Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire has been awarded a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant of £2,767,300 to put this little known, but internationally important, heritage landscape very firmly on the map. This unique landscape is one of the most significant in the East Midlands, but very few people are aware of its value, both locally and internationally. The landscape is currently at risk and this grant will support new projects to protect and enhance it.
The grant, made possible by money raised by National Lottery players, will fund the Charnwood Forest Landscape Partnership Scheme. This five year scheme will promote awareness and understanding of the importance of Charnwood Forest through geological conservation, habitat restoration, improvements to connections between sites for visitors, creating innovative interpretation, outdoor learning opportunities for young people and adults, and a five-year programme of cultural and heritage activities and events.
John Everitt, Chief Executive of the National Forest Company, host organisation for the project, said: “Charnwood Forest’s future hinges on our ability to convey its story effectively. We need to fill people with surprise, delight and awe when they hear it. Only when they understand Charnwood Forest will they be moved to care for it. This Scheme will support more than 80 sites across Charnwood Forest and enable over 1,000 volunteers to learn about and help us to protect this precious landscape.”
Charnwood Forest’s rocky outcrops, some of the oldest rocks on the planet, were thrown up by volcanic activity in the southern oceans more than 600 million years ago. Millions of years of global plate tectonic movements brought the Charnwood rocks to their current location, and with them the fossilised remains of the first moments of complex life on earth. These fossils are only found in a handful of places across the globe, and the most ancient are found in only two places on Earth: Newfoundland in Canada and Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire. Roadshows, events, outdoor activities and Citizen Science projects will enable 10,000 people to explore this incredible history.
But the area is not just important for its fossils. The ancient volcanic geology created the steep, rocky ground and thin soils that are characteristic of Charnwood. These are conditions which make arable farming difficult, so historically much of the area was grazed or left as woodland. Because the land has not been heavily cultivated, it still contains a wealth of nationally and internationally important wildlife, including the Charnwood Spider and rare lichens.
John Everitt explained further: “When most people are asked where Charnwood Forest is, they point to a tiny area east of the M1 around Bradgate Park and Beacon Hill. But Charnwood Forest covers more than 150 square kilometres. It extends north and west of Leicester, into the National Forest and includes parts of Coalville and Loughborough and villages along the A6 corridor. This project will help reconnect local communities with the landscape and its incredible heritage. Working together to protect this unique landscape is now more important than ever as we mitigate and adapt to climate change. Charnwood is a hidden gem in the East Midlands and this award will help ensure its unique story and character are celebrated and secured for the future.”
Atul Patel, Chair of the Landscape Partnership Steering Group, said: "Many organisations and volunteers throughout Charnwood Forest have put in masses of work to achieve this award for the Charnwood Forest Regional Park. A huge thank you to the Fund’s Midlands and East Area Committee and lottery players for their support. This award will unlock further match funding, and we can’t wait to get started on work on the ground as soon as the Covid-19 situation allows.”
Cllr Blake Pain, Cabinet Lead for Environment at Leicestershire County Council, said: “I am delighted that the Charnwood Forest Landscape Partnership bid to the National Lottery Heritage Fund has been successful, and thank everyone involved for their hard work and commitment. The £2.7m will provide much needed and welcome investment in Charnwood Forest and I am confident it will enable people to explore, understand and care for Charnwood Forest and its hidden gems and provide the impetus for the creation of a valuable legacy for Leicestershire.
“Leicestershire County Council has been proud to support and contribute to this project and we look forward to continuing to work with the wide range of partners involved over the next five years and beyond.”
Cllr Jonathan Morgan, Leader of Charnwood Borough Council, said: “This is wonderful news, particularly at a time like this, and reminds us that there is plenty to look forward to in the future. We are incredibly proud to be part of Charnwood Forest and this lottery funding will help to make the woodlands more accessible to a wide range of people. It will also help preserve it for future generations and help people understand its importance in the local, regional and national landscape.
“As a Council we have already significantly invested in improving the Outwoods in Loughborough and it is highly cherished by visitors.”
The award, match funded by additional contributions to the value of £963,000, ensures that 18 co-ordinated projects will go ahead. These include:
- Geological conservation and research
- Innovative interpretation
- Habitat restoration
- 15 natural flood management projects
- 10km of improvements to Rights of Way and the creation of a safer, off-road path between Beacon Hill and the Outwoods
- Heritage and health programmes, in particular for those with access and special health needs
- Roadshows, events and Citizen Science projects involving 10,000 people
- 1,250 volunteering opportunities
- Participatory arts programmes to engage people to record and celebrate Charnwood
- Outdoor learning
- Improved visitor information
- Mapping of Charnwood’s distinctive stone walls.
- Advice and support for farmers and landowners, small businesses, and community organisations through training programmes and grant schemes
The projects are designed to engage and attract many different audiences, and build a wide passionate base of Charnwood supporters: local residents, families, walkers, people with restricted mobility, urban communities, small businesses, visitors, older people, non-car owners, schools and special interest groups.