Amidst Britain’s sprawling industrial developments and urban expansion there exist secret pockets of perfectly preserved natural areas. But these unspoilt wild habitats are to be found in the most unlikely of places: in the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) military ranges.
Earth Report finds out how species long vanished from most of Britain’s countryside are being protected by the men in uniform.
Sanctuary amongst the gunfire
According to WWF, 134 species of plants and animals have become extinct in the UK this century and 300 Sites of Special Scientific Interest are destroyed or damaged every year. Added to that, almost 97% of grassland and 80% of heath land has been lost in recent years.
It’s clear that Britain’s wildlife is facing a crisis.
By their very nature military ranges are unsuitable for urban or agricultural development and form some of the last oases of undeveloped, unfarmed and unspoilt land in the UK. And although these areas feel the full force of the military’s weaponry, it hasn’t had a detrimental effect on the environment making these areas unintended sanctuaries for some of Britain’s most endangered species.
And there’s another advantage. During training the public is kept out. For people-shy species like the Roe and Sika deer, this makes military ranges perfect habitats. Unlikely as it may seem, this is how Britain’s bombing ranges have become wildlife refuges.
Danger zones and endangered species
Down at the Lulworth Gunnery School in Dorset, Earth Report catches up with Major Mick Burgess and Colonel James Baker – two of the MOD employees dedicated to the conservation of Defence Estate land – on Lulworth’s 2989 hectares of nearly unspoiled nature reserve.
Helped by a team of conservationists, Major Burgess and Colonel Baker monitor and protect rare species like the Smooth Snake, the Slow Worm and the Silver Studded Blue butterfly.
War and peace
Thankfully, the UK Military is far from being alone. Throughout the world, training ranges double as wildlife refuges – a sign of how badly civilians are doing at safeguarding nature.
The irony is that amongst the deadliest weapons in a landscape of destruction a kind of hope has been created. In the future, perhaps we can restore a living working countryside. Until that happens, nature’s army will continue to help defend Britain’s wildlife.
Join WWF’s Living Planet campaign.
For more information about the work of the UK Ministry of Defence, visit their website.
MOD Sanctuary award: aimed at encouraging positive conservation work across the defence estate.
Restoring the balance on the Otmoor nature reserve – how the MOD is preserving a wetland ecosystem.