CON­SER­VA­TION CHIEF STANDS DOWN

Steve Ro­drick has been chief of­fi­cer for Chilterns Con­ser­va­tion Board since its in­cep­tion 10 years ago. He told LOR­CAN LOVETT of the big­gest dan­gers fac­ing the Chilterns be­fore he stood down from the role at the end of De­cem­ber

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE -

VOL­UN­TEERS are be­ing urged to come for­ward and pro­tect the Chilterns coun­try­side from some of its big­gest threats yet.

Chilterns Con­ser­va­tion Board has cited HS2, uncer­tain­ties of the farm­ing and forestry economies and the loom­ing de­mand as three of the big­gest dan­gers to the area.

Steve Ro­drick re­tired at the end of De­cem­ber after 20 years, first as Area of Nat­u­ral Out­stand­ing Beauty (AONB) of­fi­cer and then chief of­fi­cer of the board. He has worked at pro­tect­ing and pro­mot­ing the Chilterns and he leaves his role with one mes­sage – vol­un­teer to look after the coun­try­side in th­ese ‘un­cer­tain times’.

He said: “Th­ese are the most un­cer­tain times I have seen. The dam­age HS2 will do is with­out prece­dent. Some of the scars of HS2 will heal but that won­der­ful tran­quil­lity we can en­joy here will be greatly up­set.”

The Gov­ern­ment has of­fered £30mil­lion for com­mu­ni­ties be­tween London and Birm­ing­ham which will be worst af­fected by the train line to invest in pub­lic projects such as na­ture con­ser­va­tion.

How­ever Mr Ro­drick says this sum is ‘de­risory’ as it will be spread across the whole route and not fully com­pen­sate the dam­age sus­tained by the Chilterns.

“It is only fair and eq­ui­table we are giv­ing some­thing in re­turn,” he said. “A lot of the pub­lic realm re­quires pub­lic money and that is now in very short sup­ply. There is a dan­ger the qual­ity of the en­vi­ron­ment we have got will de­te­ri­o­rate.”

He also raises con­cerns over tim­ber prices and milk prices which are low. This will have a knock-on ef­fect on Bucks’ coun­try­side, he says, be­cause the in­vest­ment of farm­ers and foresters ‘keep the ru­ral en­vi­ron­ment go­ing’.

“The un­cer­tainty over the farm­ing and forestry is se­vere,” he said. “And the big­gest threat we have yet to feel in its full force is the pres­sure for hous­ing.”

Chiltern Dis­trict Coun­cil (CDC) has de­ter­mined to al­low the con­struc­tion of up to 2,900 homes by 2026 to help tackle the na­tional hous­ing short­age.

Coun­cil spokes­woman Viv Saun­ders says the hous­ing need will in­crease in the decade fol­low­ing 2026 and will have to be de­fined by CDC.

Mr Ro­drick added: “We are blessed in the Chilterns to have so many vol­un­teers but it is not enough to make up the short­fall in pub­lic fund­ing.

“We need more of those peo­ple to give not just their money but their time. It can go a very long way. We do care very much in this part of the world and we will not let the Chilterns go to wreck and ruin, we will do some­thing about it.

“The Chilterns is spe­cial not just for lo­cal peo­ple, it is a na­tion­ally pro­tected area. The crown­ing achieve­ment (over the last 10 years) is the con­cern among the pub­lic. It is only by band­ing to­gether and look­ing after it, we can pos­si­bly ex­pect some­one else will look after it too.”

The cur­rent coun­try­side of­fi­cer Kath Daly will take up Mr Ro­drick’s post in Jan­uary. This post is tem­po­rary and will run for six months after which there will be a re­cruit­ment process for a per­ma­nent chief of­fi­cer. The Chilterns Con­ser­va­tion Board was set up 10 years ago this month fol­low­ing the Coun­try­side and Rights of Way Act in 2000 which gave the go-ahead for a new type of in­de­pen­dent or­gan­i­sa­tion to care for AONBs.

The 27 mem­bers of the body in­clude coun­cil­lors from ev­ery county, dis­trict and uni­tary au­thor­ity across the Chilterns, as well as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of lo­cal parishes and mem­bers of the pub­lic.

Among its achieve­ments are giv­ing support to 201 projects with grants of £438,000, es­tab­lished the Chilterns Cy­cle­way and win­ning more than £500,000 in grants from the Her­itage Lot­tery Fund for projects on com­mons, wildlife, his­tory and box wood­land.

n STEP­PING DOWN: Steve Ro­drick re­tires from his role as chief of­fi­cer for the Chilterns Con­ser­va­tion Board

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