Feb/Mar 2011: Latest news from the Cotswolds AONB

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The latest news from the Cotswolds Conservation Board

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New courses extend the rural skills training programme

This winter saw the successful piloting of the Board’s new woodland coppicing courses. Sixteen people over two days had a great time in the National Trust’s Littleworth Wood near Snowshill. They learnt the practical skills of coppicing, laying and cleaving hazel as well as why coppicing helps wildlife and its place in the history of the landscape. The new spring and summer programme also includes a greater variety of courses. As well as dry-stone walling and green wood working, people can have a go at using lime mortar, thatching and blacksmithing as well as finding out more about the ecology and management of limestone grasslands. Details of all courses can be found at www.cotswoldsaonb.org.uk/?page=cotswolds-rural-skills
Look out soon for a brand new website dedicated to the promotion of rural skills courses in the Cotswolds AONB!


Cotswolds to benefit from additional conservation funding

The Cotswolds Conservation Board and National Grid have announced an additional £100,000 worth of funding towards the reinstatement of dry-stone walls in the AONB following the launch of the popular new grant scheme earlier this year.
The additional funds, which have been provided for the Board to invest in conserving and enhancing the Cotswolds landscape following the construction of the Wormington to Sapperton gas pipeline, take the total value of the grant scheme to £400,000. Since the scheme’s launch in June this year, 17 applications have been supported, leading to more than £534,000 of walling restoration work for local contractors, spanning 2,108 metres of dry-stone walls in the AONB.

Spotlight on Voluntary Wardens' work parties

Cotswold Voluntary Wardens undertake thousands of hours of work every year to help the Board conserve and enhance the countryside of the AONB. Through well-organised work parties a wide range of projects and activities take place each week - from dry-stone walling, hedge laying, and tree planting to installing kissing gates and clearing footpaths.
Some of the recent work that the wardens have been involved with include:

North District Work Party

MEMORIAL WOOD: Nick Walker of Ilmington was one of a small team of Cotswold Voluntary Wardens who in the winter of 2009/10 planned to plant a hundred hardwood trees on Foxcote Hill, a prominent spur of the north Cotswolds. But a frosty January forced them to postpone the planting until this winter, Cruelly, Nick died in May after a short illness, so fellow wardens and village friends have now planted the ash, elm, hornbeam, maple and birch saplings, and with his widow’s approval they’ve called it Nick’s Wood. Donations from the wardens’ guided walks covered the £500 cost of the trees, and sheep farmer Rob Hawkins, himself a friend of Nick, fenced the site and prepared it for planting.
Photo: With the trees all planted, Wardens and village friends of Nick Walker with farmer Rob (right).

Central District Work Party

CHEDWORTH VILLAGE COMMUNITY GARDENS: Several work parties have helped to create more garden plots and improve security by clearing overgrown hedges and scrub, repairing an old fence, reinstating a public footpath and renovating a stile to improve access. In due course the roadside hedge will re-grow and create a wind break to the whole area.

CLEEVE HILL DEWPOND: Created in 2002 to provide water for grazing animals it has since become full of invasive pond weed. With the help of the Cleeve Hill Rangers, the wardens were able to lower the pond level and remove vast amounts of the weed. The pond was refilled and the top of the ramp and surrounding fence were repaired.

Funding bids in progress

The December/January Update article “Thinking about Lawton” mentioned a project aimed at recreating limestone grassland habitats across the Cotswolds being incorporated into a national bid by Plantlife. The good news is that this project has passed the Heritage Lottery Funds pre-application stage and the round one application is now in development.

On Thursday 27th January the Board submitted a bid to the Ernest Cook Trust. If successful this will fund training in Lantra level 3 dry-stone walling skills in association with the Dry Stone Walling Association and Huntsmans Quarry. The Board was shocked to discover that this training in the advanced dry-stone walling skills essential for the conservation of the Cotswolds special character is only available at one location nationally.

Understanding and enjoying

Spring/Summer guided walks programme

This year’s Spring/Summer guided walks programme, compiled by the Voluntary Wardens, is due for publication shortly in the Cotswold Lion and features an extensive and wide-ranging choice of almost 150 walks and other events throughout the AONB between April and September.
Many walks are less than 3 miles in length and graded as 'easy', making them ideal for families. As the Board is helping to support his year’s International Year of Forests, many of the walks have a woodland theme and take in some of the best forests and wooded areas of the Cotswolds.  Nature, geology, rivers and history are among the themes of other walks and provide an invigorating and interesting way of understanding the landscape and special environment of the AONB.

For further details, go to www.cotswoldsaonb.org.uk/guidedwalks or pick up a copy of the Cotswold Lion newspaper from mid-March.


People and communities

Natural Environment Minister visits the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

The Cotswolds Conservation Board welcomed Richard Benyon, Minister for the Natural Environment earlier this month, as he made a fact-finding visit to the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to see a range of conservation projects in action.
Mr Benyon (pictured, centre), was able to see some of the key areas of the Board’s work in conserving and enhancing the Cotswolds AONB, and meet some of the staff, members and voluntary wardens as part of the tour.
Following a visit to Cockleford to view the site of the National Grid Gas Pipeline project, the Minister was introduced to the new discovery centre for the AONB, ‘Escape to the Cotswolds’, before being taken to Swell Buildings Farm near Stow-on-the-Wold to see the Board’s work with Higher Level Stewardship. The final part of the visit included Shipton-under-Wychwood Wild Garden & Woods to meet Mike Watson, Chairman of local community committee and representatives from the voluntary wardens. The garden, dating back to the 1600s, has been restored following an award by the Board’s Sustainable Development Fund and with practical help from the voluntary wardens.
Richard Benyon, Minister for the Natural Environment, said:
“I was impressed to see the excellent work that is being carried out by the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The voluntary wardens and other staff are a great example of how local communities can both be involved in, and benefit from, the environment.”

Annual Forum

Following on from the success of last year’s Annual Forum on climate change at Toddington Village Hall, this year’s Forum will be focusing on the theme of ‘Localism and the opportunities and implications for the Cotswolds AONB.’  It will take place at the Corn Exchange, Witney, West Oxfordshire on Friday 4th March, from 9.30am until 12.30pm.  Hosted by Patron of the Cotswolds Conservation Board, The Lord Plumb of Coleshill, the event will feature an excellent range of guest speakers:

  • Ben Stafford, Head of Campaigns, CPRE: 'Is a local future good for the countryside?'
  • Rohan Torkildsen, English Heritage: 'Knowing your place - heritage and community led planning in the countryside'
  • Tom McCulloch, Oxfordshire Rural Communities Council: 'Rural affordable housing in the Cotswolds - an Oxfordshire perspective'
  • Alastair Blacknell, Englefield Estate, Berkshire: 'Case study: Affordable housing'
  • Jeff Bishop, BDOR: 'Localism in protected areas: snakes or ladders?'

Following the talks, there will be the opportunity for an informal networking lunch.

For further information and to book your place at the Annual Forum, contact Claire Parker on 01451 862000 or email: claire.parker@cotswoldsaonb.org.uk.

Farming Forum

This year sees the 10th annual Cotswold Farming Forum take place on Tuesday 22 March, from 6.30pm to 8.30pm at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester.
The forum will feature the following talks:

  • CAP reform –the outlook beyond 2013. Andrew Clark, Head of Policy, NFU
  • Managing Cotswold Soils. Dr John Conway, Royal Agricultural College
  • The Cotswold Farmland Bird Projct. James Phillips, Delivery Leader, Natural England

For further information on the event, contact Mark Connelly on 01451 862006 or email: mark.connelly@cotswoldsaonb.org.uk

Sustainable Development Fund update

A range of local community environmental projects have recently been awarded grants worth a total of over £14,000 from the Board’s Sustainable Development Fund (SDF). These include:

  • The Heartwood Project near Bath has received funding to help restore coppicing, promote woodland heritage and revive traditional crafts and skills including charcoal burning.
  • The Chedworth Diggers are using a SDF grant to create a community orchard and wildlife area with two bee hives which will be used to help educate local people on fruit tree maintenance and bee keeping.
  • Blenheim Palace is conducting a feasibility study into the development of a self-sustaining wood fuel system, combining improved woodland management with the production of renewable energy.
  • Abbey Fields Community Centre in Winchcombe is installing a number of solar Photo Voltaic panels in their roof to generate electricity, thanks to SDF grant funding.

For further details of SDF go to: www.cotswoldsaonb.org.uk/?page=sdf or call David Molloy on 01451 862002.

Strategic management and planning

Defra funding for AONBs

From 1 April 2011 the resources and responsibility for funding and strategic oversight of the Board will transfer from Natural England to DEFRA. Natural England will continue to provide technical expert support and advice at the local level.

In a letter dated 21/12/2010 Defra indicated that the funding for AONBs will be reduced by 5.4% in 2011/12 as part of a total reduction of 21.5% over the four years of the comprehensive spending review. This cut has been applied equally across all AONB Partnerships and Conservation Boards and is in addition to the 5% cut in funding applied in 2010/11. To set this in context the total departmental expenditure limit for Defra is being reduced by 23%, this too is in addition to a 5% cut in 2010/11 so Defra is taking a bigger cut than it is handing on to AONBs.

The Board’s response to this has been threefold - reducing expenditure, finding more cost effective ways of doing things, and pursuing new income lines. The Board’s Executive Committee will be monitoring the effectiveness of these changes closely and considering further action as necessary.

Broadband Position Statement

Access to the internet via a high speed Broadband connection is of fundamental importance to those who live and work in the Cotswolds AONB.  Outlining the Board's position on the provision of broadband in the AONB, an addendum has been included to the Position Statement on Telecommunications and the Rural Economy published by the Board in March 2009.