Earth Trust is at a critical point in its development. In January 2017 we received the good news that South Oxfordshire District Council Planning Committee granted approval for our proposal to improve the Earth Trust Centre. This will enable us to establish a new gateway with the facilities that visitors need to access the countryside.
It was a unanimous vote of support from all of the Committee and we are delighted that it was recognised that the plans will ensure the continued protection of this ancient and iconic landscape, whilst also improving and enhancing the experience for visitors.
Jayne Manley, our Chief Executive said: “This is fantastic news for everyone who enjoys this special place. Every visitor: be they a walker or a family sharing a picnic; a child on a school trip; or a volunteer helping us look after this special place, they will all benefit from the planned improvements once they are in place. The support shown for the Earth Trust during the meeting to decide was overwhelming and humbling – a reminder that treasured childhood memories of exploring, playing and being outdoors can lead to a long term love of the environment and the countryside to the extent that people do want to do something to look after it.”
Protecting this special place for future generations
The Wittenham Clumps and surrounding farmland receive more visits than any other free to access greenspace in the south east; there has been a significant increase in visitor numbers over the years and the prediction is, that with more homes and businesses planned within South Oxfordshire, visitor numbers will continue to increase in the future. Earth Trust need to manage this properly and minimise the impact on the local community and the environment – whilst also welcoming people to come, explore and enjoy this special place.
Improving visitor facilities
This means developing the centre as the hub of the site. Plans include improved access and car parking – which will make access much safer for vehicles, walkers and cyclists and will also help to reduce the impact on the ancient landscape.
Also planned is a new skills and learning building (and even some replica Iron Age roundhouses!) at the Earth Trust Centre, providing a classroom where children will start their experience and we can help nurture their love and respect of the environment, and allowing us to develop our education programmes. Work on this began in October 2018 with an archaeological dig on the site of the new building. Archaeologists from DigVentures uncovered plenty of Iron Age artefacts and we shared the experience with almost 400 local people via school trips, finds sessions, free tours and a summary presentation; find out more about what went on.
In the future, there will also be improvements to make the working farmyard safer for visitors and our Farm Step businesses.
A much demanded café and farm shop will also be developed, specialising in local produce from our farm – something our visitors have been asking of us for many years!