Hill Rise Nature Reserve, in the heart of the Prime Ministers area of Bedford is under threat of closure if new volunteers cannot be found.
An emergency meeting is being held at the site on Sunday (29 September) at 2pm in the hope that the next generation of nature lovers will step in to secure the cherished beauty spot’s future.
In a flyer delivered to local residents, current volunteers Pete and Sharlaine said:
‘For those of you new to the area, local people have been voluntarily looking after the nearby Hill Rise Nature Reserve for over 30 years.
We started off with many volunteers but over the years people have moved away. We are now down to just two of us whom have reached an age where we are unable physically to continue to look after the reserve.
We [sic] now tried everything to recruit new volunteers to no avail. We know life is really busy these days for us all, but an effort has to be made if you wish to keep our local nature reserve open for the benefit of everyone.
This letter is a last request to see if any of you might be able to squeeze in a couple of hours at 2pm on Sunday September 29th. It would be very helpful in the first instance to contact Sharlaine or Pete to let us know [numbers removed for privacy]
If no one shows up, sadly we will have no choice but to return the land back to the council who own it. Their original plan was always develop it for social housing… let’s see what the outcome is.’
History of Hill Rise
The nature reserve was established in 1989 by a group of volunteers who lobbied the council to safe-guard the site from building.
From 1882 to around the 1970s, the site was home to the Bedfordshire Training Home for Girls, built to assist girls from a deprived background to find work in domestic service.
By the 1970s the land was set aside for the provision of allotments but in 1986 the remainder of the building was demolished and planning permission was granted.
Legal difficulties held up the development and another ten years passed with the site remaining untouched.
Finally, in 1989 during National Environment Week and with the support of a local newspaper, the site was cleared with the help of 30 local volunteers. As the clean-up progressed, the true wildlife value of the site was discovered.
A year later, the volunteer group took a proposal to the council, asking for the land to be set aside as a Local Nature Reserve. The group began work on the site, creating two ponds, a surfaced path and planting over 500 trees.
Borough Councillors Louise Jackson and Colleen Atkins have both pledged their support for the nature reserve.
Louise said, “We’ve always supported the reserve – Cllr Atkins right from the very beginning.
“Peter and Shalaine have done an amazing job of keeping this award-winning little sanctuary going over many years. It would be great if more volunteers could be found.
“We’ve already been in contact with the Council to see if more help can be offered, but I’m sure there will be a good turnout on Sunday – we’ll both be there to lend a hand.”
A Facebook event page has been set up by the Black Tom Residents’ group to help spread the word.