Campaign to Protect Rural England branch to revise best kept village criteria

Best kept village competition organisers are "radically redesigning" the 40-year-old event.

Best kept village sign
Best kept village sign
Conservation charity Buglife had said the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which runs the nationwide competition, was having a "negative effect" on wildlife because it encouraged tidy flower beds and neat lawns as part of winning entries.

Buglife representative Andrew Whitehouse said: "Our actions impact on insects and any competition which actively encourages people to be ultra-tidy is going to have a negative effect.  We would like to work with the organisers of the competitions to make them more wildlife friendly.  It doesn’t even have to be messy; it can mean planting more flowers for nectar and just leaving space for wildlife."

Campaign to Protect Rural England Devon branch chair Penny Mills said: "[We are] deeply engaged in the wildlife issues that affect our beautiful countryside and are very aware of the need to create and enhance natural habitats. Our Best Kept Village competition, which has been a much-loved and well-supported over many years [was] about villages doing their best and being thriving communities in which to live.  However, our competition needs revision and is in the process of being radically redesigned for future years. 2014 is in fact the last year it is running in its present format and with its present judging criteria."

Dorset’s Best Village competition organiser Rita Burden said: "We don’t encourage people to create a chocolate box village; what we are interested in is seeing the community working together. That’s why we run a ‘Best village’ competition not Best kept village and we have always encouraged wildlife. Last year’s winning village had a programme of planting trees grown from seed by local children. We like to see public spaces well maintained and free of litter but wouldn’t object to stinging nettles in an appropriate area." This year the Dorset competition includes an environmental award aimed at living sustainably.

Chairman of the Staffordshire Best Kept Village (BKV) competition John Perry felt there was no problem with the word "kept" and said: "I think people need to look more closely at what the BKV is about. We want areas like bus shelters, phone boxes and the edges of paths to be clear of weeds but they surely aren’t great habitats for wildlife anyway. Many churches and villages in the area are declaring open spaces as meadows and leaving them uncut and they would not be marked down for this." He added: "We frequently liaise with the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust to see how we can bring environmental issues into the competition." 

Butterfly Conservation representative Liam Creedon said: "We are in favour of villages looking pretty but they can achieve this while simultaneously providing a habitat for wildlife."  He suggested gardeners can help by planting native nectar sources and added: "Manicured, tidy surroundings aren’t necessarily the most productive habitats for attracting pollinating insects such as butterflies, moths and bees.  Many caterpillars love patches of untidy, unkempt undergrowth with long grasses and other wild plants."

In the Hertfordshire branch of the Campaign to protect rural England, hon. director Kevin Fitzgerald explained they had dropped the Best Kept Village competition 15 years ago because "the idea was past its best."  Until last year they ran a village of the year competition which focused on community life and how people worked together. This year they are running rural living awards in which environment is one of the categories. Fitzgerald added: "We already work closely with the wildlife trust and currently have no plans to change our policies."

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