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Meet the team aiding wildlife at Mere Sands Wood Nature Reserve

PUBLISHED: 20:07 27 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:58 20 February 2013

Tom Taylor with his brushcutter

Tom Taylor with his brushcutter

They may look like desperate characters in a gritty crime drama but they are helping to save Lancashire's wildlife habitats. Alan Wright reports

If you go down to the woods today you are almost certain to see gangs of volunteers working to improve habits for our native wildlife. And they mean business.

Every week thousands are involved in conservation work for the Wildlife Trusts around the United Kingdom. One of them, conservation student Graham Moreton, has captured a number of gritty images at the Mere Sands Wood Nature Reserve in West Lancashire. They could be the cast from a Lancashire remake of The Usual Suspects.

Mere Sands Wood stands out above the fields and farms of the Lancashire Coastal Plain. It covers 42 hectares, involving lakes, mature broadleaved and conifer woodland, sandy, wet meadows and heaths. Birds of prey swoop in and out of the woodland which is home to foxes, red squirrels and roe deer.

The lakes fill up in winter with wildfowl populations including nationally important numbers of gadwall and teal, as well as wigeon, pintail, shoveler, pochard, tufted duck, goldeneye and goosander. In summer great crested grebe, kingfisher, sparrowhawk and treecreeper breed there.

It is a nature reserve hardly noticed by the thousands of day-trippers heading along the A59 and that is all the better for visitors seeking serenity and an opportunity to sit quietly in hides and watch the thrilling native inhabitants. Birch, oak and Scots pine shelter walkers from the storms rolling in from the Irish Sea and offer a sun-dappled sanctuary in summer.

All this would not be possible without the sweat and strain of an enthusiastic army often hidden off the main paths. Grahams pictures capture the hardy individuals who turn out in all weathers, coppicing, hedge-laying and generally shifting natures debris to ensure the reserve is more welcoming to wildlife.

Graham, 18, has been volunteering since school, and caught these images of his fellow workers as part of a photography project at Southport College. He said: I was influenced by an American photographer called Zed Nelson. They are striking images of people going about their daily lives.

Grahams images are powerful portraits of people with intense expressions showing a strength of character associated with individuals who spend their spare time involved in hard labour. And they are the frontline against invasions, by species like the grey squirrel, the Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed plants and animals that remove our native plants and creatures as they flood into our natural environment.

While Grahams pictures exude a welcome more at home in the southern marshes of the USA, they hide a friendly face of volunteering in the United Kingdom. The volunteers prepare habitats for threatened native species like the red squirrel and butterflies. The work is a success with red squirrels returning to the wood three years ago, moving back from their isolation in the woods around Formby.

Graham said: I tried to get images of the volunteers and how they look going about the jobs they do at Mere Sands Wood. There were surprised when they first saw the pictures and they could not stop laughing. But I think they really like them.

The work parties have persuaded me to go into conservation and I am studying for a degree. It is amazing how much you learn on these work parties and the team is always friendly and supportive.

Wildlife Trust reserve officers often point out that their volunteers do get to socialise during lunch breaks, but once the work begins a grim determination takes over. A morris dancing troupe was even involved in a work party in Merseyside, they relaxed during their lunch break with a spot of dancing, but then got back to work.

Reserve Manager Lindsay Beaton said: We have over 70 volunteers come to Mere Sands Wood every week to contribute their time and effort. They do absolutely everything on the reserve, from practical conservations tasks, through wildlife surveys, staffing reception, hosting school visits to cleaning the toilets! There is no way we could achieve what we do for wildlife and our visitors without them.

Grahams pictures offer a powerful reminder of the determination and dedication of the volunteers. Willing to spend hours ensuring that their local beauty spot remains a haven from the encroachment of man and invasive nature which threaten to crush a natural world which they love.

Will they put up a fight? Just look at the pictures!

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