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by his Gobions work-party friends

Michael Jonas
Michael Jonas MBE

Michael Jonas died on 23 February 2007.

It was Michael Jonas who, with his wife Linda, founded the charity, The Gobions Woodland Trust - thus opening Gobions Wood to the public.

In 1985 the land of the former Gobions Estate which remained after the development of Brookmans Park had come up for sale.

Michael gathered a group of professionals as trustees and galvanized the local community into supporting the purchase of the land.

The 92 acres of pasture and woodland, which were once part of the 18th century pleasure gardens of Gubbins House and which were designed by Charles Bridgeman, gardener to George II, were opened to the public in 1986.

The cost of the purchase was 175,000, raised through donations, loans and grants, but it needed Michael's innovative idea to sell a very small plot of the land with planning permission to raise half of the purchase price.

Michael Darius Bedford Leno Jonas was born on 13 October 1936 in Uxbridge.

Gobions Work Party
Michael Jonas was the driving force behind the Gobions work parties

After National Service in the army, he trained as an architect - training later put to good use in many local buildings and in Gobions. After living in Stockwell, Michael moved, with Linda, to Brookmans Park at the end of 1973.

Michael soon became involved in local affairs, especially those dealing with the environment.

He instigated the imposition of Tree Preservation Orders, was Secretary of the North Mymms Residents' Association, Chairman of the Welwyn Hatfield Environmental Forum and was a member of the management committee of the North Mymms Youth and Community Centre and of the District Council's Environmental Strategy Committee.

For the last ten years he was a landscape architect with Groundwork Hertfordshire and his work is evident in many projects throughout the county.

However, it was Gobions that was Michael's passion and to where he most directed his skills and effort, in a purely voluntary capacity. Purchasing the land was only the start.

The development of Gobions Woodland Trust

Michael Jonas at the Gobions Woodland Trust stall at Brookmans Park Village Day 2003
Michael Jonas at the Gobions Woodland Trust stall at Brookmans Park Village Day 2003

Michael and Linda continually publicised the Trust - through newsletters and articles in local publications. He visited local schools and societies, contacted County and Local Councils, and public and local companies - all with the aim of publicising the work of the Trust and to raise funds, to pay off the loans and provide for continuing upkeep of the Wood.

Michael's work parties, held nearly every Sunday morning, have left a lasting legacy. Achieving the Trust's aim to "protect, maintain and enhance the area centred on Gobions Wood for the benefit of all wildlife and the enjoyment of the public" meant hard work and organising ability.

Michael Jonas
Michael Jonas relaxing after a work party

Paths were laid, ponds reclaimed and created, bridges built, hedges created, scrub cleared and trees planted on the site, which had been neglected for over 100 years.

National bodies have recognised Gobions and Michael's achievements there. They include the British Mycological Society, Butterfly Conservation, the Hertfordshire Conservation Society, the Hertfordshire Countryside Heritage Protection Group, English Nature, English Heritage, and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

It is fitting that, in 2003, Michael Jonas was awarded the M.B.E. for "Services to Nature Conservation in Hertfordshire".

Time for the Woodman

Michael Jonas after receiving his MBE in 2003
Michael Jonas after receiving his MBE in 2003

In spite of Michael's ability to be a hard "task master", volunteers taking part in the work parties have enjoyable memories of the events, despite weeks of backache after wheeling individual barrows of pathing material into the centre of the Wood.

Memories such as slithering down banks of mud with buckets of concrete about to set, boots (and maybe bodies?) left behind in deep mud and noting that it took Michael at least one second to realise that the sapling he had been handed to plant was one of his not-so-much-appreciated Sycamores.

A couple of pints of real ale after the work parties, in the aptly named Woodman pub, was something Michael and the team looked forward to following the welcome call "Time for the Woodman".

The work party volunteers have lost a great friend and leader, but will continue with the work in the wood he so dearly loved.

The Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust is set to take over the ownership of Gobions Wood and work with Gobions Woodland Trust to achieve its aims. Michael saw this as providing long-term security for the Wood's wildlife and heritage.

The residents of North Mymms and surrounding areas owe a deep debt of gratitude to Michael Jonas for his achievements over the past 25 years.

Without his enthusiasm, energy and dedication, Gobions Wood would have been lost to the community.

You can write your tribute to Michael Jonas in a discussion thread running in this site's forum.

February 24, 2007

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