Chiltern Society Takes Over Bucks Heritage Sites

  |  Published: Dec 20th 2014

Five important heritage sites and nature reserves in Buckinghamshire have been handed over into the care of the Chiltern Society. 

The Society has taken a 99 year lease on Whiteleaf Hill near Princes Risborough; Captain's Wood in Chesham; part of Cholesbury Camp; Cobblers' Pits by Wendover Woods and the Hampden Monument near Prestwood. 

Buckinghamshire County Council retains ownership of the sites and is charging the Society a peppercorn rent. It says the arrangement saves the Council taxpayers tens of thousands of pounds while safeguarding the future of the sites. 

Roger Newman, the Society's Vice Chairman who has spent five years working out the finer details of the plan with the Council, said:  "This agreement makes good sense for both parties. It enables the Council to focus its resources where they are most needed, and our Society to demonstrate its commitment to safeguarding special Chiltern sites for the future . 

"We will  encourage local communities to use and explore these sites while ensuring that the rich and varied habitats of the plants and animals found there are conserved.”

"We will promote and provide information about them while at the same time encouraging formal and informal educational and recreational events, involving, among others, local schoolchildren. We think it is really important that people living in the Chilterns get out and enjoy the wonderful countryside all around them. We are pleased to see how our conservation work in the Chilterns continues to be appreciated." 

Lesley Clarke OBE, Cabinet Member for Planning and Environment at the Council, said: "Our authority has been under massive pressure for some time to save large amounts of money due to unprecedented cutbacks in funding from central government.? Our priorities are to protect our frontline services, particularly for those children and vulnerable elderly residents who rely on them, so we have had to look at other ways to make savings. 

"That is why we are working with volunteers, charities and businesses to see if we can save money by allowing them to take over the management of our heritage sites." 

She added: " Our agreements make clear that these sites must be kept in good condition and well run.? Public access must be maintained and the land managed to provide a safe environment for visitors. That's why I am really pleased that we are transferring the sites to an organisation like the Chiltern Society who have shown they have the skills and wherewithal to do this."  

The Society, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year, already has hundreds of volunteers managing and promoting Lacey Green Windmill; Marlow Common (north); Bottom Wood near Stokenchurch; Brush Hill Nature Reserve near Princes Risborough;? Prestwood Local Nature Reserve and Ewelme Watercress Beds. 

Chairman David Harris said: "This is a significant development for the Society and its 6,800 members. We look forward to setting up new conservation teams to help look after these special places and want to encourage everyone to? get involved in their conservation.? We have set up a Special Places Fund to raise £20,000 to train and equip new conservation teams to look after these heritage sites and nature reserves and fund visitor information at each site." 

In all, the council considered 25 sites across the county? for possible handing over in a decision taken in 2012, with estimated savings in excess of £100,000 a year in total. Around 80 per cent of the identified sites will have been handed over to community groups by the end of this year.

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