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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2019 Food & Drink Award

As the next project in our annual Food & Drink Awards, we will be revisiting Chiltern farm shops. Much has changed since we chose farm shops as our very first award in 2013, with some of the original businesses going from strength to strength, a few disappearing and many new ones opening.

When we first launched the annual Food & Drink Award six years ago, farm shops were a relatively new phenomenon. Of course many farms might have a handwritten sign at their gate offering eggs and milk for sale, but the lavish farm shops we are accustomed to these days were quite a novelty.  Typically the owners can showcase their own produce such as meat, seasonal fruit and vegetables, a range of organic foods, beautiful breads sourced from a local baker and locally made jams and chutneys.

Many shops have now turned themselves into an attraction in their own right by installing a café and introducing a range of gift items to the shop, even in some cases play areas for families. Some are running successful food-related events. Best of all, their customers have the satisfaction of knowing they are supporting a local Chilterns enterprise.

This is a really positive development in allowing farmers to diversify their business, whilst offering a welcome addition to the range of leisure shopping opportunities for local people.

We would love you to tell us about any farm shops you like to visit with a few words to say about why this is your favourite farm shop and what products you like to buy there. Please submit your entries by email here.

The closing date for entries is June 16th. We look forward to receiving your nominations!

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Junior Rangers get their dose of Vitamin N(ature) at Brush Hill

During the first week of the Easter holidays, the Chiltern Society ran three Junior Ranger days on their Brush Hill Nature Reserve. Our grown-up rangers, Gavin and Fiona, opened up the conservation area and transformed it into a camp for the duration of the activities. They ran a series of activities designed to show what a day in the life of a ranger involves and were joined by around 30 children and their families over the course of the three days. They were also lucky to be supported by some wonderful Chiltern Society volunteers.

Each day started with a scavenger hunt, which the children participated in whilst walking to the camp. They spotted key species on Brush Hill and learnt about the different habitats and animals that live there. On arriving into camp, they were split into small groups and volunteers led them around the conservation activities. The junior rangers had to identify animals using their tracks and a set of clues pertaining to their homes, calls and individual features. They had to identify birds in the woodland and correctly name them using a picture identification sheet. Each group also spent time constructing a large insect mansion which is being left on site and created a small one to take home to their own gardens.

After a tea break and refuel by the camp fire, they began the basic bushcraft skills section of the day. The children built shelters and learnt fire lighting techniques which were later put to the test when marshmallows were roasted and corn was popped over their open fires.

Everyone had great fun- grown ups and children alike! Cries of “Awwwwww” were widespread when it was time to head home! We will definitely be running more activities over other holidays for children so keep your eyes peeled!

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Appointment of Chief Officer

The Chiltern Society is delighted to announce the appointment of its first Chief Officer, Tom Beeston. Tom will join The Chiltern Society on the 1 April 2019 having previously been a consultant in the charity, food and farming sector. Prior to this Tom was CEO of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) and before that Visitor Centre Manager at the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust’s College Lake nature reserve.

Simon Kearey, Chair of the Chiltern Society, comments, “Tom has a great track record of leading organisations with conservation and volunteer charities. We are delighted that he will bring his energy and vision to ensure the Chiltern Society continues to support a thriving, strong countryside and towns while delivering a wide range of benefits for both residents, tourists and wildlife. Tom lives in Tring and I know is very much looking forward to working close to home and to leading the Society at such a crucial time for the Chilterns as a whole and when our area of outstanding natural beauty and its heritage assets need us the most.”

Tom added, “I am delighted to have the opportunity to work back in the Chilterns and to lead the Chiltern Society. The area’s amazing landscapes have inspired my lifelong love of nature and a strong desire to protect it. It is a real privilege to be able to work with and lead the Chiltern Society, which under the Trustees leadership, has achieved fantastic things across the Chilterns countryside and its heritage, and provided great enjoyment and benefit to the people who live and work in the area. I am looking forward to getting to know the area even more and to working with the staff, trustees, volunteers and partners to continue creating thriving wild and heritage spaces for people and for wildlife.” 

The Chiltern Society looks forward to welcoming Tom next month.

 

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Volunteers Return to the Wormsley Estate

On a beautifully sunny and warm day in February, our volunteers returned to the Wormsley Estate near Stokenchurch to plant some more trees- another 1300 to be precise!

Volunteers were joined by Alexander Getty, future heir to the estate, who got stuck in and helped them with their planting of Yew, Juniper, Box and Privet trees. The woodland has been thinned by 30% to let more natural light through and to allow for this species diversity to flourish.

The volunteers have been planting trees on this particular site on the Estate for many years, so it was great for them to see how the trees they planted years beforehand have matured and settled into their surroundings.

Another group of volunteers assisted with the removal of old tree guards from trees that have adequately matured and no longer require support.

After a morning of hard labour, volunteers were rewarded with a fish and chip lunch.

The project is funded by Network Rail as part of their Bio-diversity Offset Programme, and is also supported by The Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment who have played a key role in facilitating the conservation work.

 

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Largest Ever Conservation Project in the Chilterns is Awarded National Lottery Funding

An ambitious project to restore and enhance the wildlife habitats, landscape features and cultural heritage of the Central Chilterns has been awarded a National Lottery grant of £2.4 million. The Chalk, Cherries & Chairs Landscape Partnership Scheme, spearheaded by the Chilterns Conservation Board will also work to educate and inspire communities to become protectors of their local heritage and landscapes. The Chiltern Society is proud to be a key partner in this exciting initiative and we have been working hard with a range of partnering organisations and community groups over the last two years to help plan the project.

Thanks to National Lottery players the five-year scheme will encourage people to connect and reconnect to the wildlife and cultural heritage of the Central Chilterns through a number of individual but interweaving projects across three key themes: Wildlife & Landscape, Heritage & Landscape and People, Communities & Landscape.

Key aims of the scheme include; protecting declining wildlife; reinvigorating Chilterns Orchards; Solving the Mystery of Grim’s Ditch; Exploring the biodiversity in the headwaters of the Chilterns; Revealing the untold history of the Chilterns’ chair Bodgers.

Supported through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), High Speed Two Ltd through the Community Environment Fund (CEF) and Wycombe District Council through the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), the project will leave a lasting legacy of improved conservation and land management, partnership working, skills, volunteers, and engaged and aware communities caring for the future of wildlife and their heritage.

Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive of HLF said: As well as being part of a nationally protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty –, the Central Chilterns has a wealth of heritage stories dating as far back as the Neanderthal hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic era and continuing right through to the present day. We are thrilled that with money from the National Lottery we are able to fund Chalk, Cherries and Chairs to preserve this important natural heritage for future generations, allowing them to forge stronger connections to the fascinating history of the area, and create their own stories through the scheme.”

Commenting on the award, Kath Daly, Countryside Officer said: “We are absolutely delighted that we have received this support, thanks to National Lottery players. This major partnership will provide opportunities for people to get involved and volunteer; to increase and improve wildlife spaces; and for communities to learn, create and take action for heritage.” 

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New Play Trail at Wendover Woods

In December, our Wendover Woods Volunteer Group helped put the finishing touches to a new play trail and officially opened it alongside the Forestry Commission’s Wendover Woods team!

In partnership with Forestry Commission England, the Society secured funding from The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development to develop this exciting and innovative attraction at Wendover Woods – combining a new trail with a variety of play structures and features spaced along the route.

The aim of the trail is to help engage young people with the forest environment and the wider Chilterns landscape. It’s designed to encourage visitors to explore further into the forest – helping young families to explore and gain the confidence to venture deeper and reconnect with the countryside. The features are intended to reflect the local environment. They can be used in a variety of ways, and should appeal to visitors of all ages –parents and older carers will be involved as the children drag them round to find the next feature!

The trail is fully accessible and offers a short loop and a long loop to suit different abilities.

‘The new trail will be a great way for the whole family to experience the woodland together in a fun and creative way and hopefully take visitors to new parts of this wonderful Chilterns site,’ said Gavin Johnson, the Chiltern Society’s Head of Conservation.

‘We’re thrilled with the new play trail and the bespoke play pieces created especially for Wendover Woods. We very much hope visitors enjoy exploring the woods and playing together in the play spaces,’ added Joanne Mason, Beat Forester, Forestry Commission England.

The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas 

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