Common Connections project gets green light

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South Gloucestershire Council’s Cabinet has given approval for a new £1.26 million project to increase, improve and better connect important habitats for nature and plant over 6,000 new trees to help address biodiversity decline.

‘Common Connections’ will include habitat and access improvements across 67 green spaces in the Kingswood area of South Gloucestershire, with a further 21 sites also seeing benefits.

The four-year project will see enhancements made to links between registered common land, unimproved grasslands, woodlands and associated habitats along the South Gloucestershire/Bristol border. There will be extensive tree planting, wildflower sowing and conservation of priority unimproved grassland habitats along with pond creation and restoration. Grazing will be also reintroduced to parts of Siston Common.

The project additionally aims to raise awareness of conservation and biodiversity, and encourage people to visit the sites for their health and wellbeing benefits.

Leader of South Gloucestershire Council with Cabinet Responsibility for Climate Change Cllr Toby Savage said: “South Gloucestershire’s green spaces are some of our most beloved places in local communities and I’m delighted to see this excellent project given the go ahead.

“We hope that by restoring natural habitats and better connecting the Commons with other green spaces nearby, nature will be helped to thrive. This enhanced infrastructure of better-connected green spaces, managed in ways that support nature’s diversity of plants, insects and animals will also increase the area’s resilience to the impacts of climate change.

“Visiting green spaces and contact with nature provides a huge boost to our health and wellbeing. To help people enjoy our green spaces, we will be improving some popular footpaths and site entrances, as well as providing more benches so that visitors can rest and enjoy their experiences.

“In some areas, residents will also be able to apply for free tree saplings, wildflower seeds and nesting boxes, to bring more nature into their gardens and help to ensure nearby green spaces are better connected.”

The focal points of the Common Connections project are the Siston Commons and other registered commons in the area. The project area extends from Lyde Green in the north to Willsbridge in the south, from Wick in the east to Kingswood and Staple Hill in the west. A diverse range of sites are included in the project, from the large, registered commons and parks, to grass verges and green areas alongside footpaths within housing estates. A total of 88 sites are included in the project with 67 of these earmarked for improvements. The remaining 21 will benefit from changes to their management and being better recognised for their existing wildlife value and role in improving connectivity across this rich tapestry.

Over 6,000 trees will be planted, some as stand-alone features, some to create shady avenues along paths or to provide new community orchards, others as dense thickets or as new hedges and field boundaries. Existing ponds will be enhanced, and new seasonal and permanent ponds will provide interesting new features and a boost for the area’s aquatic species. Nesting boxes, habitat piles, hedgehog corridors and the removal of barriers such as old fence lines will all help wildlife to move more freely through the area and find the space, shelter and food they need to expand their numbers.

Ten schools from the local area are signed up to participate in the project and will be supported to learn about the importance of nature and biodiversity, create more spaces for nature in their school grounds and contribute to nature conservation in their area. Several local volunteer groups will also be participating, helping to implement changes to their sites and providing opportunities for local residents to get involved, helping wildlife in the area, learning new skills and having fun meeting and working alongside people who share their interest and concern.

Chair of the Friends of Siston Commons James Hackett said: “The Friends of Siston Commons are delighted with the news of the award and look forward to working with South Gloucestershire Council to deliver a project that helps to address biodiversity decline. The Friends of Siston Commons want to foster a vibrant and flourishing community by making full use of all the opportunities available on the commons. There’s plenty of work to do, so anyone wishing to join the group is sure of a warm welcome.”

In the coming weeks and months, the council will work with partners, schools, friends groups, resident groups and individuals, to refine and develop plans for each site. If you would like to be involved in the project, or just wish to find out more, please telephone 01454 868000 or email nature@southglos.gov.uk

The project will be funded by £125,000 from the council’s climate action plan budget along with £998,973 sourced from the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) and £135,000 in grants.

Additional funding secured

The Friends of Siston Common have additionally been awarded a £50,000 grant by the Enovert Community Trust (ECT) through the ‘Landfill Communities Fund’ to further support the Common Connections project.

South Gloucestershire Council has provided the 10 per cent match funding needed to secure the grant.

Chair of the Friends of Siston Commons James Hackett said: “The Friends of Siston Commons are thrilled to receive this generous funding from Enovert and South Gloucestershire Council and we are looking forward to involving local residents of all ages in helping us to carry out the exciting plans for Siston Park Common which will improve the area for humans as well as wildlife, giving us all hope for the future.

Trust Manager of Enovert Community Trust (ECT) Angela Haymonds said: “Funding projects that contribute towards increasing biodiversity is a priority for the Trustees of ECT and we are delighted to be able to support this important project. ECT’s award of £50k will hopefully open up other funding opportunities to enable significant environmental improvements to be made over the next few years on this site.”