Representatives from a consortium of farmers who joined forces to create a major landscape scale conservation project in Wiltshire are attending a special event in London today (26th March) to meet wildlife Minister Richard Benyon and mark the first anniversary of Englandâ€™s Nature Improvement Area (NIA) programme.
The Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area covers 225,625 acres between Swindon, Marlborough and Avebury. This farmer-led initiative is one of 12 partnership projects, which were created a year ago following a competitive bidding process for a share of Â£7.5 million new funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Natural England.
This important flagship project in Wiltshire has also attracted hands-on support from two key partners; the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) a leading Hampshire-based research charity and Wiltshire County Council.
The aim of the NIA projects is to improve the landscape for people and nature through restoring, expanding and joining up wildlife-rich areas.
Todayâ€™s Forum in London will enable the 12 NIA partnership groups to share details and learning on the wide-ranging work they are doing to restore nature on a landscape scale.
Jemma Batten, Project Manager for the Marlborough Downs NIA, along with Chris Musgrave, one of the project farmers and Teresa Dent, Chief Executive of the GWCT will be presenting the main achievements of the project to an audience at the Forum which includes Wildlife Minister Richard Benyon, Professor Sir John Lawton and Natural England Chair Poul Christensen.
Commenting on the first yearâ€™s achievements, Jemma Batten said, â€œThe enthusiasm for this project is overwhelming, with the farmers, local people and other conservation groups in the area all coming together to drive forward nature conservation. Already we are seeing results and are delighted that we are giving some of our important wildlife species such as tree sparrows and corn buntings the extra support they so desperately need. Although weâ€™re only a year in, we can see the beginning of change, not only for the wildlife but also for the people who live, work or otherwise spend time in the Marlborough Downs.â€
Since its creation in April 2012 more than 30 farmers have become actively involved in the project and embraced the opportunity to protect and enhance this wonderful area of chalk downland. They are also sharing the achievements with visitors by hosting farm walks and talks on the wildlife and landscape of the Downs.
So far, the project has supplied grain to volunteers for feeding farmland birds on a large-scale to help sustain them over the hungry winter months. Working with Wiltshire Ornithological Society and local students, the project has also created innovative â€˜villagesâ€™ for tree sparrows as well as putting up 75 new nest boxes for tree sparrows, kestrels and barn owls.
Four new ponds have been established to create rich oases for wildlife in an otherwise dry environment. Corridors and stepping stones of nectar rich habitat are also being planted. Many of these features such as ponds and wildlife crops are alongside public footpaths and bridleways, giving visitors a wonderful opportunity of seeing the progress of the project as it evolves.
To further enhance the work that is being undertaken, volunteers and the local footpaths officer have replaced gates and new waymarks guide people around circular walks and rides that showcase not only project achievements but also some of the best views in the country.
To highlight the wonders of nature on the Marlborough Down, a fabulous 2013 calendar featuring beautiful wildlife and landscape photographs within the boundary of the NIA has been produced.
Jemma Batten continues, â€œOver the coming year, the partnership has an equally busy work programme planned. We will start work on traditional chalk grassland sites to introduce better management that enhances the habitat and boosts the number and variety of species such as butterflies and wildflowers.
â€œWe have more ponds to dig, more tree sparrow villages to establish, more birds to feed and more people to get involved. We have a busy calendar of events planned too, and we are hoping that families and school parties will come along and share our passion for this stunning landscape and its precious wildlife.â€