Restoring Cheltenham's Escarpment Grasslands (RCEG) Project
RCEG Project - Latest News
News and updates about the RCEG Project will be published here in due course.
RCEG Project - Background and context
The Cotswolds escarpment
From the Devil's Chimney on Leckhampton Hill in the west, to the National Grid transmission line pylon on Ravensgate Common in the east, and with the steep slopes of Charlton Kings Common between, the limestone grasslands of the Cotswolds escarpment form a beautiful backdrop to Cheltenham's southern flank.
After the Leckhampton Riot of 1902 following the withdrawal of historical free access to the hill, and after continuous public unrest, the Hill and Charlton Kings Common was purchased by Cheltenham Borough Council in 1929. Ravensgate Common also had years of disputed ownership as a result of there being no registered title to the land until in 2009, Charlton Kings Parish Council took the role of Custodian of the Common under a Higher-Level Environmental Stewardship Scheme agreement with Natural England.
Land management history
Despite the full extent of these grasslands then being under the control of two public authorities, and despite the areas all being in receipt of Environmental Stewardship payments, it has proved hard for there ever to be sufficient resources allocated to carry out necessary land management. The Borough Council's Green Space team allocates part of its Senior Ranger's time to manage work on their land and this is significantly enhanced by the co-ordinated work of volunteer work parties from the Friends of Leckhampton Hill and Charlton Kings Common(FOLK – formed in 2000 to help conserve and promote the public enjoyment of the land). There are no registered Common Rights on these Commons.
Ravensgate Common relies for its management on the goodwill of its two registered Commoners (who hold Common Rights of grazing), a small number of local residents, a local grazier whose beautiful South Devon cattle graze the common in winter, and the continuing interest and commitment of the Parish Council.
Special interests represented across the escarpment
All the land lies within the Cotswolds National Landscape (AONB) and the importance of its landscapes and panoramic views across to Wales to residents and visitors alike is recognised in the Cotswolds AONB Management Plan.
Similarly, the Plan recognises the immense biodiversity interests across the escarpment as it is all designated either , by Natural England, as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust as a Key Wildlife Site (KWS).
The industrial archaeology of its oolitic limestone quarries is among the best such artefacts in the country, having been in use for centuries. Most remaining quarrying features date from the period of the late 18th century to the 1920s, when quarrying ceased and include features such as the trackways and inclines, and the massive lime kilns for the production of agricultural lime. More ancient archaeology is represented by the hill fort and round barrow that are Scheduled as an Ancient Monument.
Public use and recreation
That Leckhampton residents were prepared to risk jail, and in at least five cases were tried and jailed to preserve the rights of ordinary people to enjoy the right to roam the hills, is testament to the enduring importance of these special places. Today, these rights are enshrined by public ownership, a right of access to walk or ride across Common Land, the designation of statutory footpaths and bridleways, and the creation of National Trails like the Cotswold Way that attracts 100,000+ walkers a year over our section, together with others who walk the Cheltenham Circular Trail.
The costs of maintaining landscapes, biodiversity, archaeology, and public access.
Land management of unproductive land that nevertheless needs farming management comes at a cost. Both Cheltenham Borough Council and Charlton Kings Parish Council enthusiastically contribute money, staff and councillor resources to the care and maintenance of some 100 ha of public land, but once in a while, an opportunity arises to make a step change series of management interventions to 'catch-up' on necessary management works and infrastructure repair.
The National Grid Landscape Enhancement Initiative
In 2018, we learned of an innovative grant scheme being offered in protected landscapes by National Grid to reduce the landscape and visual impact of its existing electricity infrastructure and to enhance the quality of the affected designated landscapes. Where the visual impacts of the electricity transmission line are not able to be directly screened or otherwise mitigated, the objective will be to shift emphasis away from the transmission line by enhancing the landscape in other ways.
A partnership was quickly established and the combined knowledge, skills and enthusiasm of the Borough and Parish Councils, FOLK, and the Cotswold Conservation Board put a complex bid together in under three months. It was submitted in May 2019 and finally signed off by National Grid and, importantly, its regulator Ofgem, in April 2021.
The grant is for £175,000 over three years, with a commitment to a further three years of monitoring and restorative management as required. With cash contributions from the two Councils and an allowance for costed volunteer time, the whole project will contribute over £1/4 m to the restorative management of the most significant landscapes and biodiversity hubs in Cheltenham Borough.
In July 2021, the very first contract to be let as part of this project was for 40 tonnes of walling stone for Leckhampton Hill and further information and updates will be provided as the project progresses.