Greensand Country

Last Wednesday (31 January 2018) LBPC hosted officers from the Greensand Country Landscape Partnership to hear about the Greensand Country and ways in which camera clubs, and photographers in general, could contribute to the current programme to maintain and improve the distinctive landscape of the Greensand Country.

 As explained by Programme Manager Claire Poulton, the Greensand Country (GSC) is an island of distinctive countryside, based on a band of higher ground stretching for about 42 miles from Leighton Buzzard to Gamlingay in Cambridgeshire, rising out of the surrounding clay vales.  It contains all of Bedfordshire’s remaining heathland, more than half of its woodland, and more surviving historic parkland than any other landscape in the country.  This landscape character is a legacy of the underlying greensand geology.  (Greensand is a greenish, often loosely consolidated, type of sandstone.)

 The Greensand Country Landscape Partnership is a programme to reverse the previous gradual decline in the GSC landscape character.  It is co-led by the Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity and the Greensand Trust.  And it has a Vision, with concomitant Aims, to promote the area’s interests and sustain the area’s distinctive local charm, natural character and built heritage.

 There have been many threats to the GSC landscape, ranging from the lack of any joined-up management strategy to climate change, and the GSC has not really been recognised for its distinctive landscape.  The programme has obtained Heritage Lottery Funding and is working to address the threats through a variety of projects.  These cover seven inter-related themes.

 ·         Living Heathland – The soil on sandstone tends to be acidic and does not hold many nutrients.  But this does create distinct habitats of “lowland heath” and “acidic grassland”.  The programme wants to improve the three largest pieces of lowland heath at Rushmere, Cooper’s Hill and RSPB Sandy, as well as the acidic grassland and wet woodland at Flitwick Moor.·         Working Woodlands – The programme wants to help landowners, managers and communities to bring their woodlands into positive management.

·         Historic Parks – When Henry VIII gave away monastery land to those in his favour, the landowners created the designed landscapes of historic parkland that we see today worked (designed by Capability Brown, Humphry Repton and others).  These make an important contribution to the character of the present landscape character and support rich ecological habitats as well as providing access and recreation opportunities.  The programme wants to help parkland owners and communities to bring the parklands into positive management (and to create Historic Parkland walks).

·         Community Heritage – The sandstone has influenced the building style in the GSC and there are houses, churches, walls, wells and lychgates made of greensand.  However, many are in poor condition.  The programme wants to bring them into positive management.  In addition, the programme wants to encourage local communities to explore, conserve, celebrate and maintain their local landscape heritage.

·         Celebrating the GSC – The programme wants to engage people in the landscape through a range of creative activities such as storytelling, drama and photography, as well as staging an annual Greensand Festival.

·         Revealing the GSC – The programme wants to develop and publicise an extensive rights of way network for the benefit of walkers, cyclists and horse riders in and around the area.

·         Heritage Skills – The programme wants to train land managers, builders and others – including young people not in education, employment or training – in the professional skills needed to look after the environment for the long term.

Covering all this, the programme is creating a brand for the GSC.  Rather like the “Jurassic Coast” brand in Dorset/Devon – with a logo, branding guidelines, and a marketing and communications plan – this should provide the GSC area with a single shared identity which is recognised by the local community.  Its website is at and this is currently being re-developed as a “destination website” to represent the new brand.

 Events and Engagement Manger Lindsay Measures revealed some of the other programme ideas for raising the profile of the GSC.  As well as an annual Greensands Festival – and the first will be held from 26 May to 3 June 2018 and other events – the programme is keen to develop photographic opportunities for outings, workshops, competitions and exhibitions.  And they hope to take on a professional photographer to provide photographs to support the GSC brand.

 Rural Development Manager Lisa King then provided an illustrated introduction to the GSC for camera clubs and their members, setting out where and what to look out for.  The programme wants people to take lots of photographs and her themes and subjects for photographers include:

 ·         People and their activities (eg, modern agriculture, walkers, cyclists and horse riders);

·         Parklands (there are 28 parks along the greensand ridge, such as Ampthill Great Park and Woodbury Hall at Everton);

·         Structures such as walls, churches (eg, the ruined church near Segenhoe), and houses;

·         Woodlands and plantations (there are pine woods, deciduous woods and ancient woodland, bluebell woods, and single feature trees, as well as various plantations – such as the poplar plantation near Potton apparently planted by the Co-op to provided wood for coffins);

·         Heathlands and acid grasslands (lots of colour and structure, seasonal changes, open views, flora and fauna, etc);

·         Wetlands (rivers, lakes, streams, and bogs such as at Flitwick Moor Nature Reserve);

·         Fauna (the huge variety of habitat caters for many species including muntjac and Chinese water deer, hares, owls, sand martins, as well as rarities such as the natterjack toad, purple emperor butterfly, hawfinch and downy emerald dragonfly);

·         Flora (such as mistletoe, spotted orchids, and many other wildflowers);

·         Nature Reserves (national and local), Wildlife Reserves, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and Country Wildlife Sites; and

·         Country and Tractor Shows and Ploughing Competitions (with opportunities to photograph both machinery and people).

Finally, Claire repeated the call for lots of photographs to be taken to show how people connect the GSC landscape.  She hopes the forthcoming Greensand Festival will include a number of photographic events (including an LBPC led exhibition at Rushmere).  They would like to use our photographs (subject to copyright etc) in their material.  They will provide a GSC trophy for an annual LBPC GSC-based competition.  They might also consider an inter-camera club competition and public competitions.  And they are keen to collect older (from 1990 onwards) digital images for archiving.

 Claire was keen for LBPC to work in partnership with the programme to engage people in photography for the benefit of the GSC and she is also talking to the Ampthill and Biggleswade camera clubs.

 These presentations were extremely informative, and it is clear there are many interesting photographic opportunities to be found in the GSC landscape.  As indicated above, the programme would like to encourage all photographic outings, workshops, competitions and exhibitions.