A newly launched £400,000 programme is set to promote projects that lead the way in looking after the Cotswolds
The snappily named Cotswolds Champions Programme will, Scott Brown says, “support, celebrate and tell the stories of people and organisations that are already doing important work to conserve and protect the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), as well as showcase how we as the Cotswolds Conservation Board (CCB) work with them to deliver projects that genuinely make a lasting difference at the landscape scale.”
Scott is Cotswolds Champions Project Officer and over the past few months since the launch of the programme he has been busy talking with potential partners whose activities chime with CCB priorities. The idea is that by joining forces, so much more can be achieved, and while it’s still early days the programme is attracting huge interest.
Cotswolds Champions has funding to the tune of £400,000, secured through negotiation by CCB from Network Rail to mitigate and compensate for adverse impacts of rail electrification works in the AONB along the 10km section of line between Old Sodbury and Alderton. Now the challenge is on to make the most of the money. The programme initially runs until winter 2021/22 and ambitions are high.
“Our lead project, which has a budget of £200,000, is the Cotswolds AONB Rail Corridor Enhancement Project itself, including line-side planting to help screen or soften the visual impact of the rail electrification works,” Scott says. “We’ll be working with farmers and landowners, and there’s also potential for us to help them with land surveys and long-term sustainability plans that might attract other investment, or funding through the Environmental Land Management scheme.
“The Rail Corridor Enhancement Project tells a really good story nose-totail of how CCB works, from working with Network Rail, who had a statutory duty to consider the impact of works on the protected landscape, through
negotiating and securing a decent chunk of funding to mitigate and compensate for adverse effects, to scaling out to work with more partners and communities.”
Another £25,000 of the Cotswolds Champions budget has been set aside to boost funds raised by local tourism businesses and visitors for the Caring for the Cotswolds scheme. The scheme has previously supported a wide range of projects, from helping to develop a community orchard to mapping village footpaths. Many more such initiatives are now set to benefit.
Money is also being earmarked for exciting plans to help create the Kingfisher Trail in 2021, a new sculpture trail across the AONB focused on raising awareness of our rivers and the freshwater environment.
CCB’S statutory purposes are well known – to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the Cotswolds AONB, and to increase understanding and enjoyment of its special qualities. Further projects to be supported by Cotswolds Champions funding will be selected for their fit with a range of CCB priorities.
“For example, we will be looking at projects that support nature recovery, tackle climate change, improve the freshwater environment and water quality, and connect people with the countryside,” Scott says. “We want to avoid duplication and so selected projects will represent a range of our priorities and tell good stories about them.”
Scott has been reaching out to Wildlife Trusts, environmental charities, farming organisations and other groups to discuss working collaboratively and how Cotswolds Champions funding can help to achieve shared objectives.
The core focus is on projects in the south and central Cotswolds (as programme funding resulted from Network Rail works in that area) but there are opportunities to blossom out wider. In catchment partnership projects, for instance, Cotswolds Champions funds could contribute to work in one section of a catchment area, linking into other parts of the scheme funded from different quarters.
“We hope to get really good value for money: not just to fund a project outright, but to get bigger projects off the ground or build up projects at a landscape scale,” Scott says. “By showing what’s possible we can encourage others to get involved too. Sometimes we’ll take a lead and manage a project directly, other times we will play a supporting role.”
Working collaboratively is, of course, typical of CCB’S natural modus operandi. As Scott puts it, “We’re a relatively small team and we cover a big area. Our role is very much about joining the dots between different people, projects and organisations, and representing the strategic interests of the protected landscape.
“We’ve got great staff with lots of experience, in land management, planning, access, rural skills, who can provide advice and guidance, and add value to projects. The Cotswolds Champions Programme is a showcase for how CCB involvement in projects can make a positive difference, and we hope this will encourage even more people to want to work with us.”
As momentum gains on the Cotswolds Champions Programme, Scott plans to announce specific supported projects in the coming months – watch this space for some inspiring stories!