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Frequently Asked Questions 

Who now owns the field?

Woodlands.co.uk, which in turn is owned by Woodlands Investment Management, a registered company with two employees, assets of £30 million and a turnover of £16million. The main owner is Angus Hanton, an entrepreneur based in Herne Hill South London. 

 

Why does Angus Hanton want this site?

We don't understand his plan. His business model is usually to buy woodland and split it into small plots for individual owners to learn about woodland management and have a nice spot to camp in. He has been told by Natural England that Juniper Hill Field is not suitable for planting and in the sales details he includes a covenant forbidding planting other than 'round the edges'. It is now marketed as an opportunity for owners to conserve grassland.

 

Maybe that's a nice idea?

No. It is not. This is the crux of our campaign - it may sound like conservation but it isn't. This grassland has benefited over the last twenty years from a regime of light grazing and light human use, the result has been a wonderful re-emergence of biodiversity - insects, flora and birds. Because the neighbouring SSSIs are so species rich they have been able to quickly re-establish themselves. It has been a precious example of nature recovery with high hopes of the richness that could build up there in the next decade. All of this is now being destroyed.

 

Why?

With the site criss-crossed by fences, it is no longer feasible to graze it with livestock whose dung is vital to insect life and thus bird populations. The alternative of cutting the grass (which Angus Hanton has suggested but so far has not happened) will damage plants and insects. Over time the field will lose its biodiversity, flowers and insects and thus birds will decline. Already the lack of grazing is leading to bramble encroaching and too many hawthorn saplings emerging. 

 

What do we know about Angus Hanton?

He is a major philanthropist and bought a Georgian house in Dulwich to found an innovative centre for creativity and dyslexia https://www.bellhouse.co.uk He has also set up a thinktank, the Intergenerational Foundation, which has made a passionate statement on climate change https://www.if.org.uk/campaign/a-climate-plea-for-future-generations/ It includes statements such as:

 

 'There can be nothing more vital and pressing than preserving the health and sustainability of our planet. We have a collective responsibility to pass on a healthy planet to the generations who inherit the world after we are gone. We are in serious danger now of failing to fulfil that responsibility.....There is too much short-term thinking. Too often governments are looking at tomorrow’s headlines or the next election while corporations are looking to maximise profits in the next quarter, and continued inaction or half-hearted measures will have huge implications for millions of people’s lives in the future.' 

We have highlighted the phrase above which we think is in total contradiction to the actions of Woodlands.co.uk on Juniper Hill Field.

 

Why not just talk to him - it seems like his heart is in the right place.

He doesn't seem to be listening. Natural England believe this field is vital to conservation in this part of the Cotswolds and they put in a bid to buy the site earlier this summer. He rejected the bid. In a direct conversation earlier this summer he said he was prepared to sell the whole site so we think it comes down to the money. We have asked him twice how much he wants but have had no answer. Meanwhile the first of the five plots is up for sale for £85,000. He originally bought the 20 acre site for just under £200,000; that would be a hefty profit on his  investment.

 

How worried should we be?

We are seriously concerned that Woodlands.co.uk's management of the field has already compromised the biodiversity of the area. The  quarrying, building of a heavy duty track and hard standing and the extensive fencing during the breeding season affected the skylarks as several locals observed. Disturbance of nesting birds is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981.

The fencing is intrusive in what was formerly a wide open hilltop space. Walkers are now forced into a narrow corridor pathway between two fences and then squeezed into the hawthorn hedge where the permissive path skirts the woodland. Gates are padlocked and chained making it clear that the locals who have walked this area for decades are not welcome. Two remarkable women in their late eighties still walk the area daily as they have done for over 40 years; they live in the neighbouring valleys of Slad and Painswick and their friendship has been shaped by their encounters on the hill. Both have developed a deep knowledge of the flora and fauna. They have lost their favourite paths.

 Looking ahead, we are deeply concerned that the sales pitch to prospective customers is effectively a form of private glamping. The sales agent has said that it would be possible to bring a caravan or camperhome onto the field; at other Woodlands.co.uk sites owners have built huts and cabins allegedly for tools but in reality for accommodation. There have been complaints in other areas where Woodlands.co.uk have bought sites and parcelled them up in Wales and Kent. There is a limit of a maximum of 28 nights on such sites but enforcement is non-existent. Woodlands.co.uk is presumably aiming its pitch to take advantage of a fashion for off-grid 'back to nature' type leisure experiences. They could plant hedges (of non-native species) and the result would be an end to the grassland conservation in addition to the worry about increased vehicle disturbance through the magnificent beechwoods of Frith Wood which is an SSSI. This is the only access route to the field and is part of the land title of the field (for agricultural use in past times).

 

Isn't this just a bit of nimbyism - a few locals want to walk their dogs type stuff?

No. It's not just the locals who think its a remarkable place. Natural England ( the government's primary nature conservation organisation)  views the acquisition of Juniper Hill as a major strategic priority according to their  management plans of reserves in the area 2023-28. They believe the field is the crucial link between the surrounding SSSIs and is vital to enable species to move and adapt to climate crisis. One of the key concerns of environmentalism policy now. As one of the last remaining fragments of grassland, (only 1.2% left of a habitat which used to cover 40% of the Cotswolds) it is vital to the survival of several species including the beautiful skylarks. Neighbouring populations of the Duke of Burgundy butterfly and the Bee Orchid would benefit if the field was saved for conservation.

 

What do the Friends of Juniper Hill Field want?

The goal is that the field passes into long term secure management by an organisation or charity dedicated to nature conservation. That would pave the way for a hugely exciting initiative whereby the remarkable patchwork of upland grassland and beech woods from Cranham in the north to Juniper Hill in the south (about 10 miles) would form a continuous corridor for wildlife and conservation. This would join up several sites managed by the National Trust, Natural England and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. This is the kind of 'landscape conservation' which is essential to future bio-diversity.

 

So what are the Friends of Juniper Hill Field going to do about it?

In the last four months, a number of local residents have formed a group to research how we might best protect this remarkable field. We are pursuing a number of planning issues including arguing in a submission to Stroud District Council that there has been a Change of Land Use on the field from agricultural to leisure. We await a reply. 

We have contacted all the relevant organisations including Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and CPRE. The former have expressed concern about the increased use of the track through Frith Wood SSSI which they own and manage, and the impact of Woodlands.co.uk's plans on the SSSI. CPRE has been very supportive.

Green party councillor Gary Luff has been very helpful and took the chief executive and several directors of Stroud District Council on a site visit. We are exploring a number of planning issues.

 We have contacted national media and Patrick Barkham has written a piece for The Guardian which you can read at . A local film maker Peter Moseley is making a short film which will appear on our site.  We have printed leaflets and are distributing them around the surrounding villages and in Stroud to raise awareness.  

 

Can I do anything?

Yes, there are five things you can do:

1. Sign up to our newsletter so we can keep you informed and let us know of any relevant expertise you can offer - ecology, planning, media, finance.

2. Email anton@woodlands.co.uk to express your concern and urge them to name a reasonable price and sell to Natural England.

3. Email Stroud District Council to insist that it prioritises bio-diversity and tranquility on this rare piece of Cotswold grassland and enforces the appropriate planning regulations. Rebecca.charley@stroud.gov.uk

4. Follow us on Instagram @save_juniper_hill_field  and upload any images or sightings of flora and fauna of interest.

5. Email Angus Hanton via the Intergenerational Foundation pointing out that his statements on the climate crisis and our children's future are best served by his selling the land to Natural England to help create remarkable landscape conservation reserve. The chief executive of the Foundation is liz@if.org.uk. Perhaps quote the Intergenerational Foundation paragraph used above to make your point. Will our children and grandchildren hear the sound of skylarks?

 

What can Angus Hanton do?

In a telephone call, he claimed that he is 'democratising access' to the land and insists that conservation shouldn't be left to 'the professionals' and that 'ordinary people' can do conservation. But depriving local people of much loved paths in favour of those with deep enough pockets for a £85,000 camping site is not democracy. Grasslands around here such as Painswick Beacon and Edge Common are managed with lots of volunteer and community involvement guided by professional expertise; they welcome many visitors from further afield. Hanton lives in Herne Hill London and has little knowledge of this area or its community. He has said he welcomes constructive comment and we would welcome a dialogue. We have invited him to visit the site and meet us.

 We are asking him to sell to Natural England. He could even donate the field and give something back: this would secure this grassland for future generations.

 

 

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