THE Cotswolds Conservation Board secured more than £2.4m of investment in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and trained a record 340 people in rural skills over the past year, according to the board’s annual review.

The review is the first to be produced after the board launched a five-year management plan for the AONB last year and summarises its work over the 12 months until the end of March.

The Cotswolds AONB, which was set up in 1966, covers 2,038 square kilometres, including much of West Oxfordshire north of Burford, Witney and Woodstock.

Forty rural skills courses, including dry stone walling, hedgelaying, blacksmithing, making lime mortar and Cotswold tile roofing, were attended by 343 people, a 49 per cent increase over 2012-13.

The board also became an approved LANTRA (rural sector skills council) training provider and created the Cotswolds Dry Stone Walling Academy at its headquarters in Northleach.

Other achievements highlighted include projects to achieve a reduction of 500 tonnes in carbon emissions across the region and supporting nearly £300,000 worth of community projects with just under £50,000 in grants.

The Cotswold Voluntary Wardens put in more than 45,000 hours of work on projects including improving flower-rich grassland sites, coppicing woodland, clearing streams and building walls.

The board’s director, Martin Lane, said: “Through the hard work of all our staff, voluntary wardens, members and many partner organisations, including 15 local authorities, we were able to once again secure significant investment and bring a wide range of benefits to the Cotswolds AONB and its communities.

“We’re looking forward to another busy and productive year where hopefully even more projects will come to fruition to help conserve this fantastic landscape and enable more people to explore and enjoy this special place.”

The board’s chairman, the Rev Jeff West, from Banbury, said: “I am always heartened and immensely proud of the quantity and quality of work undertaken by everyone at the board, despite our limited resources.”