Festivals put nature centre stage

NATURE is in the spotlight next month when a programme of outdoors events, walks and activities is being held across the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The Chilterns Conservation Board hopes the nature-based activities will inspire families, young people and adults of all ages to get out and explore the AONB.

A new October festival marks a month-long ‘season of celebration’ aiming to bring communities together and inspire people to explore and enjoy the heritage and landscape on their doorstep.

Naturalist, TV presenter and environmental campaigner Chris Packham will be the keynote speaker at the first ever ‘Chilterns Champions’ conference, discussing the importance of citizen science and how everyone can get involved.

There’s a chance to explore a new heritage trail around the Wycombe Rye, get creative in art workshops with local wildlife champions the Chiltern Rangers and enjoy a range of walks, talks and local produce tastings.

The festival runs from October 1-31 and is also designed to help support communities and businesses following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Also in October, the Chilterns Walking Festival is now in its seventh year and boasts more than 50 guided walks, activities and events over 16 days, running from October 17.

The walks, all guided by experienced leaders, provide opportunities to meet countryside rangers, farmers, archaeologists, historians, food producers and storytellers of the Chilterns.

Annette Venters, the Chilterns Conservation Board’s people & society officer, said: “We are delighted to be offering lots of new walks that showcase the best of our stunning landscapes, wildlife and local producers.

“There are still plenty of challenging hikes, but we’ve included a greater number of shorter walks too, with the emphasis on learning and discovery, meeting the people and producers of the Chilterns, and spending time in our inspirational landscape.”

Find the full schedule of Chilterns Celebration events see www.chilternsaonb.org/ccc-fest. For walking festival details and bookings see www.visitchilterns.co.uk/walkingfest. Most events are free, though some require a small fee.

The Chalk, Cherries and Chairs Landscape Partnership Scheme is a five-year project which aims to connect local people to the wildlife and cultural heritage of the Central Chilterns.

The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was designated in 1965 and stretches from Goring in Oxfordshire to near Hitchin in Hertfordshire. It is one of 38 AONBs in England and Wales and has a resident population of 80,000.

The Chilterns Conservation Board is an independent public body set up to conserve and enhance the natural beauty and increase awareness and understanding of the Chilterns AONB.

Packham loses HS2 legal challenge

ENVIRONMENTAL campaigner and TV presenter Chris Packham has lost his Court of Appeal challenge over the legality of the HS2 high-speed rail scheme.

He had argued there were failings in the way the government decided to give the project the go-ahead but judges have refused permission for a judicial review into the cabinet’s decision to give the multibillion pound project the “green signal” in February.

Expressing his disappointment in a 10-minute video to his 434,000 Twitter followers, Packham said: “Today is a dark day for us, our wildlife, our environment and our planet. And darker still for our government.”

But he added: “Winning is not giving up – and we’re not giving up.”

Environmentalists say the high-speed rail project is leading to irreversible destruction of ancient habitats and woodlands.

Packham said the case for HS2 should be revisited despite Friday’s ruling. He argues the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on public finances and the need for a green recovery has undone the business and environmental case for the line.

“Obviously we are deeply disappointed by today’s ruling. But the fact is, we are a world away from the place we were when we issued the original claim for judicial review,” he said.

“People now see that a scheme for a railway which will tear up the countryside so that we can shave a few minutes off a journey time, makes no sense in the contemporary workplace.”

HS2 is set to link London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. A spokesman for HS2 Ltd told the BBC it took its commitment to the environment “extremely seriously” and there was “safeguarding in place to protect wildlife and other natural assets”.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said the project was “crucial to rebuilding our economy from coronavirus”.

Nature duo reach for the stars

THERE’S an easy chemistry between Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan that always makes them a delight to watch on screen.

Chris

It helps that the pair have known each other for so long, “growing up” together over the past three decades, because this is the sort of TV magic which you can’t create artificially.

They first met back in the 1990s when Michaela joined the Really Wild Show, taking over from Terry Nutkins as one of the main presenters. The pair clicked instantly and have spent many of the intervening years renewing their on-screen partnership on Springwatch and its seasonal spin-offs.

Adored by fans for their cheeky banter – which has also led to BBC bosses ticking them off on occasions when the innuendos have become a little too saucy – the pair were reunited for a surprise Christmas special that found them setting off on a quest to uncover the wonders of the winter skies.

The trip takes them from the wilds of the Arabian Desert in search of the fabled Star of Bethlehem to the opposite weather extremes of the Arctic Circle in the hope of witnesssing the magic of the Northern Lights.

“I’ve worked with many, many male presenters over the years – but with Chris there is instant chemistry, that little spark of something on screen,” Michaela told the Mirror last year.

“We both really enjoy working together, we work well together and we have a lot of fun.”

It’s a winning formula for television and what has worked so well on Springwatch translates easily into this exploration of celestial wonders.

Mishaps with camels, sandstorms and snow sledges create a chaotic backdrop for their journey from Jordanian desert to Arctic tundra, with some rare oryx, friendly reindeer and welcoming bedouin herders helping the duo share a little festive spirit along the way.

When the Radio Times asked the pair to identify each other’s most attractive traits, Chris mentioned Michaela’s “unwavering optimism and joie de vivre” while she referred to his intelligent humour and expansive knowledge – “not just about wildlife but all sorts of other random things”.

Perhaps it’s that mutual respect that is the secret ingredient which makes them such an appealing duo on the small screen. For anyone who missed the Christmas Eve special, Chris and Michaela: Under the Christmas Sky is available on BBC iPlayer for the next few weeks, with the promise of a new Winterwatch series to come from the Cairngorms later this month.