16 April 2014

Marlborough Downs Project lifts the spirit of local RDA and Help for Heroes carriage drivers

Farmer-led consortium brings a smile to carriage driving heroesThe Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area (MDNIA) is a unique farmer-led project that forms part of a government initiative launched in 2012. Involving over 40 farms and encompassing an area of over 25,000 acres of Wiltshire farmland, the project aim is to create joined-up habitats and initiatives that will boost wildlife as well as encouraging community involvement from local people.

A direct beneficiary of the project is the Kennet Valley Carriage Driving Group (KVCD). Jilly Carter, who is one of the farmers within the MDNIA and hosts the Kennet Valley Carriage Driving Group RDA (Riding for the Disabled Association) at her farm on the Downs at Rockley, is thrilled that so many farmers are supporting the RDA carriage driving. She said, “Being part of the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area enables me to have an immediate connection with the other farmers in the Downs. This means that I have access to miles and miles of open country for the benefit of the RDA drivers who can learn to control a horse and carriage under the same conditions as an able-bodied person. This is something that is rare for those with disabilities and having the run of this beautiful countryside never fails to lift the spirits of RDA drivers and their volunteer helpers alike.”

Through the MDNIA initiative the Kennet Valley Carriage Driving group has been able to offer wounded, injured and sick serving personnel and veterans, who are receiving support from the renowned charity, Help for Heroes, an opportunity to try carriage driving and enjoy a visit to the Marlborough Downs as a part of the rolling recovery programme at Help for Heroes run Recovery Centre, Tedworth House.

As a further boost to the Kennet Valley Carriage Driving Group, the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area recently applied for and won funding to carry out vital repair work on tracks, giving the RDA carriage drivers even wider access to the extensive project area. A generous £15,000 grant has been awarded to the MDNIA through the Landfill Communities Fund which is administered by Community First. Any shortfall in funding will be met by the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area.

Dr Jemma Batten, who manages the Marlborough Downs NIA project is delighted that it is having such wide-ranging benefits. She said, “The smiling faces of the local RDA drivers and the visiting wounded, injured and sick serving personnel and veterans as they independently take to the road for the first time is a testament to the success of this unique farmer-led partnership.”

The MDNIA recently celebrated the second anniversary of this three-year project. Working with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and Wiltshire Council, this landscape-scale initiative is delivering many inspiring and unique benefits for wildlife and people on and around the Marlborough Downs.

The farmers within the MDNIA are all hugely enthusiastic that their efforts to increase biodiversity have so far led to the creation of special tree sparrow villages and the construction of a necklace of dewponds across the Downs. In addition a wide range of habitat management for the benefit of biodiversity has been implemented and a network of willing local volunteers to help achieve the project aims has been established. The whole project is supported by a detailed monitoring programme which will help to measure and record the environmental benefits of this extensive conservation project being undertaken across this spectacular Downland landscape.


Photocaption:  Farmer-led consortium brings a smile to carriage driving heroes.


Notes to editors:

The Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area (MDNIA) is part of a Government initiative to improve nature conservation in the countryside on a big scale. Of the 12 pilot Nature Improvement Areas created in 2012, the MDNIA is the only one that is led by a group of farmers.

The MDNIA is a partnership that also includes The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and Wiltshire Council. It is also working with groups like the Wiltshire Ornithological Society, Butterfly Conservation, Wiltshire Botanical Society, the Wildlife Sites Project and many others to ensure that what they do is good conservation that helps to achieve common goals. More information can be obtained from the website: www.mdnia.org.uk

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) – providing research-led conservation for a thriving countryside. The GWCT is an independent wildlife conservation charity which has carried out scientific research into Britain’s game and wildlife since the 1930s. We advise farmers and landowners on improving wildlife habitats and we lobby for agricultural and conservation policies based on science. We employ 14 post-doctoral scientists and 50 other research staff with expertise in areas such as birds, insects, mammals, farming, fish and statistics. We undertake our own research as well as projects funded by contract and grant-aid from Government and private bodies. The Trust is also responsible for a number of Government Biodiversity Action Plan species and is lead partner for grey partridge and joint lead partner for brown hare and black grouse. The GWCT, through its Chief Executive, Teresa Dent, was instrumental in the setting up of the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area in 2012 and continues to assist the farmers with on-going farmland biodiversity advice and training. For Information, contact: Morag Walker – Head of Media, Telephone – direct-dial: 01425-651000. Mobile – 07736-124097 www.gwct.org.uk

The Kennet Valley Carriage Driving Group (Registered charity 1074359) is a self-funding charity based at Rockley, near Marlborough offering disabled adults and their volunteer helpers a unique opportunity to learn new skills while enjoying the beautiful downs. For information contact: Maggie Lewis 0845 241 5396 or kennetvalleydrivinggroup@gmail.com