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Introduction from the Chair

What does a Parish or Town Council do?

Parish and Town Councils only operate in the more rural areas of the country, where they constitute the first tier of local government. Councillors, who are all volunteers, are elected every four years at elections run by the district authority – in our case, West Suffolk Council. Being a small parish with only 267 people on the electoral roll and just under 150 households, we have just seven allotted councillors.

As described in a recent House of Commons report https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn04827/

A Parish Council’s main role is to ‘own and manage assets, give grants to local bodies, and bid for funds from grant making bodies or government initiatives’. We can also ‘advise on local planning issues’ and ‘represent parish interests’ to the district and county councils. To that end, we have ‘powers to employ staff’ - in our case the parish clerk who minutes our meetings and ensures that our financial and statutory obligations are fulfilled. Our aim is to listen to parishioners’ views, weigh up the evidence, and try to reach consensus.

Since the UK is one of the world’s most depleted countries in terms of wildlife and biodiversity, the latest Environment Act (2021) places a responsibility on all local councils (consistent with the exercise of their proper functions) to conserve and enhance biodiversity. As a result of this legislation, and starting in February 2024, all new development is now supposed to result in a bio-diversity net gain.

Hawstead has long been designated in West Suffolk District Council’s local plan as ‘Open Country’. With the exception of our beautiful Village Hall, built through the fundraising efforts of the Community Council on Parish Council land, Hawstead no longer has the infrastructure (pub, school, shop, or bus route) that would support any major new development.  

The latest version of the West Suffolk plan (2024) strengthens the council’s desire to protect the rural belt surrounding Bury St Edmunds, and shows that we are part of the ‘Horringer Farmland and Parks’ area of ‘Locally Valued Landscapes’. We are also the start of the ‘Lark Corridor’. For all these reasons, the parish constitutes an important part of West Suffolk’s ‘green infrastructure’. In fact, two of our natural ‘assets’, the main Village Green, and the River Lark, which is a chalk stream, are so rare that they can be classed as being of national, even international importance.

The Greens

Hawstead is distinctive in having four greens: Pound Green in front of the Grade 2 listed almshouses; Bull Green in Bull Lane; Brook Green, which is now secondary woodland either side of Bells Lane; and our exceptionally large and beautiful, triangular Village Green. Bordered on three sides by branches of the Lark, this comprises some 24 acres of ‘unimproved, species-rich grassland’ and is edged with woodland and scrub (bramble and other shrubby plants) that provide an important nectar source and habitat for insects, birds and other animals.

 Permanent flowering grassland is now increasingly recognised for its importance as a ‘carbon sink’. The grass also grows very long roots which helps develop a soil structure able to absorb water. This in turn replenishes underlying aquafers since the water is able to percolate slowly downwards. But such grassland is now a rare habitat in the UK. The charity Plantlife estimates that ‘97% has been lost in the last 100 years’ with the remainder now covering just 1% of all land in the UK.

Although it was cultivated for food during WWII, the Green has not been ploughed since, nor has it been subject to fertilisers or chemical treatments. Although we maintain a mown path around the edge, we keep it looking the way it does by having it cut for hay, just once a year. This maintains its even growth of fine grasses and swathes of wild flowers, and has allowed us to claim a Countryside Stewardship grant from DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) for many years. This grant has been of enormous financial benefit to the village, and, partly because of it, we have been able to limit increases in the precept (our part of the charges that go towards your Council Tax bill).

To celebrate the millennium, the Parish Council was able to purchase the larger section of a former Glebe field next to the parish church. The rest was retained by the diocese as a small car park and extension to the churchyard.  The Millennium Field is now home to our Community Orchard, filled with unusual and local varieties of apples and other top fruit.

 River Lark

Through its ownership of the Village Green, the Parish Council is also a ‘riparian landowner’ - owner of several stretches of river and river bank. But in fact the entire parish is criss-crossed with the streams and ditches that together form the head waters of the River Lark chalk stream. Chalk streams are characterized by clear, shallow waters that meander over gravel beds, sometimes disappearing into underground aquifers to reappear further downstream.

Estimates vary, but there are only about 200 chalk streams in the world, 80-90% of which are in the UK. In their natural state, such streams maintain a cool, even temperature, and support a huge range of plants and animals; they have been described as the UK’s equivalent to a rain forest or to the Great Barrier Reef. But sadly, almost all the UK’s chalk streams are degraded, either because of attempts to control their course, or because of high levels of pollution from a variety of sources: run off from roads and fields; sewage; and industry.

The Lark rises in Lawshall and Stanningfield, is joined by the River Linnet in the Abbey Gardens in Bury, and falls into the Great Ouse in Cambridgeshire. A glance at a map shows that most of the main river has been canalised into straight lines that drain what used to be fenland. Only in Hawstead does it follow its natural wiggly course. But even so, we currently have problems with water quality, and water flow – both drying up in the summer and flooding during wet spells. 

information about riparian duties can be found at  https://www.gov.uk/guidance/owning-a-watercourse 

 River Lark Flagship Project 

In 2021 the government through the Environment Agency identified eight chalk streams, one in each region of the UK, to be ‘flagship’ examples of river restoration over an entire catchment area. This is what has led to the designation ‘Lark Corridor’ in the West Suffolk local plan 2024. The Lark Flagship programme, to be overseen by Ofwat, largely financed by Anglian Water, and spearheaded by a local charity, the River Lark Catchment Partnership, is now in the planning stages. It is scheduled to start in 2025.

Hawstead Parish Council is pleased to be playing a small part in that project, and is liaising with other riparian landowners in the village. A group of village volunteers has already started to contribute to the RLCP’s citizen science programme by monitoring water quality, flow, and invertebrates in the water at key points across the parish and the wider headwaters. This will help plan how to restore the river, encourage wildlife, mitigate the ever-increasing threats of flooding, and enable residents to enjoy a beautiful natural resource.

Because the overall project is encouraged by national agencies (EA, Ofwat) and part funded by Anglian Water, there is no financial charge to the PC for our involvement, and significant environmental and social benefit to the village and its residents.  


Councillor Ros Alexander

Hawstead PC Chair

April 2024