Support Magog Down
If you'd like to help keep Magog Down open for all to enjoy, why not contribute towards the costs of upkeep by making a donation or becoming a Friend?
Magog Down is managed largely by Volunteers: Trustees who give their time freely, and many others who help with various practical tasks, whether as a regular commitment or on an occasional basis. Nevertheless, annual upkeep costs around £60,000, only a small portion of which is met by government grants.
The History of the Magog Trust
It began when a 'For Sale' sign suddenly appeared in one corner of a hilly field and the story unrolled at astonishing speed. The biggest role in the success story of the Magog Trust has always been that played by the hillside itself. Its unique attractions brought together people who had never met but shared a concern for the future. The land gave the lead. The people never had more than walk-on parts. At first there were a handful, then an army of thousands, all devoted to this one chalky hump in the landscape.
The 'For Sale' sign went up beside the main Cambridge-to-Colchester road in the Parish of Stapleford in the Spring of 1989. The agents invited offers for some 160 arable acres on either side of a wooded ridge on the western flank of the Gog Magog Hills. Not everyone who saw the sign was interested in agriculture. The local Vicar, the late Colin Davison, saw scope for something that might benefit his parishioners. A local journalist, Christopher South, drew a wider public attention to the opportunity. In this way the land drew together the team that was to transform it.
Under the guiding principles of conservation and recreation, discussion began about the bold idea of buying the land for public use. Financial feelers were tentatively extended. The way the land should be used was hotly debated. And at this point, when the embryo Trust was at its most critical phase, the greatest setback happened. Colin Davison, the clergyman who had had a vision of a hillside haven for his people, died young and unexpectedly. In a curious way, this tragedy only encouraged his friends to greater efforts. Wrangles were resolved, a clear plan created and the time came to test public opinion. With massive support from the Cambridge Evening News and columnist Christopher South, an appeal was launched:
The response was astounding. Applications for Gogs (notional areas of land without title), printed in the CEN, flowed in. Donations appeared. Sterling support by Harold Holt, the District Councillor for Stapleford, secured the backing of South Cambridgeshire District Council, the County Council and the City Council. All of these provided grants or donations. Edmund Vestey offered an interest-free loan of £100,000. At his urging, it was decided to buy the whole area and not settle for a more affordable fraction.
Local firms were generous with their support in cash and in kind - one stamped all the Trust's letters for a substantial period of time, another lent display boards.
Local volunteers addressed envelopes, manned produce stalls, made cakes, wrote to anyone and everyone who might conceivably help.
And on Michaelmas Day 1989 (September end) the Trust became a Registered Company and Charity, and was able to purchase this 163.5 acres of land for £330,000.
Adrenalin, commitment, enthusiasm, kept us going, but all involved had times of doubt, sleepless nights wondering how on earth we were going to manage not only the debt, but the restoration.
So what did we do?
The land had been purchased, we had a debt of £170,000, we were committed to restoring this vast area to chalk grassland - THERE WAS NO GOING BACK.
More people rallied round. Expert help was recruited. A newly retired forester, Eric Winterflood, offered the Trust his knowledge and skill to put a long-term restoration project into place. Cambridgeshire C.C. Rural Group, the Wildlife Trust, the Countryside Commission, among many gave technical support.
The debt of the Trust to people locally, both individuals and firms, is incalculable.
What have we achieved thus far?
- We have created a habitat that is bringing back the flora and fauna of years ago
- The Magog Down is open for informal recreation to the people of Cambridge City, the County and beyond
- Notable experts in conservation are using us as a 'good example'
- Local schools, colleges and universities are using the Downland to record change and log the incidence of plants and grasses
There is good news and bad news:
Good news, because the Trust is fulfilling the objectives that it started with. The woods and the meadows are beginning to provide a supportive habitat and people are using the land for informal recreation.
Bad news, because, as the owners of any space used by the public know, sometimes even the most civilised and respectable pcople fail to care for what is essentially their responsibility.
- The first and most obvious problem is uncontrolled owners and dogs. Encouraging conservation means that the woods and grass belts should be as undisturbed as possible. The Trust asks that dogs run freely only on the fenced perimeter walk And dog poo need not be a feature of the Downland; owners need both to control their dogs and clear up after them - poo bins are supplied!
- The second problem is the people who cannot be bothered to walk to a gate or stile and so trample down or cut through the wire - do they come prepared for this?
What are our current needs?
1/ Interested people
- People to use the land for informal recreation
- People to put up our posters, regularly, in their locality
- People to raise our profile and income both personally, and by helping at events
- Sponsors for specifics - seats gates, trees
- Openings into local or national organisations that could be approached for support
- More members, more covenants, more bequests
The Governors of the Trust are very conscious that the significant factor that got us started was something like 8,000 people buying Gogs - a donation of £5 - donations that cemented our decision to proceed.
Magog Down was created from the vision of a few people who grasped an opportunity and had the energy, enthusiasm and tenacity to stay with it through thick and thin. It was created from the support of many individuals and organisations and without that, the transformation could not have been achieved.
It is a heritage for generations to come. For our children and grandchildren. For this generation and beyond. And it is the responsibility of all who walk there, who listen to the skylark, savour the sweet smell of the cowslip, watch the butterflies and bees, fly a kite, walk a dog, or just have a gentle meander from seat to seat, enjoying the sun and breeze. It's for you and me - for all of us.
"A precious oasis of peace"
What has been achieved?
Year I : 1989 - 1990
- Raised interest, support and money
- Farmed the land
- Applied for government grants: Set-aside, Farm Woodland Scheme,
- Countryside Premium Scheme
Year II : 1990 - 1991
- Downland creation started with meadows & woods
- Put in a perimeter fence, stiles
- Planted 15,000 trees and shrubs in 5 woods and weeded them all so that they survived
- Sowed 2 meadows with grasses and flowers native to chalk downland
- Appointed a part-time Appeals Manager
- Carried out the first Membership drive
- Farmed 60 acres to provide some income for maintaining the downland overall
Year III : 1991 - 1992
- Increased the area of Memorial Wood and planted a sixth one - a further 4,000 trees
- Carried out the second Membership drive
- Opened the woods officially and dedicated them
- Continued as farmers with a crop of mustard for Colmans
- Gave grazing to a flock of sheep on the non Set-aside land on the South down - very good for the grass
Year IV : 1992 - 1993
- St. Faiths school supplied and planted the car park banks with 80 trees to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Queen's Accession.
- Created a 134-space car park (grants from S.C.D.C. & Countryside Commission), opened by John Impey, Chairman of S.C.D.C., Easter 1993
- Official opening of the Downland by our major patron and benefactor, Edmund Vestey, at the first Downland two-day Fair
- Weeding of woods, mowing and maintenance as necessary
- Continued farming and sheep grazing
Year V : 1993-1994
- Continuing fund raising
- Concerts, fairs
- Downland walked
- Planting of cowslips
- Sponsorship of trees in Memorial Wood
Year V1 : 1995 - 1996
- Installation of safe perimeter dog walk
- Sponsored dog walk
- The first Teddy Bears' PicnicThe appearance of the Information Caravan
- Seats and gates sponsored
Year VII : 1996 - 1997
- Hedge planting with 400 shrubs
- Plant and produce sale
- Downland walks well established
- Orienteering couse laid out by Linton Village College
Year VIII : 1997 - 1998
- Disabled access completed
- Car Park approach improved
- Rotary 75th anniversary tree planting
- Royal Agricultural Society Woodlands Award
Year IX : 1998 - 1999
- Disabled Access officially opened
- Appearance of the Downland on BBC Countryfile
- Vestey Loan repaid
Year X : 1999 - 2000
- New Governors needed to take the Trust into the next century
- Funding to secure provision of wardening
- Information Board to be erected