New sights, new ideas
The meadow grasses and plants are so much longer now, and hiding in amongst them was a butterfly that moved almost constantly, staying low among the stalks and only rarely venturing above them. It was the deep, rich brown of dark chocolate, and when it rested momentarily I saw it’s discreet circles and white outline of the wings – it was my first Ringlet spot of the year. I haven’t seen any Skippers yet, but I’m not concerned as it was a few days further into the month last year that I first saw them. But they should be appearing any day now, and for me they always herald the start of high summer.
This meadowland section of the park was one of the subjects of discussion during a meeting I attended about the creation of a management plan for Highbury Park. Senior Ranger Alf is encouraging all the groups that have involvement in the park – and indeed any members of the public who feel passionately about it – to attend and give their thoughts. Ultimately, for my part, I think we should change things as little as possible. Currently the park has a great range of habitats for nature – and also for humans! Places to play, to have a kick-about with a football, to enjoy a picnic in the sun or the shade of a tree, and to enjoy the wonderful wildlife – why tinker with a winning formula? But I digress…
The meadow was under discussion because it may be expanded. At the very least, we might improve what we already have by sowing some meadow grasses and flowers to increase diversity and bring in more types of butterflies and bees. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing!
Using less herbicides and pesticides was also raised. That would really benefit all wildlife – and let’s not forget that it is better for people too.
One of my concerns for the park is that there seems to be no replacement of the mature trees when they come down. It’s natural that trees that are old should fall (and one of the things I love about Highbury Park is the policy of leaving the trunks to rot down, which leaves important habitat for insects, birds, and small mammals. We even have Lesser Stag Beetles in the park). Only the other day one of the large stumps that had to come down the other day was, sadly, the place where the Nuthatch has nested successfully every year for the past few years. But the loss is part of the natural cycle of nature, and must be accepted. But currently there is no replacement plan in place, which is leading to loss of trees slowly but surely. That is now going to be looked into, along with the possibility of creating tree ‘nurseries’ (which would be dead-hedged to discourage people from entering and accidentally trampling on the new growth) on the outskirts of some of the wooded areas in order to enlarge them.
We also covered coppicing. The problem with it is that the clearings look like great places to play in or hold a picnic in, but what I learned during the meeting was that the stumps must be allowed to reshoot or they will die. If the tender new shoots are damaged and die off, then the entire stump will die. So they need to be avoided if possible, then the tree can re-grow and be cut again in ten years or so. Not only does it give wood for use, but is a vital part of managing some parts of the woodland for certain birds and plants, etc.
One annoying thing I noticed during the meeting though was that that very morning the lovely long grasses and wild flowers that ran along the side of the stream had been cut down by the council, for some strange reason. I’d only got back from my holiday the day before, and had seen some plants I didn’t recognise (I am a bit rubbish with plants, I’m afraid, it’s a real weak point of mine) and decided to come back the following day to take their photographs and look them up. Now I had returned…and they were gone. The lesson from that is to seize the day!
Several people have suggested that areas be delineated clearly in the plan, and management practices set out specifically for them. I think that would be really helpful, as there is such diverse habitat in the park – we are truly blessed on that point.
On the whole, I feel very upbeat about these meetings. There is now a forum where all concerned parties can meet face to face and talk about their ideas and issues. For my part, as I mentioned earlier, I believe we should manage with as light a touch as we can. People who want neat and tidy places have plenty of other parks to visit nearby – Cannon Hill and Kings Heath parks are great for that. People come to Highbury, I believe, for wildlife and the wide open space, the freer atmosphere. The key thing here is for us to interfere as little as possible and instead work together to protect and enhance the huge range of habitats we can boast of in the park: boggy areas, short grasses, long grasses, wooded areas, mature wooded sections, streams and ponds. I feel very honoured to be involved in safeguarding the heritage of the park, and helping to carve its future.