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Barling & Wakering Villages Plus
Barling Magna Wildlife Reserve

Article by Councillor Ivy Knight - 30th September 2016

In April 1998, Barling Magna Parish Council purchased a 999 year lease on the land originally owned by Southend Council which had been used originally as a working farm, later becoming an open prison during the last war. Subsequently it was used as a tool store for the park workers of Southend Council, until they stopped using it.


The site was then abandoned and eventually over the next 20 years became a favourite fly-tipping area with many abandoned car parts, fridges, rubber tyres and every sort of machinery detritus. It then became overwhelmed with masses of perennial weeds and grasses. It suffered an almost 100% failure of the many Elms that were struggling to grow there including those that were self-seeded around the site which eventually fell or were dying and the whole area became a wilderness.


Unfortunately, fly tipping only gets worse on land left unattended and when Barling Magna Parish Council purchased the lease it was almost impenetrable.


As a parish councillor with a background in agriculture and nature, I took great interest in the project and it has to some extent taken over my life ever since 2005. Plans were drawn up to turn it into a wildlife park and the idea was to call it ‘The Millennium Wildlife Park’ but cash reserves were low and so it could not be made ready for the Public until 2008, when it was officially opened. This was only just the tip of the iceberg with much of the ground still covered by perennial weeds and rambling vegetation.


We were lucky enough to raise considerable financial support from The Cory Trust and the Community Initiative Awards. This enabled us to reduce the top vegetation to a manageable height, have a proper footpath created through the top entrance down as far as the derelict old barn and put a perimeter fence around the whole site to make it safer for all. The barn called Trumpions which was the name of the original farm was derelict, roofless, door less with no water on site and had neither toilet or hand washing facilities. The existing windows were mostly broken and the building was being taken over by rambling perennial growth.


We spent some considerable time clearing the area around the barn in readiness for another grant funded project. This involved removing the asbestos remains of a roof and re-roofing with artificial slates (which helped to keep the costs down).  Sadly, the many signs of Barn Owl habitation at this stage of disturbance were no longer visible. We then had to look for voluntary labour, in order to keep the costs of maintaining the Reserve as low as possible. This was not easy, but fortunately a retired policeman, Tony Golab wandered through one day and has been with us ever since on a casual basis, providing invaluable labour, ideas and muscle. In later years, after retiring, his wife Kath joined us and also provided amazing support.


STrumpions Barn in 2012ome weeks after the eventual removal of all the dead trees which took a year and refurbishing the window frames, we were lucky enough to get a ‘free’ two day support squad from Essex & Suffolk Water. They enlarged our very small pond in the lower meadow and brought it to a size that will retain water. Prior to that, we had been fortunate that a local company locating’ the original water main running across the site. With the help of one of our plumber councillors suddenly we had a toilet, washbasin, and sink to wash up in. A small Calor Gas cooker, wire covers for all windows for security, and our ‘skip’ kitchen (rescued literally from locally placed skips) were installed by our volunteers.


During these two years councillor Ivy knight applied to the Environment Agency, The Woodland Trust, and various other local organisations and managed to receive donations of plants and young trees. So far we have acquired almost 600 whips (small trees and bushes) which were then planted in hundreds of pots and placed in a ‘nursery’ to grow on. Many of these were deliberately chosen as native trees. Our ambition had always been to create the original pre-war hedgerows, Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Buckthorn, Field Maple along with the few remaining deciduous trees from the original site that had survived the Dutch Elm Disease but were now thriving. Over one damp and chilly Easter with local people and their children we planted at random over the meadow, some 2000 native wild flowers in plugs.

 

Our favourite Horse Chestnut Tree with new style bench provided for relaxing and taking in the peacefulness of the Reserve.We managed to secure funding for three bench seats and a picnic table and subsequently as the park opened its gates officially in July 2008, we were ‘ready for business’. The benches were manufactured by disabled persons at a company in Ipswich from recycled plastic bags and they are giving wonderful service, needing little or no maintenance and were in use from the outset. As a team, with some of our earlier volunteers, we laid an 8 metre raised deck area to use as a covered seating area under the barn roof which is in use all the time. We have now added more furniture both to the decking and throughout the reserve, for our visitors’ comfort.


Three years ago with the assistance of the local schoolchildren, we planted a wood of Rowan and Silver Birches to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. These are now twice as high as the children that planted them and are looking very beautiful. We added two bird stations from dead trees which provide constant interest and entertainment for birdwatchers, children and less energetic people alike, who enjoy sitting and watching the varied birdlife visiting the bird stations. In the last year or so we were delighted to discover that previously empty, state of the art owl nesting boxes, donated by the RSPB, have now been adopted by the Barn Owls. They had only migrated to the farm next door but were now ‘back in the fold’ using their more sophisticated accommodation; pellets can be found on a daily basis beneath the boxes which illustrates their return.


Tree Nursery 2010We have installed many different types of bird nesting boxes, all donated and spread around the Reserve which are giving us a constant interest in habits and birdsong. All of the ‘Animal habitat sites’ created from dead trees are now in full use with rodents, Adders, Stoats and a myriad of ground animals together with the multi hundreds of rabbits that all inhabit the site including the smart suburban foxes looking wonderful on their natural diet rather than household scraps.


Our tree nursery, populated by some which have been no more than sticks in tiny pots, are now after three or more years, abundant with life – Oaks, Willows, Sycamore, Walnut, Ash, Hornbeam and Beech, Field Maple and Yew. Also, numerous hedgerow plants will finally find their place to grow and thrive for the future and we shall have a Wildlife Reserve and community space to last for generations to come, thanks to the dedication, respect and encouragement of many people.


Teddy Bears Picnic 2016We have just enjoyed our third Teddy Bears Picnic at the Reserve. A wonderful day for children, no charge for entry, invited to ‘go down to the woods today’ to eat their picnics, with fun and games including ‘Hunt the Teddy Bear in the Meadow’, a  sing-along with Rosie the Bear, domestic farm animals for petting and recognition, brought to us by an Essex organisation. Ice cream and doughnuts supplied by a local vendor, raffles, tombolas. A great day was had by all, including the grown-ups!! Look out for the next event.


We were privileged to welcome the Chairman of Rochford District Council, Councillor Mrs Carole Weston, to our event this year (2016). She is Chairman for the period May 2016 to May 2017 and has been a Rochford District Councillor for more than 16 years. She also previously served as a Hockley Parish Councillor for several years.



Our Visitors include:


The RSPB for regular walks

The Boy Scout and Cub Association

The Girl Guides Association

The British Hedgehog Association

The Woodland Trust

Pondlife


Awards that we have won to date:


Rochford District Council Design and Heritage Award 2008

The Green Pennant Award 2010/2011

The Green Pennant Award 2012

The Green Flag Award 2013/14

The Green Flag Award 2014/15

The Green Flag Community Award 2015/16

The Green Flag Community Award 2016/17