Sarah Cullen presenting the BWF-CIC update
Birchden Wood envelopes Harrison's Rocks, one of the longest and nationally important sandstone rock outcrops in the UK. This, with the other natural aspects of the wood makes it an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a valuable asset to the local communities and the nation.
A group of like-minded and motivated local individuals that are part of a far larger group of interested parties and volunteers from across the country, are determined that the sensitivity, peace and tranquillity of the site is maintained whilst the current public facilities including the car park, toilet block and camp site, are secured and sustained for the long term. Part of this aim has already been successful in persuading the main stakeholders to act to restore the facilities to a good and proper order and for them to be re-opened in January 2014, as agreed with the Parish Council.
This group now intends to form a Community Interest Company called the Birchden Wood Facilities Company (BWF-CIC) to care take and manage the site comprising the facilities in harmony with the Forestry Commission. This company will have a representative board that will include several well known rock climbers, independent representative(s) and representative(s) from Withyham Parish Council, to safeguard the wider interests of the various communities. Continued ...

Why the contribution is important

... The facilities were put in place several decades ago to protect Birchden and Groombridge and they carry capital and operating costs that are currently met from a management fee paid by Sport England to the British Mountaineering Council who now own the rocks. This financial support will cease during 2014.
Our idea is to set in train a three stage plan to meet the stated objective of ‘continuation’:
  1. Work with the key stakeholders and the Parish Council to re-instate the refurbished facilities incorporating an effective system to capture camp site and parking fees to cover the operating costs (work-in-progress). At the start of 2014, visitors’ data will be recorded and profiled along with other considerations needed for effective cash flow, general management and for stage 3.

    Implement a communication campaign to inform the public that all revenue collected will be for the running and maintenance of the facilities and that Birchden remains a community asset.
  2. Once the facilities are reopened, negotiate with the current stakeholders’ with a view to releasing them from the current lease, at some stage during early 2014, and for the BWF-CIC to take a new independent lease directly with the Forestry Commission.
  3. Consider with the available funding sources, the need and viability of a redesign/low key redevelopment that may incorporate a new build with refreshed camping and related facilities, with a small educational covered area that explains the site’s geological importance, environmental and ecological sensitivity and so on.

This more or less maintains the status quo in respect of Birchden but provides an option to improve or sensitively enhance its use for the variety of visitors currently enjoying access through the improvement of its facilities and thus continue to protect the wood and Groombridge. The key issue is to ensure any scheme has the management capability and income that will sustain this well into the future and we are confident in this respect.