Prisoners given chance to improve Cumbria’s wildlife in new biodiversity project

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A SOUTH Cumbria prison has become host to a special tree nursery where inmates approaching the end of their sentences are helping an ambitious project to restore endangered fauna and flora.

HMP Haverigg is playing a key role in Back on Our Map (BOOM) mission, which aims to encourage communities to get involved in a far-reaching four-year reintroduction programme for 10 threatened species.

Back On Our Map (BOOM) is a new project supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the University of Cumbria, as well as a wider partnership including Morecambe Bay Partnership, Natural England, Cumbria Wildlife Trust and Forestry England.

Working across South Cumbria, the aim is to roll out pioneering actions encouraging people to reconnect with nature.

BOOM’s community lead for aspen trees, Ellie Kent, explained while most of the public participation work had been shelved during Covid-19, the prison environment offered excellent opportunities for planting.

Ms Kent explained: “We will be working with the men to grow saplings on a new prison woodland site.

“Aspen are very important as no other British tree supports more biodiversity.

“They provide habitat for rare and nationally significant flies, moths, beetles, fungi, lichens and mosses.

“Once common across Cumbria, land use changes and increasing grazing have left only a few isolated strands.

“With their extensive root systems, they bind soil together, slowing water and reducing flooding.

“It will be great to see the branching out of these beautiful trees at Haverigg.

“They should do well as they are salt tolerant and can grow successfully on coastlines.

“Also, they’ll be off limits to deer – who like to nibble them – and have contributed to the serious decline.”

Ms Kent said as Populus tremula rarely produced seed, new aspen would be cultivated from root cuttings and transplanted across BOOM’s South Cumbrian range, where their distinctive leaves would ‘flutter in the wind’.

HMP Haverigg is in the process of becoming a category D open prison, offering offenders approaching the end of their sentences a range of new skills and improved transition into the community.

Its industrial manager, Stuart Jeynes, explained as well as aspen, the prison would be growing other important species for BOOM.

Running until 2022, the BOOM project is fighting to save the future for the hazel dormouse, the Duke of Burgundy butterfly and the small blue butterfly in South Cumbria.

Seven rare plants are also to be reintroduced to their habitats including: goldilocks aster, greater and oblong sundew, green-winged orchid, maidenhair fern, spiked speedwell, and aspen.

Community-based feasibility studies are also being undertaken to support the potential reintroduction of two further species, the corncrake and pine marten.

Mr Jeynes commented on the project: “We are looking forward to working with the team and for our men to make an invaluable contribution to improving wildlife across the area.”