Manx Wildlife Trust | Covid-19 Blog Series| August 2020

Manx Wildlife Trust - Zooming In and Out of Lockdown. Today we hear from another of our Charity members, Manx Wildlife Trust. Newly relocated Chief Executive, Leigh Morris gives us a really insightful, lighthearted , success story of how the Charity overcame the challenges of lockdown.

Date: Monday 17 August 2020

Manx Wildlife Trust - Zooming In and Out of Lockdown.

Today we hear from another of our Charity members, Manx Wildlife Trust. Newly relocated Chief Executive, Leigh Morris gives us a really insightful, lighthearted , success story of how the Charity overcame the challenges of lockdown.

Shortly after posting my first blog from the Isle of Man (IOM), the world changed for everyone with the arrival of COVID-19, and so just two months into my time in the IOM we entered lockdown…

Looking back now, as we are celebrating there having been no COVID-19 cases in IOM for over 28 days, and the lifting of lockdown is taking place, I am delighted at how Manx Wildlife Trust (MWT) has come through this period. Much of our important conservation work had to cease, our Gift Shop, Visitor Centres, and the Calf of Man Bird Observatory all closed, fundraising activities and events were cancelled, and all volunteer activities stopped. My team seamlessly switched into home working and used the time to catch up on desk work, planning and honing their digital skills. I was living close to our office in Peel, so walked in every day and ‘manned the fort’, took the phone calls, deliveries and facilitated lots of online meetings.

Taking all the daily phone calls often proved to be a delight, as several callers in the IOM showed great care and concern for #ManxNature. My favourite ones included a workman who called to say he’d been asked to replace some tiles in a roof, but there were birds nesting, and the lady who said she’d found a newt in the middle of a road and had rescued it and taken it home, where it was now in a bucket. “What should I do with it?” she asked. My best advice was to take it back where she’d found it and put it at the side of the road. We both then laughed as we didn’t want to return it to the side it was trying to get away from! When I joined MWT our Board advised that the existing MWT strategy ended in 2020 and the development of our new strategy was a key target for the first half of 2020. Just before lockdown in March, I attended a wider Wildlife Trusts meeting at Folly Farm Centre, near Bristol, where over 40 of the CEOs from the 46 Wildlife Trusts across the British Isles met to discuss top line strategic drivers for the federation. This was excellent for me, both in terms of networking and learning more about Wildlife Trusts, but particularly as we collectively decided the core strategic goals for the Wildlife Trusts, which I could then reflect within our planning in the IOM.

I had always planned for the development of the new MWT strategy to be an inclusive process, and with the arrival of COVID-19 lockdown we took the decision to run a series of strategy development workshops via the Zoom online platform. I facilitated eight workshops over four days with all MWT Trustees and staff participating, along with wider strategic stakeholders. We are proud not only with our ambitious new strategy, but also that we managed to ‘co-produce’ via an involving process under the constraints of lockdown. Our new ‘MWT Strategy 2020’ is now in place, with our ambition being to protect and enhance our environment, create more spaces for wildlife, and inspire people to act for nature.

Working closely with Manx farmers to encourage and help them to do more for nature across the 88% of the IOM that is under agriculture, is one of MWT’s key ambitions. To this aim, one of our strategy workshops focused on developing our work with farmers, and I was delighted that a team from the Manx National Farmers Union (MNFU) participated in this session. Across the world there is some history of confrontation between farmers and conservationists, but there are also a great many farmers who actively support nature and wildlife in their practices. There may be times that MWT will disagree with MNFU, however we believe the benefits of joint-working will be greater, and we are together determined to foster a strong collaboration. MWT and MNFU signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) at our flagship Close Sartfield Nature Reserve on 17th June – our first week without social distancing in the IOM. A most appropriate place for the signing, as not only is it at its most spectacular now with the show of wild orchids, but also because this wonderful display depends on agricultural grazing to maintain it year on year.

Many agree that one of the benefits of COVID-19 lockdown has been the development of digital skills, enabling new and more efficient ways of working. Online meetings certainly have their place going forward and certainly my aim is that MWT will adopt online meetings when appropriate to remove

travel time/cost, reduce carbon footprint and widen participation. The difference between the start and end of lockdown is amazing, a great example being our MWT Board/Council meetings. We held one just as the IOM was about to enter lockdown, which I hosted via the online meeting platform Zoom – four of the nine Trustees still came into the office, one joined by telephone and two just by audio link. Whereas our last meetings in the lockdown period had all nine Trustees, plus me on the same screen, all fully engaged via the Zoom platform. Brilliant!

The MWT Marketing & Communications Team (Graham and Rey) and all the conservation officers have done a fantastic job during lockdown in developing digital content. We’ve produced some excellent films posted onto Facebook and set up a ‘Stuck at Home?’ page on our website with lots of resources, including our latest digital Manx Nature magazine available to enable people in IOM to be #CloserToNature during lockdown. Our Art of Nature exhibition, in partnership with Manx National Heritage, is fully online with a film tour and online shop (your chance to buy an exclusive piece of Manx natural art!) My contributions included my talk on ‘2 Years on St Helena’ that we recorded and my interview for the Island Influencers podcast, drawing parallels between conservation issues on the islands, and both are available online. Most exciting for me is that our new website went live on Wednesday 24th June and I’m delighted that we now have a .IM domain name www.mwt.im As well as our MoU with MNFU, other key links have been developed recently. Our second MoU was signed with Manx Whale and Dolphin Watch (MWDW) and my aim is that we develop closer links (and potentially MoU) with the other IOM conservation organisations to define how we align and can better work together for nature in the IOM. One way that we might all collaborate more is on the delivery of education across the island schools. I suggested the formation of an Environmental Educators Group, coming under the banner of our UNESCO Biosphere, and I was delighted to be part of our first meeting on 27th May (on Zoom of course!)

Engagement with the other 45 Wildlife Trusts has also been hugely enhanced by Zoom. My Board Chair, Viv Davies and myself joined the Wildlife Trusts Leaders Conference for 3 days in early June and the participants all agreed that this worked extremely well. This is particularly the case for the CEOs of the more remote Wildlife Trusts of IOM, Scilly Islands and Alderney, and we’ve just set up a monthly Zoom catch-up for us Island CEOs.

A key aim for MWT (and a phrase gaining much use across the World) is for us to come #BackStronger post-lockdown. Our new strategy gives us a clear focus and the headlines for our communications and engagement to explain this to the people on IOM and further afield. We’ve refreshed our visitor centre in Peel, produced a new information leaflet to be distributed across the IOM and we are soon to announce exciting developments with our website. We were delighted that our Wardens Team returned to the Bird Observatory on the Calf of Man on 18th June, and for the first time they are now joining our weekly team meetings via Zoom.

As I only arrived in the IOM in mid-January and bizarrely I’ve actually spent more time in lockdown in the IOM than out of it I’m looking forward to getting back to more face-to-face working, developing more external alliances and, fundamentally, getting back out more into nature. I still need to visit 5 of our 24 MWT nature reserves, and I was able to make my first visit to The Calf Bird Observatory in early July. Let’s hope that COVID-19 has gone for good and we can fully capitalise on our new ways of working.