Chairman’s Report 


There is only one way to start my report in this, our 50th anniversary year, which is to thank all those who have done so much to maintain and improve the Commons over that long period of time. There will never be complete agreement amongst local residents about how such an important and popular area of land should be managed, but throughout those years, we have tried to stick to the guiding principles of the Society, and balance the needs of the human and non-human users. The humans have voices and can tell us what they want (and frequently do!); the animals, insects, trees and plants cannot. So our responsibility, in collaboration with Christine Stott, is to ensure that their needs are met too.

So many people have contributed to this process over the years, that it would be impossible to mention them all tonight, which is a good reason why we decided to go one better than that, and invite all those who could come, to a special event held a few weeks ago at the cricket club. In organising this event, we relied heavily on the club’s Chair, Brian Ralphs and on Richard Vasey, who both gave very generously of their time and practical skills. Whenever a problem arose, with the marquee or the flooring or whatever, Richard would go quiet, and while the rest of us were still wondering what to do about it, he would pop up a few minutes later, saying. ‘OK, that’s sorted – what’s next?!’

Also, the event could not have taken place without excellent catering from Mark Hobbs and his family, a superb team of organisers and marquee decorators and some of the tastiest sausages I’ve ever eaten, courtesy of John and Ann Caple!

It was wonderful to see so many past Chairs, committee members and other supporters there, and to be able to reminisce with them about the early days. The guest list of helpers and their partners totalled around 200. Joan Walton entertained us with her own reflections, having chaired the inaugural meeting in this very hall, just over 50 years ago! Equally, it was very special to see Ron How, an early and very influential Chair, and Ann Knowles-Brown, the widow of our very first Chair – Peter. At 90 years of age, she came all the way from her home in Scotland to be with us, and brought with her, her two delightful twin daughters, Lindsey and Clare. Some of you may remember them all living at Braziers End Farm – coincidentally where Lesley and I live now.

That event also allowed us to thank Christine, who had no idea that we were also going to mark her own anniversary -  this year she completed 30 years ownership of the Commons. I think we suitably embarrassed her with a glowing speech from Lindsay and two gifts. Afterwards, Christine told me that, in praising her, Lindsay had not described her as she really was, but how we would all like her to be. I disagree. Christine is a hugely positive force for good on the Commons and we are very lucky to have someone like her in charge.

All in all, this was not a cheap event to run, but due to an excellent raffle, brisk sales of mugs and other merchandise, managed by Veronica Mash, and some extremely generous donations, the whole event turned a small profit to be added to our funds.

In managing the Commons, we often say that the last year has been a very busy one for the Society. Well 2017 has been no exception. In fact, we should probably stop saying this, because it will always be the case. And, maybe it is timely that our 50th year should give us all pause for thought to consider whether we are doing things the best way. This year, we were challenged by Wesley Mitchell’s serious illness, which required us to rethink our cutting regime. More important, of course, than any of our worries, was the effect on Wesley and his family – we wish them all well with his continuing recovery. In addition, that stalwart leader of our practical volunteering effort, Isobel Clark, found herself called away frequently by domestic responsibilities.

However, as is often the case in such circumstances, people stepped up to the plate to support the society and the community. Richard Bysouth, in particular, has become an increasing support to Isobel this year, helping to revise our procedures to ensure that conservation volunteers continue to operate safely and within clear guidelines.

This year, James Joliffe has also helped us a great deal by cutting the bracken and open grassland. James has huge experience and expertise, and gives generously of his time to discuss and agree a maintenance regime that is both effective and cost-effective. We have received several positive comments about the appearance of the Commons after his work this Autumn, and we are jointly planning a greater role for him next year. The secret is to ensure that contractors and volunteers alike, are asked to carry out work appropriate to their abilities and availability.

In addition, Christine’s forestry work has continued, and the area around the top ride is now benefitting from more space and light. This will result in more tasks for the Society, including stump grinding next year and increased scrub clearance where the extra light encourages more growth.

We continue to be very active on the Commons, and to make every attempt to preserve and improve them as an amenity for the community and a haven for wildlife. So I am particularly sorry that personal circumstances mean that I have decided to cut short my role as Chair after only one year. This was not my intention when I took over, and I apologise for any difficulties that this has caused to Christine and the Society. However, I have agreed to stand for at least one more year as a committee member, and the Society is fortunate to have very experienced candidates in Lindsay Griffin and David Barnard, willing to stand as Chair and Vice-Chair respectively – but more of that later.

I started with thanks and I will end with them too –  firstly to Lindsay, who has been a huge support as Vice-Chair this year, and also to the committee. It has been a pleasure working with you all, and in particular, Ben our Treasurer, Isobel who manages the conservation work, Veronica who is looking after the website and Janet, our Minutes Secretary. Between them, they do a huge amount behind the scenes to keep the show on the road. And then there are the tractor drivers, the litter pickers, the photographers, designers and sponsors of our calendar, and you, our members, whose subscriptions keep us going. And there are many other members of our Hilltop community who do a great deal to support us. Thank you to all of you. 


David Dennis