Bedfordshire by numbers
Bedfordshire is a small county, its 477 square miles putting it in 41st spot when the 48 English counties are listed by area.
It’s not a county of extremes, the highest point is only 243 metres (797 feet) above sea level and can be found a short distance from the road on Dunstable Downs. But that’s not the whole story, the National Trust have found 32 species of butterfly on its nectar rich chalk grasslands. That’s over half the species that can be found in England.
Celebrating nature and landscapes by numbers
- Bedfordshire is home to three National Nature Reserves (Barton Hills, King’s Wood and Rushmere, and Knocking Hoe. NNRs are sites that have been identified by Natural England as among England’s finest places for wildlife and/or geology.
- We’re also home to one Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the Chilterns, as part of this protected landscape is in Bedfordshire.
- The Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cambs and Northants manages 23 nature reserves across the county including meadows and wetlands.
- Bedfordshire has one canal, the Grand Union, and six rivers – the Great Ouse, Lea, Flit, Ivel, Ouzel and Hiz.
- The John Bunyan Trail is an 86-mile-long distance path that takes in much of the county, celebrating the life of Bedford’s famous former resident.
The Living Countryside Awards by numbers
Here at CPRE Bedfordshire, we’re preparing for the 2023 Living Countryside Awards. This year will mark 15 years of the award scheme and will also be the tenth time they have been run. We’ve been looking through the archives and found some numbers worth celebrating – but what are the stories behind them?
56 top awards made
Our top award has had a few names over the last 15 years, but the high quality of our winning entrants has been a constant. In 2021 the Abbey Fields Roundabout Group won the Better Places to Live category. In this short film they tell their story.
96 other awards made
It’s not all about the winning entries though. All of our shortlisted entrants have brilliant stories to tell. We caught up with some of our 2018 entrants ahead of the 2021 awards to find out what came next for them.
The Friends of Bedford Cemetery let us know how they felt about their Highly Commended Award for Biodiversity & Landscape Improvement. “It’s nice to get recognition, for people to see that you’ve achieved something.” The award has helped make them keener to progress. Educational initiatives with schools have developed; they have become a Bedford Creative Arts Culture Challenge Provider and are looking forward to working more closely with Artsmark schools and supporting the arts and creativity elements of the national curriculum.
3,000+ votes cast in the 2021 Bedfordshire Choice Award
Covid-19 meant that there was a digital focus to the 2021 awards. For the first time we had an online vote, giving Bedfordshire residents the chance to choose the project they felt was most deserving. The winners were Treewell Community Farm and they share the story of their project here:
Community orchards, often growing local varieties such as Laxton’s, are frequent entrants. Mowsbury Hillfort (a winner in 2016) is home to a variety of habitats including grassland, deciduous woodland, ponds and a traditional orchard. The orchard was originally planted in the 1920s with apple, pear and plum trees as well as medlars and a wild service tree. In 2012 a restoration and maintenance plan was put in place to save as many mature trees as possible. Today local residents can pick fruit for their own use. The site also has the remnant of a second orchard where fruit trees have reverted to their wild form.
Eight community gardens
In recent years we’ve seen a rise in entries from community gardens and growing projects. Places like Incredible Edible in Dunstable, who were one of our 2018 winners. With the help of Central Bedfordshire and Dunstable Town Council and local businesses, a team of 8 volunteers have turned a disused area into a thriving community garden. Growing a variety of vegetables, fruit and herbs, the garden also provides a seating area with a water feature. Rain water is harvested from a flat roof over a shop and with 8 raised beds. There are monthly work sessions where the local community is invited to come and help maintain the garden, harvest the food and enjoy the camaraderie that this social gathering creates.
Jordan’s Mill in Broom (a winner in 2016) and Stotfold Mill (a winner in 2009 for the nature reserve and 2010 for the restoration) have both won awards for building restoration and design, bringing Bedfordshire’s heritage to life for a new generation of visitors. In both cases this has been combined with developing the surrounding landscape into places where nature can thrive.
Allotment groups like that of Mile Road in Bedford (2018 entrant), aim to protect, promote and preserve statutory allotment sites. Increasingly, they also focus on areas such as health and wellbeing, community cohesion and skills sharing.
Warden Abbey Community Vineyard (2016 winner) is in a five-acre field first planted with vines in medieval times by the Cistercian monks of Warden Abbey. Centuries later, from the mid 1980s to 2008, it was again producing award-winning wines for the Whitbread family and now it is having a new lease of life as a project run by the Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity. The vineyard is managed as a not-for-profit educational and community resource by a Friends group who tend the vines by hand and run tours and events. They also provide opportunities for volunteers looking for work experience and link with local historic gardens to offer experience of vine pruning to their apprentice gardeners.
We always enjoying getting entries from school gardens and eco clubs. A highlight for many of our judges in 2018 was a visit to the Vale Academy in Dunstable. which embedded outdoor learning across the whole curriculum – from science to literacy and much more. Different learning zones have been created within the grounds. The first was the bug hotel, set within the mini-beast zone. The hotel was made with 100% recycled materials found around the academy. There is a forest school area where practical and creative skills can be developed, an area for growing fruit and vegetables, a school gardening club. The school has run family tree planting sessions on site to involve the wider community. PHSE and wellbeing were well integrated to help children flourish and grow in confidence.
Six churches and churchyards
Churches have entered both restoration projects and churchyards managed for wildlife. An example of the later was Grace Baptist Chapel churchyard, Carlton (2012 entrant). When the 18th century chapel was closed and converted into a house, the churchyard was given to the Parish Council with a small endowment to help with its future upkeep. An enthusiastic group of volunteers now maintain the site as a wildflower site, mowing it only for hay, but keeping the graves in this tranquil setting accessible for visiting relatives and the local community.
As you can see, looking behind the numbers brings us some fascinating stories well worth celebrating!