Grassland to Woodland
Hawridge and Cholesbury Commons are just 2 of the more than 200 commons in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Historically, they were mainly used as Summer grazing for a few local people with Commons Rights. Any left over capacity was available for use by the Lord of the Manor who was also responsible for managing the activities.
With less emphasis on agriculture this practice gradually decreased and the open grassland was substantially replaced by the woodland we know today.
With the main priority changing from agricultural to recreational, the focus at Hawridge and Cholesbury has been firstly on encouraging and facilitating access while secondly protecting the sites as conservation areas.
Access - Balancing various interests
I have been priviledged to own Hawridge and Cholesbury Commons for the past 27 years and to have met most local residents through one or other of the societies that use them.
There has to be give and take between walkers, dog walkers, horse riders, cricketers and even tree-lovers and tree-haters! It is a constant balancing act trying to rationalize the various priorities that people have but, on the whole, our major disagreements are few and speedily resolved with good will on all sides.
There are some things on the Commons that, as the owner, I can do or give permission for. However, the main Commons regulations are statutory and can only be altered by the Secretary of State through application to the Planning Inspectorate. Along with the by-laws put in place when the Commons were dedicated in the thirties by the then Lord of the Manor, Malcolm Stewart, these regulations seek to protect Common Land for the future.
Most questions about Commons and current legislation including the various Rights of Common are very well explained on the Chiltern Conservation Board’s Frequently Asked Questions page. Or you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
In 1998 I was visited by Wendy Gray from Bucks Sites of Interest for Nature Conservation to survey my unimproved chalk grassland valley at Hawridge Court Farm. They had been in Countryside stewardship since 1990 and she agreed to also survey the two Commons. This resulted in all three sites becoming County Wildlife sites and since that time we have put extra effort into habitat revival and protection.
With support from the local community, the Hawridge and Cholesbury Commons Preservation Society added several conservation projects to their invaluable maintenance work and now look after the ponds, the special acid grassland habitat and the heather regeneration. These are considered the most important habitats on the Commons.
In addition, I have spent the last four years working with the Forestry Commission to produce, and begin implementation of, a long term plan for the wooded areas. Coppicing was chosen for parts of the woodland in the hope that it can become self sustaining in the future and can be safely managed by local volunteers in a way that is not possible with the very large tree work.
Regular tree inspections are carried out to ensure that any near the highways, rides and houses are safe as far as can be ascertained. Fortunately, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act has put more emphasis on users of open access sites to act responsibly.
So many people have helped with the management of the Commons over the years. Successive committees of the Commons Preservation Society, with support from its many members, have allowed me to keep decisions about the Commons in the hands of local people.
Of the many organisations we deal with, the four that stand out during my time are the Chilterns Conservation Board (Kath Daly and Rachel Sanderson), the Forestry Commission (Richard Pearce), John Morris, Chiltern Woodlands Project and the now closed Bucks County Council Biodiversitygroup (Julia Carey and Andy McVeigh). These people have a passion for conservation management which is highly infectious and our Commons have gained hugely from their input over the years.
It is also to these specialists that we turn when disputes about management arise locally. From them we obtain the most up to date advice on the best long term interest of the site and proceed accordingly.