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Back from the Brink

Prospects look brighter for nearly 100 of England’s most threatened species
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Pine marten in the UK countryside

Almost 100 threatened species in England have seen their prospects of survival improved after five years of concerted emergency work by nearly 100 organisations funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The £7m Back from the Brink (BftB) programme has brought together a game-changing partnership of organisations to turn the tide for some of England’s most threatened species, and to inspire the nation to connect with and care for our vulnerable wildlife.

The prospects for targeted populations of our threatened species have been improved thanks to the practical actions carried out to support them, with more people knowing about and acting for them, and more effective collaborative working by conservation bodies on species recovery.

More species at risk

96 priority species have made recovery progress to improve their conservation status and prospects as a result of the project, which has contributed to 561 nationally identified priority actions benefiting a total of 188 species.

19 species conservation projects were spread across the breadth of England – from Lands’ End to the Scottish Borders – on around 600 sites, located in places as diverse as the Dorset heaths, North Downs, Cotswolds, Breckland, Rockingham Forest, Dearne Valley, Sefton Coast and the Yorkshire Wolds.

The organisations warn, however, that full species recovery takes much longer than five years, and improving the prospects of the species targeted is only the vital first stage – there are still further populations to address, and many more species also at risk.

‘The BftB programme has been an incredible mission to improve the conservation prospects of some of England’s most threatened species, supported by one hundred organisations, engaging with almost one thousand land owners and managers, and involving thousands more members of the public through our work to inspire a nation. Following such successful efforts over the last five years, we are passing on a legacy of recovering species and engaged people that are committed to their continued conservation.’

BftB programme manager

Single-species projects

In addition to a suite of seven multi-species integrated projects, a number of projects focused on the following single species:


Butterfly Conservation has strengthened the remaining populations in Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Dorset by planting over 4,000 barberry plants across 166 sites between and around the colonies to strengthen and link them up, enabling populations to increase and expand over time.


The RSPB and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust increased the population of this charismatic threatened bird from 38 to 53 pairs at the Nene Washes and Ouse Washes.

155 captive-reared birds were released and eight wetland scrapes created, protected by 7km of new anti-predator fencing.


Plantlife sought to conserve this very rare species, found only on three former metal mine sites worldwide, by carrying out surveys and creating over 500m2 of suitable habitat under a new management protocol, and linked up with local bodies to sustain it in the future.


RSPB increased the resilience of this rare insect in Sussex and Surrey by releasing crickets on to 10 ha of restored heathland at Pulborough Brooks to create a stepping-stone between two existing populations, and by boosting the isolated population at Farnham Heath through translocations.


The Bat Conservation Trust worked with landowners in Devon to improve habitat conditions around and between colonies of this very rare bat, creating enhanced foraging habitat on over 80 hectares of land and increased awareness on over 200 land holdings.


Buglife worked with partners to benefit this beautiful very rare species by increasing the number of populations from 14 to 19 (involving 95 translocated spiders) now made up of around 1,000 individuals, with their heathland habitat carefully managed and the public engaged at RSPB Arne.


Plantlife worked on two nature reserves with the Devon and Cornwall Wildlife Trusts to carry out trial conservation management work for this attractive widespread declining species, to seek to address the needs of this poorly understood plant and advise other site managers.

RSPB worked on one of just three remaining national populations of this species at its Pulborough Brooks reserve in Sussex, to trial different ditch management techniques and create new areas of occupied habitat and thus increase the robustness of the population there.


Buglife worked with Devon Wildlife Trust on the sole remaining site for the species in England, to manage habitat, monitor nests with dedicated trained volunteers, and trial new nest translocation techniques to establish experimental colonies at two further sites nearby.


The Vincent Wildlife Trust monitored the natural recovery of this critically endangered species in northern England to develop a better understanding of the distribution, gathering 60 observations of this nascent population, and facilitating the spread by installing den boxes and informing local people.


Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Buglife worked on this endangered bee in Somerset and the Thames Gateway, to carry out surveys and monitoring across 55 sites and provide advice to landowners to enhance 189 ha of habitat for bee foraging and nesting.


The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust worked with RSPB in South Yorkshire’s Dearne Valley, a key area for this rapidly declining bird, to research and monitor the population and carry out targeted management on 11 sites over 108 ha, producing a management plan and species handbook.

‘This project was one we recognised as of huge significance to our natural heritage. A collaborative, visionary and ambitious project delivered by an exciting partnership working together for the first time to improve the future of so many threatened species across England.  It was a hugely significant project that has succeeded on so many levels – not only in saving species from extinction but in preserving precious habitats and building strong partnerships that will hopefully see this work go from strength to strength. We are proud to have been involved.’

Head of Land and Nature Policy, The National Lottery Heritage Fund

A lasting legacy

Although the Back from the Brink programme has now finished, it leaves a living legacy with an army of trained volunteers continuing the work, a wealth of information available online and continued funded projects from some of the partner organisations working on endangered species.

Work is also now underway in Scotland with the Species on the Edge partnership project and in Wales Natur am Byth completing funded development stages ahead of launching large scale species recovery projects.

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