Guest blog by Kim Gutteridge, the RSPB's Head of Grants

Did you know that if you play the National Lottery then you’re helping to save nature every time you buy a ticket?

National Lottery players raise, on average, £30 million each week for projects all over the country. Nature benefits as part of the 20% of good causes funding that goes to heritage.  What has heritage got do with nature? Well, the UK is stuffed full of natural heritage (wildlife and great places) that also has many cultural and historic links, all of which the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) can support. Since 1995, we’ve received an incredible £50m from HLF that has enabled us to conserve and create some amazing homes for wildlife across the UK and given thousands of people the opportunity to get outside, enjoy and learn about nature. 

That’s why we’re saying a big #ThanksToYou for your funding support by offering free entry or free parking at 20 of our top RSPB nature reserves to anyone bringing along a Lottery ticket from Monday 3rd to Sunday 9th December. Many of these sites have benefited from HLF funding but we’ve included a couple of extras as well. To plan your visit take a look at the full list. Make sure you check out the terms and conditions too.

Children birdwatching, at the opening of RSPB Newport Wetlands Centre, Newport, Wales. (Wales News Service; rspb-images.com)

#ThanksToYou, in Wales, Newport Wetlands is a thriving visitor centre and a key destination within the ‘Living Levels’ landscape. Here, local communities from across the Gwent levels will be more connected to their landscape, thanks to Lottery funding.

In Belfast, #ThanksToYou we’re giving visitors a stunning ‘Window on Wildlife’, close to the heart of the city, on the shores of Belfast Lough. Look out for grazing Konik ponies and the large flocks of whistling wigeon that make Belfast WOW their home in winter.

In Scotland, the Loch Leven Heritage landscape partnership project led by TRACKS created a heritage trail around the loch which has brought communities together and is helping promote a healthier lifestyle. The final section of the completed trail, runs for 6.5km from Kinross Mill to the RSPB Loch Leven nature reserve on the south side of Loch Leven. A great family day out, we have binoculars and Wild Challenge rucksacks for hire from the visitor centre, and children can get to know the wildlife here by grabbing a seasonal game of nature bingo.

In Sussex, #ThanksToYou, Pulborough Brooks is one of the best places to see wildlife in the South Downs National Park. A patchwork of wetland, heathland and woodland in the Arun Valley, HLF funding has helped us extend the nature reserve, restore habitats and improve public access. Through the Arun & Rother Connections Project local communities and partners came together to promote a thriving river system where wildlife flourishes and where people value the unique natural and cultural heritage. With thousands of hours of volunteer input, the project has benefitted rare wildlife, such as otters and water voles, as well as creating an oral history and photography record of the area.

RSPB Arne, situated on Poole Harbour and within the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is a stunning patchwork landscape comprising dramatic open heathland, ancient oak woodland, mudflats and sandy beaches. A great day out for families, Arne even has a low-ropes course for everyone to enjoy and, with over 100,000 visitors plays an important part in the local economy.

 Arne RSPB reserve, Dorset. (David Wootton; rspb-images.com)

On the edge of London, #ThanksToYou, we were able to open Rainham Marshes (one of very few ancient landscapes remaining in London and a former military range) to the public for the first time in over a century. Here, Lottery funding helped us build our Education and Environment Centre and has also helped us develop some fantastic facilities and get visitors ‘Active in Nature’ by walking, running, cycling and even bouldering!   

In the Midlands, at Sandwell Valley, HLF funding has reinvigorated the site with a redesigned centre about which the local residents said “They’ve got this place right, it’s a beautiful place for residents to enjoy.”  Volunteers at the reserve have noticed wide ranging benefits as a direct result of these improvements which include improved health, sharing and increasing knowledge, gaining confidence and new skills, making new and lasting friendships. Events with a local Youth Club have taken place and given the young people a sense that this reserve is for them, not ‘for other people’.

In Suffolk you can visit Minsmere where #ThanksToYou thousands more visitors have been able to enjoy the reserve as a result of HLF funding. There are upgraded facilities, including a revamped visitor centre and learning area for families and school groups.

The Seabird Centre at Bempton Cliffs offers some of the most stunning coastal views anywhere. Since opening the enhanced centre in April 2015, we have had a phenomenal response from visitors – with positive reviews making us one of the UK’s Top Ten visitor rated natural outdoor attractions in the UK last year. The additional indoor space means we can tell the rich cultural stories associated with this stretch of Yorkshire’s Heritage Coast, including it being the birthplace of seabird protection.

Further north at Saltholme on Teesside, the HLF funded ‘A Date with Seals’ project was a great success. Here 32 volunteers worked on this project over 3 summers, 10,828 people connected to nature by coming to see seals, most of whom would not have normally travelled to a nature reserve.

Feeling inspired?  We hope to see you all in the run up to Christmas and as Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: “December is a wonderful time to experience the UK’s rich, diverse and exciting heritage, which has been transformed by more than £7.8bn National Lottery funding since 1994.  This is a small gesture of thanks and a way of giving something back to the people who buy tickets.”

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