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Our County

Our County

Our county is rich in wildlife supported by a wonderful variety of habitats.

Regional, county and local development plans now include policies that safeguard our natural environment. The Regional Planning Guidance for the East Midlands contains habitat maintenance and creation targets that, for the first time, carry statutory weight in the planning system. However, despite these targets, a recent survey has highlighted continuing loss and degradation of high-quality habitat, particularly grassland.

Nottinghamshire, lying in the heart of the Midlands Coalfields, was a cradle of the industrial revolution - its water and coal driving the steam-based economy.  The County’s gently undulating landscape and floodplains have also proved ideal for modern agriculture.  As a result Nottinghamshire’s unique natural environment, from the heathlands and woodlands of Sherwood Forest to the great wetlands of the Trent, has suffered more than almost any other English County.  Here we highlight some of the losses wildlife has sustained but also outline how much potential there is to regain the County’s biodiversity and put back what we have lost.

Forest, Woods and Heath

In medieval times Sherwood Forest covered over 10,000 hectares of woodland, wood-pasture and heathland, but by the beginning of this millennium most of this ancient forest landscape had disappeared.  Between 1922 and 2000, 90 percent of our lowland heathland was lost to agriculture, forestry plantations and urban development. In 2008 the few heaths that remain are fragmented and many are losing their wildlife value as scrub invades now that the old grazing systems have been lost.  Water abstraction for agricultural, industrial and domestic use is not helping as it takes water from the Sherwood Sandstone aquifer that supports Sherwood’s trees and wetlands.  Urban and industrial development has encroached on the forest and caused pollution of the atmosphere and watercourses. The consequence of all this is a dramatic reduction in the biodiversity of woodland and heathland habitats. Our Forests and woodlands are vastly below their potential as wildlife habitats, recreational environments and visual landscapes.

As commercial plantations of non-native species have little wildlife value, work has started to return some parts to heathland, and grazing is being brought back to the Forest.  The Wildlife Trust and others have also saved some of Nottinghamshire’s ancient woodlands but these are too fragmented to support the full diversity of wildlife. As a result plans are being drawn up to show how these remaining woodlands and heaths could be linked up. Please see our Living Landscapes page to find out more.


The farmed landscape of Nottinghamshire has changed dramatically in the last century, particularly during World War II. Mechanisation and intensification were widely adopted to achieve the highest possible yields from the land. Large fields were created by removing hedges; the wet grasslands and grazing marshes of the Trent and Idle floodplains were drained and mostly lost.  Flower-rich meadows on the clays and magnesian limestone soils still survive as a handful of tiny sites, many protected as nature reserves, some by the Trust, but each isolated from the other.  In fact 97% of species-rich grasslands in the county have disappeared since the 1930s.

Initially this was necessary to put food on our tables, but it then led to the over-production of many crops and to the loss of Nottinghamshire’s mixed farming tradition. Widespread use of chemicals has dramatically reduced populations of insects and weed seeds that farmland birds such as grey partridge and skylark depend upon and as a result their numbers have plummeted.

Does it have to be like this?

We all need food and we depend upon our farmers, but as custodians of the Countryside farming must deliver both the food we need and the wildlife-rich landscape we cherish. There are some signs of a positive future already, such as our Farmland Birds B&B scheme and the new hedgerows and flower-rich field margins that have resulted from Countryside Stewardship. Find out about our landowner advice work.


Not one of Nottinghamshire’s rivers has escaped the hand of man during the 19th and 20th centuries. They have been straightened and deepened and floodbanks built to protect people and property.  Floodplains have been drained for agriculture and weirs have been built for navigation. Valley landscapes have been fragmented and vast areas of wetland habitat have been lost.

In order to support species such as Daubenton’s bat, white clawed crayfish, otters, water vole and water shrew; and to see higher numbers of wigeon, teal, lapwing and snipe we need healthy valley habitats.  Only such a landscape will sustain wetland plant species and support a range of dragonflies and damselflies and allow us to see the flash of the kingfisher, the elegant sweep of the heron, the boom of the bittern and the leap of the salmon.

The Trust is helping bring our river valleys back to life by promoting sustainable development and working with planners and statutory bodies to take account of wildlife in all their decisions. Attenborough and Besthorpe Gravel Pits are examples of how good habitat can be created.  It is only through such work that we will achieve a diverse and properly managed river environment and see the return of once common species such as the otter.

Urban Nottinghamshire

The environment of Nottingham and the County’s towns is in a state of constant change. The City is flourishing economically, whilst around the County, it’s a more variable story. Economic and social regeneration is a priority for Coalfield communities and market towns. The landscapes of our urban fringes are constantly under pressure and moving to and from our urban areas healthily and safely is increasingly problematic. It is more difficult than it has ever been to find a green space in which to walk, play or relax.

In the wake of these changes, wildlife and green-space continue to lose out as the concept of sustainable development is yet to be translated into common practice. Opportunities to retain and expand natural green-space are often missed or sacrificed, whilst important urban wildlife sites continue to be lost to development. However, the health and educational benefits of urban green-space and the value of the natural environment to our quality of life and the local economy is slowly being appreciated.  For over 20 years the Nottingham Urban Wildlife Scheme (NUWS) has worked to protect the city’s biodiversity and continues its efforts to ensure that urban development considers wildlife in its planning and design.

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Protecting Wildlife for the Future