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Conservation And Access Officers Report 1985/86

COUNCIL OF SOUTHERN CAVING CLUBS

This year has been relatively quiet until the last couple of months when all hell has been let loose, this centering around two things - the re-scheduling of the Mendip SSSI' s and the Fairy Cave Quarry business.  These two items have resulted in considerable controversy with an extra-ordinary amount of criticism being levelled at me personally.  I must say that I do not mind criticism when justified and will listen to and discuss anything with anyone who has an opinion to express. However with respect to these two matters there seems to be little reason behind the numerous totally false rumours that have been circulating, and I trust that once people become fully aware of the facts they will appreciate that I am not responsible for causing the problems but have put considerable effort into solving them.

The following items of business have been dealt with during the year:

1.                  SINGING RIVER MINE.  The parcel of land containing the entrance is now in the ownership of the adjacent householders and essentially forms an extension to their garden.  They are quite happy about continued access but have asked that everyone stick to the path when approaching the entrance and avoid their son's radio controlled car racetrack where there has been some damage to bridges over this.  The path is obvious but they are intending to gravel it in the near future and rebuild the stile.  They have also asked that the gate to the field is kept closed and the entrance to the mine locked when underground.  The access agreement with the previous owner only enabled five keys to be available from the major clubs, however it has been possible to renegotiate this and in future keys will be available to anyone upon request.  To simplify matters the lock on the mine is now the same as the one on Cuckoo Cleeves and the one key, available from myself or the Wessex at £2 each, will fit both entrances.

2.                  BROWNS FOLLY MINE.  The land containing both entrances to the mine is now in the ownership of the Avon Wildlife Trust and initial negotiations for continued access by cavers were held with them early in the year.  They required a similar arrangement as before in the form of a licence with the Company, although they would be responsible for gating.  The Trusts intention was to have new gates on both entrances by last August but due to delays this has only recently been done. There are still a few problems with the new licence but these should be resolved soon.  The new keys are currently available and will be distributed to the Company shareholding clubs soon.  The new gates should be locked by mid May.  Notices will be placed on the entrances detailing availability of keys.

3.                  LAMB LEER. Early in the year Somerset County Council sold the land containing the entrance to the tenant, Mr Burge of Beconsfield Farm.  The licence with the Company was also transferred and Mr Burge stated he wished the same access arrangements to continue except that he would like all visitors to call on him first and a small goodwill fee would be payable.  He also asked that no cars were parked in the quarry without specific permission having been given.  Notices detailing the changes have been posted on site.

4.                  SLUDGE PIT. Unfortunately the cave has remained closed although it is hoped that it may be reopened soon.  Wessex, who are undertaking the work, asked for assistance with respect to the supply of pipes for the entrance and I made arrangements for the purchase of these from ARC.  However organising the necessary transport proved a major problem and to date no definite offers of help have been forthcoming.  I believed that the problem had been solved when I was able to obtain a supply from another source complete with delivery to site all free of charge, however the pipes that turned up were much larger than arranged which presented a different problem all together.  Following discussions with the Wessex it was agreed that the solution would be to hire an excavator and to obtain the necessary funds for this and the other works I circulated all member clubs in March requesting donations.  To date 16 clubs have responded making the £160 available.

5.                  AXBRIDGE HILL. Comments were made at one meeting the Somerset Trust interfering with access to small mines and caves on Axbridge Hill.  Further information was to be supplied in order that his could be followed up but this is still awaited.

6.                  FAIRY CAVE QUARRY.  At the end of January Hobbs made two planning applications, the first for renewal of their original outlined consent for development of the whole site as a show cave and leisure complex and the second for full permission to start tunnelling works into Shatter.  Cerberus asked for CSCC and NCA backing for the comments to be submitted on the show cave development and the comments were tabled at and approved by the meeting on the 15th February.  The applications have since been considered by the District Council who decided to refuse the application for renewal of the outline permission and defer the tunnelling application pending agreement on the details between Hobbs and the NCC.

7.                  WATERWHEEL AND UPPER FLOOD SWALLETS.  In February Willie Stanton gave up his dig at Waterwheel and handed the keys and responsibility for access over to Terry Mathews at the Charterhouse Centre who has since asked MCG to operate a leader system for the cave the same as for Upper Flood.  Details of access arrangements for both caves can be found elsewhere.  Terry Mathews notified the NCC of the existence of the cave so it could be included along with Upper Flood in the SSSI Revision.  The NCC approached me for further information and a write up for Upper Flood provided by the MCG was sent along with brief details of Waterwheel, although the latter could not be justified as being of national importance.

8.                  SSSI REVISION. The rescheduling of the Mendip cave SSSI's by the NCC is causing major problems.  Full details of the history and current situation are given separately. The Council is currently taking all possible steps to try and solve these problems by discussion with the NCC and other parties and will report any progress as made.

9.                  HANDBOOK. Although I had promised to have the revised handbook ready had Easter there have been a few delays.  Much of the text is now entered on a work processor it is anticipated that it will be ready to print in the next month or two. If anyone can assist I could do with a cover design.

10.              CAVE CONSERVATION YEAR.  There was very little participation in this on Mendip although some clean-ups and tuping was carried out.  An overall review of the Year was published in Descents NCA Column.  The 'Protect Our Caves' leaflets recently became available and one is enclosed.  If any clubs can distribute these to their members it would be appreciated.  If this is possible please let me know how many copies are required.

During the year I have attended all meetings of the NCA, C & A Group in my capacity as C & A Officer and as NCA Conservation Officer.  I have also represented the Council at NCA Executive meetings and at all meetings of the Grant Aid Working Party.

Overall the work involved with respect to Council business both on a local and national level has been considerable and I feel confident that I have made a useful contribution. I would like to continue as Conservation and Access Officer for the coming year if the Council so wishes and assure everyone that I will fulfil my duties to the best of my ability.

Graham Price
Conservation & Access Officer