Sunday, 2 January 2011

Cuts Threaten Future of Bestwood Country Park

THE future of Bestwood Country Park could be under threat after shock, cost-cutting plans to axe the jobs of all the rangers who work there.

A friends group fears that the proposals could mean the country park being subjected to fly-tipping, anti-social behaviour, illegal camping, burnt-out cars, off-road motorcycling and arson.

“With power prices rising, the theft of timber from the country park could become a problem too,” warned group secretary Roger Williams.

Concern has also been voiced about the impact on the newly-upgraded winding engine house of the former Bestwood Colliery.

The engine house is an iconic feature of the park but the rangers are thought to play a key role in maintaining it as a top tourist attraction.

The country park’s site manager, Alex Morley, said the senior ranger was supported by five other members of the team and all six had many years’ experience.

“We have worked really hard in partnership with the police and Gedling Borough Council to improve the image of the park,” said Mr Morley. “It has worked — but only because of the vital contribution made by the rangers.”

Notts County Council says the chopping of the rangers’ jobs is necessary as it aims to make savings of £150 million over the next three years.

But Mr Williams claims the county council can maintain a permanent ranger-led team at the country park while still making significant savings.

Now the friends group has launched a petition campaign in opposition to the proposals, which they describe as the “worst possible example of short-termism and expediency”.

The country park is regularly visited by residents of the surrounding area, including Bestwood Village and Hucknall, and from further afield.

The site covers 690 acres and has by far the longest urban-fringe boundary of Nottinghamshire’s parks, with numerous access points.

Mr Williams says the friends group and a volunteers team cannot cope with the security and safety implications without the rangers, whose local knowledge and trained expertise is vital.

He adds: “We believe the county council must recognise its responsibilities to the residents and to the park by maintaining a ranger-presence, even if this is reduced.

“Without that, all the improvements that have been achieved at the country park over the last few years would be wasted and would cost more later to re-establish.

“In these times, when many local people cannot afford expensive breaks, the park offers a healthy, safe and free outing. On a weekend, we see walkers, birdwatchers, horse-riders, joggers and families with children just out for a relaxing stroll and fresh air.

“Running, orienteering and other groups use the park as a venue. But without ranger-service cover, this would not be possible.

“In short, the loss of the wardens would mean a deterioration of this beautiful and historic asset, which forms a green lung for communities across the north side of Nottingham, with 30 nature habitats.”

The winding engine house was officially opened to the public in August after its refurbishment as a £2.4 million visitor and tourist attraction.

Hucknall man Bob Gow, who has been actively involved in the project, said the rangers had done much to make the country park and winding engine house “wonderful” assets. There had been a lot of investment from sources which included the Heritage Lottery Fund, he added.

The county council’s director for cultural services, Patrick Candler, said: “We are looking at new ways of ensuring that our country parks and remain premier visitor-destinations.

“We are already talking to a number of partners about sharing resources to deliver services and are also hoping to attract more volunteers.”

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