A botanical survey has discovered rare black poplar trees growing on the 15-acre Stonebridge Meadow, which Marlborough town council bought for £150,000 six months ago in a bid to save the town’s heritage.
It did so on the initiative of ARK, which covered half the cost of the meadow thanks to the generosity of a group of private donors.
Now the council’s Amenities and Open Spaces Committee is to urge the council to go ahead, in partnership with ARK, with a major project to manage the land on the banks of the River Kennet and introduce new activities.
And part of the cost of the plan will come from selling off additional strips of land to the owners of four houses that border the site, the sale of which will part pay for the project, the vast majority of the funding coming from environmental grant awarding bodies.
The committee was told on Monday that the project, being managed in association with ARK, is currently the subject of an environmental impact study carried out by the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
“The most significant finds on the meadow are eight native female black poplars on the southern bank of the river Kennet,” says a report by the Wiltshire Botanical Society following a visit to the water meadow in May.
“Although there are many hybrid black poplars in England, native black poplars are now very rare with an estimated 7,000 male ones and 600 female trees, most of which are old and decaying.”
“Other female black poplars have been found in the Cotswold Water Park and Gareth Harris of the Water Park Trust has been working on propagating these trees. The trees in Stonebridge Meadow have low easy reach branches, which make them ideal as donor plants for propagation. They are also host to a rare gall (Pemphigus).”
Councillor Richard Pitts (pictured), the newly-elected committee chairman, told Marlborough News Online: “This whole project needs careful consideration and that is why we are seeking the best possible advice.”
“But it is important that we do not lose momentum in making it happen and we shall be recommending the town council to go ahead with the scheme when it meets at the end of the month.”
Claire Perry, Marlborough’s MP, visited the site last month at the invitation of ARK and gave her support for imaginative new uses for the meadow.
They range from the introduction of catch-and-release fishing for wild brown trout found in the chalk stream Kennet, itself a rare river, and a place for dog walkers to the introduction of banded Galloway cattle.
A management plan is now being worked on. Funding will also be an issue but it is hoped that the AONB and possibly the Heritage Lottery will make substantial contributions.
“Both ARK and the town council are very interested to hear the views of residents on how this meadow might be managed and encouraged to enjoy an even higher level of environmental diversity and quality,” added Councillor Pitts.
Charlotte Hitchmough, director of ARK, told Marlborough News Online: “We are now jointly working on a management plan supported by funding from the AONB. The plan will carefully consider the best use of the river and the land, with the preservation of wildlife habitat and green space as the priority.”
“The project at Stonebridge Meadows is a continuation of the work ARK has been doing along the river to improve access for people at the same time as preserving this beautiful chalk stream.”
“As part of the process we will be interviewing local people to find out what they would like to see on the meadow, and we are establishing a Stonebridge Meadow Stewards group of local people who would like to help to care for the river and land. This is very much a community project.”