Wiltshire & Swindon’s Natural Environment

One of the main reasons why many people choose to live and work in Wiltshire and Swindon is because of the quality of the local environment.  A healthy environment, rich in wildlife, provides local people with a better quality of life.  In a recent Wiltshire Council survey 44% of respondents ranked ‘access to nature’ as one of the most important things in making somewhere a good place to live, second only to health services (55.8%). 

The natural environment represents many different things to local people, for some it can represent the open space where we can relax in our back gardens, for others it may represent one of the many conservation sites where families can explore wildlife together.  However people classify the natural environment there is no denying that it is worth conserving and enhancing in its own right.

Wiltshire and Swindon hosts some of the most bio-diverse habitats and ecosystems in the country.

Key Facts:

  • Salisbury Plain- represents 41% of Britain’s unimproved chalk downland – a vital habitat for indicator species;
  • Ten European Special Areas of Conservation (SACs)-  fall within Wiltshire, protecting many species of bat, wild flowers, invertebrates;
  • 5 river basins extend across the county and include the Salisbury Avon chalk river;
  • 44% of Wiltshire and 28% of Swindon’s land lies within protected landscapes (with 3 AONBs)
  • Cotswold Water Park is 40 square miles of gravel extraction lakes; a wildlife-rich area attracting high visitor levels;
  • Savernake Forest, classified as a SSSI and extending to approx.1100 hectares this old forest derives from ancient wood pasture;
  • Wiltshire hosts the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Sites;
  • The area is a national stronghold for farmland birds with approx. 70% of agricultural land covered by 974 stewardship agreements.

Avebury sunriseIn the foreword of the first Wiltshire and Swindon State of the Environment Report Professor John Lawton commented that “Wiltshire is without question England’s best kept secret.  The wide, windswept chalk downland was like nothing I had ever seen, Savernake Forest was like stepping back in time, the scale of Salisbury Plain was staggering and the Cotswold Water Park was a revelation about what conservation can achieve in partnership with industry.”

Professor John Lawton led the review in 2010 for the ‘Making Space for Nature’ Report.   The report concluded that nature in England had become highly fragmented, to the extent that it was unable to respond adequately to new problems like climate change and demographic pressures.  The rapidly developing infrastructure, urban areas such as Swindon and more rural towns, such as Chippenham and Trowbridge, are contributing towards that fragmentation.

It is not enough to just conserve one area or species anymore, for example, Wiltshire is home to many rare species of butterfly including the Duke of Burgundy and Marsh Fritillary. Butterfly populations depend on meta-population structures to survive and require mosaics of habitat that connect on a landscape scale.  Link 2 Nature will work with partners to support landscape scale projects, this will help biodiversity, such as the butterflies, to adapt to the impacts of a rapidly changing climate and protect the important habitats that so many of our rare species of wildlife depend upon.

To find out more about on-going landscape scale projects in Wiltshire & Swindon please go to our Projects page.