“THINGS have not changed since the day we started - the wildlife in urban areas still needs protecting.”

Since its conception more than 30 years ago Bradford Urban Wildlife Group (BUWG) has been instrumental in helping to protect wild creatures and habitats within the district, and its co-founder and president Les Barnett stresses the valuable role the group plays.

“There are so many pressures nowadays, on local councils and communities, and it is important that we recognise how precious wild places are, and they are not just pieces of scruffy ground,” he says. “There is a balance to be struck between the growth of industry and expanding populations - the need for better quality living - and the natural world, which was here before we were. Someone needs to speak up for wildlife.”

And that is what the group has been doing since 1987, when it was established by Les and Howard Cleveland, both passionate about the environment.

The group’s work includes carrying out surveys of fauna and flora at sites across the district, one of them being at Roberts Park.

“At the request of the Friends of Roberts Park we have surveyed the trees and are looking at how they can encourage wildlife by methods including appropriate planting beneath trees, suggesting best sites for wild flowers or plants suitable for insects such as bees,” says group secretary and butterfly specialist Susan Stead.

The group has been at the forefront of creating and preserving habitats for butterflies, in particular Trench Meadows below Shipley Glen - which thanks to them has special protection as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) - and a butterfly meadow at Shipley railway station, whose creation was carried out in partnership with the Yorkshire branch of the UK wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation as well as local rail operators. “This year we will continue to monitor the meadow at Shipley railway station and the large field beside it to record species of butterfly,” says Susan.

Last summer a filmmaker came from Cheshire to Shipley after learning of sightings of the marbled white butterfly, a species that is widespread in southern Britain, expanding north and eastwards over the past 20 years. “He came a number of times and was lucky enough to film two in the field,” says Susan.

Other species present include the common blue, small copper, ringlet and, first sighted two years ago, the dingy skipper. “I saw one for the first time last May. We now have a small colony living here,” says Susan. “They are not very common in this area but the conditions in the meadow are just right for them.”

With its grasses and wildflowers, this green lung may provide the perfect home for butterflies but it is not officially protected and continues to be a source of unease for the group in terms of possible future development. “We are actively watching planning applications,” says Susan. “We are working with Bradford Council’s conservation and biodiversity officer.”

She adds: “We keep aware of the habitats of animals and birds. The district has several areas designated as a Local Wildlife Site, including Gilstead Moor and Prince of Wales Park in Gilstead.

Although they are generally consulted about development plans that could affect flora and fauna, this does not always happen and members are vigilant as to planning notices or other signs indicating a possible threat to a piece of land.

Over the years the group, whose members work across the whole district, from Bradford to the Aire Valley and over to Ilkley, has fought many campaigns to safeguard land for wildlife. They were at the forefront of preserving areas such as Bingley North and South Bog, which were at risk during the construction of Bingley bypass. As a result the road was built on tall pillars passing over the site. It led to South Bog becoming an SSSI. “It is now recognised as one of the most valuable in northern England,” says Les, who led the campaign. “It is vital that such areas are not lost.”

The group was also key to the creation of Boar’s Well Urban Wildlife Reserve and in the designation of Bradford’s first local nature reserve at Railway Terrace, Low Moor. They also helped to draw up Bradford’s Biodiversity Action Plan in conjunction with Bradford Council. “We work with other groups in the district too, such as friends’ groups and Bradford Botany Group, and support them when needed,” says Susan. “Some of our members are also involved with other groups, so we have many sources of information.”

The group plays a vital role in keeping records -recording the results of surveys into numbers and varieties of butterflies, wild flowers and trees. These are stored in the special archives in Bradford.

New members are welcome at BUWG, which meets once a month in Shipley Library and runs activities throughout the year including walks, talks and surveys. Group conservation officer Matt Barker says: “It is important that we are active within Bradford, helping to protect the local environment.”

Adds Les: “Members work hard, as they feel a need to protect the natural world, both in a wider context and locally. There is a saying ‘think globally, act locally.’ We do what we can.”

l buwg.btck.co.uk; To watch the Shipley station meadow video visit: youtube.com

Tips for encouraging wildlife into your garden:

Put up nesting boxes where birds can safely breed and raise young.

*Plant a tree/trees, and shrubs: these are important for all forms of native wildlife, including birds, mammals and insects. They provide habitat for nesting, shade and shelter, plus height for safety. They can also produce leaves and fruit.

*Grow a hedge. This will also provide shelter and sheltered spots for nesting and roosting.

*Grow butterfly and insect-friendly plants - in pots if you don’t have much outside space.

*Cultivate a wilderness area - leaving grass to grow wild. Retain woodpiles for insects and small mammals.

*Buy a bird table and hang up a bird feeders which will attract birds all year round. You could also buy a birdbath which birds will also drink from

*If you have space create a pond which will attract amphibians and invertebrates as well as bathing garden birds.

*For more tips visit websites such as rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife.