So, what IS a Chalkland Champion?
I was asked this question just the other day and I realised that our Chalkland Champion label needed a definition. It's a phrase that ran off the tongue early in the start of the project and covers quite a range of wonderful Kent people.
One of the most enjoyable parts of my work as Outreach Officer for the Old Chalk New Downs Project is meeting the people that work on the Downs. Not long after I took up my post I found myself sitting in a layby, waiting to meet a man in a landrover who was to take me into the nearby woodland. Was I crazy?
No, this bumpy ride along a muddy track into the heart of plotland woods was to be my introduction to our wonderful groups of local volunteers, who do so much to save their neighbourhood's natural environment. Within our project area, there are several such tribes, meeting regularly, with little funding or support, to undertake conservation work that is essential for the health of our Kent Downland.
To a passer-by, unversed in all things environmental, the woods and meadows may seem verdant and teeming with life. A walk along one of many public rights of way will show you plenty of leafy life and your ears may be assaulted by the busy sound of bird activity. However, look a little closer, perhaps with an expert by your side, and tales of anti-social behaviour, neglect or mismanagement might awake you to the plight of this precious landscape.
These groups of men and women have recognised that Nature needs their help. Without a champion or several, the Downs and their very fragile habitats would soon change irredeemably or disappear for good. Many interdependent, rare species depend on being able to live, breed and move along the corridors of chalk grassland and neighbouring woodland and will cease to be if this land is not protected.
These unsung heroes of the Downs really care about their surroundings and the legacy we all leave for future generations. But for them, our natural heritage might look very different. They work, often in isolation, campaigning, fund-raising, planning and managing their chosen and much-beloved landscape, so let's sing their praises and help them where we can.
To this end, last week we appointed our first Member of Parliament as a Chalkland Champion. Tom Tugendhat, Minister for Tonbridge and Malling, squeezed us into his hectic schedule and spent time at one of our project sites in his constituency, learning what our project is all about. To our delight, he agreed to champion our cause, and our groups so has become a very different kind of Chalkland Champion.
And consequently, it transpires that there may be a wide variety of potential champions. Training in various skills will be available if you want to learn, but if you want to keep it simple that's fine too. If you love getting out in the fresh air, have an interest in nature and wildlife, care about the future of Kent's natural heritage or just want to get out for your health and wellbeing, you too may become one of our Chalkland Champions.
So, what are you waiting for? Get in touch now!