A project to enhance urban meadows and forest habitats while improving people’s health is about to be launched in Swindon.
Swindon Borough Council has teamed up with the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust (WWT) to deliver the three-year programme, the Forest Meadows Project, which will include 12 sites within the borough covering more than 170 hectares.
Most of the meadow and forest sites are located along the corridor of the River Ray, but the project will also link to other areas including Sevenfields, the Lawns and WWT reserves.
The project, which is being funded by the council with £80,000 in Section 106 developer contributions and other biodiversity grants, will be led by WWT, who will work with the council, parish councils and local community groups.
It will involve sustaining existing meadows by establishing annual maintenance programmes to form traditional ‘hay meadows’ as well as more intensive management of other sites such as stripping existing vegetation and re-sowing and planting wildflowers.
Grazing animals such as cattle could also be introduced on some of the sites in order to improve biodiversity and sustain the management of the sites.
Some community groups, such as those in Highworth, Hreod Burna and Rivermead, already manage the sites and the project will support them to improve their meadows and hopefully recruit new members.
On sites where there is limited or no current community activity, such as at Mouldon Hill, WWT and the council will work with parish councils to establish new community groups.
One of the main focuses of the project will be to link in with existing health and wellbeing groups in Swindon to encourage their members to get involved in a wide range of activities from the sowing and planting of wildflowers through to the biological monitoring of sites for wildlife such as butterflies and moths.
WWT Chief Executive Dr Gary Mantle MBE said: “We are delighted to enter into this three-year project with Swindon Borough Council, and look forward to working with parishes and local groups. This comes at a time of increasing public concern about and demand for action on a range of critical environmental issues, including loss of wildlife, the decline in insects (particularly pollinators), climate change, and a heightened awareness of the importance of the natural world for our health and wellbeing.
“The Trust has been active in managing land for wildlife in Swindon for over 40 years and community engagement has always been at the heart of this effort. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to consolidate this effort in a focussed way through the Forest Meadows Project."
Councillor Gary Sumner, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning, said: “This is a wonderful project which has so many benefits attached to it.
“On the one hand there is the work to enrich our wildlife habitats, while on the other there are opportunities for local people to get involved in a community project in their area and have the chance to experience the health and wellbeing benefits that are associated with working outdoors in a calm and relaxing environment.
“I am particularly delighted we will be enhancing the meadows we already have by sowing and planting new wildflowers. We have already planted wildflowers on some of our roundabouts and I am keen we boost our local ecosystems by ensuring they form part of the landscaping for the junction improvements at the New Eastern Villages.”