In 2006 the first plans for the development of the town appeared as ‘The Atkins Study’. The main concern was the proposal to build a bypass adjacent to the reserve. We called a meeting of members and invited local councillors to attend, some of whom were also members. Our passionate defence of the reserve and surrounding countryside was influential in removing this proposal from the study. However, within a few months a planning application for hundreds of houses adjacent to the west side of the reserve appeared and another meeting was called. As a result over one hundred objections to the plans were sent by members and more importantly, our in-depth scientific surveys of the meadows, ancient woodland and hedgerows, ponds etc. impressed the inspector who was appointed to consider all aspects of the plans. They were refused but we know this is only temporary as revised ones will appear soon.
So, we entered the world of planning applications and protest with a bang! From being a dedicated group of wildlife enthusiasts, we were forced onto the ‘back foot’ and had to defend our precious territory. Since then we have been learning about this new and vital role. What is the point of doing all this work for wildlife if eventually it is going to be a building site? So, we have ‘flagged up’ some important wildlife areas that should be saved as a result of our efforts. In 2007 we helped another friends group (who were functioning in the south of the town) by inviting them to amalgamate with us, as due to lack of sufficient members they were about to disband. This added another 12 hectares to our area of ‘care’ which presented a new set of challenges as we wanted to transform this in a similar way.
In 2008, at our AGM we voted overwhelmingly to change our name so that the general public realises that we care for all precious countryside around the town and are not restricted to just one site. This widening role has already paid dividends with 48 members joining in one day at our publicity stand in the town centre (previous record 24!). As a result we now have over 1,000 suporters of local wildlife, our credibility is greatly enhance and our informed opinion is respected and acted upon. In 2008 the district council produced its draft Core Strategy, a plan for the next 20 years, including thousands of new houses to be built on Greenfield sites. We are currently working with them to influence planners and developers to save the best wildlife sites from the impact of roads and houses.
A Friends group that looked after a site to the SE of the town and who disbanded seven years ago have been rescued by our new organisation and are functioning yet again. So, we now have three ‘teams’ in operation and a fourth will be formed for the new year. In this way each site will have its own team to be the ‘eyes and ears’ for the council and carry out surveys, maintenance work etc to gradually improve their ‘patch’, all under the ‘umbrella’ of the Green Circle and its main committee.
The future is very mixed. We are confident that with the council and local councillors we can continue to save precious sites, improve existing ones with better management plans and give the public better access with new paths and signage. However, the sheer numbers of new houses imposed on the town for the next 20 years is unsustainable and wildlife must suffer. How to mitigate this is a mammoth task and we are only a relatively small charity. But, if we don’t do something about it there is no other organisation locally that is capable or willing to do so. Therefore, we accept the challenge and the opportunities that growth will provide. By working with all stakeholders hopefully we will be able to improve the environment for all future Burgess Hillians and visitors to enjoy.