Friends of Sharphill Wood Annual report
This report sums up the activities of the Friends of Sharphill Wood for the financial year April 2011 to March 2012. The Group celebrated the 4th Anniversary of its first ever meeting on 22nd January 2012 with a work party during which we completed the second round of planting of hedging whips, donated by Rushcliffe Borough Council, to reinforce the Wood boundary. This stimulated us to remember back over the four years to establish what we have achieved together with Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust in managing Sharphill Wood.
The Management Plan
At the outset we were presented with a Management Plan containing the goals with which to achieve the healthy, controlled regeneration of the Wood, and the priorities for which activities were really important. This year we carried out a review of that Plan and identified the important tasks that remain. The detailed Management Plan is available on our website.
The main goals have been:-
- Restriction of footfall and biking to the main Rights of Way, to encourage regrowth of plants and shrubs which create habitat for insects and invertebrates
- Reinforcement of the boundary hedges for the same purpose – to create hedge habitat and barriers to casual entrance and creation of more unofficial paths.
- Removal of sycamores and coppicing of rangy trees to enable light to reach the Wood floor and create more understorey habitat
There are still tasks remaining to be carried out to achieve these goals.
The state of wildlife
Nationally, birds on farmland currently in danger are kestrels, lapwings, skylarks, tree sparrow, yellow wagtail and starlings. Wood pigeon, jackdaws, stock doves and greenfinch populations have however increased. Among woodland birds, huge falls have been recorded for wood warbler, willow tit, tree pipit, lesser spotted woodpecker, blackbird, dunnock, song thrush and tawny owl, among others. Yet black cap, great spotted woodpecker, green woodpecker, nuthatch and long-tailed tit are thriving.
This makes the work the Friends are carrying out with Notts Wildlife Trust hugely important as we try to balance the need in the area for recreational space, with managing what is a Site of Importance to Nature Conservation. We are erecting notices, to influence some users of Sharphill Wood who are damaging its fragile infrastructure through a lack of understanding of how to protect it. There are tensions between use of the Wood for their recreational and protection of the fragile infrastructure and the wildlife that depends on it.
Hedgerows are a vital component of Sharphill Wood as a Nature Reserve. When the Friends Group started work, the boundary hedge was very gappy with mature hawthorns, which had been neither layed nor coppiced for many years. However it still managed to fulfil part of its purpose of supporting a range of wildlife, a habitat for invertebrates such as worms, small mammals such as mice and of course a wide range of insects. These support the larger predators such as birds, badgers and bats.
We have reinforced the Sharphill hedges during the year using the “dead hedging” technique with some hedge laying, whilst the new “whips” are growing and they are therefore full of dead wood and plant litter, providing an ideal habitat. Now, however, around pretty much the whole circumference there are new whips, canes and guards wherever there are gaps. We have planted a diverse range of hedging plants (holly, wild privet, hazel, dog rose and blackthorn) so that different flowering and fruiting times sustain a range of species. These will take a few years to develop and grow and it is hoped that they will not be damaged by rabbits, dogs, people or bikes in the meantime. There will be some wastage of course, due to dry conditions etc. and some of the new whips have already been disturbed. It is hoped that before the new development commences, the developers will keep to their undertaking to create new hedges between Sharphill and other wooded areas.
During 2011 to 2012 we have managed to maintain the numbers of willing volunteers for each work party, retaining existing ones, whilst recruiting new ones. A total of 483 hours were recorded in 2011, not to mention the many hours by officers and others in maintaining the Group. Everyone must be thanked for the time they have contributed, however much or little.
We have also managed throughout the year to involve safely groups of younger people, such as the West Bridgford Explorer Scouts, most of whom we managed to send back to their parents fit, well and happy, and the 4th West Bridgford Scout Troop. We also coached some young people who were carrying out their Duke of Edinburgh awards. Also in May the Repton Road Neighbourhood Watch Group enjoyed a nature walk in the Wood, including a number of children.
Most of the main path was defined with edging made from felled sycamore saplings, although this needs to be completed, and more woodchip used to make it attractive to walk on. The purpose is to discourage walkers and bikers from straying into undergrowth.
A few surveys have been carried out, to enable us to monitor the long term effect on wildlife of the work being carried out, although instant results are not expected! However a survey of bird boxes revealed that usage year by year is definitely increasing! We intend to erect more during 2012/13.
An important piece of work this year has been to reinforce our health and safety practices, to ensure that volunteers are kept safe and happy whilst working with us. Officers have attended courses and drafted policies that have made us think carefully how we can do this better. The Wood is not filled with hazards, but there are still some dangers of injury that can be guarded against with forethought and planning.
Our website, designed by Guy Roberts and well maintained by Jo Miller continues to improve as a publicity tool, which has gained us some new interest and volunteers, and we are now on Facebook. However we also carried out some face to face surveys in the Wood and at the Melton Road Market from which we gained a useful insight into what Wood users want to see, and importantly what they don’t want!
Finally we acquired and planted 105 trees, including an oak sapling from one of the Royal Estates courtesy of Woodland Trust, to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee year. They aimed to plant 6 million trees during the year. The Endeavour Scouts ceremonially carried out the planting for us.
Issues and problems
The year saw us battling with quite a few problems:-
- The lighting of many fires, some of which required the Fire Service to extinguish
- Increasing use of the Wood as a recreational area with some anti social behaviour not suited to a Local Nature Reserve – this creates a tension between the various stakeholders in the Wood – we are the only group with the interests of wildlife at heart!
- Actual vandalism to fences and gates and the hedge boundaries
- Dangerous alterations to the main rights of way paths in the form of hollows and humps
Valuable partnerships were maintained during the year. Rushcliffe Borough Council have been regularly harried for anything we need, and they provided us with free Risk Assessment training. The Councillors themselves have shown much interest and provided practical help. Notts Wildlife Trust continues to give us valuable support and practical help, attending meetings and work parties when they can. The West Bridgford Endeavour Scouts have given many hours of volunteer support as has the 4th West Bridgford Scout Troop. Thanks to them and their leaders. We regularly attend the West Bridgford Local Area Forum and keep up to speed with other WB matters, whilst being able to raise any issues that we have.
Heartfelt thanks are due to all the partners mentioned, to volunteers regular and irregular, and also to Su Collins and S. Collins & Co for the use of their house for meetings, and for financial support.