Co-founder of The Greensand Trust awarded MBE for services to wildlife and conservation in Bedfordshire

Peter Smith MBE was recognised for his dedication to the countryside, in particular his work at the Sandy Smith Nature Reserve, Chicksands.

Wednesday, 23rd June 2021, 2:42 pm
Updated Wednesday, 23rd June 2021, 3:56 pm

The co-founder of The Greensand Trust was proud to receive an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list for services to wildlife and conservation in Bedfordshire.

Peter Smith 75, who lives in Eversholt, was recognised by the Cabinet Office for his dedication to the countryside, in particular his work at the Sandy Smith Nature Reserve, Chicksands, and Rushmere Country Park, Heath and Reach.

The wildlife enthusiast has gifted grants for conservation purposes through the Peter Smith Trust for Nature, founded in 1990, while via The Greensand Trust he worked with local communities and landowners to conserve and enhance the distinctive landscape, wildlife, and history of the Greensand ridge and surrounding area.

Peter Smith MBE, pictured birdwatching at The Sandy Smith Nature Reserve. Photo: Peter Smith.

Peter told the Chronicle: "I'm honoured to be recognised for something I thoroughly believe in and enjoy doing.

"It's something that's very, very important. There's obviously a lot of competition and I always think that conservation has been underrated - but it's key.

"People expect nature to be fundraised for nothing but it does cost money to maintain. I'd like to see it as another large charity. The more people get involved it in, the more value they will see."

Peter co-founded The Greensand Trust with Richard Woolnough in 1999, as they saw that the ridge had become fragmented, leading to a general reduction and deterioration of habitats.

In 2016, as a direct consequence of his leadership, a local partnership project known as Secrets of Sands was awarded an earmarked grant of £1.6m to create a strong community led partnership to promote the area’s interests.

Praising Peter, a Cabinet Office spokeswoman, said: "Without his determination and commitment and generosity through the Peter Smith Charitable Trust, the Secrets of the Sand initiative would not have come about and been able to achieve what it already has.

"He has made an outstanding and unique contribution towards the promotion, protection and preservation of the Greensand Ridge and its surrounding countryside and towns and to the provision of recreation and other leisure facilities for the public, with the object of improving their conditions of life and education to ensure the preservation of the countryside under future

generations."

Peter added: "South Bedfordshire is becoming very highly populated. Everybody needs somewhere to live but you have got to have places to go to chill out and get some peace and quiet. That's why these services are so important.

"Hopefully we will get children interested, and we might find the next David Attenborough or Chris Packham!"

One of Peter's first projects after launching The Greensand Trust was to purchase a 250 acre site at Chicksands, which he gifted to the newly formed charity, known as The Sandy Smith Nature Reserve after his wife.

The Trust bought the land from developers, whom had converted a listed building and barns but didn't want the rest of the site, with habitats at the reserve including: wet woodland, water meadows, and farmland. The River Flit also runs through.

Peter told the Chronicle: "We are working to restore its wet woodland habitat, for example, by blocking up drainage, and hedges have also been planted on the farmland.

"On the wet woodland, rich grassland grows like mad, so we allow a local farmer to graze his cattle on the site during the winter. They munch away and 'puddle it'.

"Once the spring comes, the cows leave and flowers are able to grow because they are not smothered in grass."

As well as space at Chicksands, an opportunity arose to acquire land in Leighton Buzzard when Peter was approached by an owner who was keen to preserve the unique landscape.

This land became Rushmere Park in 2011, welcoming an impressive 300,000 visitors in 2016.

It has also been described as "containing some of the most stunning landscapes and wildlife in central England".

Peter's own love for nature grew when he went fishing with his school friends around the age of 11.

One of his chums also took up bird watching, and as Peter's interest grew, he became a member of the Bedfordshire Natural History Society aged 15. He later went on to join the RSPB.

Peter said: "I enjoyed visiting bird watching areas and also spotting other forms of wildlife as well, butterflies in particular.

"So, when I became successful in life, I decided I would give something back."

Peter was born in Bedford and spent his career as a chartered surveyor, most notably becoming the chairman of a company called Colleys.

He retired in 2011, and hopes his strides in preserving Bedfordshire wildlife will lead the way for the next generation.

Inspiring youngsters, he concluded: "Fortunately, conservation is more established on the curriculum than when I was at school.

"Get out of your bedroom, get off your computers and X-Boxes, and go out there. It doesn't cost anything. Go for a walk in the countryside and look at the flowers, and butterflies and birds.

"It's great for your mental health, it's great for your physical health; it's a great benefit."