Last year while doing some research into the history of some of our local green spaces we noticed a little site on a couple of maps which surprisingly was officially declared as a Local Nature Reserve by Natural England, but of which none of us had really been aware, despite passing it by on a regular basis.
It is a small wooded area on the western bank of Hogsmill river, where it flows through Berrylands, and sandwiched between the A3 slip road, Malden Way, and the alleyway from Elmbridge Meadows to Woodies Lane.
Despite some confusion from various sources, we were eventually able to confirm the site should be known as Hogsmill Wood Nature Reserve.
As the space is closed for public access we could only peer through the surrounding fence, and across from the opposite bank of the the river to get a glimpse inside.
From what little we could see it was quite clear that the site wasn’t in a very good state, with lots of fly-tipped waste, particularly that dumped over the fence from the A3 slip road, which had been allowed to accumulate over a great many years.
After speaking to the local council and their green space contractor idVerde about the space we established that there had been no active management or maintenance of the site for quite a number of years, and neither of them were that familiar with where it was, or that it was even council owned land. In fact neither of them actually had a key to open the padlock on the site’s only gate!
Step forward the Friends of Berrylands Nature Reserve.
Wanting to help give the site a little community TLC we approached idVerde about running a volunteer clean-up day at the site, and they kindly agreed to help facilitate it by providing a trailer for us to load up, and arranging to replace the padlock so access could be restored.
All that was left to organise was a suitable day for the job, and when better than the timely ‘extra’ day courtesy of 2020 being a leap year, enabling the local community to make great use of the 29th February to further improve our local natural environment.
A chance email discussion with some local residents a few days before the session filled us in on a bit more of the backstory to how the site came to be in such a poor state.
At one time many years ago this space was actively managed by the London Wildlife Trust, but over the last 10+ years the only access to the site has been once every 3 years for a liitle work to manage the trees abutting the adjoining residential property, with the rest of the site left wild, and the waste allowed to build up.
The weather in the lead up to clean-up day was rather soggy, and even early in the morning things weren’t looking too promising.
Fortunately undeterred by the forecasts a great team of volunteers turned up, keen to explore a hidden local space which had been hiding under all of our noses. They were rewarded just minutes before the clean-up session was due to start as the clouds parted, and the sun emerged, and with the exception of a very quick shower it accompanied us throughout.
After explaining some of the history of the site, and going through the necessary health and safety considerations, we started the session by suggesting volunteers go and explore rather then getting going immediately with gathering up the litter.
The entire site is only about 100m square, but as it has been allowed to grow wild, both by design and because of neglect, it is incredibly dense, and everyone had to be careful picking their way through for a better look around.
This was the first opportunity most of us had ever had to investigate the space, and it was very exciting to think about the fact that we were virtually the only people who had been into most of the site for more than a decade.
Scattered around was all sorts of weird and wonderful things including a whole toilet, a couple of bicycles, a tent, a tyre, a car bumper, and an armchair, as well as loads of more usual rubbish like cans, bottles, crisp packets and sweet wrappers.
Volunteers first targeted the waste distributed around the heart of the space before converging on the Malden Way boundary where the majority had accumulated, having been dumped over the fence.
We all stopped for a well earned break mid way through the day, with one of the volunteers bringing along some delicious homemade peach cake for us to all enjoy with our warm drinks as we chatted.
It was a real team effort with some volunteers armed with litter pickers, others hand picking rubbish both large and small, and all regularly transporting it to the trailer parked up outside for loading on.
Between us we filled approximately 100 bin bags with smaller litter, in addition to larger items, and by the end of the day the trailer was full to the brim.
The site looks so much better now thanks to the fabulous volunteer efforts.
In the future there might be an opportunity for us to get back into the site again to give it a little more love, particularly in the summer to target the Himalayan Balsam we observed remnants of on part of the river bank.
Amongst the waste we also discovered some discarded fencing, so we might even be back before then to make use of it to patch up a hole in part of the boundary fence alongside the alleyway.