In the summer of 2010 an area of rough pasture of around 2 acres in the centre of Starston came on the market. At one time it had been Glebe land but for some years it had been in private ownership and so was not accessible to the public. When Starston produced its Parish Plan in 2008 a majority of people in the village said that they would like a village green or an open space or community woodland. This meadow seemed ideal but the money would have to be raised.
Because the sale was about to go ahead a local landowner stepped in and bought it on the understanding that when the village had raised the money he would sell it on to the village for the same price he had paid for it. And so the fund raising began. We soon learned that you cannot get a grant to buy a “field” but nevertheless we managed to raise just under £11,000 from within the village which was quite an achievement as Starston is a very small village – around 120 households with a total population of around 300. This amount was sufficient to buy the land and pay all the legal bills.
The legal owner of the land is now the Starston Jubilee Hall Trust, the charitable organisation set up to manage the village hall. This made sense as someone has to be the legal owner and as the Jubilee Hall Trust was already registered as a charity it meant that gift aid could be claimed on many of the contributions.
The view of the village, as expressed through the Parish Plan, and also from a survey conducted in the village when the meadow came on the market, showed that most people wanted to turn this field into a community wildlife meadow, a haven for wildlife but also somewhere people could go to relax.
Once we were the owners we could apply for grants and by early 2012 we had obtained two, one a Norfolk County Council Community Conservation Grant, the other a grant from the South Norfolk Waveney Valley Neighbourhood Board which supports community projects. With those grants we have had tree work done, both for safety reasons and to open up the light flow onto the Beck, the stream which runs through our meadow. We have fenced the meadow off from neighbouring farm land, planted around 800 hedging plants to gap up the hedge along the road side and also planted an orchard of 26 fruit trees, mostly traditional East Anglian varieties, including apple, pear, cherry, quince, medlar, plum and damson.
We had a “Family Planting Day” for the fruit trees when a number of families came down to the meadow and the children – under supervision – planted “their” tree. We have also put a wooden footbridge across the Beck to improve the pedestrian access, commissioned 3 oak benches and 2 “Welcome” signs from a local craftsman. The art work for the signs has been done by a professional artist living in the village. In fact all the work has been done by local contractors and by groups of volunteers from within the village. There is still some work to be done and there will always be on-going maintenance but we do not intend much more ‘development’, we want a community wildlife meadow, not a park as one volunteer put it. We do plan to install some nesting boxes and some bee hives but after that it is mainly maintenance. We are very proud of our achievement – it truly is a community project and the commitment of so many people in the village – a commitment of both time and money – has made sure that this meadow in the centre of Starston is now preserved for us and for future generations.
The meadow was formally opened on Sunday 22nd April by Professor Tim O’Riordan OBE, Deputy Lieutenant of Norfolk, President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (Norfolk) and Emeritus Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia. In his speech Professor O’Riordan said:
“What makes this meadow special is that it is yours and your grandchildren’s and great grandchildren’s – a little piece of peace that you have set up. In years to come, the children now here will be able to walk among the trees.”
He highlighted the importance of the tropical rainforests to the planet and warned of the risk posed by the decline in bee populations. “If every community in Norfolk and the UK did what you have done here, we would all be in a much better place,” he said. About 150 people attended the opening ceremony which was opened by the Rev. Norman Steer in his double role as curate and local Town Crier. There was food, drink, a raffle and a chance for visitors to wander round the meadow and see what has been done. It was a very happy occasion and the Starston Glebe Meadow is now open for anyone to walk in, sit and enjoy the peace of this quiet place in the centre of the village.
Development of the Meadow
Since the official opening much work has taken place on the meadow. We now have a thriving set of bee hives, maintained and managed by a dedicated Bee Group. Young people from the village came to a workshop where they were helped to make bird and bat boxes which are now sited in strategic places around the meadow. The grass is cut regularly by a team of volunteers who keep the near end opposite the Jubilee Hall close mown for events, but only mow walkways through the long grass at the far end by the orchard and bees.
The Glebe Meadow group hold regular maintenance days where teams of volunteers perform many of the tasks that are required to take care of the meadow. The giant log, which came thundering down The Beck in the 2013 winter storms, has been hauled out and carved into a crocodile seat by a chainsaw sculptor.
Starston Glebe Meadow is visited by many people from the village and beyond. Not only is it a beautiful place in which to walk, sit or think, it is also a wonderful example of the community coming together to create, as Professor Tim O’Riordan said, a little piece of peace for everyone to enjoy.
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