PETERSFIELD Town Council has agreed a first-of-its-kind deal to ‘hire’ a full-time countryside officer from South Downs National Park Authority.

The innovative agreement will see the officer employed by the national park, but working for the council full time in Petersfield and on the Downs around the town.

The contract cost to the council will be £37,780 but the national park will provide a truck, work clothes, tools, PPE and all the kit the officer needs to do the job.

Petersfield Town Council clerk Neil Hitch said: “The council is effectively ‘buying’ a service from South Downs National Park Authority.

“The officer can be deployed to work anywhere in Petersfield and along the western downs.

“The council will certainly be getting value for money out of the deal – the post holder will be very busy indeed.”

In the town, the officer will oversee, and care for, open spaces owned by the council. Mr Hitch added: “There is a lot to do, for instance delivering the open spaces management plans we already have in place.

“And a management plan needs to be created for Goodyer Meadows off Sussex Road and implemented and overseen.

“There is also the Heath – looking after that and overseeing and managing it is a job in itself.

“And there is also the overseeing and implementation of the management plan for Rotherlands Nature Reserve.”

Rotherlands is a 7.6-hectare nature reserve owned by the council and originally restored by Rotherlands Conservation Group.

The original plan for the reserve between Pulens Lane and the rugby club was for volunteers to do a lot of the work needed. But the concept has struggled with sustainability, and the reserve needs ongoing work.

It is also hoped the officer will create ‘volunteer’ groups to work on projects in the town and on the downs, and also work with groups already in existence.

And in return, volunteers with the national park already working on the downs could get involved in open spaces projects in the town.

The officer will also have access to national park expertise for local projects.

In a statement, the council said: “The appointment of a countryside officer has been approved.

“The annual cost, including all salary on-costs and pension, is £37,780.

“This figure includes all PPE, training, specialist health and safety provision/training, IT equipment and licences, plus South Downs National Park oversight with vehicle provision.”

The national park is expected to advertise the post early in the new year.

The ground-breaking deal comes at a time when South Downs National Park Authority is cutting back on staff elsewhere because of shrinking government funding.