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donderdag 21 januari 2016

Why we’re taking Woburn Forest back in time

At just 18 months old, Woburn Forest is our newest Village. Since we began creating the Village, the conservation team have been working hard to protect, preserve and encourage the flora and fauna that make the forest their home.

We caught up with Ranger Lucie Vicentijevic to find out how it’s going, and to learn about how the discovery of historic farming techniques on the Village has prompted her team to get all old-fashioned.

“Sometimes guests say to me ‘there’s no wildlife at Woburn Forest!’ There absolutely is,” says Lucie. “We have loads of wildlife – we monitor and survey them every year – but they haven’t lived around people for 25 years like the other Villages so they aren’t as bold. They aren’t scurrying along a fence post right next to you. But they’re there.”

This year, Lucie and her team are taking their conservation methods back in time in order to support that wildlife.

“We found evidence of some ancient hedgerow on the Village, so we’re going to recreate it. We found some very old hawthorn bushes in a rough line – so dilapidated that it’s easy to miss that is was ever a hedgerow at all as there are big gaps we’ll need to fill.”

What is hedgerow?

Hedgerow is the long rows of wild-looking bushes that criss-cross the countryside, dividing up fields and farmland. They have historically been used to stop cows and sheep from escaping their fields, or to form boundaries between different farms. Hedgerows have been used in England for over a thousand years.

Why are they important?

To support any kind of nature, you need diversity; lots of different types of tree, bush, flower, insect, mammal and bird. Hedgerow is like nature’s selection box – it offers many species of flower, berry and seed, as well as shelter and nesting space for all sorts of animal. A few of the creatures that make use of hedgerow include:

  • Butterflies
  • Birds
  • Insects
  • Bats
  • Hares
  • Rabbits
  • Hedgehogs
  • Mice
  • Weasels
Are they threatened?

Yes, hugely. Since the end of the Second World War, the UK’s ancient hedgerows have dramatically declined as farming has grown bigger and more efficient. There are currently about 450,000km or hedgerow left, which may sound like a lot, but only 190,000km are thought to be ‘species-rich’.

How are we repairing the hedgerow at Woburn Forest?

“We’ve been filling in all the gaps to make Woburn Forest’s hedgerows thick and healthy and species-rich again,” says Lucie. “We’ve chosen the species of shrubs and trees we’re using very carefully. Some will provide a place for birds to nest and hide from predators, there are also berry varieties to offer food in autumn, and some that flower in spring to provide nectar for bumble bees and butterflies.

So far we’ve planted over 1,600 plants of hawthorn, blackthorn, crab apple, wild cherry, holly, spindly, hazel and field maple.”

Where is the hedgerow?

“We’ve found two rows so far. One leads up to the Outdoor Activity Centre in the ‘Birch’ area of the Village and the other lies between the Village Square and the Plaza, leading up to ‘Maple’.

What will this mean for Woburn Forest?

“With it being such a new Village, we don’t have much understory (that’s the shrubby, bushy, ferny stuff that lines the forest floor) yet. This will be incredibly valuable understory that our birds can nest in, hedgehogs can use for shelter, even the bats will use them as ‘flight corridors’ to fly over and catch insects to eat.

What happens next?

Lucie and her team will work on establishing and nurturing the hedgerows over the next five to seven years. “We’ll need to keep weeds out, trim the shape and work on ‘laying hedge’. That’s an old fashioned farming technique where you cut the trunks three quarters of the way through and lay it down on the ground. The tree then sends out new shoots so it continues to grow vertically but you also get the width down low which makes a full, bushy hedge.”

It’s important to Lucie to make use of these ancient techniques: “If this hedgerow is hundreds of years old, we can’t recreate it authentically and honestly using modern methods, we have to respect the way it would have been done originally. This is how hedgerow has always been grown.”

What does this project mean to you?

“We are so excited to be recreating this and honouring these historic lines that date back to before the site was turned into a pine plantation, long before it came a Center Parcs Village. If it weren’t for Woburn Forest being created here, this ancient hedgerow would almost certainly have been lost forever.”

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