In 2000 the Trust on behalf of the Western Association (WA) constructed and submitted a successful bid to the Department of the Environment Transport and Regions (DETR) for project funding from their Environmental Action Fund. This project allowed the Western Association to distribute some £9500 to each of the partner groups (Avon RIGS Group, Gloucestershire Geoconservation, Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust, Oxfordshire RIGS Group, Shropshire RIGS Group, Warwickshire Geological Conservation Group and Wiltshire RIGS Group) for their share of the combined workload of the Association programme. The total project costs including ‘in kind’ matched funding was £136,000 of which DETR contributed 50%. The project has been innovative in being the first example of a collaborative bid to achieve a joint goal by local geoconservation groups in the UK. It has proved an unqualified success and has not only lead to the WA making further joint funding it has hopefully, encouraged other groups around the country to follow this same route.
The project objectives were to accelerate the rate of RIGS designations, to research, record and designate a total of 300 RIGS within the Western Association area and to produce proposals for educational and recreational use of RIGS. This was an innovative project because it was the first funding application of its type and the first regional approach to RIGS funding in England. Furthermore it incorporated a fast-track designation process and monitoring system and gave a major boost to the concept of Geodiversity.
The WA quickly established a management team to oversee the smooth delivery of the project objectives and targets. This comprised the following; Peter Oliver, Mark Campbell, Mike Windle, Andrew Jenkinson, Andrew Matheison, Maurice Rogers and Gilbert Green. Meetings were held at either Worcester or Frombridge in Gloucestershire every month and these were used to approve expenditure and site recording targets along with all other project and decision making business. Early progress saw the appointment of 7 project officers and the establishment of 5 new computers and software at county centres. The regular meetings were also useful for the appointed project officers to share best practice experience and discuss issues and problems with the project. There were quarterly reviews of target performance against pre-set levels for site recording, expenditure, volunteer input staff costs. The management team also discussed other geoconservation issues, future funding bids and work programmes. These meetings were also used as opportunities for internal training seminars. These focused on database recording, conservation and group development.
The project suffered badly in the first 6 months from the access restrictions imposed by the “foot and mouth” outbreak in spring/summer 2001. However the project management team successfully restructured the work programme so that all objectives were still met in the original time frame. The legacy left behind has been significant. The individual groups are both organisationally and financially more secure. For some the steady income to a dedicated project officer over a 12 month period allowed their individual groups to grow and expand their horizons. The regular meetings and working relationships also allowed for an adoption of “best practice” methods and other shared experiences.
There has been a significant increase in the number of Regionally Important Geological Sites (RIGS) in the eight counties – a 60% increase. These sites will feature in future interpretation projects and conservation work. An additional benefit has been the recording databases, which in some cases have been established for the first time. All the partner groups have digital recording software on their individual group databases. This collaboration will lead to further standardisation of the WA recording software and standards and the database hardware supplied by the project will be a further legacy for years to come.
The WA committee made 4 recommendations following the completion of the project:
- All RIGS should be monitored on a regular basis preferably more frequently than the 6 yearly visit to SSSIs. An assessment of the condition of the site should be made no less frequently than every 3 years (funding permitting!).
- All sites should be subject to maintenance work for such matters as vegetation, fly tipping, vandalism, scree and soil encroachment and development.
- The local heritage of these RIGS should be brought to the attention of the local authority and community groups.
- Approaches should be made to DEFRA (Department for Environment, food and Rural Affairs) seeking recognition of the importance of RIGS in the framework of Geodiversity and the Department should be encouraged to provide funding to cover the activities of groups engaged in surveying and selecting RIGS and in the work specified above.
Lack of funding in the past had resulted in the designation of only 550 RIGS in the Western Association area in the preceeding 10 years. Following the success of this project, the designation of an additional 330 RIGS (10% more than required in the contract) in one year is a major advance and contribution to the Geodiversity programme. Without funding and support from DETR this would not have been possible.
The project shows that with funding members of the Western Association can carry out important and efficient surveying and designation of RIGS and make substantial progress in the task of completing county wide recording of the stratigraphy, petrology, palaeontology and geomorphology of these 8 counties. The success of this project shows that local geoconservation groups are capable of delivering highly competent and cost effective solutions to the issue of local involvement in land conservation. Furthermore the project has demonstrated the need for an organisation to provide the landscape designation and monitoring service that only local geoconservation groups can provide. These organisations act as a complimentary balance to the work and service provided by the Wildlife Trusts and as such are becoming an indispensable part of the conservation movement.