Making the difference to wildlife and inmates on the England and Wales Prison and Probation Service Estate

By Dr Phil Thomas PhD. FRSA. FIIEG. MCIEEM, Ecology Lead for the UK Ministry of Justice Estates Cluster

Prisoners survey for bats at HMP Dartmoor. Photo ©Phil Thomas

I often ask myself the question: will the habitats and amazing native species still be here, and will they be here when my children’s children are grown up? Will they be reflecting on what could have been?

Where does the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) fit into nature and wildlife, and how does it reflect in its aim of serving the public by keeping in custody those committed by the courts? Our duty is to look after inmates with humanity, to help them lead law-abiding and useful lives whilst in custody and following release. I’m glad to say that MoJ and HMPPS take these responsibilities seriously.

HMPPS estate is one of the largest within the MoJ portfolio, and the MoJ Estates Cluster is one of the largest built and non-built rural estates in UK Government. Thus, we face quite a challenge in protecting the property’s native flora and fauna. MoJ and HMPPs takes this responsibility seriously as well, so much so it implemented one of the first UK Government Department Biodiversity Action Plans (BAPs). This goes some way to supporting the UK’s commitment to halting species’ decline, as well as fulfilling MoJ’s and HMPPS obligations to a sustainable and compliant Government estate.

Prisoners on a biodiversity course within the woodland management module. Photo © Phil Thomas.

A wealth and diversity of wildlife lives and thrives around individual prison sites; with over 147 prisons across the HMPPS estate in England and Wales, the diversity of wildlife is quintessentially very rich. There are nine prison sites which are nationally important Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), including two European designated sites and two sites which are internationally designated for their wetlands and wading birds. With another 39+ sites of county and local biodiversity significance, the MoJ and its MoJ Ecology network are significantly challenged.

Social and Community Impacts

The MoJ Ecology network and HMPPS recognises that the actions and targets it has set for biodiversity can only be achieved through active support from corrections’ staff, and prisoners and local partners. By encouraging staff and prisoner involvement in all aspects of biodiversity within its estate, and through local community projects, HMPPS and the MoJ Ecology network can broaden its sustainable operations’ and social impacts agenda.

Prison staff on a biodiversity course within the woodland management module. Photo ©Phil Thomas

HMPPS and the MoJ Ecology network believe it’s important that all members of staff and prisoners should have access to green space and the natural world, for enjoyment, education and wellbeing. Nature’s biological diversity remains a source of constant enjoyment in people’s lives. Both the MoJ Ecology network and HMPPS aims to build upon its past successes in this field, to help form and bond closer links with prisoners and those that work in the local community promoting and protecting wildlife. Forming new partnerships and locally driven initiatives will aid in delivering BAPs, protecting important and declining wildlife, and in addressing other important social, health and wellbeing issues for inmates and staff.

The author and Gill Perkins, CEO for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, sign a Memorandum of Understanding for bumblebee conservation at the prison estate. Photo ©Phil Thomas

The MoJ Ecology network and HMPPS consider that active management of its designated and wildlife significant sites and natural green spaces can improve the wellbeing of individuals, encourage Restorative Justice, and address offending behaviour programmes for prisoners. As the MoJ Ecology network and HMPPS works alongside such partners as Natural England, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, County Wildlife Trusts and other nationally recognised wildlife groups and various academics, it demonstrates how wildlife and life’s rich tapestry can have widespread benefits. This includes communities beyond the prison environments—prisoners can do meaningful work that benefits local communities, and obtain transferable learning and skills that will help them secure stable employment on release.

This is one of the two hundred barn owl boxes erected on the prison estate. Photo ©Phil Thomas

Broadening the opportunities for nature conservation and wildlife protection by developing activities that are enjoyable and inclusive for both staff and inmates enables them to explore and improve the sustainability of their everyday life choices and how they impact wildlife and the outside community.  These opportunities are a key tool, in delivering such events and activities as our national BioBlitzes, our national Biodiversity Day and the annual HMPPS Wildlife Award.

The MoJ Ecology network and HMPPS considers that involving inmates in the protection of wildlife, events such as the HMPPS Wildlife Award, and managing priority habitats can give them a sense of accomplishment, a sense of achievement and more importantly, a sense of pride in themselves. Together these feelings and emotions can help prisoners not only get in touch with themselves, but help them become positive and active members of society and their local communities once more.

To learn more about these programs:
Prisoners build over 10,000 nest boxes for rare hazel dormice, People’s Trust for Endangered Species, 2016
Ministry of Justice and its Biodiverse Estate, National Biodiversity Network, 2014
Birdwatching takes flight in Britain’s prisons, BBC News, 2011
Jailbirds creating eco-havens in prison, The Observer, 2008
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