Barlaston Common

June 2008

Finally, on 29th June 2008 our common and its grazing was officially opened by the Worshipful the Mayor of Stafford Borough, Councillor Ann Edgeller. The event, organised by Bill Waller, Bio Diversity officer for Stafford BC saw 15 staff and 80 children from St Matthews School attend to hear a brief history of the common and information about our six Red Poll cattle. A further 30 people attended on Saturday 30th June to meet the cattle and go on a guided nature walk led by Bill Waller. Due to grazing licences, every time cattle are moved they have to be tested for TB which is limiting our numbers at present. It is hoped that the situation is remedied so that a larger number of cattle can be grazed.

It is hoped that the cattle will help restore the common to its intended habitat by reducing saplings etc and allowing the natural heathland habitat to return, over time. With the decline in grazing, the remaining heathland has been lost as land has reverted back to woodland.

Without the impact of grazing, constant management is required to maintain the heath. This has included, in the past, bracken spraying, tree felling and the creation of heather scrapes. All these methods are both labour intensive and costly. It is hoped that the cattle will naturally control unwanted vegetation and provide the right conditions to increase heathland shrubs like heather, cowberry and bilberry.

We have made every effort to keep all access points and footpaths open. The fence is there only to keep the animals in – not to keep the visitors out! Please also remember to keep all dogs under control whilst the cattle are on site and to clean up after your dog.

The cost of the fencing/kissing gates/bridle gates and water supply for this project has been met entirely by grants from SITA Trust through the Landfill Communities Fund. Funding was also received through Countryside Stewardship from Natural England. SITA paid about £16K and Natural England about £7K.

March 2008

Fencing of the Common is now complete with bridle and kissing gates being installed for access to the Common. Grazing is seasonal and is due to commence in early May with approximately 15 cattle. We have been informed that they are shy creatures and may hide down at the bottom end of Barlaston Common so you may have to track the common to find them! They will be removed from the common in autumn and returned again the following spring.

Whilst writing about the Common, may we take this opportunity to dispel some rumours currently being circulated: - There seems to be an almost deliberate effort by a few to misunderstand this project! Heathland habitat is now extremely rare in the UK. This habitat was created in the past by commoners grazing their livestock and taking wood for fuel. As both these factors are now no longer occurring we have to try and mimic those actions as best we can. Our contractor cuts back tree growth, sprays out bracken and brambles etc... We also make heath scrapes to encourage the spread of heather. The best thing we can do for Heathland is to get the site grazed as it is such a naturally effective method of restricting grass growth which then allows the spread of Heathland plants.

The Common is owned and managed by Stafford Borough Council.

The cost of the fencing/kissing gates/bridle gates and water supply for this project has been met entirely by grants from SITA Trust through the Landfill Communities Fund. (Funding is available to community and environmental improvement projects within ten miles of an active SITA UK landfill site.) We also receive funding through Countryside Stewardship from Natural England. SITA paid about £16K and Natural England about £7K. There have been no costs incurred by Stafford Borough Council or us as residents.

No income will be derived from the fencing of the common. Stafford BC are NOT charging the grazier for the rights to graze the land - It is being done on an entirely voluntary basis.

Commons Act 1899

Barlaston (Rough Close) Common

Following DEFRA’s decision to grant consent to erect fencing on parts of Barlaston Common to allow grazing management, it is necessary to make a minor supplement to the Scheme of Regulation governing the Common. The proposed supplement will update the Scheme of Regulation to reflect DEFRA’s decision but will not affect the status or management of the Common in any other respect.

Notice is hereby given that the Stafford Borough Council intend to supplement a Scheme under the above Act for the regulation and management of Barlaston (Rough Close) Common in their district with a view to erecting fencing for which DEFRA has granted consent.
Copies of the draft supplement to the Scheme may be purchased and the plan therein referred to may be inspected at the offices of the Council.

Any objection or representation with respect to the supplement to the Scheme or plan shall be sent to the offices of the Stafford Borough Council of Civic Centre, Riverside, Stafford ST16 3AQ, within three months from the date of this notice.

25TH January 2007
A R Welch
Head of Law and Administration

Press Release

Traditional Management One Step Closer

December 2006

Backed by an overwhelming majority of residents, plans to reintroduce traditional grazing on Barlaston & Rough Close Common have come a significant step closer as permission has been granted by the Secretary of State to erect fencing around parts of the common.

Consent was granted to Stafford Borough Council who owns the Common in October. This follows two years of consultation with the local community. The support of local residents and Fulford Parish Council was key to the success of the application along with the support of many organisations with an interest in nature conservation and access including Natural England (formerly English Nature and DEFRA Rural Affairs Division), Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, The National Trust, The Staffordshire and West Midlands Heathland Partnership and the Ramblers Association.

The proposals will allow small numbers of livestock to seasonally graze the common. Although the common will be fenced, access to the site will remain open to everyone, with a series of kissing gates and bridle gates on all main pathways and stiles at lesser-used entries. Similar projects at other well-visited Staffordshire heaths, for example Hednesford Hills Common and the nearby Downs Bank National Trust Reserve, are proving extremely successful in providing a sustainable solution to heathland management.

Barlaston Common is designated a Grade 1 Site of Biological Interest and a Local Nature Reserve due to its mixture of heath, grassland and wooded habitat. Despite costly and time consuming management for many years, the battle to prevent scrub and woodland from taking over the rare heath was being lost. As a result, the common’s value to both wildlife and the public is rapidly declining. In order to save this precious open space a study was undertaken to find the most effective form of management. The answer was to re-introduce a traditional system of grazing.

Some of Rough Close’s residents remember a time when the common was regularly grazed by both cattle and ponies and by returning to this traditional management the site should be in safe hands, or safe mouths.

It is hoped that grazing can be re-established within the next year but a lot of work is still required in order to achieve this goal. A sympathetic grazier is needed who understands the issues of grazing on common land with livestock, hopefully traditional breeds, which will suit the conditions on site. The Scheme of Regulations governing the Common requires an amendment to reflect the new consent and, although the project is largely funded through the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, further funding will be sought.

Stafford Borough Council’s Biodiversity Officer Bill Waller says, “A lot of work is going on throughout the West Midlands Region to conserve and expand our heathland. Staffordshire in particular has an important percentage of remaining heath in England. Re-establishing grazing at Barlaston Common is vital to protect the heath but will also improve the site’s amenity value by maintaining the open habitat. It is wonderful to contribute to protecting this important part of our natural heritage for future generations.”