2018 was a very busy and productive year for Sherrardspark Wood Wardens, volunteers who work hard to ensure the safe and healthy future of the woodland and wildlife habitat.  Our activities included major programmes of clearing and replanting, wildlife monitoring, erecting and repairing benches, guided walks led by experts and visits to help at other local nature sites.

Our Working Parties have been out on 131 occasions during the year, usually on Sunday or Thursday morning, when 96 volunteers have given over 4500 hours of their time. An outstanding achievement for a committed group with the wellbeing of the woodland environment their main objective.

All work we undertake has to be guided by our own Constitution as well as Welwyn Hatfield Council's 25 Year Management Plan and their Tree and Woodland Strategy, Natural England's Assessment of the Condition of the Wood and their advice on what services a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) like this should offer to the public. Taking into account the advice of Natural England, mainly based on conservation and wildlife habitat improvement, our aim is to develop these aspects in Sherrardspark Wood.

It is amazingly nearly twenty years since the major project of removing rhododendron and clearing sycamore from the woodland was started, a daunting task which has also called for contractors to be involved. This clearing, together with traditional coppicing and new planting requires some areas to be temporarily protected by fencing and closed to the public, enabling them to return to nature undisturbed. The Council's Trees and Woodland Strategy says, "Public access will be discouraged in some parts of Sherrardspark Wood to reduce disturbance to more sensitive wildlife, especially during the breeding season". The plan is to return more of the wood to its natural state over the next ten years. Once regrowth is established, helped along by copious bramble, fencing can be removed and we will hope to have achieved this aim.

One current project is clearing the area behind Reddings, where we recently had an enthusiastic group from Roche Products join us. It is now ready for 500 trees to be planted, which started in January this year.  Replanting is a key activity. Over last winter more than 1500 trees were planted across the wood. How very rewarding it is to have young people involved in conservation work and we last winter were delighted to have the help of 26 scouts and their parents to plant in the area behind Templewood School. Future Wood Wardens perhaps?

We consider that part of our job as wood wardens is to promote the wood as an amenity. Natural England uses the word 'recreation' and many individuals and organisations use the wood for just that purpose. Twice weekly health walks are becoming ever more popular and Roche Products organised a fun run and a children's walk during 2018. We also work with Riding for the Disabled to ensure entrances, bridges and bridleways are suitable and safe for them to negotiate. We now have 30 Benches in the wood; in 2018 we refurbished 15 of the older ones and installed two new ones. These sponsored benches are a great asset for visitors, providing a sometimes welcome resting place or simply an opportunity to quietly enjoy the tranquillity of a woodland environment.

Natural England also encourages Education and Research at SSSI sites. To this end we have a programme of Guided Walks each year and Monitoring Teams in place covering many species of wildlife, including Birds, Butterflies and Insects. We can report that breeding raptors have been recorded as well as a pair of Mandarin Ducks! 22 species of butterfly have been spotted and 50 different types of fungi identified. Last year a series of 9 walks was organised, attended by 116 people including 29 children. All our walks are led by excellent, knowledgeable people and accompanied by wood wardens. Our 2019 programme will be available shortly and we do hope that you will come along and learn more about the history, trees, plants and wildlife of Sherrardspark Wood. The programme will be displayed on our web site, on notice boards in the wood and printed in the local press.

Training is an important part our schedule and during 2018 courses included First Aid, Brush Cutting, Chainsaw Crosscutting, Chainsaw Felling and Hedge Layering. A high priority is placed on health and safety and instruction on the use of tools by our working groups is carried out on a regular basis.

Our Wood Wardens also visit other local sites in need of support and during 2018 enjoyed visits to Lemsford Springs, Northaw Great Wood, Danesbury and the historic old church yard at Ayot St. Peter. I feel sure many of you will have visited at least one of these sites, all of which are also under Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council jurisdiction.

Life for the wood wardens is not all work. During 2018 we had four general meetings with guest speakers on subjects relevant to the woodland, including a most interesting demonstration of wood turning. Our well supported Walking Group meets once a month, usually taking in a pub lunch en route. One of our wood wardens opens her garden for a summer picnic and we recently enjoyed a fine Christmas lunch at a local hostelry, and an excellent Christmas party - also hosted by a wood warden, but we all contributed food!!

Sherrardspark Wood is an incredibly precious, ancient and beautiful woodland which we are privileged to be able to enjoy. How fortunate it is that we have such a dedicated group of volunteers to ensure it is maintained properly for the enjoyment of future generations. If you have any time to spare and would like to be part of this you will find all the information you need on our web site, so please don't hesitate to make contact – we will be delighted to welcome you.

Marian Dawson

January 2019

Photo: Chris Cooke

Erecting temporary fencing around a new coppice

Photo: Malgosia Arch

Planting oaks at Reddings

Photo: Michael Lee

Restoring a bench with new supports

Photo: Chris Cooke

Male blackcap

Peacock butterfly

Photo: Graham Carter

Annual clearance at Lemsford springs

Photo: Marian Dawson

Summer garden party