Himalayan Balsam Bashes

Chiltern Society volunteers have been working with the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project this year to control two infestations of Himalayan Balsam along the River Gade and the River Misbourne.

Large stands of this plant have become established close to the sources of each river threatening to spread downstream if not controlled. Himalayan Balsam was introduced to Britain as a garden plant in 1839. It rapidly colonises riverbanks, developing into dense stands that kill off native plants and other flora. When it dies back in autumn, it leaves riverbanks bare and prone to erosion.  Each plant can produce up to 2,500 seeds which can be transported by rivers to establish new colonies downstream.

Control of the infestation on the River Gade at Great Gaddesden is now in its third year and is close to being eradicated.  Work to clear the stand on the Misbourne at Little Missenden began this year and is likely to take 5 years to eradicate.  Ceri Groves, who is managing the control programme for the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project says, ‘It has been great to work with the Chiltern Society’s volunteers this year. Their assistance has been invaluable, contributing over 170 hours so far this year to help stop Himalayan balsam from spreading further.’

A final work party is being held on the 4th September to clear any remaining plants from the Gade.  If you would like to take part in this work party or future events,  please contact the Ceri Groves cgroves@chilternsaonb.org

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Green Belt and AONB Under Threat

Chiltern District Council and South Bucks District Council have recently been consulting on their joint Local Plan. The Plan aims to develop over 11,000 homes in the period up to 2036. Of these, 5,200 are proposed on 7.83km2 of land to be taken out of the Green Belt and 2 sites are proposed within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

The Chiltern Society has submitted its objections to the Plan, which can be summarised as follows:

  • It is essential that planning policies are considered across local authority boundaries to co-ordinate protection of this special area. The Plan does not give the Chilterns sufficient protection and, therefore the Society objects to the overall plan.
  • There are no exceptional circumstances under the NPPF to justify any significant incursion into recognised GB and AONB areas given that housing need alone is not an exceptional circumstance.
  • The plan needs to be revised to consider whether there are less damaging sites that were not brought forward through the ‘call for sites’ and whether there is scope for higher density developments on brownfield sites and in town centres.
  • We urge the Councils to review the overall development approach in the plan to avoid unacceptable damage to a nationally important landscape and a significant part of the Green Belt.
  • We objected to the overall number of dwellings proposed in the Green Belt and to 2 site allocations in the Green Belt and AONB at Amersham, and to significant sites in the Green Belt at Chesham, Beaconsfield, Little Chalfont and Chalfont St Peter.

Following the consultations, the Council will submit the Local Plan to the Planning Inspectorate for an independent examination.

The full response can be found here.

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Government to launch review to reconsider HS2

It has been announced that the government is launching a review of high-speed rail link HS2 – with the aim of reaching a final “go or no-go” decision by the end of the year, the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said. The review will consider whether and how the project to connect London, the Midlands and Northern England should proceed.

For years, the Chiltern Society has campaigned tirelessly against HS2 and its inevitable damaging consequences to the Chilterns environment and its wildlife. Simon Kearey, Chiltern Society Chairman said, “We are of course very pleased that the government is reconsidering it’s position on the HS2 project. Not only is the business case extremely weak, but the irrevocable impacts on our local countryside would be catastrophic if it were to go ahead.”

The Chiltern Society has today written to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Transport and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to reiterate the severe impact that HS2 will have on the countryside, should it go ahead.

In summary, the letters highlight our concerns that if the project proceeds, the Chilterns will incur the following damages and risks to its landscape:

  • the loss of 38km of ancient hedgerows
  • the loss of 176ha of good quality farmland
  • the cutting of migration routes for wild animals for 5 km. Currently no provision has been made for Green Bridges to enable animal migration
  • the risk to the Misbourne Aquifer through tunnelling and the loss of the Misbourne, a rare chalk stream
  • the risk to Bacombe Hill SSSI, where we have established that the hill is unstable
  • increased pressure on our already strained rivers and streams, with an expected use of 1 million liters of water per day for construction

The full letter can be read here.

We urge you to write to your local MP asking them to highlight the plight of the Chilterns countryside and it’s wildlife and encourage the government to scrap the project once and for all.

You can find your MP’s contact details here.

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Farm Shop Award – Winners Announced!

We are delighted to announce the winners of our 2019 Food & Drink Award which this year has put local farms shops under the spotlight!

Our judges thoroughly enjoyed their visits to all of the shortlisted businesses to choose the winners. They considered a variety of factors, including the range and availability of locally produced products, promotion of sustainability (e.g. reduced plastic usage), the range of products on offer, general presentation, service and ambience in store.

The Central Chilterns winner, and indeed the overall winner, is the wonderful Peterley Manor Farm Shop in Prestwood (pictured) which was praised for its excellent range of high quality products, large selection of home-produced items and attractive presentation. They also champion local Chilterns food and drink producers and also encourage their customers to engage in sustainable practices with ‘bring your own tub’ initiatives and the sale of reusable beeswax food wraps, for example.

The South Chilterns area winner is Blue Tin Produce of Ipsden where our judges loved the rustic ethos, good range of locally sourced items, many from Ipsden or nearby, and their great little café.

P E Mead & Sons of Tring is the North Chilterns winner based on a fantastic selection of locally sourced produce, sustainability initiatives and lots of “extras” such as a pet food department, greeting cards and gifts.

Finally, Laceys Family Farm Shop in Lane End will receive a Best Newcomer Award. Having only been open a short while in comparison to our other nominees, this has quickly become a thriving local store with a great selection of products many of which are produced on the farm itself.

The presentation to these four outstanding Chiltern farm shops will take place in October.

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Interim Findings of the Landscapes Review

Interim findings of the Julian Glover landscapes review – “National Parks and AONBs: review to consider the next steps for National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty sites in England” – have been published.

IN SUMMARY, THE INTERIM REPORT HIGHLIGHTS:

  • We should not be satisfied with what we have at the moment. It falls short of what can be achieved, what the people of our country want and what the government says it expects in the 25-year plan for the environment.
  • Some of this failure comes from the fact that our protected landscapes have not been given the tools, the funding and the direction to do the job we should now expect of them. I want to praise the commitment of those who work to protect our landscapes today. Everywhere I’ve been I’ve seen energy, enthusiasm and examples of success.
  • We need to reignite the fire and vision which brought this system into being in 1949.
  • We think in particular the current system of governance for National Parks should be reformed. Time after time we have heard and seen that boards are too big, do not do a good job in setting a strategic direction and ambition, and are unrepresentative of both society and, at times, of the things parks should be leading on, such as natural beauty, climate change, and diversity.
  • We think that AONBs should be strengthened, with increased funding, new purposes and a greater voice on development. We have been impressed by what they often achieve now through partnership working.
  • We heard repeatedly that the MOSAIC programme working with BAME groups had been a huge success – but it was a one-off, and largely fell away when its initial funding ran out. We want to see a new version of it brought in as a priority.
  • Although there are already examples of links with the National Health Service there is no overall agreement about how these two great institutions from the post-war settlement might work together. Social prescribing has huge potential to improve physical and mental health at low cost.
  • In almost every place we visited we heard similar warnings about the challenge communities face. Residents are getting older. Local communities see housing costs climb while not much affordable housing is built to add to the supply. We will make a specific proposal in our final report to for a proactive way for landscapes to address the shortage of social housing.

To read the full interim review, visit the Government website.

We’re pleased the messages are clear and look forward to seeing what happens when the full report is published.
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Buildings Design Award 2019 Presentation

This week, we had the great pleasure presenting awards to the owners, architects and builders of the three successful entrants for this year’s award.  Two design projects were awarded a winner’s plaque and the third received a highly commended certificate.  The event took place at Incurvo, Goring on Thames, designed by Adrian James Architects of Oxford.  The judges selected Incurvo as a beautiful and unique structure which significantly improved the previous use of the site.  The highest quality materials were used and the property was designed to be virtually carbon neutral.  The landscaped gardens considerably enhance the house with its curving forms, whilst the careful positioning of trees and other features allows stunning views of the Chiltern countryside beyond.

Knight Architects of High Wycombe, who specialise in bridge design, were presented with the second plaque.  This new footbridge is an important part of the regeneration of Taplow Riverside. Crossing the river from Taplow Riverside to Ray Mill Island, the bridge neatly solved the problem of lack of access to the Thames from the Taplow area.  The structure is a highly attractive addition to what was previously a run-down industrial area and a valuable new public amenity.

A highly commended award was presented to Dock Farm near Princes Risborough for a restoration project on a Grade II Listed 17th century farmhouse.  This was designed by DP Architects of Watlington who carried out restoration and improvements to the building which had fallen into a state of dilapidation.  The judges awarded this development for its rigour and restraint along with the meticulous care of the works carried out.  The farmhouse retains its simple Chilterns rustic character.

The Buildings Design Awards are run in partnership with the Chiltern Society and the Chilterns Conservation Board.

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Countryside North of Luton Under Threat

The Chiltern Society is opposed to the development of 4000 houses and a new A6 – M1 Link Road on land to the north of Luton, which would encroach on the Chilterns AONB and the Green Belt.

We will be giving evidence to the Public Examination of the Central Bedfordshire Local Plan in relation to the housing development and a freight interchange facility at Sundon. We consider that the housing development would not be able to demonstrate exceptional circumstances for developing within the AONB and this would not be in the public interest. It would, therefore, be contrary to national policy on AONBs.

The Plan proposes removing land from the Green Belt to allow for 4000 houses. We are not satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that exceptional circumstances exist for removing land from the Green Belt. Our view is that housing need on its own is not an exceptional circumstance that outweighs harm to the Green Belt.

Our full report to the Examination can be read here.

We have also objected to the planning application for development of the Link Road on both AONB and Green Belt grounds. This has included offering our full support to the detailed response submitted by the Chilterns Conservation Board. Our major concern is that this is being applied for before the development has been discussed at the Local Plan Examination.

Click here to read our comments on this application.

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National Park Debate

Following an insightful debate at the Chiltern Society AGM last October, the majority of those attending were, on balance, in favour of the Chilterns becoming a National Park. It’s clear, however, that while the current AONB designation may not be perfect, becoming a National Park brings its own challenges.

The overall objectives of a National Park are very much aligned with those of an AONB: conserving the natural beauty of the Chilterns, its wildlife and cultural heritage;promoting understanding and enjoyment of the region; and fostering the economic and social wellbeing of local communities. On the other hand, there are significant differences in the structure, resourcing and powers of the authorities charged with delivering these objectives. A key difference is the ability for a National Park Authority(NPA) to become the Planning Authority. This isn’t mandatory, and while there would be benefits in having a single body dealing with planning issues across the Chilterns,there are concerns over the potential loss of control at local level.

The resourcing of an NPA offers significant benefits, with typical staffing levels of 50-100, including ecologists,rangers, archaeologists and support staff,and a budget ranging from £3million to£10million. AONBs have significantly lower staffing levels and budgets, ranging from£200,000 to £1million. These resource pressures mean a reliance on effective partnership work and project funding to deliver AONB management plan objectives. The higher levels of resourcing for a National Park reflect the need for extra support to deal adequately with these challenges.

An important factor to consider is the increased awareness and recognition of the National Park brand. Although this isn’t easy to measure, the impact of it shouldn’t be underestimated and in all likelihood will bring both benefits and costs. National Parks are undoubtedly more recognised nationally as protected landscapes than AONBs, and this may give them extra leverage. Conversely, tourism levels would increase, particularly given the proximity of the Chilterns to London. This would have to be managed very carefully in order to protect the special features of the landscape and local communities, while making the most of potential opportunities for local businesses.

The Glover Review into both National Parks and AONBs is currently under way,to assess whether our protected landscape designations are fit for purpose. The result of this study will be crucial, and could potentially change the look of both National Parks and AONBs. (It was also noted at our AGM that it took 79 years for the South Downs to be designated as a National Park)! What we can say is that National Park status won’t be a magic bullet or something that will happen overnight, but it does raise important questions for the long-term future of the Chilterns and how we ensure we have the appropriate level of protection and resources to guarantee it’s a diverse,resilient and sustainable landscape that future generations can enjoy.

We want to know your views. Should the Chilterns become a National Park? Give us your feedback and complete our survey

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Chilterns Buildings Design Awards 2019 – The Results

We are delighted to announce that our team of judges has chosen the three winning buildings for this year’s award. There are two design projects which will be awarded a winner’s plaque, the third will receive a Highly Commended award.

The first winner is ‘Incurvo’, a newly built residential property in Goring on Thames, designed by Adrian James Architects of Oxford. The judges picked out Incurvo as a beautiful and unique structure which significantly improves upon the previous use of the site. The highest quality materials have been used, such as the warm-toned Swanage bricks interspersed with panels of charcoal- coloured zinc.

A variable height zinc parapet round the edges of the flat roof serves the practical purpose of concealing the solar panels, photovoltaic panels and heat recovery system, whilst constituting a bold design feature. Various other energy-saving measures have been incorporated so that the house is almost carbon neutral.

The landscaped gardens wrap themselves around the sinuous curves of the house in perfect synergy with the building, whilst the planting has been carefully designed to provide stunning views of the Chiltern countryside beyond.

Our second winner is the River Thames Footbridge – an elegant new structure designed by Knight Architects of High Wycombe, who specialise in bridge design. It is an important part of the regeneration of Taplow Riverside. Crossing the river from Taplow Riverside to Ray Mill Island, it neatly solves the problem of lack of access to the Thames from the Taplow area. From the island one can join the Thames Path.

The steel structure has a 35m span and its shallow arch echoes the design of the nearby Brunel railway bridge, which has the widest and flattest brick arches in the world.

The judges said that not only is the bridge a highly attractive addition to what was previously a run-down industrial area, but a valuable new public amenity.

A Highly Commended award will be given to Dock Farm near Princes Risborough for a restoration project on a Grade II Listed 17th century farmhouse. The property has an elm timber frame with brick infill panels. Because of its age, these materials were obviously locally sourced and its style is that of a typical rustic Chilterns dwelling of the period.

DP Architects of Watlington were asked to carry out restoration and improvements to the building which had fallen into a state of dilapidation. The refurbishment enabled the removal of incongruous additions such as cooker hoods, and the reinstatement of a number of historic elements. The builders even uncovered an old well during the outside works, which has now become a garden feature.

The architects also managed to introduce energy-saving measures such as proper insulation, draft proofing and different types of double glazing to suit the range of different window styles, so the house is much snugger in winter and generally more breathable.  All this was achieved without compromising the original simple character of the farmhouse.

The judges praised this development for its rigour and restraint, and for the meticulous care with which the works were carried out.

The Buildings Design Awards are run jointly with the Chilterns Conservation Board.

Winner: ‘Incurvo’ 

Winner: River Thames Footbridge 

Highly Commended: Dock Farm

 

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Bird Monitoring at Whiteleaf & Brush Hill

With the help of a dedicated team of volunteers, we have been monitoring bird boxes on Whiteleaf and Brush Hill for the past 4 years as part of a British Trust of Ornithology (BTO) monitoring scheme. The boxes are primarily inhabited by Great Tits and Blue Tits, and since March the team has been busy checking the boxes around the reserves on a weekly basis to see the progression from the nest building, to eggs, to chicks hatching, ringing and eventually fledging. All of the chicks and some adults are ringed by Dave Short and the 4 trainee ringers (Rachel, Robyn, Veneita and Paul) before being ‘posted’ safely back into the nesting boxes. So far this year, out of the 35 boxes installed on these two reserves, 22 have either eggs or chicks present, indicating a healthy population of tits within the sites. Raptor boxes for larger birds such as barn owls and kestrels have also been placed across Whiteleaf Hill – although previous years have seen the intended birds nest in these larger boxes, only squirrels and stock doves have been found so far this year!

The group also carry out mist netting 3 to 4 times a year, to investigate the wider bird population on the sites. Here fine nets, that are hard to spot with even human eyes, are set up in a clearing at dawn, into which a huge range of birds fly into including Dunnocks,  Jays and Woodpeckers. The birds are then measured, weighed and ringed, and the results are sent to the BTO as part of the wider UK monitoring scheme, this also includes all ringed at the nest boxes. These results are then kept by the BTO for nesting and population trends in the area and also longevity of the birds.

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