TEALBY Village Green Community Meadow and Wildlife Project
Guest Post by: Jane Rylands-Bolton, volunteer for the Tealby Village Green Woodland, Meadow and Wildlife Project
March 2020 and the first Covid Lockdown hit. The world paused, and, amidst the horror, bizarrely, a glorious Spring opened up to us. Suddenly, I had time to turn to ideas that had been swirling for a while. Depressing stories of species collapse and the steep decline of UK birdlife contrasted with the overwhelming sound of bird song on my solitary walks.
I live in Lincolnshire, a county of extensive agricultural land. Normally, we don’t hear many birds on walks or see many butterflies. Only remnants of the wildlife we remember from childhood remain in the countryside. As the RSPB says: “Today, the UK is among the 10% most nature-depleted countries worldwide.”
During my daily walks, I noticed a huge and welcome increase in the number of families accessing our local beauty spots. The downside seemed to be that visitors to rural areas appeared to have received no education in relating to, understanding or respecting nature. I began to consider whether the community in my village could make some small changes, both to open up our green space to people and to encourage learning, starting with the local children.
We have lived in Tealby for most of our adult life. The village green was where our children, now adults in their thirties, experienced free play and exercise, though the space was mainly managed with humans in mind rather than all life. Utility grass is kept short in order to enable games and to socialise. There is also an area of playground equipment. Children of all ages gather and play on the green as well as local and visiting families. The local school also accesses the green for learning and leisure activities, and, after school, the place buzzes with the lively sound of children playing energetically while their parents chat. The whole community experiences the green for village events, and weddings are held there. It provides an invaluable benefit to the community and visitors, offering a place for young ones to let off steam as well as a source of peace, quiet and immersion in nature.
I could see that there was potential to broaden the appeal of the space for visitors and villagers alike and, crucially, for nature itself. Two further distinct yet connected areas offered themselves without disrupting the large play area of the green. First, a small orchard was established a few years ago where visitors are welcome to help themselves to fruit in autumn. Secondly, at the southern end of the green, there is a small copse, and a narrow woodland trail twists and turns round most of the boundary, offering a delightful short circular walk. Approximately fifty mature trees grace the perimeter, including wild cherry, field maple and whitebeam. Having consulted with the Parish Council and the Village Green Committee, I contacted the Woodmeadow Trust and Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust for advice on how to develop both the orchard and wooded area to increase biodiversity and make our village green and a haven for wildlife.
Working with a small band of volunteers, we agreed on five aims: to record and protect existing wildflowers, plants and trees within the orchard area of the green; to improve the area by developing a more extensive wildflower habitat; to create suitable habitats to attract wildlife, including birds and pollinators to increase biodiversity; to promote access to and enjoyment of Tealby village green for people of all ages; to attract visitors to the area. Via our Parish Council, we submitted bids for two grants, and with the success of these, we were able to begin our plan, which we grandly called The Tealby Village Green Woodland, Meadow and Wildlife Project.
The project began in spring 2021 with a group of volunteers learning fruit tree pruning skills from a local arborist. We used a Green Spaces fund to purchase a range of bird boxes, including one facing outward towards the orchard, hoping to attract flycatchers, a rapidly declining species. The bird boxes amongst the trees may attract a range of species to the village green, but even if they remain empty, the range of trees and plant life such as ivy offer important shelter and food for birds and invertebrates. Volunteers also scaled ladders to site a tawny owl box, and a hedgehog house was also positioned in a quiet, secluded part of the green. These once common visitors have declined drastically; over the last 13 years, it is estimated at 66%, and our local hedgehog care charities seem overwhelmed with undernourished or poorly hedgehogs, so fingers crossed that one winter, one of the UK’s most iconic small mammals will take residence.
Early benefits to our project included the experience of bringing local people together (a maximum of eleven though more often three or four) to volunteer for several sessions throughout the year. We all learnt from each other, extending our knowledge of biodiversity and planting as well as sharing a sense of community spirit. Individuals passed on information by word of mouth, and I used the local Tealby Living magazine to broadcast our news and report on our progress as one of our hopes is that villagers are inspired to plant wildflowers in their own gardens and verges.
The community project continued through the summer. To provide the best start for wildflowers, grass management, turf cutting and rotavating prior to sowing seed took place. We soon arrived at the exciting point where, with village support, wildflower and native grass seeds could be sown on the meadow, funded by a Lincolnshire County Council Community Grant. Amongst the meadow grass mix sourced locally were smooth stalked meadow grass, sheep fescue, common bent, crested dogs tail and timothy. Wildflowers included yellow rattle, corn cockle, ox eye daisy, ribwort plantain, salad burnet, cornflower, evening primrose, borage and wild carrot, amongst many others. Wildflower meadows are not easy to establish, and we could only hope that the project’s efforts would pay off in the coming years.
In November, volunteers followed up September’s wildflower meadow seeding of the orchard with a couple of sessions preparing and sowing woodland seed around the trees and the woodland path edges. We were hopeful that Spring would reveal wild angelica, wood avens, bluebells, campion, foxgloves, wild garlic, wood sage and many more species of shade-loving plants. 100 plugs were also planted on the slopes on either side of the path leading from the car park, including hedge bedstraw, dog violet, hedge woundwort, betony and meadowsweet, to name but a few. However, it seems we may have over-estimated the ability of the seeds to cope with the deep shade thrown by the tall trees and the thuggishness of the cow parsley which dominates the woodland area. Our plan for next year is to tackle one area at a time, clearing it of cow parsley and nettles before moving on.
The project rolled into Year Two this Spring with the delivery of two young apple trees planted in the orchard. Ellison’s Orange was raised around 1904 by the Rev. Charles Ellison at Bracebridge Manse, near Lincoln, and by Mr. Wipf, then gardener at nearby Hartsholme Hall. Dewdney’s Seedling is a culinary apple raised by Mr. Dewdney at Barrowby near Grantham in 1850, so both are local to the county. Finally, the wonderful Woodland Trust provided thirty saplings which arrived in March in order to create a boundary hedge around the edge of the car park. Dog rose, hawthorn, hazel, crab apple, hawthorn, and dogwood combine to make a natural screen. The village will be able to enjoy the blossoms, and the birds will have the opportunity to nest and feed from the autumn fruits. The hedge will ultimately connect with existing woodland trees to help wildlife stay on the move. In perhaps ten years’ time, the expertise of a hedge-layer can be called upon to teach volunteers how to pleach. So far, all thirty saplings are doing well. I feel almost motherly towards them.
It is perhaps inevitable that not everyone appreciates the rather unkempt look of the orchard area, as the native grasses and wildflowers push their way up in wild exuberance. I have spent hours staring at the developing wildflower leaves and attempting to identify them, but, to the casual eye, the meadow grass is not yet particularly colourful. I am confident that the biennials and perennials will burst through next year to win hearts and minds. Meanwhile, I have attempted to spread the word about the project by working with Year 1 of the local school, who took their Habitat Haven competition entry to the Lincolnshire Show and won third prize. I invited them to be village green champions, sharing their new knowledge with friends and family. The more that children understand the concept of biodiversity and learn the names of native plants, the more they will grow to enjoy, respect and protect them. Yellow rattle is a great gateway plant!
We are taking baby steps with the community project to improve the local environment and contribute to biodiversity in a small way. 97% of Wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930s, so I believe that every little helps. And I have noticed more and more public spaces, gardens and verges that have been given over to (managed) nature for the benefit of all life, human and natural.