The Bale House at Hastings Country Park will celebrate an official Grand Opening tomorrow (Saturday) financed by the Platinum Jubilee Fund. Friends of Hastings Park Nature Reserve, operators Groundwork South and Hastings Borough Council (HBC) are combining to put on “a day of celebrations for the Queens Jubilee” with activities, including a beetles and butterflies embossing workshop, a talk by local historian Steve Peak and a mini-beast safari either side of the formal opening at 12.30pm.

The Bale House has in fact been open for business since last July, and the controversies over its funding have clearly been put aside for the present, though the council’s willingness to subsidise its revenue budget at an annual cost of £20,000 will cease in two years’ time. Daily operations are already dependent very largely on a volunteer workforce managed by Groundwork South. Retail merchandising at present makes a minimal contribution.

CREDIT: Dave Young

In the meantime the park itself has generated controversy in recent months over the introduction of Belted Galloway cattle onto the Firehills section. A group of park users, mainly dog walkers, raised health and safety objections and started a petition aimed at compelling park managers to fence the cattle away from public walk areas. However, the number of signatories to the petition appears to have stalled at less than 200, and it has been countered by the Friends group who say the cattle are needed for conservation purposes.

Andrew Colquhoun, their Chair, explains: “The Firehills are an environmentally important area of acid grassland where it really is necessary to suppress the gorse from becoming too dominant and crowding out other species. It is important for all visitors to understand that the Country Park is primarily a Nature Reserve and must be conserved as such.”

HBC also appears unmoved. A spokesperson said: “The council will not be stopping people from walking on the Firehills, and dog walkers are not being stopped from exercising their dogs. They are being asked to show care and to have their dogs under control when they are near the cattle, as they would anywhere else where there are grazing animals.”

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