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Success of nature improvement pilot project recognised with further funding

Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area renamed

July 2015

The success of the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area (MDNIA) has been recognised by Natural England. Based on the footprint of the MDNIA project developed and managed by Dr Jemma Batten of Black Sheep Countryside Management, Natural England announced they will be offering funding to similar conservation partnerships via the new national Countryside Stewardship Scheme Facilitation Fund. This awards grants to advisers to work with groups of farmers (min 4, min area 2,000 ha) to deliver biodiversity objectives on a landscape scale.​

Following a submission by Dr Jemma Batten our renamed group - the Marlborough Downs Nature Enhancement Partnership (MDNEP) has been awarded £24,000 a year across five years to build upon the success of the pilot project, which will be named Space for Nature and will launch in October 2015.

Since it was founded in 2012, the Marlborough Downs group has implemented numerous wildlife and conservation projects across 10,370 hectares of chalk down land on 35 farms between Avebury, Marlborough and Swindon. Outlined objectives for the Space for Nature initiative include: development of best practice in management of grassland, woodland and ponds; creation of wildlife corridors; provision of food and safe nesting habitat for farmland birds and other farm wildlife; development of a volunteer scheme delivering practical conservation management.​

Jemma Batten said: “I’m thrilled that the project I designed back in 2011 for the Marlborough Downs farmers has been judged to be such a success that the Government has decided to roll it out nationally. I can’t wait to get stuck into another five years of making space for nature along with the farmers and local communities on the Marlborough Downs.”

Highlights from 2012-2015:

  • Over 60 hectares (150 acres) chalk grassland now undergoing restoration

  • 8 new wildlife sites

  • Over 250 hectares (625 acres) of rough grassland management for owls and raptors

  • 16 new or restored ponds

  • Increased and more widespread populations of tree sparrows, corn bunting and short-eared owls

  • Improved public access on 47 miles of footpaths and bridleways

  • Over 4,300 people have attended a range of talks, 25 farm walks, 2 Open Farm Sunday events, 24 volunteer workdays, 13 best practice workshops and 10 celebration events

 

Chris Musgrave, Marlborough Downs farmer, commented: “What this project has done is bring people together because it’s something we can all believe in. At the end of three years we’ve far exceeded everybody’s expectations and there’s a natural momentum to want to keep it going.”

MDNEP Partners: Marlborough Downs farmers; Black Sheep Countryside Management; Wiltshire Council; Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust

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