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, Cobblers’ Pits by Wendover Woods, the Hampden Monument near Prestwood, Captain’s Wood in Chesham and part of Cholesbury Camp.
Bucks 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 front-line 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% of the identified sites will have been handed over to community groups by the end of this year.
Whiteleaf Hill affords one of the most stunning views in the Chilterns, looking over Princes Risborough and the Vale of Aylesbury to the Wessex Downs in the distance.
The 11 hectare (27 acre) site encompasses a nature reserve, famous for its butterflies and wild flowers and is crossed by the Ridgeway National Trail and the Icknield Way Riders Route. It also contains the chalk-hill landmark, the Whiteleaf Cross as well as Scheduled Ancient Monuments, including one of the earliest examples of a man-made structure in Buckinghamshire, a Neolithic barrow 5,500 years old. World War One practice trenches are also visible.
The Society will enhance the conservation and heritage of hill and its important landmarks. The site is adjacent to the Brush Hill Nature Reserve which is also managed and cared for by Chiltern Society volunteers.
A sweeping ancient beech woodland, breathtakingly beautiful at any time of year but especially at bluebell time and in the autumn. Situated on the outskirts of Chesham, this 11 hectare (27 acre) site became a nature reserve nearly 20 years ago.
A public footpath runs its entire length and its accessibility is a key attraction because there are no gates or stiles. The Society plans to introduce new activities in the woodland involving local community organisations, schools and farmers.
An old chalk pit, this small woodland is of special importance in the Chilterns because it contains a considerable number of yew and box trees. The Chilterns Conservation Board is currently engaged in a special project to research, conserve and celebrate the box trees’ long heritage in the area.
The 3.5 hectare (8 acre) site is in a key position for nature lovers, lying adjacent to Wendover Woods and stretching between the Upper Icknield Way and the Wendover arm of the Grand Union Canal - a footpath runs the length of the site joining the road to the canal towpath. It is also very near the Aston Clinton Ragpits, an important site for orchids.
The Society already has an active group of volunteers working with the Forestry Commission in Wendover Woods on improvement and conservation work. They will extend this work to Cobblers’ Pits.
This Scheduled Ancient Monument on the Bucks/Herts border is recognised as one of the most impressive iron age hillforts in the Chilterns. Working with English Heritage and other conservation organisations, the Society is taking responsibility for 0.4hectare (nearly one acre) of the site which is woodland and scrub.
Society volunteers have been working with the Forestry Commissiion on the Iron Age Boddington Hill Fort site in Wendover Woods improving conservation, access and communication. There are plans similar work at Cholesbury Camp.
The stone monument to John Hampden, one of Buckinghamshire’s most significant figures and a hero of the Chilterns, is located near Prestwood and offers wonderful views over the Hampden valley.
The Society aims to enhance and maintain the monument’s setting and put in place specific information for visitors