Open Days, Badgers and Rabbits

Yesterday was our second Open Day at Alvecote Wood. Why should we open our private little piece of heaven to the public? After all, we have to deal with all the health and safety, put up signs, put out road cones, mow an area for people to park their cars and it is generally a whole weekend of work.

Well, there are many good reasons. When you own a woodland, you aren’t the owner in any real sense of the word. The trees have been there, and will be there, for a lot longer than you, so you are more like their temporary guardian, to care for them and pass them on to another pair of hands in due course.

This wood is on a prominent local thoroughfare – not a major road, just a country lane, but nevertheless used by many local people on their way to and from their villages and between different parts of Tamworth. Lots of people walk and cycle past it every day. Lots of people have wondered what we are doing there – stopping to talk to us when we are working near the entrance. I am certain a lot of local people were concerned that we were turning it into a building site, or otherwise going to spoil a little piece of beauty that they could enjoy on their journey. The local folk have been supportive of our efforts when they get to hear about what we are trying to achieve.

There are a lot of wildlife groups in and around the local area interested in what we are doing. Wildlife sites don’t exist in isolation: Some are little islands, but most of these islands are linked in some way. Our particular site is linked to wild areas along the canal, and the canopy of trees touches those on the other side, which is a SSSI. What we do here impacts on wildlife all around the area. The site is special – the only bit of ancient woodland in the local area. Other people trying to help wildlife are interested to see what is going on, as well as interested in bringing groups to look round.

We also want community groups to use the woods. In June, the Scouts camped at the woods, forming a work party but also enjoying everything that the woods have to offer. It takes a lot to impress 14 year old boys, but this group seemed to be very impressed and sometimes a little awestruck by what we had there.

So, we have local people, wildlife people, community groups, and most important of all, the potential future guardians of these trees.

This Open Day was a success, in the sense that people came, walked round, were positive, organised nature walks for their groups as a result of seeing the woods, and were generally reassured that we weren’t awful people and they were going to see lovely trees, flowers and birds at least for a while longer as they walked, cycled and drove past.

It wasn’t all wildlife: On the plus side, we had a pair of sparrowhawks plus our resident buzzard on display. On the less wild side, when we arrived to set up in the morning, a large white floppy-eared domestic pet rabbit was sitting under our trailer parked outside our barn. It seemed a pretty healthy and certainly quite friendly rabbit, and seemed to like apples and thistles. It was quite cute with one ear that stood up and the other that flopped down. It was obviously a pet, and obviously not going to last very long with the buzzard around, as well as foxes. It caused quite a stir among the visitors. Nobody from the village had heard of a lost rabbit, and I can’t quite see this particularly pampered looking bunny travelling all that way on its own. I suspect the owner could no longer cope and dumped it. Fortunately it found its way under our trailer. Our friend was looking for a rabbit for her son, so armed with a new hutch, some cabbage leaves and a box, and an army of willing helpers, it was finally caught and left for its new home.

This time, only one child came – the majority of the visitors were at least our age. Based on this one Open Day we might be concerned for the future of the local wildlife. However we have had some tremendous positive experiences to lead us to think that there will be good hands into which to place our guardianship when the time comes. First of all, the general level of interest among the Scouts, who asked pertinent questions, worked hard, and learned a lot.

And then there was the previous Open Day a month ago. Not such nice weather, two children arrived with their Mum in the pouring rain just as we were packing up. They seemed really interested, so I offered to take them round, even though we were technically shut for the day. And what a great pair of children they were. They were knowledgeable, and interested. They were quiet and listened, and then asked some of the most difficult questions I’d been asked all day. It was an absolute pleasure to talk to them and show them what we were trying to do. They seemed genuinely pleased, too, that people like us were caring for this wood, and for the creatures in it. Who knows where they will end up? My impression was probably as Professors of Biological Sciences at a major University, but they could just end up being the guardians of our trees in the future, coming as they did from one of the local villages.

Open Days are definitely worth it. They are worth it for all sorts of reasons, and I think both visitors and visited get something from them. Let us hope that this tradition continues when we pass on guardianship of our trees to somebody else.

PS: The frustrating creature I was photographing turned out to be a badger scent marking his territory. With the last gasp of a dying battery, the badger was duly captured on the memory card. The camera is back there with a fresh battery and I hope to get a lot more pictures soon!

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