Nature reserves at the heart of a nature recovery network

by | 9 July 2023 | Retford, Wildlife

Over the past six decades, we’ve built up a unique suite of nature reserves across the county. Whilst much of our early focus was on saving habitat that would become the much loved Attenborough Nature Reserve near Beeston, Nottingham; we have a long history of activity in North Notts with much of our effort over the past decade invested in the Idle Valley Nature Reserve, our largest site, near Retford.

The role of nature reserves has evolved over the past century. They are no longer seen as fragments of habitat to be fenced off and conserved as you might a museum piece. By the 1960s, our founding members had recognised the educational and recreational value of wildlife areas – but there was still a tendency towards exclusivity.

When I joined the Trust in 1993, a quiet revolution was underway. An increasingly vocal group, led by our former Chairman Tom Huggon – was pushing for all our nature reserves to be open to the public. They believed that for people to be inspired to fight for nature, they had to have access to it. This approach won out and our policy was changed, with all but a few small areas of our estate opened. Today, as well as being havens for wildlife our reserves are visited and valued by hundreds of thousands of people each year.

Larger sites like Idle Valley Nature Reserve are better able to cope with visitor pressures and the benefits of scale are wonderfully demonstrated at the site which, at 375 hectares, is almost 70% larger that the better known Attenborough. Sitting in a less developed area alongside the River Idle, it also presents more scope to work with neighbours to link with the wider landscape. We have room to use natural management methods such as sheep and cattle grazing, and to utilise beavers to create diverse, dynamic habitats to benefit everything from fish, frogs and invertebrates to ground nesting birds.

No matter how large, nature reserves sitting in a barren landscape will succumb to pressures such as climate change and pollution. It is vital that nature reserves are not seen as the sole solution to protecting our threatened wildlife. To function well they must sit in a landscape which is welcoming to wildlife. Farmland, parks and gardens can all play a role. By considering wildlife in how we care for wider areas, including urban green spaces, we can create a nature recovery network that embraces the true potential of our protected sites as engines to drive nature’s return.

Thanks to the passion of our members, volunteers and staff over the past 60 years we care for more than 40 nature reserves across Notts. Summer is a great time to be out and about enjoying them so why not plan a visit? We also have a ‘Wonderful Wetlands’ event at Idle Valley Nature Reserve on Sunday 20th August. Details of our nature reserves including what wildlife you might expect to see can be found on our website at

Images: Main KT Photography Beaver Trust; inset top John Black; inset bottom Lee Scott