Northumberland remains one of the best places in England for the quality of its natural environment. Indeed, this forms a key part of the county’s offer to its residents, inward investors and tourists alike.
However, sub-regionally there are variations in the challenges faced, in particular in balancing the needs of the different users of the county’s natural environment, and also in addressing the issues brought about by rural isolation, such as access to safe routes to local services and how to access the natural environment. Where landscape character has been eroded by traditional industry, there is a greater need to enhance and restore it. In other areas, existing environments need to be protected and managed whilst balancing the need to make use of natural resources to increase the county’s prosperity.
A key role for the voluntary sector and its philanthropic funders is providing support for and actively engaging local communities in the natural environment and its protection, management and restoration. Traditional agriculture, forestry, fisheries, aggregates and mineral industries have to be balanced alongside the changes that new uses of the landscape may bring. Working with local residents to ensure the best use of community benefit funds associated with wind farms is perhaps the most obvious example of how the Community Foundation can play a key role in helping communities to cope with the changes that new uses of the landscape may bring.
The Local Environmental Action Fund is a partnership which pools the resources of people, businesses and other funders to give communities the tools they need to make a difference to the environment. Here Katie Wellstead, Principal Advisor for Environment at the Community Foundation describes its role:
“LEAF empowers the good people in our community to make a difference, this can be on social issues such as fuel poverty in rural Northumberland, through to local environmental issues such as fly tipping, or global issues such as habitat loss, or growing pressures on our food and water. Ultimately LEAF is about collaboration, with a need for more effective grant-making to inspire local action.”
Teaching Trees is the Royal Forestry Society’s flagship educational programme, taking primary school children into well-managed woods to learn about trees and habitats, biodiversity, and the responsibility of managing a wood.
The Local Environmental Action Fund supported an Education Officer to deliver sessions and activities such as identifying tree species through their leaves, twigs and bark, as well as allowing children to plant trees and understand how to help them survive and grow strong. Activities are accessible for children of all abilities, including those with literacy and communication needs. Many of the sites are also accessible for wheelchair users.