New friends await rewarding work in the woods

Spring is beginning to bloom in Ashenground Woods, Haywards Heath, where a carpet of bluebells is primed to be unfurled on the woodland floor.

The small patch of ancient woodland which lies to the west of the railway and encircles new housing at Bolnore is a treasured amenity for the many people that live nearby.

Michael Bradley, Gill Rogers, and Peter McKerchar, Ashenground Wood. Pic Steve Robards SUS-140228-145608001

Michael Bradley, Gill Rogers, and Peter McKerchar, Ashenground Wood. Pic Steve Robards SUS-140228-145608001

However, maintaining a healthy balance between the wildlife and needs of the forest and the many people who walk through the woods and use it recreationally is a challenge that requires careful management.

Fortunately for flora and fauna, as well as the dog walkers, school children and many others who regularly wander through the nature reserve, there exists a dedicated band of volunteers who care for the land owned by Mid Sussex District Council.

“My real love is plants and trees,” said Gill Rogers, who is the secretary of The Friends of Ashenground and Bolnore Woods, a group which manages the woodland for the benefit of the whole community.

There are nearly 200 members of the Friends, about half and half between Ashenground and Bolnore, but only a minority take part in the regular task days which occur three times a month, and the group is looking for some more active members.

“We would love young people, and we need some more 60-year-olds - we’ve got enough 70-year-olds,” joked Gill, looking at Michael Bradley, 73 of Updown Hill, who recently joined the committee.

He said: “It’s fun, coming out to work in the woods and I have made a lot of good friends.

“It’s a social activity and I am doing something worthwhile.

“Sometimes when I walk through here it raises a little bit of a smile knowing that I helped to do that.”

Friends participate in coppicing, clearing paths, litter picking, and making clearings to encourage wild flowers on the woodland floor.

The woods between the railway and Bolnore are the more heavily used, with people walking into town, and children to-ing and fro-ing from Bolnore Primary School.

Nurturing the balance between amenity and conservation is something chemistry teacher and Friends committee member Peter McKerchar from Wealden Way enjoys facilitating.

“I have always enjoyed being out in the woods, ever since I was a child,” he said.

“We’re doing valuable work.

“I hope people will share the pride in preserving the place, and do it for the benefit of themselves and others.”

People can contribute in many ways.

Some have provided expertise and assistance on planning issues and the Friends can boast considerable success when it comes to keeping developers at bay.

In a landmark planning decision they saved Four Acre Wood from being built on and also won improved protection for ancient woodland elsewhere by ensuring a 15m buffer zone is observed between new development and woodland edges.

Michael stressed that volunteers can do as much or as little as they wish.

“You don’t have to be a lumberjack,” he said. “In fact, Mid Sussex District Council organises the heavy work.”

Nevertheless, working with the Friends provides good exercise in the fresh air of the woodland for the benefit of the wider community.

If you would like to know more visit, or call Janice 07752 003529.