Out in the woods: October 2015

Where does the time go! After another busy year for Sherrardspark Wood Wardens we look forward to our fast-approaching 2015 Autumn/Winter programme of tasks in the wood.

Each of our wonderful seasons bring their own pleasures and I am sure we all look forward to the delights of those beautiful, shining autumnal colours of gold, red and bronze, the joy of tramping through crackling leaves, frosty mornings, and maybe even some winter virgin snow?  Not quite so delightful are those rainy, blustery days bringing oceans of mud and difficult walking, but you can be sure that our stalwart wood wardens will be out there battling the elements to ensure the woodland remains a safe place to enjoy.

This year has seen working parties tackling coppicing in designated areas, erecting temporary fencing near Sefton Plantation (heather area) to allow compacted soil to recover, clearing water streams, maintaining bridges and entrances to the wood, ensuring paths and bridleways are kept clear of obstructions, and replanting – an ongoing priority in encouraging natural regeneration.  We are indeed fortunate to have in excess of sixty volunteers in our Society. Some of them make up the two working parties taking place each week, on a Thursday and Sunday morning.  Others carry out different roles. One of those is organizing the programme of public walks, supported by other willing members who either take on a guided walk or just come along as support.  We also have several teams monitoring butterflies, small mammals, dormice, birds and, of course, trees. Several social meetings take place during the year with invited speakers and then there are outings, as well as our very popular summer get-together and Christmas Party!  We have more formal committee meetings throughout the year with elected officers, where official accounts are presented. High priority is given to safety within our working parties, so clothing, safety equipment, tools etc., are checked regularly.

Our Guided Walks Programme for 2015 is now drawing to a close but we can look forward to an interesting programme for 2016, which wood warden Dee is in the process of putting together, and will include one or two unusual new additions. Look out for the new ‘Guided Walks 2016’ early in the New Year. The two remaining walks this year are:-

Sunday 25th October  2.p.m.
A SHORT WALK THROUGH THE LONG HISTORY OF THE WOODS  with Thomas Curtis, Historian and Wood Warden.

Saturday 14th November        
FUNGAL FORAY  with Chris James, Landscape & Ecology Officer, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council. Limited Numbers so please pre-book on 01707 324718                                   

Many interesting special projects have been undertaken this year, not least the one with the pupils of Homerswood Nursery and Primary School, which involved an enormous amount of organisation and time. Sherrardspark Wood Wardens were adopted by the school as their “Organisation of the Year”. Four events were arranged covering various aspects of the woodland, such as tree identification, flowers and butterflies, followed by a fun treasure hunt and picnic. The whole project was a great success with children, parents, teachers as well as wood wardens – what a valuable introduction to our wonderful woodland for the children and, maybe, future wood wardens? Templewood School and Applecroft Children’s Centre have also had a successful series of accompanied walks with good, positive feedback, and I hope they have been a memorable experience for the children. Encouraging young people is of course very valuable for the future, and in September we were asked to take a group round the wood from the 9th Welwyn Garden City Brownie Pack. About twenty brownies joined us for the walk, along with their leaders and some parents. Their interest and enthusiasm made it a most successful and enjoyable evening which the accompanying wood wardens, as well as the brownies, really enjoyed.  

Since 2007, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, in partnership with Serco, has presented awards to people living or working in the borough for extraordinary commitment, dedication, energy and effort in their field. We were delighted that our Chairman, Peter Cade, was the recipient of one of these prizes, in recognition of his outstanding service to the environment within the Welwyn Hatfield Community. Peter first started volunteering with the Wood Wardens in the late 1990’s and was elected Chairman of the Society in November 2003; a great ambassador for the Society as well as a dedicated, enthusiastic wood warden. We are indeed fortunate that the Society has such a strong band of volunteers, some of whom are trained in various aspects of woodland management, and of course we work in conjunction with Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council in maintaining our unique, Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI),  Sherrardspark Wood.

Our trusty, bright yellow jeep has been a very familiar sight in the wood since 2001, being originally gifted by Terry Collingwood as a tribute to his father, Steve, a past chairman of the council. Regrettably we have now had to part company with this old friend, but I’m pleased to say that we did raise some funds from the sale which will be put towards a replacement, which the family are very happy about. I haven’t seen it yet but I do hope it is yellow !!

How pleasing it was this August to see that the heather at Sefton Plantation was beginning to make a recovery from the devastating invasion of the heather beetle, which left the area just a brown, seemingly dead, mass instead of the glorious purple we have come to look forward to. No insecticides were used: this was just nature doing what comes naturally!    

I know many local people have been quite distressed at the removal of large mature trees in recent times. None of us like to see dramatic changes to an area we know very well, so I would like to report one demonstrative benefit: a thirty minute survey, undertaken by our bird monitoring team in a designated section, recorded thirty different species of birds in the area. This large number was probably a consequence of a more opened canopy. Nature is a wonderful thing and never fails to disappoint us; I am always amazed to see how an area where serious work has taken place, and looks so barren, suddenly burst back into life with a variety of new growth.

With my wood warden hat on I do understand how essential it is that a woodland is well managed, and feel confident that our remarkable, ancient Sherrardspark Wood is in safe hands to ensure that it will be enjoyed by generations to come. A young man I once met in the wood said to me, “How blessed we are to have this amazing wood right here on the edge of our town”; what more is there to say? Every season of the year brings its own beauty to the wood.  I just love the colours and smells of Autumn, and those cool, quiet, ethereal misty early mornings make walking an even greater pleasure.

Lastly, I must report that a very important milestone is fast approaching Sherrardspark Wood Wardens Society, for in 2016 we will be celebrating our 50th Anniversary. A special team is putting together an exhibition of photographs, history, etc., which will be displayed in the New Maynard Gallery, Campus West, during November 2016. Sounds a long way off, but it will no doubt come round all too quickly!

Marian Dawson
Wood Warden

October 2015 


October in Sherrardspark Wood. Photo Dave Pegrum

Coppicing and building deer baskets, February 2015. Photo Gill Constantine

Deer basket protecting regenerating hornbeam. Photo Dave Pegrum

Tree recognition guided walk with Neale Holmes-Smith, August 2015. Photo Marian Dawson

Magpie Inkcap (Coprinopsis picacea). Photo Marian Dawson

Farewell to our jeep. Photo Cliff Chappell