In 1994 the then chairman of Bergh Apton Parish Council, Bernard Bobbin, heard that some 4½ acres of wooded ex-gravel workings was likely to come on to the market. In the space of three weeks he contacted everyone in the village he could think of who had some interest in the natural world and might be sympathetic to the idea of a joint purchase of this land, and the consequent formation of a conservation group to run it. He called a meeting of the interested parties; thirteen people pledged sums of money ranging from £100 to £500 to raise the required £4,500. A chairman (Lorie Lain-Rogers), treasurer (Richard Cushing) and secretary (Roy Flowerdew) then came forward to negotiate the purchase ‘Church Plantation’ and the setting-up a charitable trust.
We recruited some 80 members, most from in or around the village, who elect eight Trustees to manage the Trust at the Annual General Meeting. Each trustee is elected for a three-year period and retires or is re-elected in rotation. After taking advice from conservation organizations and ecologists, the trust established a management plan and began regular monthly workdays to implement it and other necessary work. We have been aided in this by work parties from various voluntary groups and Young Offenders.
In 2006 we launched a village-wide appeal to raise £22,000 for the purchase of 5½ acres of marshland, alder carr and a pond in an area of valley peat in the Chet valley, adjacent to the original reserve. We received substantial grants from the National Lottery ‘Awards for All’, the Bergh Apton Community Arts Trust (then running the Bergh Apton Sculpture Trail) and raised the remainder by local subscription. ‘Valley Marsh’ was opened to the public in April 2007 and much of our management activity since has been devoted to it.
The Trust was awarded an Honourable Mention in the Local Group category ‘in recognition of its outstanding conservation work at Valley Marsh and Church Plantation’ by the Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership in 2007. Subsequently, Bob Kerry (Treasurer) and Prof Tony Davy (Chair) received South Norfolk Civic Awards in 2008 ‘in recognition of the contribution made towards enhancing the quality of the environment’. Annual cutting of the marsh has been greatly facilitated by the purchase of a Powerscythe, thanks to a grant from South Norfolk District Council in 2008. In 2010, the Trust featured in ‘Putting local wildlife on the map: a practical guide for volunteers, parish projects and community groups on recording wildlife in your local area’, published by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust; we contributed two case studies, one describing the founding and establishment of the Bergh Apton Conservation Trust, and another dealing with the Bergh Apton hedgerow project.
Our nature reserve (Church Plantation and Valley Marsh) was designated a County Wildlife Site (No. CWS 2222) in 2012, following site survey by representatives of the Norfolk CWS Partnership in August 2011. We greatly improved access to the original pond with a pond-dipping platform in 2013, with grant-aid from Norfolk County Council and Bergh Apton Community Arts Trust.
Most recently in November 2016, we diversified our habitats by commissioning the digging of a new, groundwater-fed pond, approximately 20 m in diameter and up to 2 m deep, in the valley peat. This was inaugurated for members in September 2017, at a ceremony that also unveiled a magnificent memorial bench to one of our founding benefactors, Phyllis Ride.