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Scene change at Studio Way: Borehamwood’s MGM Studios backlot today

PUBLISHED: 13:58 09 October 2017 | UPDATED: 09:42 11 October 2017

Movie poster for Ivanhoe starring Elizabeth Taylor and Robert Taylor

Movie poster for Ivanhoe starring Elizabeth Taylor and Robert Taylor

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Once a key part of British Hollywood and the site of fantastical sets, the former backlot of MGM Studios in Borehamwood has undergone a wild transformation, writes Countryside Management Service projects officer Ellie Beach

The project has opened up new woodland pathsThe project has opened up new woodland paths

Borehamwood has a long and proud history of filmmaking which continues today. To the north of the town, the area of Studio Way and Potterswood Park – a little known green space surrounded by residential properties – once played a key part in the industry as the backlot of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer British Studios. The site was used to create huge standing sets for major films including a medieval castle for Ivanhoe (1952), a Chinese village in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958) and a French château in The Dirty Dozen (1967). Many other films, as well as television productions including The Prisoner and UFO, were shot in and around the area.

A reminder today of the former studios are the road names here, including Grace Close after Oscar-winning star Grace Kelly, Balcon Way named after film producer Sir Michael Balcon, and Lion Court celebrating the symbol of MGM Studios, to name a few. Physical remnants include a mound and numerous mature oak trees, which made cameo appearances in famous films.

Studio Way Woodland, as it is now known, is an attractive belt of natural habitats. The woodlands are a mix of mature oak trees with remnants of old hedgerows running through them. Small patches of bluebells can be found in the more mature areas of the woods. The undergrowth of hawthorn, blackthorn and bramble creates a perfect home for small mammals and birds, while flowering plants provide a rich source of nectar for bees and butterflies such as speckled wood. Bats can be seen on a warm summer’s evening hunting for insects in the tree canopies and you may catch a glimpse of a fox or even a muntjac deer.

Around the woodland are areas of cut grassland, there are benches scattered around the site and two play areas for children.

The history of Studio Way is being celebrated with an exciting project to transform the site by improving access, restoring wildlife habitats and interpreting the area’s rich filmmaking heritage. Scene Change at Studio Way project was made possible by a National Lottery grant of £62,600 awarded and £32,000 from Hertsmere Borough Council, which owns the site.

Countryside Management Service has successfully delivered the project and works include:

• Improving access by opening up and resurfacing footpaths and linking routes around the site.

• Restoring wildlife habitats by carrying out woodland management, restoring old hedgerows, planting native oaks and removing invasive species.

• Creating welcoming and accessible entrances to the park with signs and a main entrance feature.

• Installing interpretative information around the site highlighting its wildlife and heritage.

• Engaging volunteers and local people on practical volunteering and guided walks.

Volunteers have played a major part in the successful implementation of the project. CMS practical conservation volunteers and various teams of corporate volunteers have been involved in woodland management works – thinning and coppicing trees, planting native oaks and new hedgerows and installing signs. Volunteers from Elstree Screen Heritage have been also been involved by providing historic content for the interpretation panels.

A new Studio Way and Potterswood Park leaflet allows visitors to explore the woodland trail and find out more about the fascinating history of the site. The leaflet is available to download from the Hertsmere Borough Council website, hertsmere.gov.uk/studioway. The new ParksHerts mobile app also contains information about the site, find it at parksherts.co.uk

If you would like to get involved in practical conservation across Hertfordshire, email northeast.cms@hertfordshire.gov.uk or call 01992 588433.

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