I recently stepped down as a trustee of Surrey Wildlife Trust. I’d been a co-opted or full trustee for almost 4 years and although I loved it, I took the uncomfortable decision to stop.
Like each of the 46 wildlife trusts around the country, Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT) is aiming to restore nature across the county and celebrated its 60th birthday last year. They do this by looking after over 70 nature reserves across the county, managing land owned by the MOD and Surrey County Council to improve biodiversity, working with partners to restore large swathes of habitat and striving to connect these precious areas because wildlife can’t exist in islands of great habitat, it needs to move across a larger landscape. The Trust have made some brilliant progress, for example: 99% of the county council’s SSSI estate (which SWT manages) is now in favourable or unfavourable-recovering condition. Surrey desperately needs this work. In 2017 the Surrey Nature Partnership, of which SWT is a partner, published a report on the state of nature in Surrey, which found that a third of all species in Surrey are either extinct or under threat.
Alongside this urgent need for landscape scale conservation, the past few years have been challenging. The reduction in funding from central government to local authorities has made Surrey County Council’s financial position difficult, resulting in less budget available for the countryside and the work SWT are doing on the council’s land. The spread of Ash Dieback has resulted in the need to fell many trees close to public footpaths and roads to ensure the safety of the public, which has been a difficult but necessary activity. And due to the magnitude of what needs to be done to restore nature in the county, the trust’s small resources have been stretched thinly. But the future is looking good. The trust has a new 5 year strategic plan, which aims to restore habitats on a landscape scale and focuses resources on areas where they can have most impact together with partners. The relationship with the county council is changing so the Trust can focus on conservation only.
I’ve enjoyed being part of the team helping to bring the Trust along this journey, through challenging times and hopefully out the other side. I’m proud of what we achieved recently and excited about the plans for the future. Being a trustee has been a wonderful experience. I’ve brought skills and experience from my career in the corporate world to support the management team on a multitude of areas including risk management, people leadership, safety and strategy. I’ve also learnt a huge amount about conservation, wildlife in Surrey, land management, conservation grazing and governance. That learning has come from interactions with the Trust management team, experts in the organisation and fellow trustees who bring a wealth of knowledge from many different backgrounds. Volunteering is good for you too – it builds communities, develops emotional stability, improves self esteem and develops skills. I enjoy being part of team doing good in the world. So why am I stepping down? I’ve learnt over the past 4 years that just showing up to trustee meetings one evening every other month is not enough. To properly support and challenge the management team needs time spent understanding how the organisation works, time spent engaging with the staff and members and time working on specific topics where I have expertise. I’ve loved being part of the trustee team and hopefully provided valuable input but sadly there are only so many hours in the day. My job has become busier over the past few months and I’m studying part-term for a masters degree. So I made the difficult decision that if I don’t have time to do it how I think it needs to be done, then I can’t do it at all. This has been a deeply uncomfortable decision for me and one that has taken a lot of thought. I’m not sure I’ve voluntarily stopped doing something I enjoy before! I still a member of the Trust and will watch with excitement to see how the coming years unfold. I have complete faith in the management team and trustees that the next State of Nature in Surrey report will show an improved picture, with nature in Surrey thriving.
All photos: Jon Hawkins, Surrey Hills Photography