Council bid for volunteers take over shrub maintenance

A group of associates of CLEAR Buckhaven - Community-Led Environmental Action for Regeneration.
A group of associates of CLEAR Buckhaven - Community-Led Environmental Action for Regeneration.

Leading Buckhaven environmental campaigners and community organisation CLEAR has respectfully declined an approach by Fife Council to take over the ongoing maintenance of shrub-beds around the town.

Transforming the look of open spaces in the area with new plants and renovation projects is among CLEAR’s hallmarks – but the group has said it could not take on the regular tasks, for reasons of reliability, regularity – and finance.

The group’s secretary, Allen Armstrong, said while CLEAR (Community-Led Environmental Action for Regeneration) had managed to raise significant funds and mobilised volunteers to replant many shrub beds this winter, an ongoing role was not realistic for a small charity or voluntary group.

“Volunteer numbers and capabilities vary and we never know how many will turn up,” he said. “No grant funder ever provides funds for maintenance - they prefer new projects – so, without regular ongoing income, we cannot engage staff for this either, though we can seek funds for new investment and planting.”

Mr Armstrong stressed CLEAR had a good working relationship with Fife Council, including the parks department, and it knew the authority had suffered heavy cutbacks, reducing the work it could carry out.

“It’s difficult for our charity to maintain the regularity and reliability,” he added. “We can do one-off things but, basically, no one gets funding for maintenance.”

Suggesting the situation was possibly “another sign of the times”, Mr Armstrong said CLEAR sympathised with the local authority.

“We know staff numbers here have really been cut almost to the bone, because it’s not what you might call an absolutely essential service,” he said.

“We might if we were able to set ourselves up formally but we still need some regular funding to get at least one tor two staff - you can’t always rely on volunteers the way you can on staff.”

“Reliability and routine needs some sort of funding stream at some point,” added Mr Armstrong. “There’s no point in the Council offloading that - they are experts, and they do it better than we can do it as well.”

However, CLEAR would argue that Buckhaven, in particular, received less than its fair share of certain Council services.

“The almost lack of floral displays here, compared with many other towns and villages, is often commented upon,” said Mr Armstrong.

Fife Council’s service manager, Damien Woods, said he understood CLEAR’s reservations about taking the role but roundly praised the work it did in the community.

He added that shrubbed sections of ground may have to be covered over if it became impossible to guarantee their upkeep.

“In the face of every increasing demands and expectations on the Council’s services and budgets, along with necessary savings which have to be made, we are constantly having to look at how we can deliver services differently and more efficiently,” said Mr Woods.

“More and more, we are looking at community empowerment and encouraging local communities to take more ownership over their areas.

“I understand fully if CLEAR feels it is unable to take on the upkeep of these shrub beds. However, it already provides an excellent service to the community.”

Mr Woods added: “We would always want to give community groups the chance to take on areas, if they feel they can, before we make any changes. If no other groups can take on the care of these shrubbed areas, then we will need to look at alternative, low-maintenance measures, such as shale or gravel coverings.”