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Minsteracres Retreat Centre has won a £9,200 Big Lottery Fund grant for a year-long project to improve wildlife habitats within our 110 acre estate and to provide training opportunities for people from 13 – 80 years old.

Minsteracres was invited to apply for a pilot scheme called A4A. The A4A application for grants of up to £10,000 is streamlined and simpler than previous Awards for All process.

The bid is called ‘Wind in the Willows’ after Kenneth Grahame’s character Ratty, a water vole. Currently an endangered species, there are water voles living here on the estate and the grant will enable us to create open water in the weed-choked lakes and clear the banks for the voles to nest and feed in.

In addition, it will offer the opportunity to create a coppice of willow and other trees to use for green wood working.

The work began last week with a visit from 170 pupils and 25 teachers from Bede Academy in Blythe. As part of their annual environment day, the pupils helped to clear flag iris in the ponds, cut back some of the trees from the water’s edge and started to put in posts for a fence to keep out sheep and other animals.

With the fence in place, up to 1,000 willow, alder, birch and ash trees will be planted in February next year. These fast-growing trees will then be coppiced and the wood used to teach green wood working skills.

Andrew Pennington, the environmental consultant leading the scheme explains, “This grant offers us a unique opportunity to have people as young as 13 working alongside our established conservation volunteers – some as old as 80.

“Getting young and old to work together is something I’m really passionate about.” he explains, “When you get people collaborating on a project you can see conversations begin between them which break down the preconceptions of each about the other, and that’s a really good thing.

“We were so pleased to be invited to apply to the fund. It was a simple application and the process was really quick! Now that Bede Academy pupils have kick-started it, we’ll work with our own conservation volunteers and others to complete it within the year.”