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Gobions Woodland Trust Friends Report 2005

By Michael Jonas MBE, Trustee

Gobions canal in the snow
I am aware that it is some while since our last news letter. The main reason for this is that I have been waiting for the big story to break, so hold the front page!

I can finally report that our joining with The Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust (HMWT) has been formalised and solicitors for both parties have been appointed.

The delay in arriving at this point has not been a lack of will on either side, but just finding time to move things along when all one's available time is already fully committed in just keeping abreast of day to day things.

The plan now is that the Gobions Woodland Trust (GWT) freehold land will be gifted to The Hertfordshire and Middlesex Wildlife Trust and so be sure of remaining in safe sympathetic hands for the future.

GWT will remain as an entity to continue to manage the land with the benefit of the added management skills of HMWT. The present trustees will also continue with the collection of your kind donations and their other fund raising activities, which money will be used solely for our work in Gobions Wood. We shall also continue to lease and manage Leach Fields.

We look forward to continuing our work on Sunday mornings confident that when we do finally retire, if ever, our work will be continued by others with the same dedication and zeal. Of course as always, we would welcome any one wishing to join us for a couple hour's work and a couple of pints afterwards! As we have become less energetic we have invested in more machinery, so the work is not very arduous and we always have a laugh!

My thanks again to our ever faithful volunteers, lain Aitken, Peter Bennett, Mike Brazier, Stuart Kato, Bernard Spatz and June Redgrove, our membership secretary.

Leach Fields

Regular walkers will be aware that this year we introduced a new management tool into part of the Leach Fields. Sheep! This has involved some capital outlay and a major task of fencing and clearing the ragwort, which is not good for sheep and clearing it seemed to take longer to clear than the fencing took to erect!

Almost all the grassland in Britain has been created by man's activities. Trees have been systematically cleared since metal tools were invented and the land kept open by ploughing and grazing. Left to itself, grassland will of course revert to scrub and finally its climax vegetation of trees.

This can be seen to be happening in the upper Leach field where hawthorn and oaks have been seeded by the birds. As a by-product of their use, the previous tenant, turf cutters, left these fields in the 1980s with an impoverished soil, in which environment delicate wild flowers can compete against the more rampant species.

In the past we have tried to maintain this situation with a mowing regime but this has proved surprisingly difficult to achieve on a regular basis. We now plan to allow limited grazing on part of the fields in return for mowing work with a tractor drawn mower on which we have a long term loan.

The sheep will be grazed for a period in the autumn after the wildflowers have seeded. Grazing removes herbage from the land and at the same time helps to replace nutrients with urine and dung. The trampling and grazing of the sheep keeps plants low and prevents the build up of dead plant litter which can smother new growth and smaller plants vital as a food source to insects, in particular butterflies.

Many butterflies feed or lay their eggs on a single species of plant, so if that is not present nor will be its dependent guests. This management regime will need time to have its full impact but we will be monitoring the environmental progress of the fields with added interest.

Maintenance

Most of our time is taken up with general maintenance work. Our powerful self propelled mower has been in regular use all summer cutting back the path verges. Cutting and laying our ever increasing lengths of hedges is another job to be done every year, avoiding the bird nesting season.

Autumn and early spring is the time for clearing scrub and preparing for new tree planting. This autumn we planted commemorative trees donated by the White family of Potters Bar at the west end of the wood. It is encouraging to see trees that we planted back in the eighties now pushing up to 30 feet and our early hedge planting is now quite impenetrable and providing an important environmental asset in our portfolio.

We also have a repair job to do on one of the weirs in the middle of the wood. This was breached following a summer cloud burst. The force of nature can still surprise us. This is a job to be planned for the summer. We have installed a new seat in the upper Leach Field thanks to a generous donation from Mr R Leach (no connection), who wished to commemorate his dog Caspar. This is now a feature in the avenue of trees crossing the upper field. The avenue is becoming established in spite of some vandalism, presumably from over zealous youths, but I am at a loss as to who would untie the trees in order to steal the stakes !!

We are happy to say last summer a new-to-us butterfly as been recorded - the Marbled White. Despite belonging to the same family as the "Brown" butterflies, this is a striking black and white, with the male's underwings having a tinge of yellow. They are lazy fliers and spend some time feeding on their nectar plants - knapweeds and scabious. The caterpillars feed on several species of grass including Timothy, cock's-foot and red fescue, all of which we have. The Marbled White prefers tall grasses and south facing slopes and is one of the most striking and beautiful of this lovely group of insects.

My apologies again for not writing this newsletter before now, but please feel free to call me on 01707 656531 if you wish to discuss anything about our work. In addition to the information about us on our webpage on this site, www.brookmans.com/GWT, we also keep our web page up to-date with photographs www.gobions.fotopic.net and a log of works done www.gobions.blogspot.com so do look in.

Best wishes for 2006,
Michael DBL Jonas MBE, Trustee

January 2006


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