Future of country park site threatened over payment

Hastings Country Park
Hastings Country Park

THE FUTURE of Hastings Country Park could be thrown into doubt if the Government fails to renew a £40,000 single farm payment for the beauty spot.

The authority is currently locked in negotiations with Natural England over its single farm payment.

The money is used to help maintain the rare flora and fauna and manage and protect the local wildlife.

It also helps pay for cattle that are brought in to graze the land when needed.

The council owns the Fairlight Place Farm on the land which qualifies for the payment but there is no certainty that it will be renewed in October 2014.

Since 2000 it has been actively managing and conserving the Country Park Nature Reserve which includes 150 hectares of farmland.

Here, intensive dairy farming at the end of the last century once threatened one of Europe’s rarest coastal glens, Fairlight Glen, which is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and has known its current state for more than 5,000 years.

Over the past decade, the borough has made good a lot of the harm caused by years of slurry and agricultural runoff. It has been able to do this with the help of Single Farm Payments to cover farmland fixed costs and Countryside Stewardship funding from English Nature to offset against running costs.

Murray Davidson, environmental and natural resource manager, said: “Without the payment we would not be able to manage the park the way we have been doing. This could have a knock-on effect to wildlife and birds. We could not afford the cattle to graze the meadow land or pay for seeding on the edge of our arable crops. We could not afford to do work on habitat restoration.

“Without this money the nature of the park and wildlife might change. We might not be able to attract the birds that we have in the past.

“We are in consultation with Natural England and I firmly believe the quality of the site would merit it.”

Council leader Jeremy Birch added: “Managing a high quality nature reserve next to such a large urban population has its challenges but we are firmly committed to ensuring access to nature is one of the cornerstones of our management. The borough’s biodiversity plan has achieved all but one of its aims: it has yet to receive National Park status for its Country Park Nature Reserve site. Its efforts to preserve the borough’s biodiversity earned a resounding 94 per cent public approval in 2008 local government consultation.” For more information about the wildlife and nature reserves of Hastings, visit www.wildhastings.wordpress.com.