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Home of globally rare Precambrian fossils set to become a new NNR

The 439-hectare National Nature Reserve will be a haven for people and a rich variety of species including kingfishers, rare ‘Charnwood spider’ and ancient oaks

Some of the UK’s and world’s rarest fossils are set to be protected with the declaration of a new National Nature Reserve in Leicestershire.

Bradgate Park and Swithland Wood National Nature Reserve in Leicestershire is key to the first chapters of England’s geology. It contains rare examples of fossils from the Precambrian Period more than half a billion years ago, showing evidence of early marine lifeforms. 

Bradgate Park is the only National Nature Reserve where you can find fossils of this age. These fossils, known as the Ediacaran biota, are among the first evidence of complex life on Earth and helped revolutionise our understanding of how life evolved and resolving the paradox of Darwin’s ‘missing link’. Darwin had suggested as part of his theory of evolution that the Precambrian seas must have hosted life, but this had never been proved until Precambrian fossils were discovered.

The new national nature reserve was also once the childhood home to Lady Jane Grey, and visited by Sir David Attenborough in his youth. The area is steeped in history with much of the land formed from a medieval park containing fallow and red deer alongside oak trees which are up to 800 years old. The site includes important grassland habitats, alongside some of the only remaining heath in Leicestershire.

Swithland Wood, as well as including former Swithland Slate quarries, is an important ancient woodland habitat containing trees which provide homes to mammals, birds and insects including Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, the rare ‘Charnwood spider’ and small heath butterfly. 

This declaration, announced by Natural England today (Monday 20 May), also marks the start of National Nature Reserves Week, celebrating England’s most important places for nature with events taking place across the country. Bradgate Park and Swithland Wood becomes the 220th National Nature Reserve in England, altogether this encompasses a total area of over 109,000 hectares - approximately 0.8% of the country’s land surface.

Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, said:

“This National Nature reserve at Bradgate Park and Swithland Wood is not only an important step for Nature recovery, but being so close to Leicester is also a great example how we can make Nature accessible for people living in our cities. The reserve will protect geological and archaeological treasures and create a bigger and better-connected area for wildlife. It also presents are reminder of how working together in partnership can drive Nature recovery at scale, in the process helping to achieve our ambitious national environmental targets.

“National Nature Reserve status will help to protect this site for the future and today’s launch is a fitting start to National Nature Reserves week, which offers a chance for people to celebrate our wonderful natural world and to learn more about these fantastic natural treasures that are protected across the country for everyone to enjoy.” 

James Dymond, Director of Bradgate Park Trust, said:  

“This is a landmark moment for Bradgate Park and Swithland Wood. They are home to some of the oldest fossils and rocks in England and to have the site’s conservation value recognised in this way is a fantastic achievement.  

“For Bradgate to be part of His Majesty The King’s series of National Nature Reserves is a real honour and I’m extremely grateful to the teams of professionals, specialists and volunteers who have worked together to make this achievement possible. 

“As well as being a Green Flag Heritage Site, we’ve now got a nationally recognised nature reserve too which we hope will raise the profile of our geological history and its importance.”     

The new National Nature Reserve is already a popular destination for visitors around Leicester and provides a number of access trails. Protecting nature sites like this, which are accessible to people living in cities such as Leicester, is key to Natural England’s commitments to make nature accessible for all. Among those who have enjoyed visiting the park is world-renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough, who has said that he has fond childhood memories of visiting Bradgate, and was a patron of fundraising efforts to create a new visitor centre.  

Bradgate Park’s rich geological history makes it internationally important for scientific research and teaching of Precambrian Palaeontology and is a key site in the future plans for a UNESCO Global Geopark in Charnwood Forest. 

This newest National Nature Reserve is part of Natural England’s effort to establish a Nature Recovery Network to create joined up spaces for plants and wildlife to thrive.
The government has set ambitious targets to halt and reverse the decline of nature and Natural England is supporting the delivery of these targets through initiatives such as Biodiversity Net Gain, which ensure that new developments provide at least 10% net gain for nature, as well as assisting the delivery of Landscape Recovery projects and leading the search for a new National Park. 

This National Nature Reserve is also part of the King’s Series of National Nature Reserves, announced last year to leave a lasting public legacy for people and nature by creating a series of reserves to celebrate the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III. Through the King’s Series, five National Nature Reserves will be announced each year for five years, until 2027.

Additional information:

About Bradgate Park Trust: 

  • The Bradgate Park Trust cares for the internationally important landscapes of Bradgate Park and Swithland Wood and their rich wildlife, including Leicestershire’s largest wild red and fallow deer herds. These sites that form the Estate are nationally protected by legislation, as are many of the heritage features of Bradgate Park. Bradgate Park Trust have been managing the park since it was given to the people of Leicestershire by landowner Charles Bennion in the 1920s to be run in trust for them.  www.bradgatepark.org/  

About Bradgate Park and Swithland Wood  

  • The Precambrian fossils found at the site, known as the Ediacaran biota, are among the first evidence of complex life on Earth and helped revolutionise our understanding of how life evolved and resolving the paradox of Darwin’s ‘missing link’. The enclosed area of Bradgate Park is an ancient parkland consisting of groves of old oak trees, many of which are over 300 years old. 
  • Swithland Wood is one of the best remaining examples of oak-lime and alder woodland in Leicestershire. Most of the woodland is dominated by Sessile Oak, Silver Birch and Small-leaved Lime with a diverse range of native shrubs represented in the shrub layer.  

National Nature Reserves 

  • NNR status is given to the very best nature conservation sites in England and is recognition that the land is nationally important and will be managed in perpetuity for its wildlife and geology. The status helps protect some of the country’s most important habitats, species and geology, and enhancing biodiversity and nature recovery while also connecting people with nature.  

National Nature Reserves Week 

  • National Nature Reserves Week 2024 takes place from 20th May to 31st May. Over 80 events will be taking place on NNRs around the country, aiming to connect more people from a wider diversity of backgrounds with some of England’s most important places for nature. Discover more at www.NNRweek.com, and find your inspiration at a National Nature Reserve near you.
Channel website: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/home-office

Original article link: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/home-of-globally-rare-precambrian-fossils-set-to-become-a-new-nnr

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