NIA grant awarded: £555,090
Additional resources provided by this NIA: £505,149
The Marlborough Downs NIA covers 10,370 ha of chalk downland and lies to the south of Swindon and within the North Wessex Downs AONB.
Progress from year one of the NIA can be found in this summary: (100kb).
It is a Higher Level Stewardship target area and a priority catchment area. It contains several SSSIs, County (Local) Wildlife Sites, an NNR, an LNR and the Avebury World Heritage Site. Despite decades of conservation effort, many of these habitats are at best stable and at worst in decline. The NIA will support and supplement existing efforts by delivering more, on a bigger scale with better management of more joined up habitat.
Uniquely, this project has been designed by the farmers of the Marlborough Downs. We believe that this farmer-led, bottom-up approach will lead to far greater and more wide-reaching benefits as a result of the “ownership” conferred on us by this project. An initial survey of farmers has confirmed an extremely high level of commitment.
We have identified six key objectives to support our aims and to improve the condition and connectivity of the ecological network of the area, and to re-connect people to the landscape of the Marlborough Downs.
Water is a scarce commodity on the Downs and it acts as a magnet for wildlife. We want to create a necklace of traditional clay-lined dewponds as stepping stones for wildlife, linked by corridors of wildflower-rich habitat. This will also reconnect the chalk grassland resource by linking between these wildlife sites.
Butterfly numbers have declined in the area and we want to restore the downland species of national and local importance by providing nectar-rich habitat across the landscape. Alongside this, we will create nesting and feeding habitats for farmland birds, and set aside areas for arable plants.
We will achieve widespread best practice in wildlife management by sharing knowledge, experience, successes and mistakes, and offer training where it is needed. We want the Downs to be recognised as a “Centre of Excellence” for wildlife management.
All delivery will be led by or involve farmers, supported by relevant specialists, volunteers and a contracted project manager. NIA funding will provide an initial financial contribution to enable farmers to deliver. For example, fencing materials will allow a farmer to re-introduce grazing; wildflower seed will enable grassland restoration; species workshops will deliver training to allow farmers to monitor the impact of their activities. We will also work with students, young people who are not necessarily in education, employment or training, and local communities to encourage more involvement in the countryside and to promote greater awareness of landscape, wildlife and farming.
By being involved in the planning, delivery and monitoring of every element of the project we are confident that activities begun in the three year lifespan will continue in the longer term. We will explore opportunities to continue to deliver additional biodiversity and community benefits including biodiversity offsetting and payments for ecosystem services.
We anticipate that the relationships developed during the project will continue beyond the life of the project and the shared commitment in improving the nature of the Marlborough Downs will have a long-lasting impact on the area.