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Guardians of the Deep Assemble!

Posted: Monday 13th February 2017 by Fiona White

Common Seals © Russel MilesCommon Seals © Russel Miles

Kent Wildlife Trust was thrilled to hear that its Guardians of the Deep project passed the second stage of the HLF application process with flying colours. Our Marine Officer Fiona White reflects on the 2-year journey to get here.

The project, a partnership with Thanet District Council, Medway Council, Kent County Council and Natural England has been two years in development, starting back in October 2014 when the idea of a Kent-wide marine awareness project was first mooted by KWT’s marine team. At the time, three new Marine Conservation Zones had just been designated and a further three were candidates for a second tranche of designations. With public support for these areas crucial to ensuring their success, the time was right for a large-scale project to connect people with the marine environment.

 

I had no idea there was so much colourful life under the seas of Dover

The Guardians of the Deep project passed the first of the two-stage HLF application process in August 2015 and this provided a grant of £64,000 to further develop the project idea over the next 12 months. This development grant meant that KWT could employ a part-time Development Officer to trial activities and forge links with community groups and schools, and also engage specialist support to consult with the wider public. A series of focus groups were set up with local community groups and questionnaires sent out to find out how people feel about the marine environment around Kent and what sort of activities they might be interested in getting involved in. Beautiful, fascinating and important were words most commonly used to describe how people viewed the marine environment, and when people were shown video footage taken during dives around Kent the overwhelming response was of astonishment. “I had no idea there was so much colourful life under the seas of Dover,” remarked one participant.

Transect Survey, Copt Point, FolkestoneThe project will see the establishment of a network of volunteer Coastal Guardians, WildBeach and Undersea Explorer activities for schools and youth groups, and identification workshops and coastal surveys for volunteers to help with. During the summer of 2016 three schools took part in trial WildBeach activities run at Riverside Country Park in Medway, Margate beach and the shore at Reculver. The full WildBeach programme will give small groups of children the opportunity to develop team building and leadership skills and get involved in activities that build self-confidence and self-esteem at coastal locations. The trial WildBeach activities proved a hit with the schools. Rockpooling was described by one pupil as “better than going to the zoo!” Feedback from the teaching staff was outstanding, with reports of naturally shy children coming out of their shells, and pupils who struggle in the classroom environment blossoming in the outdoors.

During the 12-month development stage, the partnership was tasked with identifying match-funding – no easy task at the best of times, and particularly challenging in the current climate. Thanet and Medway councils were able to source some match and Natural England were able to make a contribution all of which went some way towards the target. A donation from the D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust and a very generous one from the Michael Uren Foundation really helped things along. Then KWT launched an appeal and a Crowdfunding campaign in June 2016 and thanks to the fantastic support from its membership managed to raise the remaining funds needed.

Tompot Blenny © Dave Wood“The exciting news that our second stage application has been approved means that we can really get going with this project.” Said Fiona White, KWT’s Marine Officer. “The £446,100 grant from HLF will enable the appointment of 3 new project staff to deliver exciting activities for schools and youth groups, communities, families and individuals. It gives us a chance to build something lasting using the experience and knowledge of the partner organisations and to involve local people in the protection of the marine environment in Kent.”

If you are interested in finding out more or getting involved, e-mail: Fiona.white@kentwildlife.org.uk

By Fiona White ~ Kent Wildlife Trust Marine Officer

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