COOPER’S Meadow is significant in Marlborough’s market town history, as I gather it was used to overnight sheep on their way to the market. Since the 1940s more than 97 per cent of meadow in England and Wales has disappeared. In 2009 Marlborough Town Council took the forward-looking decision to manage Cooper’s Meadow in a way that would recreate a genuine meadow environment. An environmentally enriched amenity area was an ambitious goal.
ARK (Action for the River Kennet), an incredibly active and much loved local charity, embarked on a £50,000-plus project, to repair the eroded riverbanks, remove problematic trees, regenerate the neglected leat and begin conservation grazing. 
This project was carried out with the full support of Wiltshire Council, Kennet District Council, Marlborough Town Council, the Environment Agency and various other expert bodies. ARK raised all the funding and neither the council nor the tax-paying public had to foot the bill. A few years later further funding was raised by for the installation of a very attractive fish pass in the meadow.
ARK, with full support and working in partnership with the town council, has transformed Coopers Meadow from an area dominated by rank vegetation (docks, nettles, meadowsweet and thistle) to a grassland with a high proportion of fine grasses and an increasing number of wild flowers. A huge and very muddy community volunteering event took place, when 1,000 plants went into the ground. Local children from various groups and schools worked in the meadow on projects ranging from litter picking to bank revetment and much more.
The results are clear to see, although returning this sort of land to a wildflower meadow is, and will be, a lengthy process, the investment is paying off. 
People have enjoyed seeing livestock in the town centre. The upgrade and, if necessary, enlargement of the playground for under-12s is agreed by all. There is a delay whilst further funding is sought by the town council to ensure the best possible result. Where better to have a conservation grazing project, than where children can grow up seeing the idea in action and understand what is being achieved? Creating habitats quickly brings back wildlife and having children in close proximity to all things natural has many positive spin-offs.
Putting conservation grazing stock in a meadow requires fencing. At first the top half only was fenced for grazing which had easy access (by the playground) from George Lane car park. First cows, then sheep came from a nearby farm (where there is plenty of grazing), but these animals are needed in the meadow for a specific purpose. The other half of the meadow (by Ropewalk) was, in the first year, mown, hand-raked, dried and carted. ARK wanted to see which system would work best. 
Raking the area proved backbreaking. Maurice Cooper, who knows a great deal about the meadow, was often involved and consulted, he also came along as an ARK volunteer to rake. However, that was not a sustainable way forward and the conservation grazing stock seemed to be doing a rather better job than manpower. So the second half was fenced to take the project forward – that’s why there is a fence across the middle, where the beehives are currently placed. All fencing was provided at no cost to the public purse and the gates are open for seven months of the year to allow free access to the grazed area as well.
We have, for far too many years, forgotten the value of our environment, we have strimmed it to within an inch of its life, poisoned much of it, left vegetation to rot, squandered water and ignored the needs of wildlife from insects upwards. But, thankfully, times are changing. 
Today’s children realise the value increasingly and most of us realise the value of children being brought up with this knowledge. This is not a case of sheep being more important than children or land commandeered, or a farmer needing a bit of grazing land for five months a year. A lot of time, money and effort continues to go into the project and ARK, its volunteers and the town council are working well together.
We need to re-establish the lost understanding of how important our environment is for the very survival, as well as the enjoyment, health and well-being of future generations. Where better to do that, than right in the middle of our beautiful town? It was perhaps a project ahead of its time, but nevertheless, a feather in Marlborough’s cap. One of which the town, the council and ARK can be rightly proud.
Kennet Place