Belfast-based charity Ulster Wildlife has been acknowledged for its tireless work to protect sharks, skates, and rays (elasmobranchs) through the ‘Sea Deep’ project by featuring in the newly opened exhibition ‘Habitats of Hope’ in Horniman Museum and Gardens, in South London this winter.
Sea Deep, funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, saw Ulster Wildlife work with sea anglers, schools, and local communities to continue a tag and release programme in Northern Ireland.
Mathieu Lundy, Head of Marine Recovery for Ulster Wildlife, said, “We must build a legacy within any of these projects.
“The way we look to do that is with the education packages that we apply, it’s for the education of anglers that are going out and raising awareness.
“To have the support of a funder that is helping us take that on and works with you in terms of continuous promotion to widen the scope has been great.
“The ability to have those conservation issues highlighted and brought to a national audience is important for the awareness and also for the conservation in general.”
Since 1994 almost £2bn of National Lottery funding has been awarded to 4,600 land, nature, and biodiversity projects across, helping to protect animals and wildlife with more investment to come.
The Sea Deep project, operating between 2017 and 2022, worked to protect critically endangered species such as the Flapper Skate, the largest of all European skates and rays.
With £208,000 of National Lottery funding, Ulster Wildlife was able to train three dedicated anglers to tag skates while raising awareness of issues surrounding biodiversity within marine wildlife in local schools.
Ahead of COP28, Lundy believes now, more than ever, is a critical time to spread Ulster Wildlife’s conservation message. “We work primarily on habitats which are key for blue carbon, marine carbon, because of the role that can play in offsetting carbon increases within natural habitats,” Lundy explained.
“COP gets the public attention and raises the importance of why we are doing that work.
“It really cements it into people’s minds and brings it to the understanding of why these things are important.
“Sharing knowledge and utilising the expertise of other organisations is critical for achieving the greater sum of our parts.”
During COP28, The National Lottery has unveiled an immersive exhibition, Habitats of Hope, created by Georgia Tucker at Horniman Museum and Gardens, to bring awareness to various species that face extinction.
The exhibition showcases the positive impact of the £30 million raised every week by National Lottery players for good causes has had on preserving land and nature across the UK.
Lundy added, “We are small, focused group of scientists who are enthused about the marine environment from seaweed and sea slugs to oysters, salt marsh and skates, a wide range of species and habitats.
“A lot of the people who have produced these ideas for funding have put so many hours into the work.
“To get some recognition, it’s not why they do it, but that they’ve done it because it was a very important project to be involved with.
“To be able to raise awareness of the amount of work that’s gone into it and building that momentum behind the project is key.”
Eilish McGuinness, Chief Executive of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “In the UK, one in six species are at risk of extinction, from the beloved hedgehog to the lesser-known Narrow-headed Ant.
“Every species plays a significant role in the natural ecosystem, whether it be pollinating our food crops, reducing flooding, or decomposing and recycling our waste.
“The ‘Habitats of Hope’ exhibition spotlights the vital work that our nature organisations do in protecting our unique natural heritage.
“Through our new 10-year strategy, Heritage 2033, the National Lottery Heritage Fund will be investing even more in helping nature to recover across both rural and urban landscapes, as well as helping more people to enjoy and connect with nature.”
Images: The National Lottery via Beat Media Group