One of the first people to contact me as a new councillor was Michelle Gregory who was very concerned that Hemwood Dell had been put up for auction to the highest bidder. Over the next month I arrange for her to talk to all the relevant RBWM officers from all relevant departments and they were able to make her feel a little more assured but the main chap who gave her the peace of mind she was looking for was Jason Mills, the RBWM’s Countryside Manager.
Jason came and walked her through the dell, explaining the flora and fauna as they strolled along. He also made it very clear that Hemwood Dell is an area designated as Public Open Space and that even if people bought a small part of it, they had no rights to plant the smallest seed or remove the biggest branch. For all intensive purposes, Hemwood Dell belongs to the RBWM and the therefore the people of Windsor and those who have spent money buying it at auction have essentially be foolish and naive. They should have run it past a good lawyer first… some did and cancelled their bids.
On Thursday 26th September, World Environmental Health Day, Jason came along to a gathering of those interested to know more about the ecology of Hemwood Dell at Wyevale’s Garden Centre.
Local councillors Helen Price, Carole Da Costa and myself along with the new Lead on Environmental Services, Climate Change, Sustainability and Culture Cllr Donna Stimson listened, along with local residents, to Jason share the ecology report.
I asked Michelle what she got from Jason’s report and she said:
Here is what I gleaned:
Whilst the ecological report does not have first hand evidence of specific species of wildlife, the Dell does contain valuable habitats that could support and sustain a variety of creatures and plants.
There are plenty of “ticks in boxes” to indicate that the woodland is a perfect habitat for a variety of wildlife including great crested newts for example.
The report itself is at the most basic level: a Phase 1 survey describing a “semi-natural woodland”.
This is what the ecologist survey described as the entire survey took only one day encompassing the surveys undertaken at Wolf Lane Spinney and Castle Farm.
The Dell has had some minor disturbances over time, though has always provided some woodland cover.
There is a diverse mix of broad leaved species of native woodland which is important as it provides priority habitats.
There are some rogue shrubs and trees which need to be controlled, such as rhododendron and sycamore.
The Dell is legally designated a Local Wildlife Site.
It is probably a remnant of the greater forest that covered the land surrounding Windsor.
Tivoli contractors should cut the Dell annually and clear the grasses, this is particularly important in the Dell itself where it is liable to flood.
New signage is due to be installed at the entrance to the woodland which will describe the area as a Local Wildlife Site providing potential habitats for a variety of creatures. It may describe it as a remnant of Windsor Forest, though the adjective “ancient” may not be accurate!
There is some ambiguity as to what constitutes “ancient” woodland, though Peter Watson has 18th century map evidence which clearly shows a wooded area containing the Dell. There is no proof that the area was not felled at some time and replanted.
Bat boxes will be sited rather than bird boxes as cats hunt in the area and this makes it hazardous for fledglings.
New signs warning about the section liable to flood are to be replaced.
Residents are actively encouraged to record species seen in the Dell, photographic evidence not necessary, but residents should contact Thames Valley Environmental Record Centre (TVERC) should they find evidence of bird, plant or animal life not yet recorded in the woodland.
Hemwood Dell is an area of natural woodland, not a park, so as such should not be planted with non native species or colour such as garden centre plants provide, despite what some well-meaning residents might think!
Some clearance of trees and shrubs may be necessary to permit more light into the canopy and so allow more natural growth of low growing plants and woodland flowers.
New owners of the “plots” will soon be identified via Land Registry documentation. These new owners are perceived to be naive as land cannot be built upon or changed. There was some discussion about the feasibility of contacting them.
There is some concern over the ” littering” by the auction house, Barnard Marcus as some signs remain despite the sales being completed.
Thank you to Michelle for making her concerns known to me in the first place and a big thank you to Jason for calming residents fears.