20 years of the Bourne Conservation Group

This article was kindly included by The Bourne Parish in its recent Quarterly Newsletter, published for the Jubilee weekend.

Members of the Church congregation may be aware of The Bourne Conservation Group (BCG) because of the work of its volunteers in the Old Churchyard. The Group’s 20th anniversary in 2022 is a good opportunity to celebrate all its other work and activities in the local area.

The Group was formed initially to carry out much needed maintenance work on behalf of the Councils in patches of local woodland and along the connecting network of footpaths. Once on top of those tasks it became apparent that there were other potential jobs that might be undertaken which would also provide scope for more creative activity. That led in succession to a series of semi- independent projects starting at the area of The Bourne Crossroads, going on to the Community Garden in Middle Bourne Lane, quickly followed in 2008 by the successful work to rescue the Old Churchyard from serious neglect. There the Group was able to apply with confidence the experience gained from its earlier work and to add to its interests the new dimension of the social history of the area as revealed by the lives of the 800 former residents buried there.

Our first project at the Bourne Crossroads, which involved clearance of brambles and invasive species to enable new planting.

One factor common to all those individual projects was the need to pay ever more attention to the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity as the effects of climate change increasingly added to earlier environmental problems such as the of loss of greenspace. The Group has reacted to this by adopting a coordinated approach throughout the local area, working closely with other groups and agencies such as the Surrey Wildlife Trust. Eventually this led in 2019 to a proposal to Councils and other volunteer organisations that a Farnham-wide scheme to produce a Biodiversity Action Plan for the town would be advantageous. This attracted universal support and led to the formation of the Farnham Biodiversity Group to make and implement the Plan. This is a natural follow-on from the excellent work of the Town Council: putting in place its Neighbourhood Plan and achieving outstanding results in the national Britain in Bloom competition. These elements should all contribute to making Farnham a shining example of an environmentally conscious town.

In 2022 BCG continues to work hard at its core business of ensuring all existing sites are maintained in such a way as to support local biodiversity. This means balancing the tidiness that many consider necessary with the natural wildness that allows plants and animals to thrive. Grass verges and hedgerows are good examples of this and places where a light touch is necessary. Good starts have already been made this year in Burnt Hill Wood where footpaths were cleared to assist public access and in the Old Churchyard where some light tree work has been undertaken by a professional contractor to ensure the safety of the site for members of the public. Checks were made to ensure all nest boxes are cleaned out and support given to the re-emergence of frogs, toads and newts into ponds. This includes the annual Toad Watch along Boundary Road in Rowledge on February and March evenings.

In January this year, clearing undergrowth at Burnt Hill Wood. It also illustrates the opportunities we have given to many candidates for the Duke of Edinburgh Awards.

Later in the year the volunteers will return to Compton Fields to pull out any remaining Himalayan Balsam before that aggressive plant over-runs our native wildflowers. While in that area the opportunity will be taken to clear any rubbish from The Bourne stream before it washes into the Wey. The Group will enthusiastically continue to support the work of the Farnham Biodiversity Group especially in helping Swifts and Hedgehogs, two popular species much loved by the public and which have been in sharp decline in recent years.

In addition to this demanding programme of work BCG members hope to find time to celebrate the Group’s 20 years of community service coupled with a drive to recruit new members. Events will include a summer Bioblitz as a check on the biodiversity of a chosen site and an appearance at The Bourne Show in July. Our main celebration is to be an event at St Thomas on the evening of 29th September with special guest speaker the Rt Reverend Chris Herbert. Full details will be announced in due course.