A group of amateur nature conservationists from Belper is branching out to Ironville after purchasing 71 acres of land for £121,000.
The Friends of Belper Parks are aiming to turn an area of Codnor Park, known as the Forge, into the largest site in Amber Valley with local nature reserve status.
Formerly an open cast mine owned by the Butterley Company, the grass and woodland has grown wild over recent years and become home to several rare species of butterfly and birds including the endangered marsh tit.
Friends chairman Dave Fisher said: “It already is a nature reserve really, but we are hoping to work with the parish council and local residents to make it official and protect it from future building development.”
It is the first project the group has taken on outside Belper, after being set up in 2003 to help Belper Parks gain the same protected status.
Since then, they have continued to help with maintenance and beekeeping with help from a Scout group.
Dave said: “We had been looking for other opportunities, but this came about by chance. A butterfly conservationist I know sent an email out in November asking if anyone had £60,000, as the land was coming up at auction. Two weeks later, it was ours.”
The purchase was made with help from a consortium of anonymous donors.
Dave said: “They are people who know us and what we do. We told them about the plan, and it was as simple as that.
“It was being sold for a lot less, but there was another bidder at the auction who pushed the price up and up.”
The land had been valued at £1.4million in the past, and its most recent owner was self-styled entrepreneur Pritesh Ladwa, who was convicted of fraud after he took more than £100,000 in grants to establish new woodlands across the UK without planting a single tree.
Dave and other Belper Friends will be acting as advisors to local residents.
He said: “There is already the nucleus of a Friends group in Ironville who have been working on the site unofficially. People there are bowled over that it has been preserved for community use.
“Nature reserve status requires a management plan and local authority support, and we can provide some guidance on sorting all that.”
There will be a public meeting for anyone interested in supporting the project at the Anvil Club on Monday, January 29,starting 7.30pm. For more details, email firstname.lastname@example.org.