Working with the County Council, District Councils, The National Forest Company and other interested parties we have submitted a bid to the Heritage Lottery Board for substantial sums of money to enhance and protect the Charnwood Forest Regional Park. It is expected we should know whether we are successful or not before the end of the year.
Under the project heading of the Chronicles of Charnwood it follows a theme suggested by a quote from Sir David Attenborough
"No one will protect what they don't care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced."
The project will pull together and support a number of individual projects under this general banner, i.e. to explore, understand and care for and about the Charnwood Forest area.
Charnwood Forest is much more than people realise. It is composed of layers that have been laid down over millennia. Its foundation is its geology: created by volcanic eruptions over 600 million years ago and leaving a legacy of granite that has influenced so much of what was to follow. On top of this is the landscape and natural heritage that was shaped by evolution: from the first complex life forms through to the valuable biodiversity of today. Next came the influence of mankind, with evidence of human activity dating back to Palaeolithic hunter gathers nearly 15,000 years ago. Since then, Charnwood has seen the rise and fall of priories, the development of towns and villages, the growth of the quarrying industry and agriculture. And with this came the final layer, the people of Charnwood Forest with their rich social history and wealth of stories.
Many of the people who live, work, exercise and play in Charnwood Forest are aware of little of this. They drive through on the M1, walk the dog at Beacon Hill or visit local pubs without noticing the layers of heritage around and beneath them. There is a danger that this heritage could be lost because of a lack of proper investment and because it is not made relevant to people and communities in the 21st century. The international importance of the fossils remains largely unrecognised; the natural environment could be lost because it is not protected and managed; the manmade heritage lost because it deteriorates through lack of investment; and the stories of its people are lost because they are not recorded, celebrated and retold.
Potential risks are now exacerbated by mounting threats. The growth of the towns and cities surrounding Charnwood is leading to increased pressure on 'honeypot' sites like Bradgate Park, where the volume of visitors is a threat to its ecological and geological features. Many of these visitors never venture beyond the walls of the Park to explore rest of the Charnwood Forest Regional Park and, as a result, do not understand its true value. This then runs the risk, as Sir David Attenborough says, of people not caring enough to protect the real Charnwood Forest. Without a clear focus, this 'hidden' Charnwood will be gradually lost by attrition until all that is left is its name.
To prevent this, the 'Chronicles of Charnwood' need to be told. Communities within and around Charnwood Forest need to be encouraged to explore Charnwood, be provided with the stories to better understand Charnwood and be given the skills to work together to care for Charnwood. The environment needs to be linked to new development in sensitive ways; new industry needs to develop hand-in-hand with heritage; and new communities need to be able to access Charnwood and disperse across the whole forest. Key sites and attractions need better co-ordination to help them tell the many stories of Charnwood to a diverse, modern audience. In turn, the benefits of increased visitor and community interest can then be shared more widely across multiple locations.
This activity will be coordinated to support the development of a new visitor economy, generating new investment to protect and manage key heritage assets. Charnwood Forest will have a tourism sector that celebrates and thrives on local heritage; community wellbeing that has heritage at its heart; and people sharing pride and drawing inspiration from their local landscape. A distinct 'sense of place' needs to be developed among the communities of Charnwood Forest to not only celebrate its heritage, but to create new heritage and stories for the future.
The legacy of people exploring, understanding and caring for Charnwood will be a landscape where local residents and businesses feel part of ongoing story of Charnwood, visitors can enjoy the many elements that make up its heritage and Charnwood continues to add new chapters to the Chronicles of Charnwood.