Volunteers defend management of Long Melford Country Park

A reptile and wild flower survey is taking place at Melford Country Park, Long Melford. L-R: David G

A reptile and wild flower survey is taking place at Melford Country Park, Long Melford. L-R: David Gevaux, Alan Simmonds, Tony Thornton, Carole Michette, George Millins, Paul Claridge and Alan Paine. - Credit: Archant

Conservation volunteers have strongly refuted suggestions that a village country park in their care is being mismanaged.

A reptile and wild flower survey is taking place at Melford Country Park, Long Melford.

A reptile and wild flower survey is taking place at Melford Country Park, Long Melford. - Credit: Archant

The Long Melford Open Spaces (LMOS) group, which looks after the former Rodbridge picnic site and Rail Walk in the village, has also dismissed claims that £42,000 of ratepayers’ cash has been spent on maintaining the park in the past three years.

Because of budget cuts, Suffolk County Council transferred ownership of the park back to the village in May 2012 and it was renamed Long Melford Country Park. The LMOS community interest organisation, which has no paid employees, was set up to manage it on behalf of the new leaseholder, Long Melford Parish Council.

The original budget for the park was £5,000 per year over the first three years, but parish councillor Richard Michette recently claimed a total of £42,000 had been spent during that period.

However, Alan Anstead, one of the volunteer directors of LMOS who was instrumental in launching a campaign to save Suffolk’s country parks, says that figure has been grossly exaggerated.

He told the EADT: “We get £5,000 per annum from the parish council and in addition the council pays for insurance for the park and walk, which is £1,900 per annum.

“The parish council also pays for electricity and water in the toilet block which is around £730 and they have also paid for the necessary tree work which has been around £2,500.

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“When you total this all together it doesn’t come anywhere near £42,000 and it works out at a cost of about £10 per year to each of the Long Melford ratepayers, not the £17 Mr Michette has claimed.”

Long Melford Country park has local nature reserve status and there have been criticisms that it should be managed less intrusively to provide a habitat for native wildlife.

But Mr Anstead said the volunteers had successfully achieved a balance between preserving the asset as a nature reserve, and as a leisure place for people to visit and use.

He continued: “We have used the management plans Suffolk County Council put together for the park for three years and we sought help and advice from the Dedham Vale Project and Suffolk Wildlife Trust.

“We have tried to manage the two things hand in hand – leisure and nature – and I think we have worked hard to maintain that balance.”

The park hosts a regular ‘forest school’ for local students and plans are afoot to add a small café. In the past three years, volunteers have planted 200 new trees and have kept the park free of litter. Between they have put in around 2,000 man hours in the past financial year alone.

Mr Anstead also believes that flora and fauna are flourishing in the park. He added: “An independent botanical survey by the Lavenham Natural History Group carried out in the park last year found 136 species of plant compared to 125 in 2007 so plant life is doing fine.

“We are seeing a lot more wildfowl and other birds, as well as butterflies and moths. We have also been doing a lot of work to protect otters over the past four months and we are working to create an invertebrate pond.”

A survey of park users conducted in February found that 78% of respondents felt the park was now a better place while 70% said the park has the right level of maintenance.

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