19 October 2001

Lottery cash boost for nature-friendly units

By Andrew Shirley

LOTTERY money has helped to fund the recent purchase of two Dorset properties in the Purbeck area that land agent Charles Matthews reckons would have struggled to sell 10 years ago.

Arne Farm, an 82-acre grass smallholding located in the 1200-acre Arne Peninsula nature reserve, went to the RSPB for well in excess of the £425,000 guide price, £297,500 of which came from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Nearby Sunnyside Farm, 166 acres of pasture and heathland home to the rare wart-biter cricket, was snapped up by English Nature for more than £300,000. Approximately half was funded by the HLF.

"In the past they would have been viewed as second quality agricultural units of limited value due to the soil type," says Mr Matthews, of local firm Symonds & Sampson. "Now they have high amenity and conservation value."

Even so, English Natures Ian Alexander believes the price paid by the organisation was reasonable. "As a government body we cannot exceed the level set by the district valuer, and this was considered the bare land value for this part of Dorset."

Both purchasers own existing holdings in the area where a major project to restore traditional heathland, involving 13 conservation groups, is underway. "The irony is that much of the heath was originally ploughed up by farmers paid by MAFF," says the RSPBs Emma Parkin.

She says Arne Farm will play a crucial role in the management of the reserve. "It will prove very useful logistically because grazing is an important part of the management process."

The RSPB is a substantial landowner in the UK and its current holding stretches to more than 150,000 acres. Of this, 81,000 acres would be considered farmland and over the next five years the body is committed to purchasing a further 36,000 acres.

According to the HLF, over £334m has been spent so far on funding countryside and nature conservation projects, although no specific breakdown is available for land acquisitions. A further £66m has been earmarked for 2001/02. &#42

Arne Farm, overlooking Poole Harbour, has been bought by the RSPB.