As we come to the end of 2020, the Preserve Our Reserve Advisory Committee would like to provide an update to all our supporters with the progress that has been made since we launched the fund at the beginning of June, shortly after the devastating fire that did so much damage.
We have been working closely with Natural England (NE) and we are all extremely grateful for the huge amount of community support that we have received for the Thursley National Nature Reserve (NNR). We have all been overwhelmed by the large amount of money donated to the Preserve Our Reserve fund – now standing at over £50,000 – and we are committed to working with all our stakeholdersto ensure that the fund is used carefully for the purposes for which it was donated.
We are also looking at ways of adding to the fund. In September, we submitted a detailed application to Waverley for Community Infrastructure Levy funds. We believe that we put forward a very strong case and indeed Waverley confirmed in advance of our submission that our application would certainly appear to ‘tick all the boxes’. We were therefore very disappointed when the deadline for applications was extended until the end of January, therefore delaying any grants being made, but we remain hopeful that we may receive additional funds from Waverley in the Spring.
Since the fire, you will have noticed that NE have undertaken significant ‘recovery’ works, including tree safety, improving the fire-break network, and the removal of the damaged boardwalk. These works have incurred significant, unbudgeted costs for NE, but no ‘Preserve Our Reserve’ funds were used for any of these works.
NE have not yet come forward with a design for a replacement boardwalk/trail. Whilst we are anxious to move things forward, we do need to look at ideas that provide a long-term solution for the NNR. Replacing like for like may not necessarily be the best solution and we must avoid the temptation to rush into trying to find a ‘quick fix’. NE have to consider a broad range of issues, including the impact on local habitats, future fire risk on the NNR and how this might influence the material/construction type of the boardwalk. And we all also consider it a priority that any design needs to provide safe disabled access.
Realistically, it is very unlikely that there will be a replacement boardwalk/dragonfly trail in place before next Spring, and completion of the project may take considerably longer than that. We did raise with NE the idea of making some immediate funding available to them if that would have enabled at least some of the boardwalk to be replaced over the winter, but the cost of even limited rebuilding would have been significant, and the inevitable delays caused by an appropriate tendering and procurement process, together with planning issues, would have made this impractical.
In the interim, NE’s priority is to ensure the safety of visitors but of course it is impossible to ‘secure’ the route of the boardwalk from access. Therefore, we are now discussing with NE appropriate signage and communications to advise visitors of the current hazardous condition of the route, and to deter visitors from going on to the dragonfly trail, thereby causing further damage.
Moving forward, NE are currently discussing a range of options and they will then need to obtain quotes to enable them to bid for budget within NE, to supplement the funds that we will be able to make available. Once an outline proposal or design has been agreed in principle, NE will come back to us for comment. It is likely that any proposal will require planning permission, and NE will have to ensure that any design is compatible with the requirements of the Common Land and nature conservation designations, and then obtain any required permissions.
Both we and NE have received many offers of practical help, and of course NE already have their regular volunteers on the NNR. Due to the COVID restrictions, NE have been unable to take advantage of many of these offers, but hopefully if the restrictions are relaxed in the Spring, they will be able to look at this again.
One of the positive initiatives to come out of the Preserve Our Reserve Group is the establishment of the Friends of Thursley Common. They are developing a range of initiatives that they hope to introduce in the Spring to provide an effective ‘wardening’ scheme, through which volunteers would monitor the NNR on a programmed basis, both to improve the experience for visitors coming to the NNR, and also keeping an eye out for fire or unacceptable behaviour. We have provided start up funds to support the establishment of this group.
So, we are making progress, but perhaps not as rapidly as we had originally envisaged – or indeed would have liked. However, we have to accept that this is a complex task, trying to find the right balance between respecting nature and encouraging responsible visitors to our beautiful Common.
Thank you for your continuing support and encouragement – and we will continue to work with Natural England to deliver a long-term and sustainable solution for the Thursley National Nature Reserve.