Yorkshire community's share scheme to buy its own woodland for nature reserve

Committee members behind Long Lands Common, which could become Harrogate's first community-owned woodland with 1,000 pledges to buy shares. Image: Bruce RollinsonCommittee members behind Long Lands Common, which could become Harrogate's first community-owned woodland with 1,000 pledges to buy shares. Image: Bruce Rollinson
Committee members behind Long Lands Common, which could become Harrogate's first community-owned woodland with 1,000 pledges to buy shares. Image: Bruce Rollinson | jpimedia
A preservation battle which began with relief road plans in one of North Yorkshire’s most congested areas could soon see the creation of a community woodland in its place.

The plans for the relief road near the ancient Nidd Gorge had been one option mooted to ease traffic woes in Harrogate, but were abandoned last year in the wake of furious opposition.

Now campaigning neighbours, fuelled by the energy of the victory and in hopes of preserving the greenbelt setting for centuries, are to bid to buy some of the land instead. Having now secured pledged from over 1,000 people, their dream is increasingly like becoming a reality.

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People are taking ownership of the land, to restore it for biodiversity,” said father James McKay, a member of the committee which has formed to create Long Lands Common.

Committee members behind Long Lands Common hope to create Harrogate's first community-owned woodland, which could be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Image: Bruce RollinsonCommittee members behind Long Lands Common hope to create Harrogate's first community-owned woodland, which could be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Image: Bruce Rollinson
Committee members behind Long Lands Common hope to create Harrogate's first community-owned woodland, which could be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Image: Bruce Rollinson | jpimedia

“It’s a really good way of using the energy from the relief road campaign. Rather than stopping there, we are creating something new out of it, which is really positive.”

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When plans were abandoned, campaigners had said it was a “huge success” for the community and, on hearing a piece of land was for sale, had approached the landowner themselves.

hey have until November to raise the funds, and are seeking pledges to buy shares at £50, to create what could be the area’s first community-owned woodland.

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Committee members hope Long Lands Common could become Harrogate's first community-owned woodland with 1,000 pledges to buy shares. Image: Bruce RollinsonCommittee members hope Long Lands Common could become Harrogate's first community-owned woodland with 1,000 pledges to buy shares. Image: Bruce Rollinson
Committee members hope Long Lands Common could become Harrogate's first community-owned woodland with 1,000 pledges to buy shares. Image: Bruce Rollinson | jpimedia

“We’ve now had 1,000 pledges to buy shares,” said Mr McKay. “It’s really wonderful.

“The plan for a relief road attracted huge opposition. We went through several years of campaigning, we felt it would harm the environment. When we found out they weren’t going to take the relief road forward, it was a huge success for the community.

“We want to improve the biodiversity of the area. It’s going to be a sort of nature reserve.

“To have this community owned woodland, right in the heart of where the relief road would have been, it may also stave off any future threats.”

Vision for the future

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The hope for the 30 acres of land, adjacent to Nidd Gorge, is to transform it into a nature reserve, with a woodland area which is accessible to all, encouraging outdoor education and restoring woodland crafts.

There would be wildflower meadows, thickets, and children’s woods, as well as sensory gardens and ponds, bug hotels and standing stones.

Long Lands Common has been set up as a Community Benefit Society, and is raising £300,000, seeking pledges only at the moment of £50 to purchase shares in its ownership, and will also be seeking grant funding and match funding.

With its vision for open grasslands, wooded areas, and diverse habitats, members hope it can be restored to the ancient landscape of the great Knaresborough Forest of which it was historically part.

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“Our hope is that by setting this up we can empower the community to restore a part of our natural environment, and protect it for future generations for the good of everybody,” said Mr McKay.

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