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Gobions Annual Report 2000

by Michael Jonas

During the autumn and winter of 2000 and the spring of 2001, it was hard to believe that the land would ever be dry again as we experienced the wettest weather on record since the 18th century. The bourn to the west of the wood, Ray Brook, flowed continuously for weeks rather than the usual few days at a time. As a consequence, Deep Bottom was flooded for similar periods, but I am pleased to report that, of the water-loving willow and alder trees planted for the Bradmore Green WI, only one willow has been lost and the grove is now looking very healthy.

Elsewhere our trees and hedgerows have enjoyed the wet season and our ponds have been flushed out and replenished. In particular, the new pond in the upper Leach Field has been kept full and the surplus water which would have arrived in the back gardens of many houses in Bluebridge Avenue and Bluebridge Road was largely diverted away through our ditch systems.

For the most part, our surfaced paths have stood up well to the combination of the prolonged wet spell and the unabated foot traffic. Man's best friend expects his daily walks whatever the weather! However, the unsurfaced paths in the east end of the wood did become rather glutinous, which caused a few uncaring visitors to create diversions through the emerging bluebells. For the first time ever, we therefore decided to temporarily close that end of the wood. Thank you to all those who understood the need to take this decision and co-operated with the plan. We were relieved to be able to open the east end again in time for everyone to enjoy a splendid display of bluebells.

The public footpath across Little Rye plantation was closed by the County Council during the outbreak of foot & mouth disease and we reinforced this measure as there were sheep in the adjoining field. The Trustees debated whether to close off all the Trust's land, as suggested to us by the Parish Council, who closed Gobions Open Space and Moffats Open Space. We decided against closure on the grounds that there were no reported cases of foot & mouth in Hertfordshire, none of our land (apart from Little Rye) adjoins land under grazing and by keeping open we provided a safety valve for dog walkers who may otherwise have been tempted to walk on closed footpaths elsewhere. The numerous comments we received were very supportive of our decision and we did have visitors from beyond our usual catchment area.

One casualty of the heavy rain was our new reed bed at the far east end of the wood. We had installed and fixed with stakes two large logs across the stream to create a small lagoon planted with reeds. These reeds, Phragmites Australis, if established, would have filtered the water in the stream, which can carry oil washed down from the roads. Alas, the whole project was washed away, including the plants and the logs, which took four men to lift, and the stream bed was gouged out over 12 inches deep. Such was the force of the water at that end of the wood, even before it is swelled by the many tributaries that join further along its course.

Continuing our programme of tree and hedge planting this year, we have planted over 100 trees, oak and alder standards 1½ to 2 metres tall. Some of these are in the centre of the wood, just north of the main bridge, where we cleared sycamore and elder scrub, others are in the hedgerows and along the entrance track to Leach Fields. These larger standard trees are themselves more expensive than small whips and they also require quite hefty support stakes, which adds to the cost. However, we feel the extra cost is worthwhile, as the trees start life with their heads above the surrounding undergrowth, which can swamp small whips. They also make an instant visual impact.

The hedgerows we planted are now well established and, along the top of the lower Leach Field and down Oak Tree Path, we have been laying them to keep them thick and at a manageable height which does not obstruct the views across the fields.

 As usual, the lower Leach Fields have been a picture this spring, full of the colours of the flowers and the grasses. If you walk down the path between the two lower Leach Fields, you will find a beautiful new seat below the large oak. This was donated in memory of Jack Thomas (who lived in The Close) by his sons. We are also indebted to them for a generous donation of £750 towards our main autumn project. We plan to re-sow the eastern side of the upper field with native wildflower seed. This will entail stripping back the top few inches of soil to remove the grass and expose the subsoil. We shall then work in crushed concrete and brick dust to further reduce the fertility before re-sowing. Wild flowers compete against grasses more successfully on the poor soils to which they are adapted. If all goes well, we will increase the biodiversity of the upper field. We are once again grateful to HELP (the Hertfordshire Environmental Landfill Partnership), who have aided this project to the tune of £1,000 and to Transco, who have bought the seed at a cost of £265.

Leach Fields, as I have stressed before, are a most important piece of habitat, being unimproved grassland, now quite rare in Hertfordshire. The great variety of flowers and grasses they contain host insects which are often dependent on a particular plant species. So these fields are the start of a vital food chain for small mammals and birds. It is for this reason that we ask visitors to keep to the perimeter paths, from where they can enjoy the beauty of the fields without impacting on nature. Unfortunately there are one or two obdurate residents who don't wish to understand these values and walk new routes across the fields, encouraging others to follow. Having failed to change their opinion by careful explanation, we have been forced to employ further fencing at strategic points. We regret the need for this, but our first priority is to protect and enhance the environment. We shall reinforce the hedge planting along the new fencing this autumn.

Thank you to the many people we meet during our Sunday morning work parties who have expressed their appreciation of the work of our volunteers.

Birds, bats and butterflies

Once again we are grateful to Rupert Pyrah for sending us his records of bird sightings in the locality. His records can be viewed on the local community web site, the Brookmans Park Newsletter, at www.brookmans.com - where you can keep up with other local activities, including the Trust's.

Our bats in their hibernation site have also been recorded this year by the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust. On two visits the recorders found totals of 22 and 12 Daubentons, Natterers and one unidentified species, showing that the site is increasing in popularity!

Our butterfly survey continued last year and a report is appended. The survey will form part of a national survey, being carried out by 'Butterfly Conservation' and DEFRA (formerly MAFF), as research into the effects of current farming practices on the butterfly population. Because we have ten years of records, our site is a useful benchmark.

History

When R.W. Gaussen bought the Gobions estate in 1838, to amalgamate the land with his own estate of Brookmans, he pulled down Gobions mansion, which stood overlooking Gobions pond from the north side. I have often been asked why the mansion was pulled down, as it seems an act of vandalism. However, a building of that grandeur would have no value without its land, but as a source of building materials it did have a value. In the days when transport was limited to the horse and cart, the cost of bringing in new materials was expensive, so recycling made good sense. I was reminded of this when watching the Time Team in Channel 4 (11 March) - when they were searching for the remains of a Tudor palace. Their research found a contemporary auction announcement listing all the elements of the palace: doors and frames, windows, fireplaces, stone and bricks buyer to demolish! We know that fireplaces and stairs from Gobions were incorporated into local houses.

The future

The preliminary work necessary for the development of our restoration and management plan for which we received the Heritage Lottery Fund grant, is continuing apace. The EDM (Electronic Distance Measurement) survey took place in March and April 2001: this will form a base plan on which all information about the site can be plotted. The historical research on the ground and from documents indicates that the pleasure garden extended into the west of the wood and sheds new light on features we were already aware of.

Before our recent work, English Heritage described what we previously knew about Gobions in their Register of Parks and Gardens. With their permission, a copy of the Gobions entry is appended. Note that the English Heritage definition of Gobions includes land owned by the North Mymms Parish Council, the Royal Veterinary College and others, as well as the Trust's land and, of course, the Trust also leases and manages the Leach Fields.

For further reading about the importance of Gobions and the creator of its 18th century garden, see the newly reprinted Charles Bridgeman and the English Landscape Garden by Peter Willis. There is a copy available for reference at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies, County Hall.

Finally, we extend our usual warm welcome to any new volunteers who would like to join our work parties on Sunday mornings and repeat our plea for anyone to come forward to help with secretarial work.

Michael Jonas, July 2001


All sections of the 2000 report
Gobions Report 2000 Introduction
Butterfly Report 2000
English Heritage Register - Gobions

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