Utilising private Hertfordshire land for wildlife
- Credit: Jenny Sherwen
Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust has teamed up with The Grove hotel - part of a scheme to utilise private land for nature
Nature conservation in the UK has traditionally focused on the preservation of habitats on nature reserves. Unfortunately, outside of these few places, natural habitats have been lost on an unprecedented scale and many species, both common and rare, are in long-term decline. As the demand for land for housing and development has increased, so the room for wildlife and natural processes has decreased. This has resulted in small oases of wildlife-rich protected land becoming surrounded by an otherwise inhospitable landscape for many plants and animals. Preserving species in tiny pockets will not ensure wildlife survival. Our vision must be wider than that. We need to create a network of joined-up places for wildlife to move and live in among houses, businesses, roads, railway lines and fields so we can move closer to a vision of an environment rich in wildlife for everyone.
There are more than 70 golf courses in Hertfordshire. Collectively, they are four times the size of the county’s nature reserves. Much of this space is made up of rougher, less intensively managed land. Managed sympathetically, these areas have huge potential to contribute to a living landscape.
This year Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust has partnered with luxury spa, hotel and golf course, The Grove. With 300 acres of countryside on the edge of Watford, including a woodland dating to the 13th century, it is vital to local wildlife. Together we have developed a management plan to retain the site’s distinctive character, shaped by its history, while enhancing its ecological landscape. This will be achieved by creating wildlife corridors and habitat links of predominately native species in wooded, parkland, grassland and wetland habitats.
The trust has advised that areas rich in wildlife are conserved and has made recommendations for areas with great potential. Woodland will be thinned in areas, with the replacement of some non-native trees with native species. Deadwood will be retained to support the third of forest-dwelling species that rely on dead or dying trees, logs, and branches for their survival and a ‘skeleton’ of key native trees will be established throughout the estate, linking the woodlands.
Wilder areas of grassland between fairways will be managed for small mammals and invertebrates, which in turn provide food for birds of prey such as kestrels and little owls.
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A chalk stream – one of less than 200 globally – runs through the estate and trees and scrub along its banks will be managed to ensure light can reach the water to benefit aquatic vegetation.
Air raid shelters installed during the Second World War host the rare cave spider as well as a number of bats – all species legally protected in the UK.
The shelters will be maintained and protected from access.
To allow visitors to enjoy the natural beauty at The Grove, the trust has created a nature trail. It takes walkers and cyclists through Heath Wood, an ancient broad-leaved woodland, where oak, beech and ash are home to nuthatches, woodpeckers and tree creepers. In spring there are abundant bluebells and the wood is alive with the songs of blackcaps and chiffchaffs.
The trail continues along the river Gade where alder trees line the river and kingfishers, herons and little egrets hunt. The river is home to many fish species like chub, gudgeon and roach.
As guests return through the grasslands towards Heath Wood, they may see grasshoppers and bee orchids in summer before passing an area of wetland that supports a number of birds such as teal and snipe in winter.
The trust has partnered with The Grove on a number of events to allow attendees to experience the magic of the site’s wildlife, in a luxury setting. There are tours of the garden and afternoon tea, a wildlife walk and picnic, and even gin tasting with Wilstone’s Puddingstone Distillery.