To receive a briefing from Steve Bailey, Manager, on the work of the Blackwater Valley Countryside Partnership.
Steve Bailey, Manager, Blackwater Valley Countryside Partnership, gave a presentation in respect of the work of the Blackwater Valley Countryside Partnership. The Partnership had been set up in 1990 to co-ordinate the work required to maintain and enhance the environment in the Blackwater Valley. The principle aims of Partnership were to:
· maintain the Valley as an open gap with enhanced landscape
· conserve wildlife
· improve the quality of the River Blackwater
· co-ordinate recreation and conservation initiatives across the area
· ensure access to and use of the Valley for sustainable transport
The work undertaken by the Partnership since its inception had had a significant impact on the flora and fauna of the area with increased fish stocks, the restoration of wetland areas and reed beds and the establishment of seven nature reserves along the length of the Blackwater Valley area.
The Partnership was supported by the twelve county, borough and town and parish councils whose boundaries encompassed the Blackwater River area with further funding for specific projects being received from other organisations including the Environment Agency. The core partners funding contributions had originally been calculated using a formula that was based on the distance of bank that ran through each partner’s area. The Memorandum of Agreement governing the Partnership, originally set up to run for ten years, had now lapsed.
The Partnership’s work was directed by a five year strategy and whilst work primarily focused on the land running alongside the Blackwater River the Partnership was increasingly being approached to help partners protect and enhance areas that were further away from the river. 670 hectares of land had been restored since the Partnership’s inception and a further 150 hectares had been restored in 2017/18. Key projects during 2017/18 had included: the Wellesley Green Corridor SANG project in Rushmoor, tree protection work, restoration of Darby Green Pond, restoration of ponds at Mytchett, improvement works to protect the flood plain, resurfacing of paths, installation of benches and steps along the length of the Blackwater Valley, improvements to woodland and grasslands to improve the habitats available and the development of the Stumperies Project to provide new habitats for stag beetles.
The Partnership was well supported by the Blackwater Valley Countryside Trust who had assumed responsibility for identifying alternative sources of grant funding and co-ordinating voluntary activities along the length of the partnership area. The Trust’s role was a growing one and over time they had become the public face of the Blackwater Valley Countryside Partnership organising walks, conservation activities and public talks as well as publicising the Partnership’s work on social media. The Partnership worked closely with the Trust to ensure that work was carried out at the appropriate level.
Arising from the Committee’s questions and comments the following points were noted:
· In addition to the nine regular volunteer groups who were attached to specific sites and the Tuesday and Thursday Groups there were opportunities for corporate groups to help with conservation work.
· The Partnership as working with Surrey Heath Borough Council’s Recreation and Business Services Manager to identify how the partnership might develop in Surrey Heath for example the local authority providing funding for a specific project.
· Where assets were present on a site, for example a car park, then the authority who owned the asset tended to retain ownership of the asset as well as any income that the asset might generate.
· Visits to schools to raise awareness of the Blackwater Valley Partnership’s work were supported by the Trust’s volunteers and the Wellesley SANG Project included funding for a project worker who would work with local schools.
The Committee thanked Steve Bailey for his informative update.