The Greensand Trust Quarterly Report: April - June 2021

Patron recognised in Birthday Honours

The Greensand Trust was incredibly proud to see its co-founder, patron and former chairman of Trustees honoured by Her Majesty the Queen for Services to Wildlife and Conservation in Bedfordshire in the Queen's Birthday Honours 2021. Congratulations Peter Smith MBE!

Partnerships and Development Projects

We continue to play a lead role within the Greensand Country Landscape Partnership (GCLP), a £2.6m National Heritage Lottery Funded (NLHF) initiative jointly led with the Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity (BRCC).

In this quarter we have:

  • Announced Clophill Preschool our Greensand Country Champions of the environment, in recognition for their efforts in playing and learning and making a difference to their environment – they refill water bottles, compost waste and collect rainwater to save resources and look out for wildlife on their local walks when they’re not busy growing fruit and vegetables to eat on their
  • Delivered accredited courses in brush cutting, ATV use & chipper use, to enhance the skills of those working in Greensand
  • Continued to develop as a shared website to promote the Greensand Country area and its organisations and businesses and provide useful information for visitors and locals wishing to access or learn more about the area and its facilities.
  • Led a guided walk on a new Historic Parkland Trail in the Aspley Guise area as part of the Greensand Country Festival in May.

The NLHF funding for this programme is now in its final year, however a ‘forward plan’ has been developed and approved by the Partnership with the shared vision of:

A strong partnership to care for and protect the distinctive, beautiful and much-loved landscape of Greensand Country, for the benefit of everyone.

The Greensand Trust will provide the ‘home’ for the Future GCLP, given the Partnership’s vision mirrors our own. We hope that this Partnership will add real value to our work and provide greater opportunities for the Greensand Country area.

The Greensand Trust has been in the very final stages of legal negotiations to secure Clophill Lakes, 118ha of former fuller’s earth quarry which is being transferred into the Greensand Trust’s care by L&Q Estates, via an enabling development of 50 houses to be built by Hayfield Holmes.

The Trust is committed to establishing Clophill Lakes as a new nature reserve in the heart of the Flit Valley. Once secured, the Trust will begin establishment of the Nature Reserve which we expect to open to the public in early 2023.


The Trust is to launch a Clophill Lakes Appeal to raise funds for the establishment of the new Nature Reserve. Whilst some funds have been awarded via the planning process for the enabling development, and in June we secured further funds for interim facilities via Rural Development Programme, more support is needed to ensure the site is both protected and made sustainable through its establishment.

Working with the Wildlife Trust and BRCC under the auspices of the Upper & Bedford Ouse Catchment Partnership, we were successful in obtaining funding from Anglian Water via the Cambridge Community Foundation to tackle invasive non-native Himalayan balsam along stretches of the Rivers Flit and Ivel.

We ran a fundraiser on our on-line Heron Watch, with a donate button on the website. Public donations at sites have been extremely low as our buildings have been closed or with limited access during the pandemic.


As anticipated, from April onwards the demand for education visits returned - very quickly, not gradually as hoped! The easing of restrictions, development of class bubbles in schools to deal with Covid and much teacher frustration led to last minute bookings that have been difficult to manage, plan and deliver with limited staffing. Our wonderful team of education volunteers have stepped in and supported delivery wherever they can (volunteering nearly 100 hours of time between them) and other staff members have also helped out when needed. The need for education team expansion is now clearly apparent, however there has not yet been time to plan for this.

Formal education sessions have been delivered to 21 different classes since 24th May with a total of 560 children participating. A woodland birthday party and an event for special educational needs children have also been delivered in this period. An emphasis on end of term ‘reward’ visits has been noted with teachers replacing their usual (and currently impossible) residential trips. Demand has exceeded delivery capacity so some visits have either had to be self-led or postponed to autumn term. Map skills, orienteering, fire lighting and shelter building have been popular themes at Rushmere and the Working Woodlands Centre over the more traditional curriculum linked sessions and significant use has been made of Rushmere’s fenced private teaching areas over the public areas.

Access Development

For several years we have been working on a project with Flitton & Greenfield to develop a new surfaced route connecting Flitton, Greenfield and Ruxox, and install a new cycling and horse-friendly bridge over the Flit, and this has finally been completed. The work was funded by the CBC Planning Obligations Fund. The project has created over 800m of surfaced, multi-user route suitable for people of all abilities and has gone down really well in the parishes, improving people’s access to the countryside when it has been most needed.

The Trust is working in partnership with Central Bedfordshire Council and the BRCC to develop further Green Wheels in the area over the next two years. Green Wheels are a network of access routes and linked green spaces that create a circular route (rim) around towns or villages, with a series of ‘spokes’ linking the centre to the surrounding countryside, helping facilitate both leisure and utility (work, school, shopping) usage, encouraging people to leave their cars at home so reducing congestion and pollution. The first stage of this project will be to create three new Green Wheel ‘Masterplans’ which set out the vision and detail of potential Green Wheels.

Biodiversity and Heritage

KDK Archaeology, a local company based in Leighton Buzzard visited our Sandy Smith Nature Reserve to investigate and record masonry that we had found in the woodland area. The site was formerly part of the Chicksands Priory Estate and the archaeologists think that the masonry is the remains of an early-mid 19th century folly in the style of a classical mausoleum.

We were pleased to see more flowering spikes of the Greater Broomrape at Maulden Heath this year. This unusual parasitic plant is classified as Nationally Scarce and in Bedfordshire is now only found at Maulden and Stockgrove.

We worked with the Ampthill Climate Change Group on their Ampthill Buzz project, which aims to improve verges and areas of amenity grass in the town for pollinators and other wildlife. We wrote a Conservation Management Plan for the project and helped devise a monitoring scheme for the plots.

On-line Heron Watch from Rushmere continued this year with volunteers observing and recording activity. The best estimate for maximum occupied nests at the height of the season was 17. The best estimate for the number of herons successfully fledged this season was 12/16. Five nests definitely failed, three at an advanced stage and one nest failed before hatching.

Ten ecological consultancy surveys/reports were carried out during this period, mostly Preliminary Ecological Assessments but also Protected Species Surveys. Sites have ranged from normal residential properties to Woburn Abbey and have been located in Beds, Bucks and Milton Keynes.

Survey work has continued to inform the development of a Clophill Lakes Management Plan. The Beds Invertebrate Group paid a visit to the site, skylark surveys were carried out and local dragonfly and herpetological experts are making a number of visits over the summer.

It has been a good season for orchids. At Sandhouse NR there were really good numbers of pyramidal, common spotted and bee orchids. These species are also present at Sandy Smith NR where increasing numbers of pyramidal orchids are being seen each year as the site develops. At Maulden Heath the green-winged orchids that were seen for the first time last year reappeared once again.

The area of Stanbridge Meadows CWS previously leased to the Trust has now been formally transferred to us as part of the agreement set up when the former RAF base was developed. This means that the whole of the County Wildlife Site is now within Trust ownership.

Volunteering and Community Engagement

With restrictions being lifted allowing larger groups to meet outside, we have been able to invite new Practical and Conservation volunteers to join our regular practical volunteer teams at tasks. The waiting list is gradually decreasing but more enquiries are being received. Our new Ouzel Valley warden volunteer has proved reliable and invaluable. She hopes to also join Practical and Conservation tasks when her time allows. The Education team has welcomed a new volunteer who is also very keen to help with Visitor Services.

At Rushmere several Visitor Service volunteers are waiting to return. Pre-Covid our VS volunteers were based inside the Centre. The majority of our visitors do not come into the Visitor Centre and so often ‘miss out’ on information. With this in mind, and to create a safer environment, we would like VS volunteers to have a larger visual presence outside, actively engaging with visitors. We are currently working on content for three guided walks that our VS volunteers will be able to lead.

Signage around the Park can be confusing for our visitors and one of our volunteers is carrying out a thorough sign audit. This will help to identify areas and routes that require up-dated, clearer information. During June a work experience student joined the ranger team for a week and has continued to support Rushmere Country Park in a volunteer Ranger role. A local resident who regularly runs in the Park has become a volunteer Site Warden, checking areas in the Park and reporting any issues to the ranger team.

The Parishes Group has been re-started at Rushmere – issues discussed included overcrowding issues and traffic problems as well as plans to re-open the café, small events and Parkrun.

The Friends of Knolls Wood met at Rushmere. We continue to work closely with town and parish councils throughout our area.

Facilities and associated activities

Rushmere has seen continued busy periods at weekends but a return to more normal visitor numbers during weekdays. There is currently a Visitors Service desk at the front of the atrium so we can guide visitors to the catering areas. When Covid-19 restrictions allow we plan to move the visitor services desk further back into the atrium so that it can be used for the usual visitor services information and retail.

The Hatch has continued to serve takeaway food with outdoor seating available nearby for users. We also slowly opened up the decking area at the Visitor Centre, and then the café, when it was safe to do so. Numbers using these areas were low at first but are slowly increasing. New fencing has been installed around the terrace area at the front of the café and it is planned to open up this area for the summer holidays. The industry-wide shortage of staff means we are finding it difficult to recruit a new chef.

Together with younger members of the catering team having to self-isolate after being pinged by Track and Trace, it means the team is very stretched at the moment.

We have been finalising infrastructure for the new ANPR system. Engineers have been working hard to install fibre, electrics and new barriers. New signage is ready for when we are in a position to go live. Payment machines have been installed and engineers have been fine tuning the system. 

As Covid restrictions lifted and school visits to the Working Woodlands Centre resumed we revised working practices at the WWC, increasing cleaning operations and installing hand dryers which should be more environmentally friendly and in the long term more cost effective.

Since May, a franchise of the Really Awesome Coffee company has one of their vans present at the WWC at weekends to serve visitors to Maulden Wood, for which the Trust receives a financial contribution. This has resulted in an increase in visitors to the WWC site at weekends and we are currently working on improvements to signage to ensure the site is used appropriately. 

In June a litter pick was carried out in the Deadman’s Hill Lay-by and edge of Maulden Wood as part of this year’s Great British Spring Clean. 15 bags of litter were collected in a couple of hours by two staff members and two volunteers. We have also been liaising with PC Simon Lee, part of Beds

Police’s Response Investigation Team, who has been running an anti-social behaviour deterrent project in the lay-by which he hopes will become a longer term operation with longer term resolutions. They have updated patrols, using marked and unmarked vehicles, undertaken footpatrols, put up signage, posted on social media and spoken to many lay-by users advising them of the problems. They are liaising with Forestry England and Highways England to consider CCTV and further signage.


The summer issue of Highlights went out via e-mail to over 1000 recipients. It included both news on recent items of interest, such as the re-opening of the Rushmere Café and the transfer of the final part of Stanbridge Meadows to our ownership, while also advertising upcoming training events and a new Youth Ranger scheme for the autumn.

Recent press coverage centred on the winners of the Greensand Champion scheme and our former Chairman of Trustees receiving his MBE. The latter was covered particularly well with articles in Biggleswade Today, Leighton Buzzard On-Line and Leighton Buzzard Today.

On social media, the Trust’s Rushmere Facebook Page reach increased by 12% this quarter to 25,784 followers. The top performing Facebook post was one about not picking bluebells. Google Search analysis for this period showed the most popular pages of our website to be Heron Watch and also the pages giving access information for our busiest sites – Rushmere, Ampthill and Aspley.

You can download a copy of this report here