£1.6m lottery award will preserve Greensand landscape in Leighton area

Greensand Country... PHOTO: Lisa J King
Greensand Country... PHOTO: Lisa J King

A £1.6 million lottery award will be used to preserve Greensand Country, which encompasses the Greensand Ridge and the surrounding river valleys and stretches from Leighton Buzzard to Gamlingay.

The Greensand Country Landscape Partnership (GCLP) says the Heritage Lottery Fund will support an array of exciting projects which will help them raise awareness of the hidden heritage of the Greensand Country and reverse the gradual decline in the distinct character of this “beautiful and loved” landscape.

‘Greensand Country’ is an island of higher ground, which stretches from Leighton Buzzard, across Mid Beds and over to Gamlingay, rising out of the flatter clay vales. The area’s sandy soils were not suitable for agriculture, so by medieval times the land was mainly used for grazing, woodland, deer hunting and keeping rabbits.

Much of this ‘poor’ land had been used to support the foundation of monasteries, but when these were dissolved under Henry VIII, the land was given away to those in the king’s favour, who built their manor houses and parks up on the former monastic estates.

As a result of this history, the area contains all of Bedfordshire’s remaining lowland heathland, more than half of its woodland, and more surviving historic parkland than any other landscape in the country.

However, GCLP say the landscape’s very distinctive character has been weakening over decades due to modern development and changes in land use. Valuable habitats are becoming fragmented; views of and from the area are being lost or impaired and traditional heritage skills are dying out.

The GCLP has been formed by a range of partners in the area who will work with landowners and local communities to take a joined up approach to meeting the challenges in the area.

The Partnership is led by Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity and the Greensand Trust, and also includes the RSPB, The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, Central Bedfordshire Council, Bedfordshire and Luton Biodiversity Recording and Monitoring Centre, Bedfordshire Geology Group, Sustrans, British Horse Society, Flitwick Town Council, Shuttleworth College, local landscape author Brian Kerr, Community Voluntary Service, The Shuttleworth Trust, Federation of Small Businesses, Arnold White Estates Limited and Clophill Heritage Trust.

The 4-year programme will deliver:

> Restoration and expansion of key habitats such as lowland heathland and grasslands

> Events, workshops and festivals focused on the landscape and its heritage

> Improvements to footpaths, cycle ways and bridleways

> Much greater provision of information about the area, its hidden stories and its history, and its significance to our national and local heritage

> Training and apprenticeships in order to develop the skills needed to look after this landscape for the future

> Opportunities for local communities to volunteer and bid for funding for their own heritage projects

The Partnership is now hard at work getting started on the programme and recruiting three staff.

Jon Boswell, Chief Executive at Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity and chairman of the GCLP, said: “We are thrilled to have gained this funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to deliver our Landscape Partnership programme with our partners in the area. Even locally, the fascinating heritage of the Greensand Country is not well known.

“As a result of this funding, we will be able to preserve the distinctive character of much of this beautiful landscape, and provide a multitude of opportunities for local people and visitors to enjoy and learn about the landscape and contribute to its future conservation.”

Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England, said: “From healthy heathlands and working woodlands to storytelling and geotrails, we’re delighted to support this project which will achieve a sustainable future for the Greensand landscape and reconnect people with the natural heritage on their doorstep.

“Alongside a diverse partnership of organisations, volunteers and communities will play an integral role in this exciting vision for Greensand Country, gaining the skills and experience needed to not only reverse its decline but ensure it continues to thrive beyond the lifespan of the project.”

If you would like to learn more or get involved see http://bedsrcc.org.uk/rural/greensand-country-landscape-partnership/

Project specifics - Leighton Buzzard area

LIVING HEATHS: The lowland heathland at Rushmere is being improved and expanded with improved signage and interpretation; dunding is available in this area for landowners, farmers and communities to create islands and corridors of heathland, acidic grassland and neutral grassland habitat so that the ecological networks across the landscape can be improved and make habitats more robust with respect to climate change and visitor impact WORKING WOODLANDS: Woodland owners will be offered courses and 1:1 support on how to bring their woodlands into positive management; funding will be offered for woodland owners to bring their woodlands into positive management.

HISTORIC PARKLANDS: There is a group of historic parklands in this area (towards Aspley Guise, Husborne Crawley and Ridgmont), where GCLP are working with the landowners to enhance their historic parklands maintaining a strong landscape character; GCLP will be creating a historic parkland walking trail in these parklands to engage people in the natural heritage and stories of the parklands.

COMMUNITY HERITAGE: GCLP will be creating a walking trail in the around Leighton Buzzard and Heath & Reach which enables people to explore the geology and geomorphology of the Greensand Country which will give people a better understanding of the exciting geological ridge that stretches across Bedfordshire and beyond and reveal the geological history of the landscape; GCLP will be offering funding so people can restore structures made of sandstone e.g. walls, wells, lynch gates, small barns etc.. with the appropriate heritage building skills; GCLP will be offering funding so that people can plan and deliver Community Heritage projects which explore the historic heritage of their place, or manage specific aspects of their heritage.

CELEBRATING THE GREENSAND COUNTRY: GCLP will be running a story telling project in this area, exploring the stories of the historic parklands around this western end of the Greensand Country. They will be looking for volunteers to research the stories and will then be telling the stories through folk music, storytelling and lots of other ways. GCLP will then archive these stories for the future (This project is about the past); GCLP will be capturing people’s emotional connection with the landscape today through photographs, art and writing. They will run workshops and competitions in this area of the Greensand Country to inspire people and will then celebrate this by running art shows at their festivals. GCLP will then archive this material so people in future generations can see what people felt about the landscape today. (This is about the present); GCLP will be running a Talks and Debates programme. They will take talks to local communities so that they can learn more about different aspects of this landscape and its heritage. We will inspire debate about the future of this landscape. (This is about the future); GCLP will be running a schools programme in the area; GCLP will run three festivals, one in 2018, one in 2019 and one in 2020. These festivals will result in events happening across the landscape and in the Leighton Buzzard/ Heath and Reach area.

REVEALING THE GREENSAND COUNTRY: GCLP are going to extend the Greensand Ridge walk and will take the start/ finish into the centre of Leighton Buzzard. There will be a gateway feature built to celebrate the start/ finish of the walk; the interpretation on the Greensand Ridge Walk will be improved; communities in villages that are just off the walk will be linked to the walk; the Greensand Country cycle route will be extended into the centre of Leighton Buzzard; there will be a gateway feature built to celebrate the start/ finish of the cycle route in the centre of Leighton Buzzard; the interpretation on the Greensand cycle route will be improved; there will be a new interpreted walking route down the Flit Valley; circular horse riding routes will be created in the area including at Heath and Reach.

HERITAGE SKILLS: People, both volunteers and professionals will be trained in the skills to look after this landscape for the long term. These will be skills to look after the natural environment and heritage building skills. People in this area can join in; young people in the area who are not in education, employment or training will be taught skills to look after this landscape up to level 1; 8 apprentices will be taken on and taught the professional skills to look after this environment for the future.