The Ashdown Forest Conservators, who look after the land where Winnie-the-Pooh lived, are set to lose all grant funding from East Sussex County Council.
There is no provision for a grant in the coming financial year – 2020/21 – in the county’s draft budget.
Now, Uckfield Town Council is suggesting all councils which surround the Ashdown Forest get together to thrash out a long-term solution to funding and guarantee the preservation of the tranquil heathland where Winnie-the-Pooh played with his friends – Christopher Robin, Piglet, Tigger, Roo, Kanga and Eeyore.
No more grant from East Sussex County Council
The county council told this website:
“We recognise the great work the Ashdown Forest Conservators do in managing and protecting the forest, and in raising a significant amount of money themselves to support their work.
“With reductions in Government grants, rising costs and increased demand for council services, we are having to consider how we fund and deliver services in the future, to ensure we can meet our priorities, including protecting the most vulnerable residents.
“In light of the continuing financial pressures, the Ashdown Forest Conservators’ budget for 2020/21 takes into account a £30,000 reduction in the county council’s contribution to its general fund.
“Our 2020/21 draft budget will be presented to Cabinet on January 28 and Full Council on February 11 for approval.”
Uckfield Town Council decision
The loss of county council money has led to the Conservators looking for new sources of grants and income streams, including making an application to Uckfield Town Councillor for a grant.
Town councillors believe the issue was not one the town council could deal with on its own.
Members decided to call for a ‘summit’ of all councils which surround the Ashdown Forest to thrash out a common funding approach to ensure the open heathland environment is protected.
The Conservators will be told that “with regret”, due to the timing of their application, it is not possible for the town council to provide financial support for 2020/21.
The town council grants for the new financial year were decided in the autumn.
A resolution agreed by members continued: “Uckfield Town Council does, however, wish work with the Conservators to convene a partnership meeting of all the relevant authorities and parishes to provide a long term solution to funding the Ashdown Forest.”
Councillors think the summit should include councils in Kent, West Sussex, Surrey, as well as East Sussex.
Ashdown Forest Conservators seek new funding streams
In a letter to councillors, the Conservators outlined its current funding and plans for the future.
It said the core budget remained vulnerable due to its reliance on Countryside Stewardship – an EU agri-environment grant available as part of the Common Agricultural Policy through the government’s Defra department.
A charitable body, The Ashdown Forest Foundation (TAFF), had been established to enable major fundraising
“The Conservators seek greater financial independence and control of the future, which can be achieved through the work of the charity.
“In the meantime, the Conservators will encourage individual donations to be made directly to TAFF so that Gift Aid can be claimed.”
A dedicated income generation team has been established with existing staff members who have launched a number of projects which will help to close the deficit in the future.
Forest remains vulnerable
“However, until major fundraising through TAFF comes on-stream the Forest remains vulnerable,” the letter said.
The Conservators continue to rely on discretionary funding from local parish councils and support for projects and asset purchase from The Friends of Ashdown Forest.
Grant funding, it said, can help enormously with purchasing new assets and developing projects, but can rarely be used to fund revenue expenditure, the highest of which is staff costs.
“Funding received from parish councils has proved invaluable in the last two years, bolstering the core budget and supporting us through a period of significant change, but to date we have received little or no financial support from our local town councils.
“The core activities that maintain and enhance the Forest for its 1.5 million visitors each year are critically dependent on the generosity of local stakeholders, and visitor surveys show that a significant proportion of our visitors come from the surrounding settlements of Crowborough, Uckfield and East Grinstead.
“As a result, we are asking if you would consider supporting the activities of the Conservators during this difficult period of change.
“The money you contribute will support the maintenance of one of the most important and iconic landscapes in the south-east of England, ensuring that it remains a safe and welcoming resource for the enjoyment of all our local residents,” the Conservators said.
The core budget supports the statutory and additional services provided by the Forest Centre, including providing 24-hour emergency response cover (eg. deer collisions, fires, anti-social behaviour, missing persons, injured visitors, stock on roads, out of control dogs), managing roadside and dangerous trees, maintaining rides and bridges, car park maintenance, amenity mowing, enforcing by-laws, boundary walking and litter picking.
Various other income streams are being developed by the Conservators, including asking parish and town council for grants.
• More than £500,000 was received via the Countryside Stewardship contract in 2018/19. This is a separate budget and money can only be spent under the terms of a contract.
What is termed as ‘unrestricted’ income amounted to nearly £600,000 in 2018/19.
A.A.Milne wrote children’s stories in the 1920s for his young son, Christopher Robin. The child’s toy animals were turned into characters.
The Hundred Acre Wood where Pooh and his friends lived was based on the Ashdown Forest.
One of the games they played was ‘Poohsticks’ and many visitors seek out the location of the bridge by walking from Pooh Car Park in Chuck Hutch Lane.
The books were illustrated by E. H Shepard who drew on the Ashdown Forest landscape.
• Read more about the Ashdown Forest and its funding here (external website)