FOUR communities in Wiltshire have celebrating being presented with one of the CPRE's Awards for Best-Kept Villages.

The awards for this year went to Ramsbury (Large), Tilshead (Medium), Castle Eaton (Small) and Urchfont (Winner of Winners).

The presentations were made by the Queen’s representative in Wiltshire, Mrs Sarah Troughton, the Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire, who is also the President of CPRE Wiltshire.

She was accompanied by the High Sheriff of Wiltshire, Sir Charles Hobhouse; Cllr Stuart Wheeler, the Chairman of Wiltshire Council, and CPRE Wiltshire chairman Anne Henshaw.

The ‘winner of winners’ village of Urchfont became the first to receive a celebration tree, presented by the award-winning soprano Carly Paoli who has become the charity’s new countryside ambassador.

Opening the presentation of awards in Urchfont on Sunday, September 26 CPRE Wiltshire chairman Anne Henshaw stressed the importance of community spirit and involving the younger generation in conservation work.

"This village looks more than cared for; it looks loved," she said. "My message would be to join up together more and more. The more villages have that, the stronger they become.

"Because everyone then gets to know their village and one of the things that's made villages weak in many other areas of Wiltshire and all over the country is that we live a disconnected life these days.

"That's historically because of working somewhere and living somewhere else; and the demise of the post office or the village shop or places where people used to congregate. People knew each other - today it's less easy."

Speaking about the work of the CPRE Wiltshire Mrs Henshaw said: "I expect most of you can remember back in the late 70s and 80s when the great mantra was 'pull out the hedgerows' and ‘plough up the land’ all for economic growth - now where are we?

"Unfortunately, when you start destroying things very often you can't put them back as they actually were because they took generations to get to that stage.

"We all should be learning from the rainforests; you can't remake a rainforest in a few generations.

"Conservation in that way is so important and that means everybody - and it's lovely to see the youngsters here because that's an area where we should all be concentrating.

"The more they understand what we've ruined the more they'll be aware of what they've got to try to rebuild."

Mrs Sarah Troughton unveiled the CPRE Awards shields in all of the four villages.

Describing Urchfont as "one of the prettiest villages in Wiltshire", Mrs Troughton told the assembled villagers they should be "rightly proud of it."

She added: "'It had so many plaudits from the judges: the community spirit was remarkable, the Lamb Inn, the village hall and the scout hut were all mentioned. The telephone box used as a scarecrow exhibit was a masterpiece."

As the winner of the Laurence Kitching award, Urchfont parish council were also presented with a plaque by Owen Pryce, commercial director of Princeton Homes who sponsor the ‘winner of winners’ section at the competition.

Presenting the first-ever CPRE Wiltshire celebration tree to the winners of the Laurence Kitching Award, Carly Paoli said; "Just driving into Urchfont I can completely understand why you've won this competition."

"It's really beautiful and you're a shining example of community spirit. I very much look forward to seeing this beautiful mountain ash flourish."

The day started at Tilshead, which won the medium village category. The judges’ comments described the village as giving "an immediate impression of a well-cared for village in which the wider community participate."

That community spirit was seen in the unveiling of the shield which required assistance from a father and his son to remove a very well secured flag from the shield.

Mike Hill, chief executive of Swindon-based Hills Group, the main sponsors of the competition, presented a plaque.

Awards were also made at Ramsbury and Castle Eaton where villagers turned out to take part in the celebrations. Joining the celebrations at Ramsbury was town crier John Barker and Cllr Stuart Wheeler.

Castle Eaton were judged not only the Best Kept Small Village but also – by a separate pair of judges – the Best Newcomer. Describing it as “outstanding” and “spotless” – not surprising since villagers had collected 125 bags of litter from roads into the village – they were also praised for their children’s playground and community spirit.