These are my feedback comments ( in full, its a bit long!) for the DEFRA consultation for the proposed White Paper. This was a supplementary request for examples of local conservation projects with suggested headings and questions.
DEFRA consultation on the proposed White Paper on the Natural Environment.
Feedback Form to be submitted by Jan 31st 2011
These comments are based on discussions with other local residents, many, but not all, members of The Somerset Wildlife Trust and other conservation organisations. Comments are related to questions given in the DEFRA consultation documents.
What natural environments or locations did you discuss?
These comments are based on local experience with a four acre meadow.
The field was purchased 5 years ago by a syndicate of 11 local residents who wished to conserve and manage the field as a nature reserve. Its ecological value and biodiversity has been confirmed by professional survey and other Botanical Study Groups visits. The survey carried out by Mr Jon Marshall of Marshal Agroecology Ltd was accepted on 23rd Jan 2007 by the Somerset Environmental Records Centre as showing that the field met the criteria for County Wildlife Status, (now called Local Wildlife Sites). Each year the field is notable for displays of a rich variety of butterflies, flowering plants and insect life.
What were the Big Ideas that your discussion produced?
Our experience has demonstrated that for most of us taking on the conservation of a four acre meadow is a “Big Idea”. In as much as there is a great deal to learn and regular management tasks to carry out. None of the members of the syndicate had any significant relevant experience. Over the 5 years we have learned by “doing”.
The “Big Idea” was however only the start and raising the funds for purchase and to cover subsequent management was, and still is, problematic. We are not included in any funding scheme and have no income from the field. We even pay to have the grass cut and removed as hay. It can be said that what we have done is of value to the village and all the residents but as we haven’t advertised it at all very few people know about it and we would like to change that. A number of the original syndicate have withdrawn their initial funding and others wish to do so. If this continues the field may have to be put back on the market.
What is the role of local people or other organisations in delivering those big ideas?
There has been great encouragement from local conservationist but in general the syndicate members have been on their own and relying on their own resources including finance.
It started with the group of residents who committed money for the purchase without any guarantee of a return of the money. A local farmer has given free advice and valuable practical help.
The Somerset Wildlife Trust has given advice and visited the field as did Butterfly Conservation to search for and find Brown Hairstreak butterflies.
We employed a professional consultant to carry out a botanical survey.
Heart of the Levels Botany Study Group have also surveyed the field and used it for field trips for plant identification training.
Three years ago Somerset County Council provided a grant for a new 200m hedge planted by volunteers.
What other information would you like to share with us?
Now after 5 years experience we feel able to explore the potential for wider use of the meadow. We have always welcomed visitors and dog walkers and others have frequently come to the field although there is no existing public right of way.
In the summer months flora and fauna are displayed in abundance.
In addition to the local involvement noted above we hope to arrange for the local primary school to make educational visits. Perhaps also the Huish Episcopy Academy six form unit might find it useful.
The local Wildlife Watch Club for parents and children (part of Somerset Wildlife Trust) are planning to use the field for educational visits.
How does the meadow contribute to the local environment?
Virtually all other land around our village is intensively farmed with some notable exceptions where wildlife provisions are made.
Being located close to the boundary of the village, the field is within 10 minutes walk for hundreds of families. Most other fields are monoculture and despite the presence of footpaths they have limited environmental interests.
Our meadow changes with the seasons with flowering plants seen at different times including celandine, cowslips, buttercups, vetches, pyramidal and bee orchids , bromrape, knapweed, field scabious, agrimony, ladies bedstraw and many others. We see around a dozen species of butterfly and many more moths, several species of grass hopper and the Great Green Bush Cricket.
The meadow has ancient hedges on two sides containing 15 woody species which gives scope for educational use and provides nesting sites and food for birds and mammals. This will improve as the new hedge develops.
How does the meadow positively impact on our lives?
By getting involved in healthy outdoor activity, land management and farming, learning about the natural environment and local history and sharing our experience with others, young and old.
What is good and what could be better and what more can we all do.
A moth count has been suggested for June 2011.
Visits by residents living in sheltered housing might be welcomed.
We already have paths around and through the field and these could be kept in a more suitable condition for disabled visitors. One of our syndicate members requires the use of a wheel chair. We could be more active in inviting groups of visitors and produce educational notes to encourage an attitude of discovery. We have seen how learning can be promoted by bringing together school parties and local natural history experts. For adults guided walks are always very popular and we could explore ways to set these up.
We could do more to get the interest of the Parish Council and explore ways in which they could support some aspects of the venture.
We can use the recently started community web site and local community news sheet to provide information and encourage visitors.
The Government should set a good example.
Barriers to be identified and solutions explored.
A basic lack of knowledge amongst the general public which can also produce a lack of interest in conservation.
We have found that there is nevertheless a lot of interest to be tapped.
Our meadow is privately owned but other similar projects are publicly funded probably after donation of land. A partnership between private purchase through donations and public ownership with volunteer management might be a useful formula to be promoted.
Many of the extra things noted above need finance and as it stands if that is not available then improvements will not happen.
“One thing” that would help would be a publicly funded insurance cover. This is a significant annual cost that we had not anticipated.
Whilst there are funding schemes for farmers and large land owners we have found little to fit our situation. Relatively small funding to help pay for a botanical survey and items such as third party insurance, hedging, hay cutting and removal are likely to be needed to encourage others to follow this “Big Idea”.
Finding ways to encourage or enable farmers to support community projects and when they do to publicise their contribution.
Local residents supporting this submission.
BM, , H H, R W, K C, M M