HAMPSHIRE and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust have purchased St Clair’s Meadow, in Soberton, from the Earl of Clarendon’s estate.

The deal has been struck with the generous support of the Pig Shed Trust, the local community and a £300,000 grant from Biffa Award.

Biffa Award is a multi-million pound fund that helps to build communities and transform lives through awarding grants to community and environmental projects across the UK, as part of the Landfill Communities Fund.

St Clair’s Meadow, which covers around 16 hectares, is located within the Forest of Bere and the South Downs National Park and contains a stretch of the River Meon, one of Hampshire’s internationally important chalk rivers.

Deborah Tann, trust chief executive, said: “We are absolutely delighted that we have been able to secure this wonderful site as a nature reserve. St Clair’s Meadow is a fantastic example of an historic water meadow, with a stretch of the incredible Meon chalk stream running through it. This is an exceptional habitat for wildlife that has been said to be as internationally important as the rainforests or Great Barrier Reef.

"St Clair’s is already home to a rich array of wildlife, such as kingfisher, water vole and a large number of butterflies and dragonflies. We know that this meadow is also much loved by the local community and we are so grateful for their support and the support from Biffa Award that allowed us to acquire this land.

"We very much look forward to working with local residents in the months and years to come, to look after and enhance this new nature reserve so that it becomes a real haven for both wildlife and people to enjoy.”

Gillian French, head of grants for Biffa Awards, said: “Biffa Award funding transforms lives and this project is no exception. We are incredibly proud to have helped Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust to acquire this land, which will be of benefit both to the people living around St Clair’s Meadow and the wildlife that calls it home. It is a fantastic place, loved by the whole community, and now it is safe for many years to come and under the protection of Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust”.

St Clair’s has been one of the release sites for a water vole reintroduction project on the River Meon, a partnership project led by the South Downs National Park Authority and involving Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.

The water vole is Britain’s fastest declining mammal due to habitat loss, fragmentation and predation by American mink. Monitoring of the sites involved has demonstrated that water voles are now breeding in this area.

Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust is the leading wildlife charity in the two counties and with the support of our 26,000 members we’re taking effective action to protect our natural heritage. We’re also part of a UK-wide partnership of 47 Wildlife Trusts; together we are the nation’s most active and influential nature conservation partnership protecting wildlife in every part of the UK. www.hiwwt.org.uk