Bedford River Valley Park (BRVP) is helping to transform the environment to the east of Bedford through the delivery of new habitat and recreational opportunities all based within the floodplain of the Great River Ouse. BRVP has the potential to create the only area of green infrastructure of sub-regional importance within Bedfordshire. The acquisition of 120ha Grange Estate in Willington and the production of the BRVP Framework document, both only possible due to £2.3 million of Growth Areas Funding, have enabled the long-standing aspiration of creating BRVP, estimated cost up to £40 million, to become a reality. The initial investment, which was secured by the Forest of Marston Vale Trust, marked the beginning of a long, but fruitful process that will bring lasting benefits to Bedford and its hinterland, positively transforming perceptions of the area and aiding the renaissance of the county town of Bedford.
Alongside the production of the BRVP Framework document as the guide to creating the Park, it has been crucial to demonstrate that this bold vision is becoming a reality, by the delivery of projects on-the-ground. Maintaining public interest and securing public confidence and belief in the realization of BRVP are seen as fundamental to the ongoing success of the project. To demonstrate that BRVP is a reality and that real improvements are being made the following projects have either been delivered or are currently ongoing:
- 2005 – 2007 Purchase of the Grange Estate and production of the BRVP Framework Document. With £2.3 million of Growth Agenda Funding the Forest of Marston Vale Trust (FoMVT) purchased the Grange Estate from a pension fund whose ownership was inhibiting the delivery of BRVP due to strict pension fund investment guidelines. During 2006/07 the FoMVT set about consulting key stakeholders and over 48,000 local households to help identify the aims, objectives and key principals of a working document that would guide the delivery of BRVP.
The BRVP Framework document was published in 2008 and endorsed by Communities and Local Government, the local authorities of the time (Bedfordshire County Council and Bedford Borough Council), Government agencies and private sector partners.
- 2007 – 2008 Construction of a new 3km riverside multi-user surfaced access route around the perimeter of the Grange Estate, Willington.
The new publicly accessible route not only provided access where there was none but also tied into the Bedford to Sandy national cycleway Route 51 and the surrounding public rights of way network to increase connectivity and link adjacent communities to their natural environment.
Project partners included The Forest of Marston Vale Trust, Bedfordshire County Council, the Environment Agency, Natural England (Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund), Lafarge Aggregates Ltd, Department for Communities & Local Government (CLG), and HSBC. Project value – £650,000
- 2008 – 2009 BRVP wide ‘enabling studies’. This project was all about laying the foundations for large scale access and habitat creation/restoration works to be delivered across BRVP as per the aims and objectives detailed within the Framework document. The project produced a detailed dynamic flood model for the entire 868ha BRVP area, ground investigation analysis, an initial delivery planning framework including plan (GIS-based) and an outline design guide. The project was delivered by The Forest of Marston Vale Trust working with the Environmnent Agency and CLG. Project value £100,000.
- 2009 Church End, Willington public bridleway access improvements. Working with Bedford Borough Council a 420 square meter section of public bridleway was surfaced to improve access. Project value was £15,000.
- 2009-2010 BRVP Angling Participation and Fisheries Enhancement Scheme.
A Forest of Marston Vale Trust, Blunham and District Angling Club, Bedford Borough Council, Angling For Success and the Environment Agency, multi-partnered project. This project delivered a fishing venue for teaching fishing and fisheries management and via Angling For Success hosts children and young adults from all backgrounds. The location of the site is on land owned by the Borough Council within the former Octagon Farm landholding and is managed by Blunham & District Angling Club in conjunction with the Environment Agency. Project value £15,000.
- 2010 Promoting BRVP and raising awareness.
- A package of promotional/awareness raising activities including construction of the BRVP website with online educational resources. A public meeting to launch the BRVP Champions community engagement, launch of the BRVP Volunteer Group to encourage practical engagement with local communities and the design of 5 x A1 interpretation and information boards installed at key BRVP access points. Total project was delivered by the Forest of Marston Vale Trust working with the Environment Agency, BRVP Volunteers, Bedford Borough Council, Natural England (Aggregates Levy Sustainable Fund) and CLG. Project Value £50,000.
- 2010 New public access route at the Grange Estate. A 1km section of publicly accessible access was delivered through the centre of the Grange Estate to complement the perimeter access delivered in 2008. The project was delivered by the Forest of Marston Vale Trust with funding from Bedfordshire County Council and the Environment Agency. Project value £45,000.
- 2010 Access and interpretation enhancement works at the Grange Estate The project delivered numerous access and interpretation infrastructure that included: site entrance ‘welcome’ boards, riverbank restoration works and viewing point,riverbank willow tree management (pollarding), remedial works to strategic bridge on the Bedford to Sandy cycleway Route 51, installation of 2 easy access riverside viewing platforms and a number of rustic oak benches installed along the riverside access path. The project partners were The Forest of Marston Vale Trust, Bedford Borough Council and Natural England (Aggregates Levy Sustainable Fund). Project Value £50,000.
- 2010 Implementation of Grange Estate Enhancement Masterplan This was the first significant habitat creation project that was delivered within BRVP as per one of the key aims of the Framework Document and using the new flood model.
The project created a suite of floodplain habitats that included the excavation of a new backwater and fish refuge off the River Great Ouse, seasonal flood channels off the Elstow Brook (wet woodland habitat creation), restoration of 15 hectares of broadleaf woodland, planting 5 hectares of new native ‘floodplain’ woodland designed to provide wildlife benefits and future biomass supply as sustainable fuel, creation of seasonal ponds in existing grassland to benefit breeding waders and complement existing wetland habitat and the access improvement works to the permissive path from Meadow Lane to the Bedford to Sandy cycleway Route 51. The project involved a partnership between The Forest of Marston Vale Trust, The Environment Agency, CLG, Ricoh UK and the Forestry Commission. Project Value £300,000
- 2011 Increasing Public Enjoyment & Education at the Grange Estate. This project aimed to deliver a mixture of habitat and leisure improvements and
provide additional interpretation and educational media within the site. Individual projects delivered included: installation of 500m of native reed and bullrush along the eroded edge of dovecote lake, construction and installation, by BRVP Volunteers, of bat and raptor boxes, construction of new pond dipping platform and access path, construction of kayak portage, design and installation of 4 new interpretation boards describing the different habitats that exist and have been created at the Grange, a living willow bird viewing screen overlooking Causeway Lake, an 8m x 2m Tern raft and finally the installation of four people & cycle counters to monitor visitor numbers to the site.
- Project partners: The Forest of Marston Vale Trust, WREN (Waste Recycling Environmental) Blunham & District Angling Club, Willington Lower School, The BRVP Volunteers, Bedford Viking Kayak Club, Forestry Commission and CLG. Project value: £58,000.
- 2011-2012 Delivery of Octagon Wood. Content to follow
2012-2013 BRVP Masterplan for Bedford Borough Council Landholdings. In partnership with Bedford Borough Council this project delivered a working document summarising possible projects that could be achieved on Bedford Borough Council landholdings in line with the aspirations of the BRVP Framework document. Project value £37,805
2013 Public Access Improvements at Meadow Lane. Meadow Lane is an important link in the BRVP access network as connects Cardington to the Bedford to Sandy Cycleway. The path had become very overgrown and suffered from flooding during prolonged periods of rainfall and required drainage and surfacing works. In partnership with Bedford Borough Council who owned the lane the Forest of Marston Vale Trust project managed ground and ditch clearance works and resurfaced the route to provide access all year round.
The route now provides a solid surface that has weathered over the years and is managed sympathetically by the Priory Rangers. Project value £5,000
- 2012-2014 Restoration of floodplain grazing at Fenlake Meadows, Bedford.
Fenlake Meadows is one of the best areas of floodplain grazing habitat in Bedfordshire. It is a designated Local Nature Reserve, County Wildlife Site and is classed as floodplain grazing marsh priority UK Biodiversity Action Plan habitat that nationally is in decline. Due to blocked ditches and outdated water control infrastructure controlling water levels within the meadows was difficult made worse by water flowing into the site from an adjacent residential storm drain. Working in partnership with the owners, Bedford Borough Council the Forest of Marston Vale Trust with funding from SITA Trust and the Council project managed a restoration scheme to restore control of water levels on site and stop the site reverting into Fen and eventually woodland. The project was challenging due to the floodplain environment.
Works included ditch clearance, vegetation clearance, excavation of new ditches and installation of 2 new water control structures. Fenlow Meadows is currently within a countryside stewardship scheme called the Higher Level Scheme whereby the site is managed by the Boroughs Priory Country Park team in order to restore the floodplain grazing habitat, create habitat for breeding waders and improve the habitat for wintering birds. Project value £136,523
- 2013-2015 BRVP Heritage Interpretation Project. The BRVP Masterplan identified that the project area was extremely rich in historical content and diversity but was also lacking in interpretation and public awareness. Working in partnership with Bedford Borough Council, InHeritage and the Forest of Marston Vale Trust an application was made to the Heritage Lottery to fund a Heritage interpretation project that would tell the story of BRVP from the Palaeolithic age to modern day. The project delivered the following interpretation mediums:
- 12 Large interpretive panels located throughout the project area and content included Medieval Newnham Priory, late Saxon to Norman times, Willington Medieval Settlement, Cambridge to Oxford Railway Line, Priory Roman Villa, Mesolithic to Roman Britain landscapes and the Priory Power Station
- A3 Leaflet introducing the heritage of BRVP and highlighting areas of interest with an annotated map
- New website with engaging we pages to host media content
- Portable BRVP Heritage Exhibition Unit that will be located at key venues within and surrounding BRVP
- Downloadable children’s activity sheets
- Listening posts that tell the story of BRVP’s post war heritage
- BRVP Geocache trail that takes cachers arr round BRVP to help demonstrate the different landscapes and heritage contained within the 3.5 square miles that make up BRVP
- Community liaison with schools/college, local Archaeology Workshops and other volunteer groups to engage them and develop ideas for the interpretation content
- Railway Sculpture in the form of a cast train wheel with verses from AL Rowse’s poem ‘In the Train to Cambridge’ and is located at former Church End railway crossing in Willington
- Carved bench located within Octagon Woods which is an area rich in Neolithic heritage
- Project Value £80,000