The overarching purpose of the Conservation Board is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the Cotswolds AONB.  Working in partnership with a range of organisations, businesses and individuals, we lead, develop, support and assist with projects that help to protect the distinctive countryside, wildlife and heritage of the Cotswolds.

With our team's wealth of expertise and knowledge, we provide guidance and advice on environmental and countryside management; we provide training in a range of traditional rural skills and crafts; we offer advice to landowners and rural businesses; and we undertake practical conservation and enhancement work on the ground.

Key achievements during 2011/12 are:

  • Through the National Grid Dry-stone Walling Grant Scheme, we provided funding for 75 dry-stone walling improvement projects, totaling nearly 7km of reinstated or rebuilt walls across the AONB. The average grant covered 45% of total costs, with match funding provided by landowners. The scheme has resulted in over £1million of investment in walling throughout the Cotswolds, leading to more than nine years' worth of work for local wallers.
     
  • 2011/12 was a record breaking year for the rural skills programme. We provided training for 170 people in 19 courses across 10 different subjects - more than ever before.  New courses such as Blacksmithing and Lime Mortar proved popular and the programme helped to support the Cotswolds rural skills industry by investing over £5,000 in local craftsmen and women tutors. A new website, www.cotswoldsruralskills.org.uk was launched providing comprehensive details of courses and annual competitions, and enabling easy online booking plus the purchase of course gift vouchers. Not only a central resource for courses offered by the Board, the site also allows other providers such as colleges and community groups to promote their own courses.
     
  • We saw the development of the Cotswolds Ecological Network Partnership and two Nature Improvement Areas for the Cotswolds based on the scarp and river valleys, supported by the success at stage 1 of the 'Magnificent Meadows' Heritage Lottery Fund bid.
     
  • Our Cotswold Voluntary Wardens once again broke records, dedicating nearly 47,000 voluntary hours towards the aims of the Board.  Around 67% of these hours were spent undertaking valuable conservation and enhancement work on the ground. 
    Full details of all the work carried out by the wardens can be see by clicking here.  As a taster, some of the key achievements of their work include:
    • 18 grassland sites improved
    • 1,086 trees planted
    • 1,096 metres of dry-stone walls built
    • 111 kissing gates installed
    • 413 steps in banks constructed
    • 18 bridges constructed
    • 22,950m of paths and bridleways cleared
       
  • In October and November, we attracted 28 hedgelayers and 20 dry-stone wallers to our Annual Hedgelaying and Dry-stone Walling Competitions, along with hundreds of spectators who turned out to watch and support the participants.
     
  • A new guidance leaflet for the keeping of horses and ponies in the AONB was published.  The new publication identifies the impacts of horses on the landscape, pasture and trees, and draws together advice and best practice from local authorities, the British Horse Society, horse owners and equine businesses.
     
  • The first Cotswolds Deer Forum took place in January and was attended by over 30 woodland and local landowners.  The aim of the forum was to raise awareness of the impacts of deer and what is needed to be done to reduce their impact. Feedback following the event was very positive and a number of actions agreed to take forward.
     
  • The work of the Cotswolds ancient woodland and farmland bird projects was sustained through the appointment of a new Farming and Woodland Adviser.  This new role is divided between promoting and implementing Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) on farmland within the Cotswolds Farmland Bird Project Area and encouraging landowners to join the English Woodland Grant Scheme (EWGS) within the Cotswolds Ancient Woodland Priority Area. Last year, work was undertaken towards the submission of 3 HLS and 11 EWGS schemes, covering over 1,000 Ha and worth more than £93,000.
     
  • Our work on climate change progressed with the appointment of a climate change officer in January for a new two-year post funded through the National Grid Gas Pipeline Project.  The new officer is working with farms and small rural businesses promoting climate change mitigation and adaptation measures across the Cotswolds AONB, including local advice and assistance on energy efficiency & micro-generation, feed-in-tariff/ renewable heat incentive and RDPE funding opportunities. A number of carbon footprint audits have been completed for businesses and help is provided to develop business plan/funding applications for RDPE forestry improvement projects.
     
  • Following a successful application to the Ernest Cook Trust by the Board, a new course was launched to help address the shortfall in advanced dry-stone walling skills in the Cotswolds.  The £10,000 grant enabled us to set up a new course to train up wallers in the skills and techniques required to achieve the Lantra Level 3 qualification, which is essential for those wishing to go on to gain the Master Craftsman certificate.
     
  • The foundation of a long term landscape monitoring project using fixed point photography was put in place by last year's student placement, Helena Machova.  The selection of photographic points was guided by the AONB's Landscape Character Assessment and the subsequent Strategy and Guidelines.


SPOTLIGHT

Dry Stone Walling Grant Scheme

The National Grid Dry Stone Walling Grant Scheme has made a huge contribution towards the reinstatement and rebuild of nearly 7km of dry-stone walls throughout the Cotswolds AONB.  One such grant recipient last year was Mr & Mrs Diggleby who received £7,166 towards a total repair cost of £23,887. The grant was awarded in May 2011 to repair 57m of wall at their property in Chedworth as it was in a fairly dilapidated state. The project was completed in March 2012 with the owners delighted to have been offered the support from the fund to enable them to successfully complete this project and enhance their surrounding landscape.

 

Blacksmithing taster days

For centuries the blacksmith was regarded as the most important man in the rural community. In the Cotswolds AONB, it would have been the blacksmith who made and serviced the vast range of iron implements, tools and utensils used on the farm, in the workshop and in the home. In the days before the tractor, when farmers relied upon the horse, the blacksmith also spent much of his time engaged in shoeing and other farrier tasks, particularly on large estates.

Today blacksmiths create both ornamental and functional objects by applying traditional and modern specialist techniques to form, shape and join metals such as steel, iron, brass, copper and bronze. In 2011, we held our first blacksmithing taster days where nine participants learned about the processes involved from instructor and expert blacksmith, Richard Williams. Various techniques were demonstrated, following which participants were able to have a go themselves. The courses were enjoyed by everyone and will be repeated during 2012.