Deep-rooted support for wildlife in Shenley

Sarah Buckingham from Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust discovered a haven for wildlife at the headquarters of local tree management company Gristwood and Toms

Gristwood and Toms look after trees across the UK, but at a local level they are striving to protect wildlife at their head office in Shenley. Behind the offices and yard there is a little wilderness, which Estate Manager Rob Reynolds is keen to encourage wildlife into. We went for a wander around it.

A haven for wildlifeIn amongst the undergrowth we tracked down signs of the resident badger and Rob showed me the two ponds that have been dug out, which have been quickly colonised and hold a variety of fish. Grass snakes love it round here. Bulrushes have sprung up and water lilies are thriving. A lot of the land, around 10 acres or so, is left for wildlife to rummage through as it likes, which is nice to see. It also means our walk was fairly short as some of the wooded areas are quite impenetrable – a proper wilderness. Apparently pheasants evade the local shoot by nipping into the undergrowth here. Both great spotted and green woodpeckers have taken up residence – there are tawny owls too, and a local heron enjoys fishing in the ponds. Trees have been left to seed themselves, and long term there should be plenty of scope for the site to support a large diversity of species with the correct management. It was great to see three very productive beehives as well – maybe the company will branch out one day? (pun intended – sorry).

Caring for trees The business of tree management is a relevant one to the preservation of wildlife – after all, trees are a vital part of our natural environment. Not only do they provide food and shelter for a huge variety of animals (did you know our native oaks support around 284 different species of insect?), they are the lungs of our landscape. And without trees, what would our landscape look like? Think about the difference a few trees make to an urban street. It’s well known that giving people access to the natural environment improves their health and planting trees in a street is one way to achieve this. Trees are great for so many different reasons. As you can tell, I’m a big fan of our dendroid friends. What I really liked about meeting Rob and the other guys at Gristwood and Toms was finding out that where possible, they always try to advise clients to preserve trees, unless they are unstable or diseased beyond help. They strive to safeguard local veteran specimens, using both traditional arborist methods and the latest technology in diagnosing, treating and preventing diseases. This careful approach also gives wildlife a chance. Older trees are particularly attractive to animals like bats, as they have plenty of cracks and crevices to make roosts in, so if it’s possible to preserve them I would urge people to do so.I was reassured to find out that the newest bacterial disease threatening oaks is unlikely to be comparable in scale to Dutch Elm disease, which all but wiped out our native population of elms (and which, worryingly, is making a return to the UK lately).The latest on the horsechestnuts is not to worry so much about the leaf miner moth (it turns the leaves brown but won’t kill the tree), but more about the bleeding canker which has led to many horsechestnuts being felled, as the disease eventually makes the tree unstable. Lately Gristwood and Toms have had to take down a number of horsechestnuts in Welwyn because of it.

Bat man Anyway, back to the wildlife. In order to protect wildlife where possible in their normal work environment, Rob tells me he has been learning more about bats and how to handle them with the Herts and Middlesex Bat Group. If a job has bat roosts involved, Rob is around to help out and advise and with the backing of the group feels more confident about what should and shouldn’t be done. It’s important stuff, because bats are a European Protected Species and it’s illegal to intentionally kill, injure or catch them or to damage, destroy or obstruct their roosts. Bat roosts are also legally protected, even when bats are not present all of the time.

Joined up thinkingIf every business got involved in thinking about and providing space for wildlife like this I’m sure we would be a little bit further along the way to seeing the Wildlife Trusts’ Living Landscapes vision become a reality. Living Landscapes is about joining up pockets of habitat, so that wildlife has enough room to move around. It’s about trying to ensure people can access the natural environment easily. It’s also about thinking big and acting fast – preserving animals in small pockets of greenery in a sea of urban development isn’t sustainable. In the long term it will not protect our native wildlife. Sadly, more species are being lost now than ever before.There is a lot more we need to do. In every business environment there are opportunities to look out for wildlife, whether it’s through sympathetic site development, direct fundraising, or even ‘greening up’ the outdoors workplace. Gristwood and Toms deal with nature every day, but an interest in wildlife has always been something that drives the company.They have opportunities to protect wildlife in their everyday work and they take them.

To find out how your business could be helping to protect wildlife, contact Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust on 01727 858901 and talk to Sarah Mee.

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