Helping householders in Wintringham with wildlife-friendly gardening
Noa Leach writes for the Wildlife Trust in Cambridgeshire about its activities, upcoming events and opportuntities to get involved.
In wildlife conservation, autumn is a good time for observing, creating and protecting habitats – particularly following a summer of drought.
From preserving ancient woodlands to constructing hedgehog highways in new housing developments, Wildlife Trust teams have been reaching out beyond nature reserves to evolve urban spaces and rural places.
Last month, a group from Paxton Pits held a successful community engagement event led by some of the trust’s youngest volunteers, part of the Youth Rangers scheme (10 to 16-year-olds) which brings together like-minded teenagers through practical activities, wildlife surveying and other volunteering opportunities.
At a housing development in Wintringham, a site with 2,800 new homes on the edge of St Neots, seven of the Paxton Pits Youth Rangers met residents to discuss ways to make their new gardens wildlife-friendly.
Debbie McKenzie, communities and wildlife manager at the trust's Paxton Pits Environmental Education Centre, said: “Having made several visits to Wintringham I got a feel for the community that we would be engaging with. We aimed to empower new homeowners to engage with and take practical action for wildlife through their gardens, which are a blank canvas at this early stage.
“Rather than polished slabs and plastic grass, these new gardens could become beautiful havens for animals like hedgehogs. Brimming with enthusiasm and making really excellent representatives of the trust, our young volunteers met with an impressive turnout of 116 residents, which was more than we had expected.”
Wintringham’s Ripple Park was chosen for the engagement event as an ideal site given its ‘garden feel’, according to Debbie.
The team focused on hedgehogs as the flagship species, mainly because the conservation of hedgehogs brings benefits for much other wildlife.
Debbie and the volunteers created a number of activities designed to engage new residents in direct actions to support hedgehog conservation.
These included building hedgehog habitats in the form of log and straw piles, a hedgehog trail for young children and decoration of hedgehog ‘tiles’ - markers of the size needed for holes in garden walls and fences that hedgehogs can travel through.
The trust also supplied bags of hedgehog food for residents to take away and wildflower seeds planted in take-home pots.
The day proved very popular with families: one parent told event leaders that their child had been ‘counting down the sleeps’ until the event.
Following the success, the team will be holding a second event in March 2023 to engage residents in pond dipping and other habitat activities near to Ripple Park.
This work is part of a wider conservation and community project that The Wildlife Trust BCN is delivering for community developers Urban&Civic.
Alongside community engagement work, the trust’s conservation team are advising Urban&Civic on their Biodiversity Net Gain calculations and will be working with the developers to design and implement a river corridor restoration and nature-friendly landscape scheme.
Ancient woodlands – get involved
Once a dominant habitat in the UK, a woodland is considered ancient in England if it has been continuously wooded since 1600. Ancient woodland now only covers roughly 2.5 per cent of the UK land area, and the rich and complex habitat supports many specialised species that are becoming increasingly rare.
The Ancient Woodland Inventory identifies remaining ancient woodland so that it can be protected. Two staff, Katharine Flach and Andy Lear, are working hard to update the Inventory for this region, and are looking for volunteers to collect the data which is vital in establishing which woodlands are ancient.
Anyone interested in assisting with basic woodland surveys in spring 2023, please email email@example.com.
Getting ready for Christmas
For some sustainable Christmas shopping, the Wildlife Trust’s annual Christmas Fair returns this year Friday, December 2, from 3-7pm, at Manor House, Cambourne, with locally-produced artisan gifts and treats for wildlife enthusiasts. There will also be seasonal crafts workshops, fun for families, mulled wine and mince pies More details are at wildlifebcn.org/events/2022-12-02-cambourne-christmas-fair.
Sustainable gifts are also available online, with proceeds supporting vital conservation work at wildlifebcn.org/shop.
Woodland photo 2 caption: 1837 OS 1st series maps of Hay Wood, 1.38ha site in Bedfordshire. Too small to be considered on the current Ancient Woodland Inventory, it was mentioned in an Assize Roll of 1287 and reported to have large coppice remains and traces of bank and ditch.