|Adam Henson addressing the Marlborough Downs NIA meeting|
I attended the “spring celebration” meeting of the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area (MDNIA) last night and a jolly good evening it was too.
I would guess there were around 200 people at the Marlborough golf club and the guest speaker was farmer and TV presenter Adam Henson of TV Countryfile fame, who gave a very up-beat talk on the future of farming in the UK. He wholeheartedly praised all the wonderful work that the farmers and supporters of the MDNIA had achieved. He is without doubt a guy whose cup is half full – never half empty!
It was good to see Richard Benyon MP at the meeting too. He was instrumental of course, whilst a minister within DEFRA, in securing funding for these NIA’s and has followed this particular group with great interest. The attendance of Andrew Sells, head of Natural England, showed I believe just how much this project has been viewed as a resounding success by government.
Mark Upton, a local farmer also spoke on his great passion of falconry and I learnt a huge amount about the history of the sport, including how important Wiltshire was in the past as it frequently hosted royalty and foreign dignitaries, who came to fly their birds in the wide open skies of the downs.
Jemma Batten, the combined Master and Whipper-in of the NIA, gave a sparkling talk which confirmed just how much the NIA has achieved since it was started some 3 years ago. Here are just some of the achievements.
Over 60ha of chalk grassland created or undergoing restoration, 16 new Dew ponds created, Improved public access on 47 miles of footpath and bridleway, 8.5 miles of permissive access for disabled carriage drivers established and 4,300 people attended 42 talks, 25 farm walks, 2 open farm Sundays, 24 volunteer workshops, 13 best practice workshops and 10 celebration events.
It was also highlighted last night, not for the first time I hasten to add, just what an important role the ladies had played in creating such a successful overall project. Two lady farmers – Laura Cooper and Suzie Swanton were awarded the cup for the having achieved the most this year - a very popular decision!.
Teresa Dent (GWCT CEO), closed the proceedings by telling the audience that this NIA, perhaps more than any other, had influenced Government thinking and had resulted in the idea of “Farmer Clusters” and now funding within the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme for a Facilitation fund to organise more "landscape scale" farmer groups.
For more info on this NIA - go to: www.mdnia.org.uk