Family of nature movement pioneer gift £92k 80th birthday present to beauty site near Aylesbury

Quite the birthday treat for one of the oldest reserves around.

Tuesday, 22nd June 2021, 12:47 pm
Updated Tuesday, 22nd June 2021, 12:51 pm

Dancersend Reserve near Aylesbury has been given a £92,000 present ahead of its 80th birthday, by the family of one of its most influential visitors.

The family of Charles Rothschild, who founded the conservation society that eventually became The Wildlife Trusts, have provided the birthday present to the beauty spot.

Rothschild, an influential local banker was inspired to kickstart the nature movement in this country after discovering the reserve.

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Dancersend Reserve photo by Mick Jones
Dancersend Reserve photo by Mick Jones

The money provided to improve the 211-acre site has been donated by the Rothschild Foundation which has been set up by Charles' family.

The money has been granted to the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) to create a mosaic of new habitats, a wildlife pond and display boards telling the little-known story of Dancersend.

BBOWT, which part-owns and manages the reserve, is also planning a series of events to celebrate the anniversary.

The two-year programme of works starts on July 1.

Charles Rothschild

Estelle Bailey, CEO of BBOWT, said:“Dancersend is like the mother of all nature reserves – one of the foundation stones on which The Wildlife Trusts was built. This beautiful place inspired the man who became a pioneer in the UK's nature reserve movement, so it has an important place in history as well as in our hearts.

“Over the past year, the reserve has had extra pressure put on it by the increase in visitors enjoying the outdoors during the pandemic, which has caused some damage to its fragile habitats and pathways. This generous grant will enable us to repair that damage, but also future-proof the site, so it can be a wildlife haven for people to enjoy for many years to come – a fitting legacy to Charles Rothschild.”

Charles was part of the famous Rothschild banking dynasty, and spent much of his childhood at the family’s Tring Park. He discovered the wonders of the nearby Dancersend valley with his older brother Walter. They would go hunting for butterflies and moths there, sparking Charles’s lifelong interest in natural history.

Charles also became a respected entomologist and, in 1912, he founded the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves (SPNR), which later became The Wildlife Trusts of which BBOWT is a member.

Fox cub at Dancersend Reserve photo by Mick Jones

He acquired 78 acres of the richest habitat in the Dancersend valley to protect it for wildlife and, in 1941, his son Victor and daughter Miriam gifted that land to the society which their father founded to be one of its first nature reserves. That land is now part-owned and managed by BBOWT.

A spokesperson for The Rothschild Foundation said it was delighted to fund the work at Dancersend: “We are proud to continue the work that Charles Rothschild started on the site, which represents a historic turning point in the way that our society interacts with the natural environment.

“As our entire planet rallies to tackle the problems of global climate change and ecological damage, there has never been a better time to recognise the importance of this modest patch of woods and grassland in the English countryside.”

Almost all of Dancersend's 211 acres are open to the public. It is recognised as a Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, boasting 390 species of flowering plants and ferns, over 800 species of fungi and more than 770 species of butterflies and moths.

Mick Jones, who has been BBOWT's volunteer warden at Dancersend for 40 years, said: “To me the site is the cradle of British nature conservation, on the basis of Miriam Rothschild's story - told to me in the mid-80s - of her father and uncle's childhood expeditions there to collect butterflies and her own memories of accompanying them in her childhood.

“However, there appears to be no general recognition of the role of Dancersend in the history of The Wildlife Trusts. There is no memorial to Charles at the reserve and this is something I would like to correct before I have to give up as warden - I am 71 now. As it will be the 80th birthday of the reserve this year I want to publicise the story and promote the idea of some sort of memorial.”

The new display boards at the reserve are intended to be just that, telling Charles Rothschild's story to all the visitors who come to the site. However most of the grant will go towards protecting, enhancing and creating habitat for wildlife, the BBOWT says.

Once this work has been done, the Trust then plans to give a series of guided walks and talks to show off the 'new' Dancersend, as well as telling its story. Finally, part of the grant will fund ongoing species surveys to ensure all work being done is truly helping the wildlife, honouring Charles Rothschild’s vision and his legacy.