Talks and debates
This project had two main elements: a talks schedule and the delivery of a Greensand Country conference. The talks were hosted by local experts from partner organisations such as the RSPB and Central Beds Council and long-standing Greensand Country volunteers. They aimed to cover the landscape and its heritage to greater inform the audience of Greensand Country board members, volunteers, and members of the general public. To complement the talks and generate greater engagement with the landscape, the Community Arts Officer organised a photography walk and talk with a local photographer to guide members of the local community in how to take photographs of the landscape.
The second aspect of the project was the delivery of a Greensand Country conference, which was held in November 2021. This would create a discussion space between organisations and individuals and would help to highlight areas to focus on for the Forward Plan. A high-profile figure, Dr Paul Leinster CBE, was brought in to chair the event and provide a keynote address. All other presentations were from existing or potential GCLP partners, and with the exception of the presentation on ‘achievements to date’ were intended to spark interest in future development of the partnership. ‘Nature Recovery’ was a key theme across both presentations and workshops with the imminent emergence of ‘Local Nature Recovery Strategies’. Engaging with the farming and landowning community was also covered by a presentation and a workshop as it was considered an area where the partnership had not been successful to date. A presentation on Greensand soils was included because this has been a much-neglected subject, and also linked well to engaging the farming community. The workshops also covered the themes of climate change and access pressures.
- Dorothy Jamieson: Life and Landscapes at the North End of the Greensand Ridge in Bedfordshire
- Peter Bradley: Living Heathland: The RSPB Lodge Sandy
- Stephen Coleman: Greensand Natural Character Area in Central Bedfordshire (1)
- Stephen Coleman: Greensand Natural Character Area in Central Bedfordshire (2)
Resilient Habitats in Greensand Country
The first main success was the expertise that the Community Arts Officer managed to secure for preparing and delivering the talks programme. Having both independent volunteers and representatives from the RSPB and Central Beds gave a variety of views and perspectives on the significance of the landscape. The speakers’ different academic foci meant that each talk complemented the preceding talk with new research material and conclusions.
The conference was also a major success. It brought together sector experts, GCLP partners, and individuals and organisations that in November 2021 were not currently partners. Securing such a prominent key-note speaker in Dr Paul Leinster CBE was a real achievement for the project, as it showed there was real interest in nature recovery beyond those that were already directly involved with the Greensand Country Landscape Partnership.
Following a postponement earlier in the year due to low take-up, a much more positive response to the event was received with 51 people signing up and 37 attending (73%). This was considered a good take-up rate by the event organiser (VirtualWorks).
The actions identified at the conference, such as improving citizen science, engaging more closely with farmers, and supporting local nature recovery strategies have all been incorporated directly into the ‘Caring for the Landscape’ forward plan theme.
‘This project was highly successful: both in terms of the talks schedule that our Community Arts Officer organised, and the conference that was delivered very smoothly by Jon Balaam. The conference has already proved vital in organising the Forward Plan working groups.’
Benefits to people
This project benefited those that attended the talks series, which was primarily GCLP volunteers but also some members of the general public. These talks did help to make some aspects of Greensand Country history more accessible to a wider audience, particularly the Living Heaths talk that introduced why the heathland habitat was so significant. This drew people in that were aware of the RSPB Sandy but were not familiar with the details of the landscape. However, given the very specific nature of the talks, the audience was not as diverse as we might have hoped.
Personally, it has given me a much greater understanding of the social history that surrounds the Greensand Ridge Walk in the North East. The conference was also a great networking opportunity to talk to partners and experts, such as Paul Leinster and Jane Rickman.
Benefits to heritage & landscape
Heritage is better understood by this project. The talk by Dorothy Jamieson gave a thorough overview of the social history of the North East end of Greensand Country. This allowed those at the talk to better understand how that area of Greensand Country has been shaped by those people living there, such as Emily Shore. Both of Stephen Coleman’s talks also highlighted the ancient heritage of the area, including an overview of the archeological significance of sites within Greensand Country.
The conference has provided the base for how the Forward Plan will focus on caring for the landscape. Whilst this project has not delivered physical works, it has identified areas that need developing (such as local nature recovery schemes) and how this can be initiated by partnership working. As well as physical projects, it also highlighted how the GCLP needs to work much more closely with farmers going forward along with biodiversity and habitat topics that need to be communicated to the wider public to raise awareness.
Challenges & Lessons learnt
The biggest challenges were getting attendees for the original date of the conference. Whilst we could have gone ahead the numbers would not have generated the discussions needed to inform the forward plan. Once we had the second date confirmed, we pushed the date with partners and our wider contact list to ensure maximum attendance.
If we ran this programme again we would make sure that talks and the conference are publicised well in advance and followed up regularly on social media. This would then ensure more members of the public attending the talks.