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Environment

Meadow day a great success

Meadow day a great successMeadow day a great successWhen an organisation called ARK hosts an event, no-one should be too surprised when there's a downpour.

Regardless, around 60 friends of Action for the River Kennet braved the wettest weekend of the year to spot the wildlife that lives along the banks of the river, which flows through Marlborough.

People on the wildlife walk, led by expert Peter Marren, had good views of great spotted woodpeckers, a kingfisher, a bullfinch, a blackcap and – perhaps thanks to the soggy conditions - four species of snail.  There was also evidence of the healthy water vole population.

ARK's riverfly monitors, who carry out important surveying of river invertebrates were on hand to help the many young children present explore the river and get up close to the wide variety of creatures that live in the riverbed.

There was a last chance to help fund a large wildlife pond in the 15 acre meadow by buying Grand Pond Raffle tickets and being in with a chance of winning one of 50 prizes donated by local businesses and individuals.

The raffle and meadow day was organised by voluntary Stonebridge Meadow project officer Anna Forbes and her son Harry.

“Even with the weather there were approximately 60 people who donned their wellies, bought homemade cake and enjoyed the reserve. Through the raffle, donations and cake sales we have now raised just over £2,000 towards the pond. I would like to thank everybody for their amazing support, ” said Anna.

ARK will also be holding a series of Moth Trapping Evenings in the meadow over the coming months. This will add to the valuable data already collected of species present. Anyone interested in attending should call Anna on 01672 511028.

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Expert shows how to reclaim villages back from the roads

How do we tackle speeding traffic and Marlborough villages cut in half by busy roads? This was the question for which over 80 local people wanted an answer at yesterday's seminar (Tuesday, March 13), Traffic Planning for Rural Villages at Kennet Valley Hall, Lockeridge.

Ben Hamilton-Baillie, renowned traffic consultant, looked at how parish councils might reduce speed, handle parking problems and better manage their traffic.


Anyone expecting suggestions of more road signage, more road markings and lots of unfriendly warnings to motorists were in for a surprise; quite the opposite.

Ben showed how removing the usual highway furniture and markings could not only enhance the appearance of a village, create more tourism and improve the viability of pubs but also see a reduction in speed and a more considerate motorist.

With the aid of some revealing real-life pictures and inventive use of Photoshop enhancements, Ben gave rise to excited murmurings by demonstrating how appealing to the subconscious mind could be a more powerful behaviour changer than marking a road with the word 'SLOW'.

He showed how one village had counteracted their large and obvious 30mph sign and command to 'slow' with the continuation of the central white line and a chevron bend warning. “You are telling motorists to drive slowly,” he said, “but then helping them to speed as quickly as possible through the village.”

The key in villages and towns was to give signals that drivers were entering a community, rather than the continuation of the highway. Standard highway signage and markings encourage drivers to feel the village road is their territory. Take this away, create a village space, and ownership is given back to the community and drivers become well behaved guests rather than unthinking road users.

Removing standardised signs forces drivers to think. This makes them drive more slowly and more carefully. Controversially he suggested that: “The only way to make a place safe is to make it dangerous.” In other words, to make it safer for pedestrians, you have to put more hazards in the way of drivers to make them engage their brains and consider the world around them.

Ben was also keen to highlight important features of the community: a paved area outside a pub, a road design that drew the eye to a village pond, a courtesy crossing outside a church. Traffic would still drive over these places but with more respect and awareness of their surroundings. Motorists are funnelled into the pub car park rather than past it, and admire the church rather than it being a building on the side of the road.

Pie in the sky? Ben had plenty of examples both locally and in Europe where this had worked a treat.

West Meon in Hampshire on a busy commuter route had seen traffic speeds fall by three to four miles an hour by removing white lines, changing the design of the road and highlighting village features.

Seven Dials in Convent Garden London, a busy junction of seven roads, saw the transformation of driver behaviour by the replacement of a traditional roundabout with a sundial pillar complete with seating. The junction has became a place where people sit and socialise, successfully encouraging motorists to drive slowly and more considerately.
Amazingly, the reduced speed and relaxed driving also meant traffic flowed more smoothly.

Ben cautioned that villages needed to take responsibility for their own 'design speed'. Increasingly, he said, county council highways will have neither the resources or the knowledge to effectively manage traffic through villages.

And the parish councillors present, unanimously agreed. There was broad and enthusiastic agreement to work with Ben to reclaim our villages back from the roads. Henry Oliver, director of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, also voiced his support. 

The seminar was a parish and Wiltshire initiative initiative, funded by Marlborough Area Board. For further information, contact community area manager Andrew Jack on 01225 713109 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Ideas pour in for boosting the future use of Marlborough’s railway path

A host of good ideas for the future came from members of the public who attended last week’s open meeting of the Friends of the Railway Path held the Calley Memorial Hall, Chiseldon, reports chairman Dick Millard.

The aim of the meeting was to discuss how the path could be made better and more enjoyable for users.  Some of those taking part were cyclists, some walkers and some were horse riders.

And all of them knew about and used the path.  

Among the many suggestions made were calls to:

1. Provide better signing, particularly through Chiseldon, and in Marlborough.

2. Develop better access for a variety of users, especially at the Marlborough end of the path.

3. Identify parking areas for horse boxes.

4. Give better views of the surrounding countryside while preserving the habitat value of hedges and  trees.

5. Make much more information available on the history of  the path and the landscape which it traverses.

6. Create more things to look at and do on the way.

The committee of the Friends of the Railway Path will now start to develop a plan for what to do, and start to find suitable sources of funding.

If you would like to suggest something, please contact the Friends of the Railway Path, either via their website at www.friendsofthepath.org.uk, or by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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How many of Wiltshire’s new homes will be built in our back yards?

Is there a housing crisis in Britain - or is it a planning policy crisis?  With the number of new homes being built falling ever lower and the coalition government’s new planning policy still in its final planning stages, fears have been raised that there is about to be a free-for-all which will see great parts of the countryside covered with new homes.

The first round of consultation on Wiltshire’s ‘core strategy’ plan for the next fifteen years of development has now ended. It has raised some fury. The draft plan calls for 37,000 new homes across the county by 2026 – with 20,000 of them concentrated in north and west Wiltshire.

Vociferous protest movements in Devizes and Chippenham have been joined by the twenty-five organisations, including the Wiltshire branch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, which have written a joint letter to the council. 

Under the draft plan the Marlborough area is expected to take 4,500 new homes between 2006 and 2026 (of which 895 have already been completed.) All but 500 of those would be in the town itself. That means that from the end of 2010 until 2026 the town needs to have 3,215 new houses built – with 385 beyond the town boundary in the community area.

Area plans are one thing, national planning policy may allow something quite different. And the government is changing the planning system to insist on a presumption in favour of sustainable development – planning becomes solely a tool of economic growth.

On top of that the government has instructed local authorities to increase their building targets by twenty per cent. So when the Wiltshire plan comes back for final consultation in a few months’ time, the number of houses to be built in the Marlborough area may have gone up not down.

A very experienced local planning expert has become involved in the national debate over these policies.  Graham Warren who lives near Marlborough, was a partner in the Swindon-based planning consultancy Chapman Warren which had offices around the country. He is now a freelance consultant.

Graham Warren  wrote to The Times to calm anxieties that the government’s plans would lead to a development free-for-all. He believes that the localism legislation will give new power to local communities to decide how much development they do and don’t want in their area.

And he points out that the government’s new planning framework is a policy not a law, so existing planning laws still hold good.

There is no doubt that the planning system is creaking and needs reform.  As Mr Warren pointed out to Marlborough News Online, the costs of obtaining planning permission can be excessive – up half a million pounds for a major development of 2,000 houses.

And council departments, already struggling with the load of planning applications, are now faced with staff cuts and the employment of cheaper, less qualified people.

Right now, Graham Warren says, there is inertia in the building industry, what he calls an ‘interregnum’ while the government’s new planning system squares up to localism: “The schism between localism and the planning system - whatever that’s going to be - is a huge unknown.”

As he put it in his letter to The Times: “The government wishes to see more houses built, but has set out with a localism agenda that will have precisely the opposite effect.”

One of the factors in the ‘unknown’ will be the government’s New Homes Bonus.  This has been developed to reward councils that permit new building and to counter what was feared would be a major epidemic of nimby-ism brought on by the localism legislation.  One LibDem MP has described the Bonus payments as "bribes".

In the unlovely language of government, this Bonus will be “unring-fenced”. So the money can be used by councils to make improvements to the infrastructure that new homes need or it can be used to re-decorate county hall.
Whatever happens nationally, how will Wiltshire council balance the government’s ‘wants’ with the legally backed localism agenda?  On the evidence so far localism does not seem to be winning in Wiltshire.

It is widely known that the council’s Tory majority incurred the wrath of senior party spokesmen who, while they were preparing their localism policies in opposition, argued against Wiltshire becoming a unitary authority.  The demise of the district councils was seen as a blow against the party's localism agenda.

More recently, the Council put costs and economies of scale ahead of localism when they disregarded the work of local charities and volunteers and awarded contracts to run all but three of the county’s thirty Sure Start centres to national rather than local organisations.  Following that precedent, the New Homes Bonus will be a tempting financial incentive to bypass local opposition to housing developments.

So watch out for the council’s response both to the local protests at their draft plan and to the government’s planning policy.
 

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Historic crane returns to Burbage Wharf

An important piece of canal heritage has returned to Burbage Wharf after an absence of five years.

The Burbage Wharf crane is the last surviving example of seventeen cranes along the 86-mile stretch of the Kennet and Avon Canal, between Bath and Reading.

Two hundred years ago those cranes loaded and unloaded goods from and onto canal barges, travelling along a busy trade route that was the equivalent of the M4 today.

The crane was originally constructed in 1833 and was used to load and unload coal, timber, lime, bricks and other commodities at the then-busy wharf.

But by the 1950s, when commercial traffic on the canal ceased, the crane was in a state of disrepair, and many original parts were missing altogether, as metal pieces had been salvaged and melted down to help the war effort.

Project manager John Webb, of the Inland Waterways Association, told Marlborough News Online: “A replica Burbage Wharf crane was erected in 1978. But the crane had been hewn from soft wood and slowly deteriorated. This new crane is made of English oak from Herefordshire, and will last considerably longer – perhaps as long as the original did.”

The first replica crane was dismantled and removed in 2007. The new crane was made by volunteers based at Claverton pumping station near Bath, which uses a wooden wheel to lift water up 48 feet from the River Avon to the canal above.

Volunteer Patrick Lawrence said the building of the new crane had been a four-year labour of love for fifteen volunteers.

“The only original piece of the crane is the two-tonne stone counterweight,” he said. “The oak was delivered cut to size, but had to be hewn and put together at Claverton.”

The wooden structure was transported from Claverton to Burbage Wharf in two parts back in November. A large modern crane was needed to lift the structures over the roofs of the two cottages to the towpath, where it was assembled.

The erecting of the crane, whose jib is 30 feet long and which stands at over 20 feet at its highest point, was officially celebrated yesterday (Monday, March 5) when a token ceremonial load was lifted by president of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, David Bruce, and the last cobble stone – bearing the date 2011 - was laid by South West regional chairman of the Inland Waterways Association, Chris Birks.

It will make an unusual feature for whoever buys the 18th century farmhouse and adjoining cottages, on whose land the crane resides. The property is being sold by The Crown Estate through Carter Jonas for £900,000.

  • The crane is on private property, but is best seen from the Burbage Wharf bridges on the A346 Marlborough-to-Burbage road, or from the canal towpath, which can be accessed via a track on the southbound side of the bridges. Visitors should be aware that the bridges form a narrow part of an extremely busy road without a footpath.

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Help ARK create a large wildlife pond in Stonebridge Meadow

Stonebridge Meadow, site of the proposed large wildlife pondStonebridge Meadow, site of the proposed large wildlife pondARK (Action for the River Kennet) has launched a Grand Pond Raffle to raise funds for the proposed large wildlife pond in Stonebridge Meadow adjacent to the river Kennet as it flows through the middle of Marlborough.

"A pond in the meadow will add a new habitat for wildlife and will also be a wonderful place for children to learn about all the plants and creatures that inhabit a natural pond" said Anna Forbes, ARK's Grand Pond Raffle organiser.

"Local businesses have been extremely generous and we have over forty prizes, first prize is a £200 voucher for David Dudley, we also have meals for two, family passes for days out and a wide range of other fantastic prizes" she added.

Other major prizes include a day's flyfishing on Marlborough College's two trout ponds, six bottles of champagne donated by Hamptons International and a round of golf for four at Marlborough Golf Club, as well as many other smaller prizes.

The raffle will be drawn next April at ARK's Spring Stonebridge Meadow Day on 29th.  This event is open to everyone. The day will have a range of wildlife walks, a children's nature trail and lots of other activities.

Tickets cost £1 each and can be purchased from the Town Council offices at 5 High Street (opposite the Town Hall), or directly from Anna on 01672 511 028

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Triffids they’re not – but these plants are dangerous invaders of our countryside

You’re driving along Wiltshire’s country roads and the hedgerows are still green and lush.  Then all of a sudden you notice a patch of brown and wilting foliage – and in the middle of it a small white notice.

You’ve just passed a patch of Japanese knotweed that’s been treated by Wiltshire Council.  It may look dead, but underneath it may still be alive.  The Council will be back to see if the treatment’s worked.

Japanese knotweed is one of the most invasive and destructive plants at large in Britain.  It has thick bamboo-like stems, grows into large clumps, has bright green leaves and pretty, fronds of wispy flowers. But under the ground its rhizomes (or underground stems) spread widely producing new plants which can lift up asphalt and damage buildings.

These plants smother all other native plants and spread very quickly.  Tiny fragments of a stem can be carried away by mowers, strimmers and flails, and start new plants.  It is a perennial and although it dies away in winter, it comes back to life in spring with renewed vigour.

Under an act of parliament it is illegal to plant or otherwise cause Japanese knotweed to spread into the wild.  And you can be taken to court if it spreads from your land to a neighbour’s.

Wiltshire Council has had 416 Japanese knotweed sites reported over the last four years and last year its contractors treated 181 sites.  By the end of 2010’s growing season 58 sites were still thought to be live and were treated again this spring.  Most reports come from council contractors as they carry out the twice yearly cutting of verges.

Wessex Tree Care are contracted to treat the county’s Japanese knotweed sites and they no longer have to use dangerous sprays.  Instead they inject the stems with a commercial pesticide called Tordon. A pigment in this pesticide turns the plants blue for a couple of hours as the liquid is carried own the stems to the rhizomes – which it then kills.

But it’s very resilient.  Wiltshire Council’s expert on knotweed is Graeme Hay.  He calls it ‘a remarkably effective plant’ and told Marlborough News Online: “You never give up on knotweed – you always have to go back and look again.”

The Council’s work to eradicate Japanese knotweed from the county is important. South Wales provides the lesson of what it can do when left to its own devices. There it has taken over abandoned industrial and mining sites in the valleys and around major towns – and has got into the water courses where it flourishes.  On that scale it is very hard indeed to overcome.

The other plant that is giving local authorities a headache is common ragwort.  As a defence, this wild plant has evolved strong toxins that can damage the livers of grazing animals.  It can be lethal to horses – especially when included in hay.  Humans are advised to wear gloves when handling it.

Unlike knotweed there is a positive side to ragwort. It has a key role in the wild environment, supporting many insects – especially the cinnabar moth whose orange and black striped caterpillars cover the plants in late summer.

Each ragwort plant can produce up to 30,000 seeds and though they won’t be carried much more than five metres away, the plant spreads through fields at an alarming rate.  Graeme Hay says that it’s impossible to eradicate ragwort, you just have to keep it to a minimum.  His aim is to keep it out of the county’s grass verges and so prevent it infesting farmers’ fields.

Control of ragwort comes under two acts of parliament – the Weeds Act (1959) and the Control of Ragwort Act (2003.)  These put responsibility for control squarely onto the owners of land where it grows.

The last government published a code of practice on how to prevent the spread of ragwort. This will probably end up on the coalition government’s bonfire of red tape. Last summer the agriculture minister, Jim Paice, announced that “Tackling common ragwort can be a practical example of the Big Society in action.”

So if you see the yellow heads of ragwort thriving in fields or on verges, you’ll know the Big Society hasn’t reached them – yet?

For further information on Japanese knotweed  click here to visit the DEFRA information section on Japanese Knotweed 

You can report knotweed sites in Wiltshire via CLARENCE (Customer Lighting & Roads Enquiry Centre) from landlines within Wiltshire call 0800 232323. From mobiles or outside the county call 01225 777234. Or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 


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