It is now some time since I decided to retire from writing articles on Sherrardspark Wood for the Welwyn Hatfield Times Magazine and I must say that I have been very touched by the number of people who have spoken, or contacted me, to say how much they miss the regular reports of what is happening in our most beautiful and treasured woodland. Hopefully word of our web site has now spread and people are starting to log-in for all the latest news.
What a fabulous autumn we have had; a quite wonderful Indian Summer followed by the changing colours of the trees into blazing shades of bronze, gold and red. I have to confess that it is my favourite season of the year, with cool, misty, chilly mornings and the distinctive woodland floor smells of fallen leaves, fungi and berries heralding the approach of winter. That’s not to say I am not delighted when we start to see the first signs of spring and the bursting forth of new life throughout the wood.
Gosh! Now I have to try and remember what has been happening in the wood since May.
As a starting point, our Guided Walks 2014 programme has proved to be very successful again this year and we have to thank wood warden Dee for all the hard work she put into producing the diary and organizing each event. I carried out this role myself for some years so I know what a hard task it can be – but very rewarding. As well as raising much needed funds from the donations received for the Wood Wardens' Society an added bonus is the opportunity to meet members of the public and, in some cases, introduce them for the first time to our unique Sherrardspark Wood.
I haven’t been able to join in with all the events but the geology walk with wood warden Nikki ”Before Sherrardspark Wood”, new this year, was both fascinating and revealing, so do put next year’s date in your diary and find out what “Lies Beneath the Trees”.
“Cowslips and Bluebells” with Neale. What can I possibly say about this walk, the title speaks for itself: there is nothing better than the springtime delight of enjoying the vibrant rich colour of a mass of bluebells, and it is indeed a very special treat to see the display of glorious yellow wild cowslips especially at a time when our traditional wild flowers seem to be disappearing. We have to thank wood warden and environmentalist Neale Holmes-Smith for all the time and effort he puts into ensuring that the cowslips spread and the area is protected from the ravishes of mowing machines.
Now, if you have never been on a walk with Mary Barton I strongly recommend that you look out for the date she will be joining us next year. Her knowledge and expertise on the benefits of “Foraging in the Wood for Food and Medicine” is quite extraordinary. So many skills in using all things natural for healing and eating, used daily by our ancestors, have been lost in the realms of time and modern medicines.
There is a lot more I could enthuse about arising from our 2014 programme but I think it is time to move on.
It would be very remiss of me to not mention now our great team of voluntary wood wardens who work so hard to care for our most precious woodland. At the moment our numbers are in excess of fifty and we have two working parties each week on a Thursday and Sunday morning come rain or shine, winter and summer. Of course, not all our volunteers do hands-on work in the wood. We have different teams involved in monitoring butterflies, small mammals, dormice, birds and, of course, trees, apart from all the tasks carried out on accounts, organizing events and outings and those who multi-task by running some of our guided walks or supporting them. A great deal of attention is paid to maintaining safety clothing, tools and equipment in good condition, as well as training in first aid and use of electrical equipment. Naturally all these things cost money so fund raising is also important and includes the kind donations from members of public who attend our guided walks, and those who sponsor volunteers who enter the Rotary Annual Charity Walk.
This year we have seen an increase in the number of schools wishing to educate pupils in the importance of their environment, and it has been most rewarding to take groups of children around Sherrardspark Wood, especially those who have not experienced a walk in the wood before. These children are the wood wardens of the future and it is so important to create an enthusiasm and understanding of the importance of nature. I must say the feedback has been very positive and the groups of children attending the walks all seem to have had a good time and enjoyed the experience of gathering various items to take back with them as part of the educational projects they are working on. Again, this would not be possible without some of the volunteer wood wardens giving up their time to make it happen.
Lots more practical work has been going on throughout the year including keeping pathways as clear of obstruction as possible in a woodland, and clearing certain areas of sycamore trees to encourage the growth of oak and hornbeam in particular. It is the unique number of hornbeam and sessile oak (a species not normally found in this area) that was contributory to Sherrardspark Wood being awarded the protection of Site of Special Scientific Interest status, as well as being a Local Nature Reserve.
A great deal of re-planting has also taken place this year and those regular users of the wood will have noted a great number of ‘pink’ protection tubes, hopefully deterring munjac deer and squirrels from damaging the young trees. Apparently the wood is also home to a special species of fern, so some ditch clearing in the preferred growth area has been taking place to encourage them along.
Many of you will also be aware of the huge amount of work carried out in the Reddings Plantation area and the replanting project has been very intense here.
I have only covered a very small amount of the work carried out by the wood wardens but feel it is enough for you to appreciate how important they are to the future well being of the woodland we are so blessed to have on our doorstep. If you have some time to spare and feel you would like to come along and make a worthwhile contribution to the local environment please give Gary a call on 01707 375216.
Also, a very big ‘Thank You’ must go to wood warden Malgosia for all the time and effort she has given to setting up the web site this year. If you are reading this you will know that there is a great deal of information about Sherrardspark Wood and the wood wardens contained in it.
Well, autumn has been truly magnificent; I suppose one is even more aware of the changes in seasons when quietly walking in a woodland environment – I wonder what winter will bring? Hoare frosts and soft falling snow are always most impressive and good for a photograph or two!
I wish you happy times in Sherrardspark Wood, always a splendid place to be to walk off that Christmas lunch!
Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New from all the Sherrardspark Wood Wardens, wherever you are.
Marian Dawson, wood warden