at events such as when Middlesbrough College has an event or World Health Day in Middlesbrough last year that was a big event that attracts lots of people.
There are only 20 staff and 125 volunteers, they are regular volunteers as well, not just one off volunteers.
A: Yes, they come out every week or some ad hoc we call them when we need them. A lot of the practical reserve volunteers can come out every week.
J: Most of what we do is depending upon them being there.
A: We would be scuppered without them. It is their skills as well. On my team for example I have got people that can do carpentry, welding, joinery etc. It is stuff that I can only know in limited amounts so it is good to be able to pick their brains. We have some of them designing benches or frames for signs. So it is not just they are going out and doing a path they are actually designing stuff for us as well. That is what my River Tees Rediscovered project is about and Jenny’s mental health projects, it is people that have all these skills and getting them to actually design things and come up with management plans as well, they are heavily involved. Especially with all the cuts in the steel industry we are hoping to leap on that to give those people a chance to show off their skills, get back out there and boost their self esteem.
J: I don’t think they always realise how much they help each other because some of them have amazing skills but really low confidence. And some have amazing communication skills and they are really good at welcoming new people who might be really nervous coming to a group. Especially something like this where they might not have previously gone out doors and it might be in the middle of nowhere. Everyone is the same. We don’t have super skilled volunteers in one group, everyone is the same.
A: It is all inclusive. Jenny and Dan from early on have all pushed the inclusive volunteers, so we don’t have separate groups.
We do work a lot with people with varying mental or physical health issues. We will tailor activities so that everyone is involved.
All the staff have been on courses and have spoken to each other and helped each other out to understand people’s needs a bit more.
J: Matt’s life skills project – we wanted an open approach so anybody can ring me up and say I have been out of work for 3 years, I am really not very confident, I don’t go out any more, I would like to come out and try something. Then at the other end of the scale, it could be someone that might be an in patient at Roseberry Park and come out with a support worker. But the support worker would volunteer as well. So, everyone comes out and pitches in and they all learn a bit from each other and benefit where they probably wouldn’t elsewhere.
We do some pretty strange and wonderful things. We do blacksmithing workshops and drystone wall workshops. There is wildlife gardening. There is green woodwork, decorative things etc. They are all things that we don’t think they would get a chance to do anywhere else.
They come twice a week, a workshop one day then match it up with volunteering once a week. They get to work on a project of their own choice. They go and visit different reserves and they choose a reserve and figure out a way to improve it. They get a John Muir award for doing that. It is a trust up in Scotland that offer free conservation awards for people. That is 12 weeks long, we have 12 people every 12 weeks until June next year.
Q: In Middlesbrough you manage Maze Park don’t you, between Newport and the A19 bridges.
A: Yes it has 3 mounds which were the spoil from the building of Teesside Park. We have let nature take its course and then we have managed it. Maze Park is really good for butterflies. It has one of the rarest butterflies in the country or especially in the region, called the grayling. They lay their eggs on the marshalling yards behind and then once they are hatched out they come into Maze Park itself. We have been managing special habitat corridors, to make sure that they have a way in because some butterflies are quite particular in how long they want their grass. There are a lot of different wildflowers in there as well for them. We manage it, we make sure we cut all the meadows and we rake them as well. We make special basking areas for them as well because once they have hatched out they like to basically sunbathe. So all the gravely paths have been increased into proper basking areas so the butterflies can have a sunbathe. They can feed on all the wild flowers and then sunbathe.
Q: That must be a great opportunity to see them as well.
A: Yes, exactly that is how you see them. You keep quiet for a bit and then have a look at the butterflies. So that reserve is brilliant and that is how it is managed for the butterflies and also bees. It is a nice little reserve.
J: Also in Middlesbrough there will be work at Linthorpe Cemetery through the Wild Green Places project which is working with twenty community groups right across the Tees Valley. Not working on our own sites but Friends sites etc and improving them for wildlife. Doing anything from getting a food hygiene certificate to run an event to doing a bat survey etc.
A: Also Maelor’s Wood in Stainton, there is a rubbings trail designed by kids, where they can rub pictures of ladybirds etc that is new and being launched and opened.
J: This project is working with community groups but not just to get them involved but to build them up so they have the capacity to do things on their own in the future. It is foundation depending on what they need.
A: There are a lot of Friends groups in Middlesbrough from Fairy Dell, Maelor’s Wood to the old Boro Becks project. They are still going and still need volunteers. The small patches around Middlesbrough always need helpers. A lot of them might be run by older people who cannot go out and build a path for example and are now doing more of the management side. They always need people to actually go out, even for a few hours.
Q: The green ribbons in a town are very important aren’t they?
A: Yes definitely because we are losing them all the time. It is again part of what we do in general, saving space for wildlife and working with those Friends groups to keep those little patches open.
Q: You are showing people that there is wildlife even in a town.
A: When you go out and look there is a lot there.
J: We want to go out and do more in the town centre as well, working with younger people as well. We did a great project last year in Middlesbrough with Talent Match, that was with people that had been unemployed or out of training for two years. We worked with a group of guys of which two have apprenticeships with One Planet Pioneers. They did a 12 week programme. They got to do their own project. They made a video with a gopro camera. They stayed over night in the roundhouse on the Nature Reserve in February and they were sponsored. We are hoping to do a repeat of the project again. We got four lovely young people last time.
Q: Tell me about your involvement at the Boro, in the Generation Red Family Zone.
A: Yes, we were there last season and we have been invited back this season. We have had three stalls (at different matches) already this season. Each one has a different theme. The first one this season was birds so we made log bird feeders. You make a lard and seed mixture and put it into a log feeder that has holes drilled in. So the kids get to make their own and take them home and we speak to them about how you can help birds in your garden and what birds we have in the region.
Our second theme was bats, we had our bat officer, Sarah Barry came along. We made loo roll bats. So, they could make their own little bats and then hang them up around the house. We did a bat trail, so the kids followed a sticker collection of different animals the bats eat, like flies and moths for example. Each child had to find the missing sticker, so basically they had to interact with all the other kids and also Roary the Lion and try to get stickers from Roary and the seal and the bee to see if they could get a full collection of stickers for their bat. Once they did that they got a prize from us that contained a banana and a chocolate bar and information about bats. The banana and chocolate was because bats help the pollination of plantations.
Q: Did the kids find the bats exciting or scary?
A: Most found them exciting I think. A lot knew about vampire bats so we dispelling myths that bats don’t just go around sucking your blood. They are actually quite nice animals and they do pollinate a lot of plants. They do eat a lot of midgies.
They do have bats down at the Riverside. You have to go to a late game in about September and you can actually see them fly around the actual stadium and I have seen one actually land on the goal net during a game which is cool. So there are actually bats at the Riverside Stadium which is why we wanted to link it in a bit more. You would normally go out with a bat detector which detects their calls but obviously it is too loud but you can see them flying around. I think they will be most likely the common pipistrelle bats. It is brilliant having them around the stadium itself.
It was national squirrel awareness day on Saturday 21st January so we were dispelling myths that grey squirrels are our native squirrels when it is actually the reds and that they kill them but they don’t they eat their food. We are getting the kids to create their own squirrel tales and we make nature mobiles out of twigs, leaves and bits of wood they can decorate and take home.
All of our activities involve making something to take home. It is about them having a Wildlife Trust experience at the football ground and taking something home and looking back and thinking I remember that and hopefully remember all the little facts we have told them.
The last event is World Book Day, March 11th, the Sunderland game. We are making little pen holders and also wildlife book marks. Again we will be promoting what we do and also different wildlife books as well as ID books and how simple it is to go out with them and ID wildlife.
Q: Sadly you had some very bad news about your vans didn’t you?
A: We park the vans in a locked up compound. People broke a lot of the metal fencing to get in and they took 4 wheels. They tried to break into a locked box, they couldn’t but it was so damaged that we had to weld it off and destroy it to get back into it. The blue van had a window broken and a chain saw taken and some tools. The mini bus was also broken into and tools taken.
They left a message Thanks for stuff #stickybandits. Apparently the burglars from Home Alone.
It totalled £1400 of damage.
J: They don’t realise that for a place like this that is £1400 that comes out of paying for clothes for volunteers or tools for doing activities etc.
A: So it is a lot of money and the vehicles were off the road for a few weeks so we couldn’t do anything. There are some volunteers who only go out anywhere a few times a week in general and we are their means of getting out and they are missing out on that for a couple of weeks. So it was a bit gutting for us all. Everyone was very down about it for a while.
Q: But you now have a plan to try and raise some money.
A: Yes Middlesbrough Football Club have kindly donated a signed shirt for us to have a prize draw to raise some money. Crathorne Hall have donated an afternoon tea. They are the two top prizes. We rallied around the staff for runners up prizes. There is a year’s Wildlife Trust Family membership as a second prize. We also have a wildlife garden makeover kit, that is bird feeders, nest boxes, seeds etc. Also there are signed wildlife and foody books by award winning poet Sean Borodale. He kindly gave us the books.
Q: How do people enter?
J: We have a suggested donation for tickets, a pound each or five for £3 or ten for £5.
We have an e-newsletter that people can sign up to from the website or check the website for our next events and buy the tickets from the events. Or buy them at our Margrove Park centre in person if local.
We will draw it on February 10th. We will arrange for them to have the prizes in time for Valentine’s Day.