BDCH was established in 2005 as an offshoot of the Civic Society. Its immediate goal was the creation of Little Mitchellwood as a community woodland. Its charitable objectives were “to maintain conserve and enhance our community’s heritage”. In practice BDCH has focused on natural heritage while the Civic Society has continued to focus mainly on our built environment. With considerable community enthusiasm and support Little Mitchellwood was quickly establishment. The Old Quarry woodlands were then added, and a town trail leaflet published. Initial enthusiasm thereafter waned, and many of the original trustees moved on. It was left to a small dedicated group to continue to maintain Little Mitchellwood and the Old Quarry. The majority of that group work full-time and so struggled to find time to do more than this. They did, however, have ambitions to develop the Biggar Rural Path Network, initially based on South Lanarkshire Council’ score path framework. Part of this network was signposted by a partnership of South Lanarkshire Council and Scotways.
At the Annual General Meeting in October 2018 it was agreed that there was a need to revitalise BDCH. Four directors were in place at that point. David Aitken through ill health was not active, and not present at that AGM. Andrew Goldie had been holding the fort as chairman and Graham Kerr as treasurer. Mike Chad was also a Director. Two new directors were also appointed at the AGM – Malcolm Muir and David Chalmers. Malcolm had long been invovled in the work of BDCH as a committee member. David had volunteered as a Scotways member to survey local paths, and as a result discovered BDCH. David’s enthusiasm for the path network, and his long experience as a charity trustee in other organisations led to his election as Chair.
Three committee members were co-opted who are not trustees – Ian Lambie (a former trustee), Simon Pilpel, and Ian Murray.
At the AGM we also agreed priorities for the year ahead. These were:
- To continue maintenance of Little Mitchellwood and the Old Quarry
- to the survey and then enhance Biggar Rural Path Network
- to revise the heritage trail leaflet taking account of the work which had been done by the Civic Society in updating signposting in Biggar and also the huge changes to the museum provision in the town.
The possibility of conservation work in the Session Fields was also considered but it was agreed that this rare wetland habitat could be left in the meantime. Further changes in this area may happen as a result of the Biggar Water Restoration Project.
It was also agreed that for BDCH to achieve its aims it would be necessary to re-establish its profile in and engagement with the wider community. Over the course of the year it became clear that this had to involve two further tasks. These were:
- to update the website (content was very out of date and format was unsuitable for modern technology)
- to change our Articles of Association (effectively, BDCH’s constitution.)
The new website has almost been completed with the very able support of our local web designers Big Decision. This will raise our profile and be a source of information for the local community.
The Articles of Association are no longer fit for purpose. They were both outdated and over-complex. For example, they take no account of electronic communication, requiring all notices to be sent by post. The membership process takes no account GDPR. Quorum for our AGM are unrealistically high at 10% of members, given that we have a membership of over 130. After discussion both by the committee and with our solicitors a paper was prepared indicating the changes that we felt to be necessary and this is currently with our solicitors for their costing and advice. Once we have received that advice we will bring these proposals back to an extraordinary AGM for approval.
The web-site and Articles have absorbed time which we had hoped to devote to practical work on the agreed projects, but both tasks need to be completed to provide the basis to take on the other tasks which are our reason for existence. Despite this, significant maintenance has been carried out at both Little Mitchellwood and the Old Quarry, and we have established good links with the Biggar Forest School which uses the Old Quarry as a learning resource for young people in our community. Work has included the removal of dumped builder’s waste and of cherry trees which had been planted in an inappropriate location and were blocking daylight from our neighbours in the adjoining houses.
The path to Bizzyberry has been surveyed and we are currently in negotiation with the landowner to secure his agreement to improvements both to access and signposting. The paths on Biggar Common have also been surveyed and we are looking to undertake work there once we have secured agreement with the relevant land managers.
BDCH is also represented on the SEPA-sponsored working group looking at Biggar Water Restoration which will probably have a significant impact both on the path network and on other aspects of our local environment. In addition, we have been approached by individuals locally seeking our support with their projects. John Riley has spoken to the committee about his ambitions for tree planting in the local area and we have supported him in securing a Woodland Trust grant and site for a tree-planting project. Merlin Bonning had proposed a Biggar Biodiversity Project, has spoken to the committee and is working with Malcolm to develop an action plan.
Our proposed priorities for the coming year are:
- to further develop and publicise the path network
- to continue to maintain Little Mitchellwood and the Old Quarry
- to raise our community profile both to build support and involvement and to promote the enjoyment of our natural heritage
- to create an action plan in relation to Biggar Biodiversity
- to complete the re-launch of our website
- to establish simple clear and effective governance arrangements through the revision of Articles of Association.
I would not want to finish this report without publicly paying tribute to Steve Blow who was BDCH secretary for 11 years until leaving the area in 2018 to move to a new job. And also, to recognise the work of all of the current trustees and committee members who have contributed to the progress made over the past year. I am especially grateful to Graeme, who has been treasurer of BDCH since 2008 and to Andrew who held the fort for as chair for a number of years despite his work commitments, and who then took on the burden of Secretary, ensuring that the action points agreed at meetings are accurately recorded and promptly circulated to members.
I hope that in the coming year we will complete the ground-work to re-establish BDCH as a vibrant player in our local community, and also make good progress with the practical tasks which will make our local woodlands and path network more accessible to all.
David Chalmers (Chair)