Children Need Wild Places

Children need other children-parents and carers need other adults – and everyone needs to be outdoors, enjoying air and sunshine – even rain and wind, up to a point! It’s not always easy to find people to join up with and suitable places to go to- play parks are great, and even better, places where it’s a bit wilder – where there are birds and worms, squirrels and insects, long grass and tall weeds, piles of leaves, water and mud: where small children can notice and enjoy the un-fenced, un-paved world around them, share this with other children and their adults, and discover what you can smell and hear, see and feel, outdoors. What happens when you get water in your welly? Or when you fall over a tree root and get a bump? (It hurts, your mum or your friend helps you up, and you feel better quite soon). What happens when you and your friend both want the same stick – how do you work that out? And you have a good idea for a game or for making something – but it needs more than one person to make it work….

More and more, it’s being realised that children’s learning, health and happiness all need them to be active outdoors: school are developing ‘Forest School’ time as part of the curriculum, and many children belong to the Cheltenham Woodcraft Folk group, which has been running for many years.

Even babies and toddlers can benefit from their experience of the outdoor world. Transition Town Cheltenham has been encouraging parents and carers of children up to about four to meet informally to enjoy each other’s company in ‘wildish’ areas: our most popular venue so far has been the watery end of the Pilley Bridge Nature Reserve – where one three-year old excitedly claimed that he had seen ‘a sock and a shark’ in the shallow stream! Children outdoors learn to trust themselves and develop their practical, physical and artistic skills: can I climb that tree – walk along that skiddy bit – what could I make with these stones – what would happen if… It can be both more rewarding and more demanding than screen-based time.

Understanding about ourselves and the world – it’s the ‘transition’ in thinking that’s happening. Are we separate from the earth, taking from it what we want, not thinking of the needs of others, or the future? Or do we see ourselves, and our children, as learning to ‘live within our means’, value the earth’s resources, and living well with others, even when difficulties arise?

TransitionTownCheltenham– Echo column

Community Pride Funding

In February 2013 we submitted our funding application to Cheltenham Borough Council. We heard we were successful 2 weeks later. We applied for £4600 to match the funding we had already raised and were granted £4500. The following are excerpts from the application and serve to give a picture of the plan envisaged.

Please give a brief description of your project (maximum of 100 words) The project will take a neglected piece of land adjacent to the urban Nature Reserve and create a Community Orchard with improved access routes to both it and the nature reserve. (see photos)

To do this the land will be cleared, old fruit trees in the hedgerow rejuvenated, new trees planted, an entrance incorporating the name of the orchard made, and existing poor-quality footpaths to the site resurfaced and signed from the nearby roads.

By appropriate management, the site will be converted to grassland and wild flowers introduced. Seating, information boards, bird boxes etc will be installed.

How do you know that there is a need for the project? The 120+ subscription members of Friends of Pilley Bridge Nature Reserve have been canvassed, as have the wildlife groups with whom we work in conjunction, and the feedback was that all were in favour of the project.The elderly members in particular have stated that they want the orchard as a place to sit outside and meet their friends.Young families in the neighbourhood say that it will help their children learn where food comes from and give families a chance to work together in the orchard.Local residents complain regularly about the often impassable condition of the footpaths that run from Leckhampton Road,Old Bath Road and Mead Road. These paths as well as giving access to the proposed Community Orchard and Pilley Bridge Nature Reserve also provide short cuts, which avoid busy roads, for children to walk to school, and adults working on the industrial and trading estates, but are usually unusable during winter or in any rainy weather.The Bee Guardian Foundation and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust have expressed enthusiasm and consider that the diversification of habitat will help the wildlife in the reserve.Local gardeners are pleased that the fruit trees will attract pollinating insects, which are in serious decline.Local businesses have put the case that helping to fund the Friends of Pilley Bridge Nature Reserve and the new Community Orchard provides an opportunity for them to reach out into the local community.

Within approximately half a mile of the proposed site there is a population of 4,500 (ref: Gloucestershire County Council SOAs, – College Ward no’s 3 and 4, Leckhampton Ward 3). Also within a quarter of a mile of the site there are more than 75 industrial/trading units. (see photos)

What will the project aim to achieve? To provide a focus for outdoor activity in the local community for all age/social/racial groups thus creating a sense of pride and ownership of a Community Orchard and the adjoining, urban Nature Reserve. To increase the diversity for flora and fauna of the existing Nature Reserve thus improving the living landscape of the neighbourhood.
What permissions and/or licences do you need to achieve your project and what are your plans / timescale to secure these permissions? We do not need any formal permissions for our project. The land for the Community Orchard belongs toCBCwho are fully supportive of the project.
Who will benefit from the project?Elderly people who are unable to easily access the Nature Reserve (a deep railway cutting below the orchard) but who wish to be outside in a place they can meet their friends or just sit in a beautiful place alive with nature.

  • Young families who wish to work and play and celebrate together.
  • Local children learning about orchards and food production – (NauntonParkSchool, Leckhampton Woodcraft Folk, local play groups and pre-school groups).
  • Children who will be able to walk to school along the renovated footpaths in green spaces and avoid busy roads.
  • The community living close to the large industrial/trading complex along Mead Road/Churchill Road/Old Station Drive will have another usable green space to balance the harsh environment of concrete and industrial buildings in the neighbourhood.
  • The wildlife, especially insects, pollinators, birds and bats that will benefit from the added diversity of habitat.
  • The heritage of Gloucestershire Orchards and their unique, local apple varieties.
How will you know if the project has been a success? We will know if the project has been a success if the following outcomes are achieved:

  • Improvement in local habitat (living landscape) with higher levels of bio-diversity.
  • Improved well being in local residents, particularly amongst young families and the elderly, resulting in less isolation, stress and anxiety.
  • Increased use of the area.
What are the longer term plans for the project once the grant funding has come to an end?The orchard will grow and develop under the combined management ofCBC’s Community Rangers and Friends of Pilley Bridge Nature Reserve (Community Orchard committee).There will be regular work parties, by the Friends of PBNR Group on the first Saturday of every month, to maintain the trees and the land.A scientific study is planned between the Bee Guardian Foundation and our members to monitor the bee species and other pollinators using the site. Other specialised groups have also expressed interested in carrying out research on the site (bat conservation, moths, spiders).A regular calendar of activities and festivities (Apple Day, Wassailing etc) will be held.All these activities will be sustainable through membership of the Friends of PBNR group and sponsorship and support from local businesses. We also have plans to apply for further grants for Pilley Bridge Nature Reserve as a whole. 

Sue King, Feb 2013

Tree Felling in Pilley Bridge Nature Reserve

Work has started in the Nature Reserve to remove some of the trees, and already the place looks the better for it.  Dave Cramp (who gave such a great illustrated talk to the Friends Group last week at Mel’s Cafe) and Jessie and Carlo from the Bee Guardian Foundation have all visited recently and been very pleased with the progress.

The object is to establish habitats with a balance of light and shade.  Trees are good, but there were too many and the place was becoming dark and cold.  We can expect far more flowers and flowering shrubs (yes, and lots of brambles which we will have to cut back here and there!) and then the insects and birds which go with them.  We hope to see more of the rare Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterfly which has been seen for the last two years, as more violets grow.

Some wood has gone to the Bee Guardian Foundation for the construction of bee houses, some is being carried out for peoples’ stoves, and the up-coming work party will be involved in stacking some for ad hoc seats and for habitat piles.  Some piles of branches will also be stacked as invertebrate habitat, and untidiness will be the order of the day!

Many of the trees in the Nature Reserve are Ash, so it is likely that we will lose them within 10 years.  In due course, and as we see how the disease progresses, it may be appropriate to plant more trees to replace them, but for now it is too early to say.  The loss of the Ash trees, while it is an environmental disaster, will also present some opportunities.  It will not be all bad news.

Bird Survey at Pilley Bridge Nature Reserve

A bird survey was carried out on the reserve by our recent guest speaker, David Cramp from Gloucestershire RSPB Group. The survey took place on the 30th November in unusually calm sunny conditions. David confirmed that the reserve habitat should support a good variety of garden birds throughout the seasons although there were not a huge number of different species noting during our visit. This is understandable in view of the time of year when many of the summer visitors have sought sunnier, warmer climes. 

The list of species noted were as follows:-

  • Lesser Black-backed Gull
  • Woodpigeon
  • Collared Dove
  • Blackbird
  • Sparrowhawk
  • Redwing
  • Mistle Thrush
  • Robin
  • Blue Tit
  • Dunnock
  • Blackcap
  • Carrion Crow
  • Magpie
  • Jackdaw
  • Chaffinch
  • Greenfinch
  • Goldfinch
  • Wren
  • Fieldfare

Apart from the species spotted on the day the reserve should also support the Great Tit, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit and Song Thrush, all of which should be there in the winter months.

Since there are a number of Waxwings in the Cheltenham area it may well be worth checking out any rowan trees that still have berries because they are a key attraction for the Waxwings.

Because of the vicinity of the gardens David felt that there could also be House Sparrows and Starlings on the reserve but the area may be one of those where these two species have gone missing.

Ash Disease

The genie of the fungal disease Chalara Dieback of Ash has escaped from the bag, and now it cannot be put back.  The disease has been shown to be present in many parts of the UK other than Northern Ireland, and while the official advice is to report all sightings so that the disease can be managed, to burn affected ash leaves etc. etc, it would be optimistic to say that this probably will not work and there is little that can be done!

Next year we will become accustomed to hearing of how the disease is spreading, and slowly the loss of another species (anyone remember the Elm trees?) will become a reality.  No amount of hot air from the government, who had many years warning and did almost nothing to prepare, will change that.

The disease is caused by a fungus which probably originated in resistant populations of Ash trees in Asia.  It was first recorded in Europe in 1990 in Poland, and it has spread across Europe until it was first recorded in the UK in 2012, brought-in on imported Ash saplings.  It now seems likely that it has been present for a few years, probably also introduced on infected Ash trees imported from Europe.  The UK Government introduced controls on imports in November 2012!

The disease first affects the leaves, which turn brown, and then spreads slowly down the twigs and into the branches, killing the bark.  Smaller trees are killed quickly, larger trees more slowly.  So far not a single tree of those affected within Europe, has been found which has not been affected; however, there is hope that in the long-term, it may be possible to breed a resistant strain from individuals which were not killed.

For now, we will have to get used to a landscape without Ash trees.  The lesson to be learned is that the unrestrained trade in plants is no longer acceptable and that the Government must introduce effective controls to prevent further imports of plant pests and disease.

The loss of the Ash trees, while it is an environmental disaster, will also present some opportunities to diversify habitats and for imaginative tree planting.  It will not be all bad news.

For further reading on another really serious imported plant pest that is being taken very seriously and which probably will be controlled successfully: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/HCOU-4U4J45

by Graham King, MRAC,Dip.Arb.(RFS),F.Arbor.A