Volunteers are being urged to come forward and protect the Chilterns countryside from some of its biggest threats yet.
Chilterns Conservation Board has cited HS2, uncertainties of the farming and forestry economies and the looming demand as three of the biggest dangers to the area.
Steve Rodrick retired at the end of December after 20 years, first as Area of Natural Outstanding Beauty (AONB) officer and then chief officer of the board. He has worked at protecting and promoting the Chilterns and he leaves his role with one message - volunteer to look after the countryside in these ‘uncertain times’.
He said: “These are the most uncertain times I have seen. The damage HS2 will do is without precedent. Some of the scars of HS2 will heal but that wonderful tranquillity we can enjoy here will be greatly upset.”
The Government has offered £30million for communities between London and Birmingham which will be worst affected by the train line to invest in public projects such as nature conservation.
However Mr Rodrick says this sum is ‘derisory’ as it will be spread across the whole route and not fully compensate the damage sustained by the Chilterns.
“It is only fair and equitable we are giving something in return,” he said. “A lot of the public realm requires public money and that is now in very short supply. There is a danger the quality of the environment we have got will deteriorate.”
He also raises concerns over timber prices and milk prices which are low. This will have a knock-on effect on Bucks’ countryside, he says, because the investment of farmers and foresters ‘keep the rural environment going’.
“The uncertainty over the farming and forestry is severe,” he said. “And the biggest threat we have yet to feel in its full force is the pressure for housing.”
Chiltern District Council (CDC) has determined to allow the construction of up to 2,900 homes by 2026 to help tackle the national housing shortage.
Council spokeswoman Viv Saunders says the housing need will increase in the decade following 2026 and will have to be defined by CDC.
Mr Rodrick added: “We are blessed in the Chilterns to have so many volunteers but it is not enough to make up the shortfall in public funding.
“We need more of that people to give not just their money but their time. It can go a very long way. We do care very much in this part of the world and we will not let the Chilterns go to wreck and ruin, we will do something about it.
“The Chilterns is special not just for local people, it is a nationally protected area. The crowning achievement (over the last 10 years) is the concern among the public. It is only by banding together and looking after it can possibly expect someone else will look after it too.”
The current countryside officer Kath Daly will take up Mr Rodrick’s post in January. This post is temporary and will run for six months after which there will be a recruitment process for a permanent chief officer.
The Chilterns Conservation Board was established 10 years ago this month following the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in 2000 which gave the go-ahead for a new type of independent organisation to care for AONBs.
The 27 members of the body include councillors from every county, district and unitary authority across the Chilterns, as well as representatives of local parishes and members of the public.
Among its achievements are giving support to 201 projects with grants totalling £438,000, established the Chilterns Cycleway and winning more than £0.5 million in grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund for projects on commons, wildlife, history and box woodland.
Visit /www.chilternsaonb.org/about-chilterns/volunteering.html to volunteer.