Panshanger's parkland for all
PUBLISHED: 12:12 07 April 2015 | UPDATED: 12:12 07 April 2015
With fabulous views, lovely walks and abundant wildlife, Panshanger Park should be on your list of weekend destinations this month, says Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust's Sarah Buckingham
Panshanger Park, an historic estate near Welwyn Garden City, is a fabulous place to visit at any time of year – as the seasons change, there is always something new to see. As we move into spring and the weather gets warmer, take time to explore the parkland, lakes, grasslands, woods and wetlands as life bursts back.
A brief history
Owned by the Cowper family from the late 17th to the early 20th century, Panshanger Estate was sculpted around the Mimram Valley following the plans of eminent landscape designer Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716-1783) and later Humphry Repton (1752-1818), who chose the site for an early 19th-century gothic mansion after the earlier 18th-century house was demolished in 1801. The gothic house met the same fate in 1954 after the sale of the estate at auction. Panshanger Park now has English Heritage Grade II* listing protection as an historic park and garden.
The park has been quarried for sand and gravel since the 1980s, but much of the site has now been restored to arable farming or actively encouraged to revert to nature, creating the lakes and surrounding habitat seen today.
The eastern end of the park opened to the public in March last year as a country park and nature reserve. The rest of the park will be opened in a phased manner, as the remaining sand and gravel extraction and subsequent restoration is completed. Around 200 acres of the 1,000-acre site are now open to visitors.
Spotting spring wildlife
With its varied landscape of woodlands, wetlands, grasslands and reedbeds, the park is home to many species of wildlife. This, coupled with the fantastic views, makes it a wonderful place to go for a walk this month. As you go, look out for butterflies. Orange tips and brimstones are some of the earliest to appear and can be seen flying along the woodland paths and edges. These feed on the wildflowers which are now appearing, including bluebells which put on a stunning display in the woodland areas from April.
The woods will also be busy with birds singing – a practice initially to protect their territories and to attract mates. Later, as eggs are hatched, they can be seen flying back and forth collecting food for their young. From April, migratory birds that spend the summer in the UK will start to arrive. Look out for the first swallows and house martins of the year flying over the lakes and listen out for warblers singing in the reedbeds.
If you wait quietly on the Dragonfly and Duck Trail, you might catch sight of a reed or sedge warbler flitting through the reeds. The trail gives visitors the opportunity to get up close to wildlife as well as to enjoy great views across Osprey Lake. Dragonflies and damselflies can be seen here as the weather gets warmer. Panshanger has 18 of the 19 species recorded in Hertfordshire, making it one of the best sites in the county for these winged beauties.
Fresh air learning
The park makes a wonderful setting for learning about the natural environment. In February, Lafarge Tarmac and Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust launched the Panshanger Park Forest School. This innovative scheme encourages pupils to learn outdoors during a six-week programme, building confidence and new skills while developing an appreciation for nature.
Early Years and Key Stage 1 activities (for children aged 3-7) include how to build a shelter in the woods, nature art with woodland materials, creating clay creatures, going on scavenger hunts and plenty of puddle splashing, mud painting and mud sliding. Children at Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11) can take part in all the above, as well as learning other skills including how to construct an oven and cook food on a fire, build rope bridges, use tools and weave willow.
Designed to be fun as well as challenging, the activities are all linked to the national curriculum and the programme has been extremely popular with local schools. For more information about the Panshanger Park Forest School, visit hertswildlifetrust.org.uk/forestschool
Panshanger Park Run
The Friends of Panshanger Park, with financial support from Lafarge Tarmac and Herts Sport Partnership, recently established a free weekly 5K timed run for all ages and abilities aimed at improving health as well as giving an opportunity to explore the beautiful natural landscape and historic setting of the park.
More than 1,100 people have taken part in the run, ranging in ages from four to 92. Each week more new faces come along, as word of this friendly and inclusive event spreads. Father Christmas came along in December, there were wicked witches at Halloween, and plans for Easter are afoot.
Visit parkrun.org.uk/panshanger or follow @panshangerparkrun on Twitter for more.
Panshanger Wildlife Walks
Jennifer Gilbert, Panshanger Park people and wildlife officer hosts regular walks for visitors to discover the wonderful wildlife of this special place. Places fill up fast, book at 07793 305701 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Spring Birds of Panshanger Park
Saturday May 16, 10.30am-12.30pm
Discover the birds that live and breed in the park. Look and listen for resident birds as well as those that migrate here for the summer.
Butterflies and Wildflowers of Panshanger Park
Saturday June 13, 10.30am-12.30pm
Look for different species of butterfly that are on the wing at this time of year and the wildflowers on which they and other insects feed, with the help of an expert guide.
For more information, see Twitter @panshangerpark and hertswildlifetrust.org.uk/Panshangerpark