Trust's mission to save Balls Wood, Hertfordshire

PUBLISHED: 17:19 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:44 20 February 2013

Balls Wood

Balls Wood

After learning about Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust's mission to save Balls Wood, Hertfordshire Life editor Clare Bourke decided to find out for herself just why it is so special

A CRISP January Sunday morning - the perfect chance to head for Balls Wood in Hertford Heath and enjoy a winter walk. I have been listening with interest to the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust about the desperate need to safeguard the area for the future so I donned my wellies and headed off to Hertford Heath with family and dog in tow to enjoy a much-needed slice of tranquillity.

Right to buy
Balls Wood Nature Reserve is 58 hectares in size and half of it has been managed by the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust for more than 30 years. Now its owners, The Forestry Commission, has given the trust the opportunity to buy the whole wood and the 3.7 hectare adjacent Hobbyhorse Wood. But while the trust is keen to purchase the land to secure its future for wildlife and visitors, it needs to raise the funds to do so. The bad news is that if it cannot raise the necessary 420,000 by the end of March - plus 280,000 for its ongoing upkeep - there is a possibility the wood could be bought by someone else, be broken up and its future would then be uncertain.

A beautiful place
Just one visit to the woods and it is clear to see why they would want to preserve this beautiful area. There are no marked routes - although this is the long term plan for the trust - but it is easy to find clearly defined paths that are easy to follow off the main rides and head round the woods in a circular route. A large number of small plank bridges have been built over the top of the small streams and ditches that crisscross the woodland, making access very easy.

Work in progress
Some bits of the wood are quite dense which is where most work is still needed but other parts are quite open. In the last five years the trust has re-introduced coppice management along the woodland rides in the northern section and everywhere you look it is clear to see work is very much in progress. It is also easy to spot some of the nesting boxes which have been affixed to trees and, in many cases, painted bright blue. Even in January you can clearly hear the birds twittering and there is obviously plenty of other wildlife lurking, as the evidence of an eager dog straining on his lead shows.

Trust needs you
The trust urgently needs to raise the money to purchase Balls Wood and Hobbyhorse Wood and wants to hear from you. Balls Wood Nature Reserve is a wildlife-packed woodland which has been in existence for hundreds of years and it is particularly noted for its butterfly populations. It provides a great setting for a family walk and the chance to get closer to nature so the trust desperately needs to secure its future for wildlife. If it doesn't, the wonderful things that live there may be lost forever.

Wildlife to see there

Hidden within the woods and glades are numerous ponds supporting dragonflies and damselflies, frogs and water beetles, among others.

A great variety of woodland bird species - including nuthatch, great spotted woodpecker, cuckoo, bull finch, tawny owl and sparrowhawk - thrive at Balls Wood. In winter, flocks of tits move through the trees foraging for seeds and insect life.

Balls Wood is home to more than 20 species of butterfly, including white admiral, ringlet, purple hairstreak, comma and brimstone.

The purple emperor was spotted here again in July 2006 for the first time in more than 20 years.

All three species of British newt - smooth, palmate and great crested - can be found in Balls Wood's ponds and wet areas.

How to get there
On the A414 from Hertford to Great Amwell, take the B1197 to Hertford Heath village. Turn right just after the College Arms pub into The Roundings. There is limited parking along this road so parking in the village is advised. Once parked, follow the lane to the end and take the right hand track, marked Elbow Lane, where the entrance to Balls Wood will appear on your left. The walk to Balls Wood is approx 10 mins from the pub. The nearest bus stop is in Hertford Heath village and the nearest train station is in Hertford.

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