Time to help nature
PUBLISHED: 11:52 02 December 2014 | UPDATED: 11:55 02 December 2014
Countryside Management Service projects officer Ciaran Mullan outlines the important work carried out in the county every week by three volunteer conservation groups
At the core of the Country-side Management Service’s extensive network of more than 300 volunteers are three teams of practically skilled conservationists, who meet weekly to undertake important works in the county. These teams work on a great variety of green spaces and rights of way across Hertfordshire, improving habitats for wildlife and access in the countryside.
Our Tuesday volunteer group covers a range of sites on the eastern side of the county and invests a great deal of time at Broxbourne and Bencroft Woods in particular, which are part of the county’s only National Nature Reserve, a fabulous site for wildlife and a great place to visit.
A good deal of the work the Tuesday team have been doing recently has been about boardwalks. They have been working on a number of distinct projects to improve public access through the creation of new boardwalks at Bencroft and Broxbourne Woods, and also at Pishiobury Park in Sawbridgeworth. This type of practical project requires a great deal of skill and presents quite complex challenges in terms of planning and engineering, which our volunteers relish. They have become really proficient at this kind of task, producing a very professional finish.
Wednesday volunteers, who work on sites in the south and west of the county, have been involved in a broad spectrum of different tasks, ranging from the management of invasive species such as Himalayan balsam and ragwort, to the installation of site furniture. At Composers Park near Elstree they have played a significant role in delivering a programme of site enhancements on this attractive green space, including the installation of new entrance signs and benches.
These CMS volunteers were also involved in producing their own very impressive raised boardwalk on a stretch of footpath at Colney Heath. This section of path has been prone to serious seasonal flooding each winter, making it impassable at times. With the completion of the new boardwalk, people will be able to walk the route all year round unhindered.
The Thursday team works in the northern part of the county. In an exciting new area of work for CMS, Thursday volunteers have been busy this summer restoring habitat along a stretch of the River Purwell that runs through Walsworth Common in Hitchin.
This work forms part of ongoing efforts by the service to enhance degraded sections of the Purwell. The Wednesday team has also been involved in similar restoration work on the River Ver near Bricket Wood. By improving habitats on these river banks, as well as in the channel, we should see an increase in the number and range of insects and fish found in targeted stretches of these important chalk rivers. This is being achieved through a combination of vegetation management along the margins, including tree surgery works to enable more light to reach the river and its banks, and the installation of woody structures in the channel, to create more meanders in the river. This speeds up and increases variation in the water flow, creating a more natural river habitat.
Sheep and celebrations
This summer we were also very pleased, at long last, to see the introduction of sheep to a new grazing enclosure at Weston Hills in Baldock – a fantastically rich grassland site which is great for wildflowers and butterflies. The reintroduction of grazing animals to part of the site is the culmination of intensive efforts by our volunteers over a period of years to clear away scrub and trees, thereby reclaiming the open grassland area.
However, it’s certainly not all about hard work and every summer we organise a celebration event which serves as a humble thank-you to all our volunteers for the huge effort they put in throughout the year. This summer we were tremendously privileged to be hosted in the grounds of Munden House on the Munden Estate, near Bricket Wood, by the Honourable Mr Henry Holland Hibbert, who provided the group with a fascinating insight into the history of the estate and its management.
Reaping the rewards
The CMS volunteer work parties provide individuals with an opportunity for regular physical exercise and enjoyable social occasions which are interesting and often quite challenging. They enable people to offer up some of their valuable time to contribute to positive local environmental initiatives. Our groups are comprised of individuals from all walks of life, from retired people seeking a worthy cause to students gaining valuable experience, as well as people who may be between jobs – eager to learn new skills and boost their employability.