Country-lovers across the region have been celebrating this week after it was announced that important areas in what is generally recognised as one of the most beautiful parts of Britain have been handed over to a charity in perpetuity.
Vociferous objections were raised nationwide one year ago when Somerset County Council declared its intention to sell-off large swathes of the Quantock Hills, which was the first place to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK.
But now 400 acres of the council’s holdings on the ridge – which was much loved and written about by poets such as Coleridge and Wordsworth – have been handed over to the charity which decades ago was set up to protect the hills.
Friends of Quantock will hold the areas known as Over Stowey Custom Common and Thorncombe Hill as custodians in perpetuity, on behalf of the people of Somerset and visitors from further afield.
Somerset’s county cabinet member for resources, David Huxtable, commented: “It was always our intention to transfer our ownership to those who can invest their time and money, enabling us to concentrate our limited resources on protecting essential frontline services.
“We know these lands will be in good hands now and for future generations to enjoy as they always have.”
The charity’s chairman Alan Hughes remarked: “We are delighted to be able to take on the challenge of managing the land – but it will be a challenge as it will cost up to £5,000 a year to maintain it and we will need the support of more members.
“Work will be needed to its paths, car parks and woodland, as well as to protect its rare plants, birds and ancient monuments. This is a wonderful opportunity to involve local people in their heritage.”
Mr Hughes said: “We have around 500 members and we’ve been very encouraged over the past few months by the support we have received – people have been joining up and making generous donations because they knew we were interested in taking over these areas.
“We were quite outspoken about the sell-off because we felt it was right that the land should remain the property of the county council – but they insisted they’d sell it and now we’ve taken on the role.
“We have the benefit of being able to take the long-term view and to field any political issues that might arise. This is a good outcome but this is not the final stage – we now have to make sure we continue to raise money and look after these very special areas.
“If you care about this environment and would like to help, please join us as an individual or business member and you will be very welcome at our local events, talks and walks,” said Mr Hughes.