Cold Ash’s hidden secret gets its day in the sun.
The Wildlife Allotment Garden sits in the centre of Cold Ash. The site covers over seven acres and is a haven for wildlife. Three years ago, it was mainly overgrown, with large areas covered by brambles, nettles and Himalayan Balsam, which is an invasive species. Trees that had been taken down or fallen we’re left in piles of debris. The area had pretty much been reduced to a cut through from the two village pubs to The Ridge.
In 2019, Cold Ash Parish Council decided something needed to be done to improve the site. The idea was to establish a group of volunteers to improve and maintain the area. After initial strong interest, little happened, and the volunteer group hadn’t got off the ground when COVID arrived. During the early months of COVID a team evolved and started to work on clearance of the debris from the site. As it opened up, the potential of the site became clear and with investment from West Berkshire Council through Members Bid funding, match funded by Cold Ash Parish Council, the volunteer group began to make significant improvements. First a derelict area that hadn’t been open to the public for decades was turned into a meadow with sculptures, picnic tables and a small bridge over the watercourse that runs through the centre of the site. Following this a tree planting day was arranged by the Cold Ash Greening Group and the volunteers, who had now adopted the title of Cold Ash Countryside Volunteers. The event saw over 100 trees, supplied by the Woodland Trust, planted by the community. The following years have seen significant development of the site with new areas being opened and improvements made for both wildlife and access of the community. The vision for the site started to be delivered with events such as a scything day to start to develop one of the areas into a wildflower meadow.
The vision has always included the desire for the site to also celebrate the rural history of Cold Ash. So, in 2022 the volunteers started to clear other fields ready to welcome livestock back to the area. The parish council was fortunate to find two local parishioners, Steve Jones and Keri Williams, who were keen to lease a field. Five goats were introduced and were an instant hit with the public. Following this Steve and Keri leased two further fields and introduced Balwen and Valais Blacknose sheep. An area of the site was developed into a Quiet Garden where people can sit surrounded by nature, listening to birdsong, watching the sheep and enjoying the magnificent views across to Hannington in the distance. The Quiet Garden was also established to remember the COVID times and is framed by three Japanese Cherry Blossom trees that were donated to West Berkshire Council by the Japanese Government. Other improvements have been the introduction of benches across the site, re-establishing the pond in the centre of the site through the introduction of ‘leaky dams’, bug hotels, bird boxes and Loggeries for Stag Beetles. The site was also used for a beacon lighting event to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. The event was attended by around 500 people.
Whilst elements of the site were known to some local people it was clear that the scale and scope of the site, and what it had to offer wasn’t well know, a fact that was reinforced when the Quiet Garden was referred to as ‘the Secret Garden’. This all changed on the 8th May.
The Cold Ash Volunteers, with the support of Cold Ash Parish Council, settled on the idea to support the ‘Big Help Out’ event, celebrating King Charles III coronation. The proposed event was designed to showcase what site has to offer, bringing to life the opportunity to walk and pause in an idyllic countryside setting, to enjoy wildlife, farming livestock and the scenery. The day included many attractions. The animals were a great pull. There were sheep, goats, donkeys, ducks, chickens, quails and guinea pigs. It was great to see the enjoyment children got from seeing and interacting with the animals. There was great excitement around the lambs that have been born on the site this year and visitors were able to feed some orphaned lambs. Several rural pursuits were demonstrated, including stick making and bodging, which showed the use of medieval woodworking implements. Children got the opportunity to make their own sticks. Soon the site was awash with children with walking sticks. The event included carriage rides around the village and a nature trail where people got the opportunity to see the delights of the site and visit some areas that they may never have explored. This, along with a display of the moths that make the site their home, brought to life the wildlife in the area. The long-awaited official opening of the Quiet Garden also took place.
The event was a great successful and met its aim of showing what can be achieved by volunteers working with the parish council and members of the community. But, just as important, was the engagement of so many people with the countryside and what it has to offer.
The day would not have happened without the involvement of many people. Thanks go to:
- The Cold Ash Countryside Volunteers (Jacky Akram, Bob Feuillade, Noel Hatton, John Hislop, Ivor McArdle, Judith Q, Chris Sayer, Diane Sherratt and Jon Wilding)
- Steve Jones, Keri Williams and their family, who made a huge contribution, providing the livestock, farming equipment and the carriage rides
- Rose and Keith Arnold, who provided the donkeys
- Trevor Howard and the Bodgers
- John Hislop and family, the stick makers
- Gareth and Alex Scourfield for the display of moths
- Richard Marshall and the Greening Group
Whilst the sun didn’t shine on the day, it did stay dry and over 400 people joined in. The Wildlife Allotment Garden definitely got its day in the sun.