Appeal to save wildlife from fire

Liz Nicholls

wildlife

Surrey Wildlife Trust is urgently asking for donations to help one of our most precious heathland habitats, and about 200 red deer that help maintain it, recover from a devastating wildfire.

In July, a wildfire broke out on Pirbright Ranges, one of the largest areas of lowland heath in Surrey and home to many rare and threatened species. Patches of ground continue to burn for three weeks and over 650 hectares of pristine heathland has now been severely burnt, at great cost to wildlife.

Surrey Wildlife Trust’s herd of red deer carry out a vital role by grazing the heathland to prevent scrub including Scots pine, common gorse and silver birch from taking over the site. This allows slower-growing dwarf scrub and specialist heathland plant species to flourish, creating the foundation of the unique and threatened heathland ecosystem. Following the fire, hundreds of meters of fencing and heavy-duty sleepers that keep the deer safely on site now needs to be replaced – and the ongoing welfare of the herd will depend on regular vet checks and inspections by SWT staff. Supplementary food in the form of haylage will also be made available to the deer to ensure they have enough food to maintain good condition heading into winter.

The immediate impact of the fire also includes the potential loss of hundreds of recently fledged rare ground-nesting birds including European nightjars, Dartford warblers and woodlark which may have been too young to fly away from the fire. The damage to the site will also have prevented their parents from nesting a second time this year and will change the availability of suitable nesting sites for years to come. Reptiles such as slow worms, grass snakes and adders have been unable to escape the fire, perishing alongside the many invertebrate species, including endangered heath tiger beetles that inhabit the remaining heathland fragments in the southeast of England.

WildNet
Pirbright_before_the_fire_(SWT)

Wildfires have put Surrey on the front line of the climate and nature emergency

Rising temperatures and a lack of rainfall has led to increasingly large, uncontrollable blazes that destroy large areas of heathland. The Pirbright Ranges Fire has potentially burned deep into the ground, affecting plant species including round-leaved sundew, marsh clubmoss and bell heather over hundreds of hectares.

About 85% of heathland in the UK has been lost over the past 150 years through agriculture, development and changes in land management. Surrey Wildlife Trust manages several areas of heathland, including Chobham Common National Nature Reserve and Wisley and Ockham commons that are particularly susceptible to fire in dry conditions. Strain on resources in the years ahead are set to be severe for all who manage and protect these diverse and sensitive habitats.  Dealing with the impact of the Pirbright Ranges fire is expected to account for more than 30 additional days of SWT staff time this year alone.

Surrey Wildlife Trust’s director of reserves management, James Herd, says:

“Wildfires have put Surrey on the front line of the climate and nature emergency – and we urgently need extra support to meet the challenge.  Whilst the heathland will regenerate over time, it is likely to be eight to twelve years before it returns to full health.  The deer will perform a unique and irreplaceable role in ensuring the lowland habitats recover during this time.  All donations we receive will go directly to ensuring their welfare and the continuing safety of Surrey’s heathlands and their unique plants and animals.

“With the help of local people, we will do all we can to explore what more can be done to protect our natural heritage as weather patterns change.  It’s vitally important that people in Surrey can continue to reap the benefits of diverse and healthy ecosystems.”

Pirbright Ranges is owned by the Ministry of Defence.  For safety reasons, it is not accessible to the public.  The herd of red deer that grazes the site is owned and managed by Surrey Wildlife Trust.

David Nolan, Area Commander for Surrey Fire and Rescue Service said:

“Surrey Fire and Rescue Service is urging people to be wildfire aware. We have seen an increase in the number of wildfires we are attending recently and are asking residents to help keep Surrey safe. Please pack a picnic instead of a BBQ, and don’t have campfires or bonfires when the weather is dry! Ensure you dispose of cigarettes and litter correctly.”

Find out more

For more information about how to support the appeal please visit surreywildlifetrust.org/wildfire-appeal

Wild Watlington

Liz Nicholls

wildlife

Nicola Shafer tells us how her love of the natural world led her to the publication of her new book

We are lucky to have beautiful natural local habitats. From our precious chalk grasslands to our rare chalk streams, from the beech woods filled with bluebells and wild garlic, to our ancient hedgerows rich with native species, to old oak trees and meadows, to the gardens and green spaces in the town.

My love of wildlife started as a child, encouraged by my parents and grandparents and a small flowerpress. However it is only since I got involved with the Green Plan, a collaboration between Watlington Climate Action Group and other local groups interested in conservation that I realised how much I didn’t know about ecology. I joined Watlington Environment Group and started to learn the names of flowers, the types of insects, the song of our birds and the importance of our chalk stream. Last year, I acquired a macro lens with which to take better photographs of our local wildflowers, and a whole new world of beauty opened up in front of my eyes. Previously on walks I might notice the flowers in passing but now, stopping to take a closer look the variety, colour, and structure of these wildflowers astounds me. Looking closer you often see that a single flower can be home to various small insects, and a food source or a resting place for a bee or a butterfly.

Thank you to Watlington Library for displaying Eleanor’s artwork from the book in July, and to The Granary Café for hosting an exhibition last month.

Wild Watlington, The Creatures of Watlington Parish is a tour of just some of what can be found on our doorstep. Written as a story book, it is full of information that will be appreciated by young and old alike, as we find out about the habitats that make up our landscape, and the creatures that share it. The book was illustrated by young artist Eleanor Short, who is a Year 8 student at Icknield Community College. Thank you to Watlington Library for displaying Eleanor’s artwork from the book in July, and to The Granary Café for hosting an exhibition last month.

In the last year, with the aid of apps, my grandmother’s guide to wild flowers, and patient friends with more knowledge than me, I’ve been able to learn a fair proportion of the flowers I find on the local hills and verges. In times gone past, we were intimately acquainted with the plants around us – what was edible, what was not, what could be used for a medical treatment, what could be used for warding off evil spirits, and what smelt good when added to bedding. Now most of us don’t even know the names! As a society we have lost so much of this knowledge, but it is worth the effort to reclaim it. Looking closer and recognising the flowers and plants around us bring a greater understanding and connection to our natural world and with it a greater desire to protect and restore it.

Around Watlington my favourite places for wildlife spotting are:

1. The Chilterns way through Greenfield and College Woods is beautiful and I often see deer there

2. Incredible wild flowers can be seen on the chalk grass of the Aston Rowant Nature Reserves

3. The Chalk Pits at the bottom of Watlington Hill is a quiet retreat to listen to birdsong

4. The Paddock behind Watlington Library is beautifully planted with pollinator friendly plants, a great place to spot different types of bees and butterflies

5. Watlington’s historical chalk streams and spring fed ponds such as the Willow Pond and Horse Pond host amphibians, invertebrates, ducks, and occasionally a water vole.

Get your copy

The book is on sale at So Sustainable on Watlington High Street, priced at £5, and limited edition prints are available at wildwatlington.uk

What’s your favourite local park?

Round & About

wildlife

Love Parks Week runs from today until Friday 5th August, organised by Keep Britain Tidy.

The charity wants us all to enjoy our green spaces, whether it’s walking the dog, picnicking with friends, or pushing our little ones on a playground swing.

There are lots of events going on and the week is also set up to celebrate and support the efforts of the volunteers who maintain and protect our green spaces.

Buckinghamshire has so many wonderful parks to enjoy, including Guildford’s Loseley Park, Frimley Lodge Park in Camberley, Lightwater Country Park and Gostrey Meadow in Farnham… Which is your favourite? Make sure to share it on social media #LoveParks

We’ve also teamed up with Keep Britain Tidy to call for dog-owners to bag and bin their pooch’s poop!

What’s your favourite local park?

Round & About

wildlife

Love Parks Week runs from today until Friday 5th August, organised by Keep Britain Tidy.

The charity wants us all to enjoy our green spaces, whether it’s walking the dog, picnicking with friends, or pushing our little ones on a playground swing.

There are lots of events going on and the week is also set up to celebrate and support the efforts of the volunteers who maintain and protect our green spaces.

Surrey has so many wonderful parks to enjoy, including Guildford’s Loseley Park, Frimley Lodge Park in Camberley, Lightwater Country Park and Gostrey Meadow in Farnham… Which is your favourite? Make sure to share it on social media #LoveParks

We’ve also teamed up with Keep Britain Tidy to call for dog-owners to bag and bin their pooch’s poop!

What’s your favourite local park?

Round & About

wildlife

Love Parks Week runs from today until Friday 5th August, organised by Keep Britain Tidy.

The charity wants us all to enjoy our green spaces, whether it’s walking the dog, picnicking with friends, or pushing our little ones on a playground swing.

There are lots of events going on and the week is also set up to celebrate and support the efforts of the volunteers who maintain and protect our green spaces.

Hampshire has so many wonderful parks to enjoy, including Eastrop Park in Basingstoke and Bramshot Farm Country Park in Fleet… Which is your favourite? Make sure to share it on social media #LoveParks

We’ve also teamed up with Keep Britain Tidy to call for dog-owners to bag and bin their pooch’s poop!

What’s your favourite local park?

Round & About

wildlife

Love Parks Week runs from today until Friday 5th August, organised by Keep Britain Tidy.

The charity wants us all to enjoy our green spaces, whether it’s walking the dog, picnicking with friends, or pushing our little ones on a playground swing.

There are lots of events going on and the week is also set up to celebrate and support the efforts of the volunteers who maintain and protect our green spaces.

Wiltshire has so many wonderful parks to enjoy, including Langford Lakes Nature Reserve and Penn Wood in Calne… Which is your favourite? Make sure to share it on social media #LoveParks

We’ve also teamed up with Keep Britain Tidy to call for dog-owners to bag and bin their pooch’s poop!

What’s your favourite local park?

Round & About

wildlife

Love Parks Week runs from today until Friday 5th August, organised by Keep Britain Tidy.

The charity wants us all to enjoy our green spaces, whether it’s walking the dog, picnicking with friends, or pushing our little ones on a playground swing.

There are lots of events going on and the week is also set up to celebrate and support the efforts of the volunteers who maintain and protect our green spaces.

Oxfordshire has so many wonderful parks to enjoy, including Oxford’s Shotover Country Park, Radley Lakes, Abbey Gardens, The Ridgeway and Stonor Park…Which is your favourite? Make sure to share it on social media #LoveParks

We’ve also teamed up with Keep Britain Tidy to call for dog-owners to bag and bin their pooch’s poop!

What’s your favourite local park?

Round & About

wildlife

Love Parks Week runs from today until Friday 5th August, organised by Keep Britain Tidy.

The charity wants us all to enjoy our green spaces, whether it’s walking the dog, picnicking with friends, or pushing our little ones on a playground swing.

There are lots of events going on and the week is also set up to celebrate and support the efforts of the volunteers who maintain and protect our green spaces.

Berkshire has so many wonderful parks to enjoy, including Wokingham’s California Country Park, Windsor Great Park, Reading’s Forbury Gardens and Beale Park near Pangbourne… Which is your favourite? Make sure to share it on social media #LoveParks

We’ve also teamed up with Keep Britain Tidy to call for dog-owners to bag and bin their pooch’s poop!

Volunteers help maintain Betjeman Millennium Park

Round & About

wildlife

James Kent, a year 12 pupil at King Alfred’s, spends a day with the army of volunteers who help maintain the Betjeman Millennium Park in Wantage, which has just marked its 20th anniversary

Just a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Wantage Marketplace is a haven of wildlife, poetry, and relaxation – the Betjeman Millennium Park.

This month, the park enters its 20th year of providing for the local community but why is the park here in the first place? How was the land transformed from an empty derelict wasteland to the vibrant hub it is today? And why is it still so important?

You could be mistaken for wandering down from the parish church or along by the mill and assuming the wild plot of land on the outskirts of Wantage is just a normal park or nature reserve, but this is far from the truth…

You can feel a sense of magic and myth as you wander around the trails

Named after local poet and former poet laureate Sir John Betjeman (who lived in Wantage 1951-72) and dedicated to the start of the new millennium, the park is certainly not your ordinary piece of flat and neatly squared out urban greenery.

Being host to semi-wild woodland, engraved sculptures, a circle of ancient sarsen stones (the same as in Stonehenge) and even a performance area this is less of a park and more of a centre of life. You can feel a sense of magic and myth as you wander around the trails and get lost within the sprawling trees and running rhythms of word.

The freedom and wonder are infectious and not exclusive to humans – wildflowers pop up and enthusiastically cover the ground all around and birds call out from their leafy abodes.

In most places it is us or nature. Houses, pavements, fences keeping us tucked away from wildlife like it’s our enemy, the unkempt sprawling mass that we can’t control. However, here it is (to an extent) beautifully uncontrolled and thriving and a poignant reminder that we can all be here and coexist happily.

To many (myself included) it seems like Betjeman Park has always been there – a permanent feature of Wantage – but, as I’ve learnt, the fight for this park has been hard, the upkeep crucial but most importantly the transformation incredible. The two-acre site of land on which the park lies was once a piece of derelict wasteland that was close to being developed on with property.

Seeing the opportunity for protecting wildlife and how devastating it would be to see this land become swallowed up by more infrastructure, a local group came together to make a charitable trust. Through hard work, they saved the land and bought the plot with help from a council grant in the mid-1990s.

Chelsea Flower Show gold medalist Gabriella Pape was commissioned to design the space and came up with the idea of planting native tree species to increase biodiversity.

Local sculptor and artist Alec Peever was then chosen to engrave and install six sculptures to immortalise Sir John Betjeman’s words and poetry in stone which now make up the poetry trail. Finally, in May 2002 (after seven years of dedication) the ribbon was cut and the park opened to the jazzy sounds of The Wantage Silver Band.

It’s just so lovely to have this place in the centre of town

Today, the park is as relevant as ever in the local community and holds annual events like Art in the Park and the Betjeman Bike Ride and is used by many schools, cub groups and brownies for both education and adventure. It is also loved by locals (young and old) as a calm and relaxing sanctuary which transports you far away from the humdrum of the town.

One local resident told me it’s “just so lovely to have this place in the centre of town” and “it’s a wonderful asset” which has bloomed out of the “rough, unloved ground” she once remembers.

The Park has also been especially helpful to locals during the lockdowns as it provided many with the opportunity to get out of the house and spend some time in nature during those precious windows of exercise.

The essential role it plays in the community has also been acknowledged as it is now recognised as a Local Green Space in the draft Wantage Neighbourhood Plan, which protects it from all future development.

As a park for both people and nature to coexist happily, the upkeep is essential and many dedicated local volunteers help out at monthly work parties. I went down to see what was going on at the April work party and met some of the volunteers and trustees.

From the moment I joined them during their well earnt tea break I could really feel the deep sense of unity between them and the nature they care for. One enthusiastic volunteer, who has been involved for eight years and is one of the current trustees, told me how as a child she had quite self-sufficient parents and grew up “in the middle of nowhere” so it’s quite “a revelation to be in such a community”.

However, it’s not always a walk in the park (!) as she tells me it can be challenging to juggle her job and other responsibilities with the time needed as a trustee but there is such a great “feeling of achievement” and so much social connection.

Not only do those working inside the park’s perimeters feel the connection but I was told how often passersby stop to say how much they appreciate the work being done on the park and how much the park means to them which is “reason enough to do it” for lots of them.

One elderly lady, although unable to do any physical work, regularly pops by to bring home-made biscuits for all the hard workers- not only is the park there for the community to enjoy but also for the community to care for in all the different ways they can.

Not only is the park there for the community to enjoy but also for the community to care for

One student volunteer who got involved just about nine months ago originally to be part of his Duke Of Edinburgh award is now the park’s youngest ever trustee and has spent six months on an ambitious project identifying and mapping out all the trees in the park alongside one of the more experienced and knowledgeable volunteers.

He tells me the yew tree is his favourite in the park with its reddish and purple bark and evergreen spines and how they are very slow to grow but can live for thousands of years. What I really came away feeling like at the end of the work party was that this is no begrudging task or tedious responsibility for those involved but really a great pleasure.

As the chairman John Vandore said it is a real “privilege” to be able to ensure the survival of the magical space the original founding trustees fought so hard to gain.

To find out more about Betjeman Millenium Park or get in touch check out the Facebook page

Tell us your local news here

Star Q&A: Ray Mears

Round & About

wildlife

Local television star & bushcraft expert Ray Mears, 57, tells us more about his new We Are Nature book & theatre show to help us “tune in and turn on” to nature…

Q. Hello Ray. When did you first fall in love with nature? “When I was about seven or eight and I started to learn about edible plants. In those days, there was no internet, so I went to the library. I came across this plant in the woods called wood sorrel. I took ages to study it in books before I plucked up the courage to try it. It tasted of apple peel… And I’ve never looked back.”

Q: Can you tell us about your theatre show? ”This show is all about thinking and feeling the depth of our ability and turning up the volume of the senses that we normally suppress. Effectively ‘tuning in and turning on’ to nature. I will show how we can reconnect with an evolutionary heritage that stretches right back to the earliest of our ancestors. We will look at the extraordinary work that the National Wildlife Crime Unit do to protect our local wildlife. There is a good chance people coming to this show will find their lives forever changed.”

Q: We love your book We Are Nature. You regard animals as teachers, don’t you? “Yes. I try to learn from the animals I meet. So, the crocodile, for example, is the master of stillness. It stays so still that it weaves a psychological spell over any potential prey. Even if you know it’s there, you forget it’s there, and that’s the danger. We can use exactly that stillness to observe wildlife and to protect ourselves.“

Q: What’s the closest shave you’ve had with wildlife? “I’ve had many but one that comes to mind is when I saved a director from putting his hand on a venomous eyelash pit viper. We were on a reconnaissance trip for a programme I was making with Ewan McGregor and had just been dropped by helicopter in the Honduran rainforest. I was showing him how to put up his hammock for the first time and he was just about to wrap his cord around what looked like a vine…”

Q: What can you tell us about “rewilding”? ”There are some very good books written about rewilding but if we’re going to look after the planet and nurture it, we need to rewild ourselves. That means understanding ourselves and our place in nature and feeling a deeper connection. Many different cultures talk about Mother Earth.  I believe in that philosophy.”

Q: Why do you think we’ve lost touch with nature? “Our dependence on electrical goods and gadgetry has accelerated in our lifetime. We spend more time looking at a screen than we do at the natural world. The willingness to employ old-fashioned field-craft is disappearing. I think it’s something we need to bring back.”

Q: Tell us about your cookbook, Wilderness Chef.“My son said, ‘would you write some of your recipes down?’ It’s become popular. Cooking is important outdoors. If you’ve had a bad day, cooking a good meal outdoors pushes the reset button on morale and helps you feel good again.”

Q: Do you have any animals of your own? “Yes. We have a Labrador, and now we have a Labrador puppy, who is causing mayhem! Pets are wonderful. Dogs are the most amazing companions. In times of difficulty, they are a distraction, and are excellent security. They also remind us daily how intelligent other animals are.”

Ray will star in Guildford, Basingstoke, Oxford, High Wycombe & more. Visit www.raymears.com

Tell us your local news here