It is twenty years since, on 15 September 2003, the Blackwater Valley Countryside Trust was incorporated as a limited company. We registered as a charity in 2006.
Dave Pilkington was our founding chairman and treasurer and our initial aim was to tap into funds which public bodies such as the Partnership could not access, and use them to improve the 23-mile Blackwater Valley Path and the Valley environment more generally. Dave’s enthusiasm guided us until his death in 2014, but there have been many others who have donated their time and skills.
Raising funds and supporting projects remain among our key activities. Over the years, fuelled by the various enthusiasms of our trustees and other helpers, we have also taken a more handson approach in some areas. We have contributed over £250,000 (and over £20,000 in small grants to organisations whose aims match our own) and much time and expertise to:
• build and install roosting and nesting boxes for various birds and mammals. This includes 261 bat boxes and 3 hibernacula, 150 dormouse boxes, hedgehog boxes, around 100 swift boxes, and innumerable boxes for other birds;
• enrich the native flora along the Valley, particularly in degraded woodlands;
• improve reed beds;
• erect 50 stumperies where stag beetles can mature;
• resurface paths and install seats and signage along the Valley;
• promote wildlife-rich community gardens and churchyards.
We have organised walks and talks so people can enjoy the environment and learn more about it. Major walks have attracted over 250 participants, many of whom used the walk to raise money for charities. We have provided links between wildlife, access and local interest communities along the Valley, organising the Forum in 2017 and the Blackwater River Festival
Within the last few years, we launched a Rail to Trail campaign to encourage people not only to get out into the countryside more, but to do so using one or more of the railway stations along the Valley. (Of course it would be as beneficial to the environment to use local buses or your own pedal power, rather than drive the car.) We adopted North Camp station in 2021.
With your help we can achieve as much, maybe more, during the next twenty years.
The Trust is pleased to announce it has been awarded £26,000 by Farnborough Airport Community Environmental Fund to support tree planting in Rushmoor. This is a joint project with Rushmoor Council aimed at increasing tree cover in urban areas. We have agreed that the Council can use this amount as match funding for their bid to the Urban Tree Challenge Fund which if successful would significantly increase the funds available.
Lots of us have been out and about enjoying the valley over the Summer months, see just some of the photos below. Share yours with us on our Facebook page!
Under Steve Bailey, the Blackwater Valley Countryside Partnership has been putting up bat boxes since 1990.
As most woodland sites within the Valley are relatively young or immature there are few natural roosting sites for bats. The provision of artificial roosting boxes also has the benefit of allowing us to monitor the bat population in the valley, at least to some degree.
When the Trust was formed one of the annual fundraising subjects was “Homes for Bats”. This enabled us to fund new boxes and also encouraged contributions from other sources such as the Surrey Bat Group, Hampshire Bat Group and some local authorities. The number of bat box projects within the valley was boosted, and altogether there are now 13 bat box schemes along with five development mitigation schemes. Among these are 6 sites with 130 bat boxes which were erected as part of the Trust’s bat box project, plus 3 hibernation sites with another 30 boxes.
We aim to monitor bat boxes regularly to check that we are putting them in the best locations, and to learn about the local bat population. During the covid pandemic monitoring was put on hold as there was a fear that the virus could be passed into the bat population. More recently it has become possible to check boxes again but with strict protocols and of course with the appropriate licence. We decided to try and check all our bat boxes during 2022 – 248 boxes to check, and we added or repaired another 13.
The species most often found in boxes is the Soprano Pipistrelle, Pipistrellus pygmaeus (see right). This bat is closely associated with watery habitats, unlike the Common Pipistrelle, Pipistrellus pipistrellus, which is the species you are likely to see around your house.
The other bat which you will find over water is Daubenton’s Bat, Myotis daubentonii. This is known as the Water Bat. It feeds on insects emerging from the lakes, rivers and canals, and we get them regularly on one site. We have only recorded two other species using our boxes, the Brown long-eared Bat, Plecotus auratus, and Natterer’s Bat, Myotis nattereri.
Bat boxes have proved to be a very important tool for monitoring and probably protecting the local bat population. In the first few years around 5-10% of boxes were used, now at our established sites, it is over 50%. This shows the very real difference that the generous supporters of the BVCT have made to local conservation. Thank you all.
North Camp Station work reaches another milestone.
The fifth phase of the Rail to Trail (R2T) project at North Camp Station has been completed. BVCT and its partners have turned what once was a derelict piece of land on Platform 2 into something not only more aesthetically pleasing but also more environmentally friendly.
Following the adoption of North Camp Station by BVCT under the GWR Station adoption scheme attention soon turned to how the station could be made to look more attractive and passenger friendly. One of many ideas was a proposal to build a wildflower garden. After negotiations between BVCT and Southeast Community Rail Partnership (SCRP), GWR and Network Rail were approached and permissions soon were gained to proceed.
Working with North Camp Matters Community Association (NCMCA), we contacted local landscape company Hortus Paradisi who designed and priced a scheme. Funding was found bringing together a syndicate of sponsors. With the optimal planting season in mind plants and shrubs were ordered.
As excavation on a working platform was not permitted due to the presence of underground services, the project required us to build a raised bed. A detailed survey of services was carried out before we started. All cutting and preparation had to be carried out off site as no power tools were allowed in the vicinity of a live railway track. With the kind permission of the Old Ford public house, materials were delivered to the pub, and assembled in situ. Before this specific safety training for working on a railway property was undertaken; everybody working on site needed to earn their GWR hi-viz jacket and safety certificate as a ‘station friend’.
The first job was to clear the site of existing rubble and unwanted materials. The work started in a very cold snap in January 2023 when the ground was solid and it took some time to get back to a suitable surface to start the new construction.
Sleepers were first put in place, then topsoil, then a membrane topped with bark mulch. All the building materials were sponsored by Kebur Garden Materials Ltd. A special thanks goes to Jo Holtom and the Kebur team for supporting the project.
The final task was to install some wildlife friendly plants to encourage biodiversity to flourish. For the keen gardeners amongst you these were Rhododendron Percy Wiseman, Polystichum setiferum and Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’. The bed was finished off with wildflower turfing.
Planting does not look entirely after itself – another role for volunteers. The planting at the station is currently tended by BVCT, and the Rotary Club of Farnborough will soon have members who are station friends who can assist.
The R2T project has been a true community partnership bringing together individuals and organisations who have a common interest in the environment and well-being. The railway station has acted as a catalyst and there is no reason why this type of initiative cannot be replicated at other railway stations along the North Downs Line, which runs from Reading to Gatwick. If you would like to be involved in similar ideas in your area along the Blackwater Valley, please contact Chris@bvct.org.uk for further information.
The new planting was formally “opened” on 7 June when people who had helped the project came together to celebrate the completion (subject to ongoing maintenance) of this stage.
From left to right in the photograph the people attending on 7 June included: Alan Taylor (BVCT), Peter Bassett (NCMCA), Chris Smith (BVCT), Andy Gallaugher (Senior Duty Manager GWR), Cliff Mosey (Director Kebur Garden Materials Ltd.), Jo Holtom (Kebur Garden Materials Ltd.) Caroline Salmon (SCRP Community Rail Officer, North Downs Line), Alison Andrews (Chair, NCMCA), Bernard Baverstock (BVCT), Cllr. Diane Bedford (Rushmoor Borough Council and Rotary Club of Farnborough), and Steve Bailey (Manager BVCP). Not in the photo but equally important were Clive Ayling (Customer Sales Advisor GWR Ticket Office at North Camp Station), Emily Moore (BVCP), Margaret (manager Old Ford) and David Daniels (retired former SCRP Community Rail Officer, North Downs Line).
RAIL TO TRAIL (R2T) STAYS ON TRACK
This project started as an “interesting opportunity” in March 2019 and has grown into one of the Trust’s key activities. Its primary aim is to encourage people to explore the Blackwater
Valley using sustainable transport and as a result reduce carbon footprints. It has helped the Trust forge many new partnerships as it has gained momentum.
In conjunction with the Southeast Community Rail Partnership and Great Western Railway, our first initiative was to erect poster cabinets to house a map of the Valley with directions to the Valley footpath from four stations along the North Downs Line (Guildford to Reading). The stations are North Camp, Farnborough North, Blackwater, and Sandhurst.
We planned to launch R2T formally in March 2020 with a walk between stations. We had to call this off at the last minute due to the pandemic., but the appetite for the initiative was clearly there to be seen. We intend to arrange a similar walk with a rail dimension sometime in the future.
Next, the Trust formally adopted North Camp Station in 2021 as part of the Community Rail Networks station adoption scheme. This allows the Trust, working with other local groups and associations, to have a say in enhancing the station aesthetically to improve passengers’ experience. We are working in partnership with the North Camp Matters Community
(NCMCA) and have already delivered school artwork installations to the two
The third strand of the project was to design and erect ‘Gateway to the Blackwater Valley’ station platform running-in boards at North Camp, Farnborough North, Blackwater, and Sandhurst. These are now in position.
As part of the promotion of the Trust, the Valley, our conservation objectives and in furtherance of our environmentally friendly and well-being initiatives, we have produced two Rail to Trail circular walk pamphlets from railway stations. The routes link Farnborough North, Blackwater and Sandhurst stations. They can be used for a simple walk from one station to the next or combined to form a circular walk along the Path between the stations returning through the countryside – from around 3 to 14 miles depending on the configuration you choose. These will eventually form part of a series of routes using stations as hubs to enjoy the wonderful countryside and places of interest we have in our neighbourhood.
In May 2023 we completed a landscaping project on one of the platforms at North Camp, sponsored in partnership with Southeast Community Rail Partnership, Kebur Garden Materials, BVCT, NCMCA and the Old Ford Pub. This has been a true community venture.
The potential to use the R2T initiative as a catalyst for other projects in the Valley will depend on available resources – as ever more volunteers would add value! If you want to know more or find out how you can become involved in similar projects, please contact Chris Smith (BVCT Trustee) at email@example.com
BURSTING WITH IDEAS?
Small grants helping you kickstart your project
We love the Blackwater Valley.
It’s our mission to protect our wildlife habitat, enhance our environment and provide a great place for the public to enjoy.
Many groups and organisations along our 22-mile valley share our dreams and goal. Full of great ideas on how to improve their local area, often they just need a little help to get started.
To help kickstart your project, we have introduced a small grants scheme to fund projects for like-minded organisations or groups in the Blackwater Valley.
Together we can achieve more, faster.
Examples of projects we may fund:
Find out more:
Download application forms here:
Would you like to help us to protect nature in our beautiful Valley?
We’ve a great team at the Trust and 2 roles we’d like to fill soon – a treasurer and a fund raiser. Each role involves a few hours a month.
There are opportunities to get involved in other interesting activities, if you wish.
If you’d like to know more about either of the roles above, please contact us.