|Some of the attendees at the MDNIA meeting|
I am involved in the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area (MDNIA) which is one of 12 NIA’s across the country, but the only “farmer led” one. A Government sponsored project, it sets out to discover if conservation can be successfully delivered across a whole landscape, rather than on individual farms.
Last week we had a meeting to look at how we are all getting on and to see if we are actually making a difference on the ground. The meeting was attended by 17 farmers and 18 other different “interested parties”, all herded into order by the superbly organised Cathy Williams.
We had up-dates from the leaders of various mini committees, set up to concentrate on making sure that plans are being delivered on the ground and not just talked about. I chair the species delivery group, so gave a short presentation on all the things that the MDNIA farmers are doing – planting flower rich areas, growing seed bearing crops for birds to eat, putting up nest boxes for barn owls and creating new ponds, to mention just a few!
It is wonderful to hear the farmers speak of how proud they are of what is being accomplished and to see their enthusiasm for trying out new ideas. Perhaps the most heartening of all the projects that have been implemented so far is carriage driving for the disabled. Farmers have voluntarily opened up access across the downs, joining up what was once a fragmented, unconnected series of track ways.
As a direct result, last summer for the first time, a number of severely disabled soldiers from the nearby army barracks at Tidworth, drove horses and carriages across the Marlborough downs on a scenic round route; their smiles spoke volumes.
So, not only is conservation being delivered big time, but also some superb local community projects are now getting established. Mind you, any project such as this needs a central figure to encourage and cagoule and we are very fortunate indeed to have “Bossy J” as she has become known. So, well done Jemma Batten and well done to all the farmers too – collectively you have have certainly highlighted the Marlborough Downs on the map!