Why we love Hertford Heath

PUBLISHED: 11:43 13 October 2011 | UPDATED: 21:38 20 February 2013

Tana Macpherson-Smith at Haileybury school

Tana Macpherson-Smith at Haileybury school

A Mecca for rare wildlife lovers, classic car enthusiasts and with one of the best independent schools in the country, Hertford Heath is very much at the heart of things. Richard Young talks to those whose love for the place keeps it that way...

ON the first Sunday of the month throughout the year this pretty village, just two miles east of Hertfordshires county town, is transformed into a bumper-to-bumper classic car show.

With a huge range of vehicles, from early wooden-framed tourers to sleek modern supercars, these motoring enthusiasts carry on a tradition that has taken place without a break here since 1975, making it the longest-running and largest unaffiliated event of its kind in the UK.

Gillian Fielding, landlady of The Goat Inn on the village green where many drivers gather to swap stories and trade tips says people come from all over to show their cars and meet fellow enthusiasts.

They all turn up pretty early on a Sunday morning to see all the cars. I generally get there about 10.30am and already theres a good amount of people out there. They all want to get a prime location. They put their bonnets up and people go round and look. There are cars there that are now few and far between.

Gillian says there can be anything from 30 to 50 cars on display.

I leave the car park and all the spaces outside free for the classic cars because thats what theyve come for, not to see modern ones. They do take pride and care with their cars. They look after the inside and the underneath every single bit. Its like a showroom.

You do get a very good turn out. We do get more staff on the day. The majority of people stay for lunch. They stay until around four oclock.

People do come to the village and it brings in money. Its good business. Its been going for years and years. Its a lovely setting right opposite the church and the green. People come here with picnics. People come from all over the place. Its just a well-known thing.

HERTFORD Heath Nature Reserve and nearby Balls Wood are Sites of Special Scientific Interest containing the countys finest remaining heathland and many rare species.

An area of common land covering nearly 80 hectares of countryside and woodland surrounding the village, it is part owned and entirely managed by the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust (HMWT).

It is however in need of preservation from invading scrub and trees, and this is where volunteer warden Jackie Clarke, who has been involved with conserving the heath since her early 20s, plays a vital role.

My main role is as a liaison between the public and HMWT but I also head the winter work parties where we try to keep the invasive species such as brambles, willow herb and birch under control, but it is an uphill battle! says Jackie, 53, who when not knee deep in brambles is a personal advisor at Hertford Jobcentre.

I have always been passionate about wildlife and the countryside so when I moved here I wanted to do my bit to keep it clear for people to enjoy. We pull up brambles, cut down old gorse to enable the heather to grow through and prune some of the smaller trees, which we then burn in our designated fire site my husband calls it legalised vandalism!

The reward is in seeing the regular species flourish and the new ones arrive. Within the last few years we have been mowing larger areas of the heath and have seen common cow wheat which isnt common spread, which feeds some of the butterfly species, which are food for woodland bird species, and so on.

The ponds are breeding grounds for newts, including great crested, and dragonflies of the 19 species regularly found in Hertfordshire 16 have been recorded on the reserve. In Crabtree Pond in spring you can see yellow flags and water violets growing, grass snakes swimming, moorhens and ducks nesting, while Balls Wood has a number of unusual indicator species such as the wild service tree and herb Paris. It is also famous for the variety of butterflies found in the wood and along the margins silver-washed fritillary, speckled wood, white admiral and purple emperor.

Last weekend I was in my garden, which is about one-and-a-half miles from Balls Wood, when I saw two white admiral butterflies flitting about, this shows how important it is to keep the wildlife corridors alive for species to move through.

Jackie and her team of volunteer conservationists meet on Sundays in winter, while HMWT also run mid-week work parties.

To get involved, contact the trust project officer Andy Brown at andy.brown@hmwt.org or 07787 528804.

Hertford Heath Nature Reserve is an excellent place to spot dragonflies. See our feature on dragonflies on page 98.

SET in 500 acres of parkland on the northern edge of Hertford Heath, Haileybury and Imperial Service College has played a key role in the village for almost 150 years.

Formerly the East India College built in 1809 by National Gallery architect William Wilkins for the training of East India Company administrators, it reopened as an independent school for boys in 1862. Co-educational since 1998 it has over 750 pupils aged 11 to 18, of whom more than 500 board.

Current Allenby housemistress, Tana Macpherson-Smith, has a family history entwined with the school dating back to the day it opened.

Five generations of her family have either taught or been pupils here, from her great-grandfather the first teacher and housemaster at the school through her grandmother, father and brother, to her own two children who are current pupils. Even her husband, Graeme is a member of the school, as head of technology.

I was described by the master recently as a stick of rock, the 50-year-old says, Wherever you cut me, I have the word Haileybury written through my centre and actually that is a pretty accurate description.

But she adds it wasnt always like this: When my brother was here I hated the school on my visits to see him. I thought then, as a 12-year-old, that Haileybury was cold, bleak and just grey. I had no intention of ever teaching and never to return to Haileybury. But, my fathers genuine love for the school is what I grew up with and I was immersed in his pride for the place through my entire life.

As he got older I would spend more time coming up here with him and eventually driving him here for him to do his work with the archives when he was no longer able to do so himself. I realised as I grew older that the school was full of colour, vibrancy and warmth and I began to recognise it for the extraordinarily beautiful place that it is.

Tana admits that she kind of fell into applying for her first job here as senior mistress, but has been devoted to the school ever since.

I felt instinctively that this was a very special place, but also a place that had a long way to go in its development and that I wanted to be part of that enhancement and progression. Having joined the school I have never looked back and can honestly say that I love the school with a passion and have had the happiest 12 years here with my family and extended family of pupils.

I hope that the family connection continues long into the future and that I will personally be involved, in some small way, wherever my future takes me.

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