British prisons are becoming eco-havens for many rare species. Prisoners are involved in making bat and bird boxes, and making good habitat areas such as ponds. They also undertake species surveys from their cell windows. Some hard line observers think that this work is too enjoyable for prisoners but others hope that it will help in their rehabilitation. Either way the winner is nature.
Thousands of prisoners across the country are turning their jails into some of the most species-rich sites in the country and a newly found interest in conservation is aiding their rehabilitation. The country's 140 prisons include nine internationally recognised sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) as well as two European special areas for conservation and an internationally important wetland.
Some of the important habitats are on land that is outside the prison walls, but in many cases threatened species such as barn owls, kingfishers, adders and slow-worms also reside at Her Majesty's pleasure within prison grounds.
Dr Phil Thomas, sustainable development manager for the prisons estate, said the organisation is stepping up its work on biodiversity. 'It's really paying dividends, because many SSSIs on our estate are really in good condition,' he said. This is partly to meet the Prison Service's obligations under the 2006 Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act, which requires it to consider the impact of its operations on plant and animal life. But Thomas says the work also benefits the community and makes prisoners less likely to reoffend.
The work, which involves inmates and conservation volunteers, ranges from building bird and bat boxes to surveying bird species from cell windows and constructing purpose-built habitats, such as ponds. The Prime Minister's country residence, Chequers, has also benefited. The estate recently erected a barn owl box made by inmates at Spring Hill prison near Bicester in Oxfordshire.