Brough Park planted woodlandTwo MCA members met in a park; their task – to investigate a piece of land on the edge of Leek, and learn a bit about mapping and tree conservation while they were at it. One member, Mark Johnson, had spent his life buried in maps but when it came to trees, struggled to tell his Ash from his Willow. The other, Mark Cunningham, had over a decade of conservation work as a countryside ranger for the National Trust behind him.

Picture yourself in Brough Park, standing near the skateboard park on the main tarmac road. In the distance are some large trees, long grass and, if you have reasonable eyesight, some newly planted trees in tree tubes are just visible. Mark J explained that this was where one of Staffordshire Moorlands District Council’s ‘community orchards’ had been planted. ‘Strange’, said Mark C, ‘some appear to have been planted in the shade of the mature trees, they won’t grow very well there’. On closer inspection, the shaded trees in question turned out to be ‘understory’ shrubs, smaller trees like hazel and hawthorn, which naturally grow in woodlands beneath taller trees. They should be fine.

Mark J explained that an earlier attempt at new planting on that site had proved ill-fated. Without any community involvement or care, the trees had fallen victim to vandalism. But so far, only one of this generation of saplings had been destroyed by human action. The fruit trees all seemed to be doing OK, and will eventually make an attractive addition to the park. They looked to be a selection of fruit trees – pity there are no labels – but maybe they will be added later for the benefit of the inquisitive.

MCA at WirksworthHello from the Nature group! Here’s a little update on what’s been happening and plans for the future too.

Wildflower verges: Two of our members, Penny and Jane, have been surveying a roadside verge in Leek, with a view to it becoming a wildflower verge. Hopefully, this will be the first of many!

Out and about: Thanks to Elen for organising a wildflower walk near Warslow – it was a beautiful walk, and we very much hope there will be more nature walks next year.

Thanks also to Maggie for organising a visit to Wirksworth community garden (pictured), which is an amazingly inspiring place. We are currently exploring the options for community gardens in the Moorlands – whether that’s us setting up a new garden, or looking for existing community gardens that we can get involved in.

Volunteer: Nature group members have also been taking part in Staffordshire Wildlife Trust volunteer days at reserves such as Thorswood and elsewhere.

Poldark Members of the Nature group have been revelling this year in the delights of the wonderful Moorlands hay meadows, especially those managed by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust. One small example is the meadow in the Foxlowe garden, seeded some years ago by green hay from one of their reserves. It's scythed every year as part of its management programme and this year some of us came to watch the action and listen to Mark Johnson and Maggie Pollard read their meadow-inspired poetry. Thanks to Peter Oakley and Nigel Williams who did the scything and to the poets. We reproduce Maggie's poem here.

Scything Time

Turning, tipping, just so slightly,
fair July gives way to August days.

Russell StreetIt's very encouraging to see a practical initiative to enhance biodiversity and support pollinating insects in Leek, especially one with collaboration between the Town Council and MCA.  The project was initially mooted by Cllr Bill Cawley, working with Cllr Lyn Swindlehurst and Leek Town Mayor, Cllr Stephen Wales, as part of a beeline wildlife corridor concept, and was supported by Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and MCA member, Jane Tattersall, who was responsible for planning the planting scheme for the Russell Street site. Funding came from the Town Council Mayor's fund, Protech Electrical, Keates Hairdressing and Neil Corbishley Aggregates. The planting was done by Stephen, his wife, Julie, and Jane.  She thoroughly enjoyed researching and sourcing the plants used to fill the containers and will continue to keep an eye on them, weeding, pruning and planting spring bulbs. The Town Council's lengthsman, Tony, will be watering the site during the summer and so far the feedback from passers-by has been very positive.  Jane describes the plans and planting here.

oak seedling green lineOften small actions can make a difference when tackling climate change and sometimes it’s just a matter of seizing opportunities that present themselves. One such is the conundrum of what to do with influxes of tree seeds, such as acorns and beech nuts, during a mast year. Most town dwellers don’t have enough space for mature forest trees but they may still experience a rain of nuts falling on their gardens or allotments from trees in neighbouring gardens. According to the Woodland Trust, an oak can drop several hundred acorns in a single square metre, which certainly matched the experience of MCA member, Nigel Williams, who having wondered how best to deal with them in previous years decided in 2020 to overwinter his harvest of acorns in his greenhouse to give them a safe germination opportunity, away from predatory squirrels, mice and other such beasties.

Leek marketAt last we have a start date for our Climate-friendly market stall.  It will be on Saturday, 24th April on the Market Square in Leek and we’ll be there on a quarterly basis on the fourth Saturday of April, July, October and January. So do come and visit us, take away some samples of green manure seeds and also peat-free composts, so that you can take part in our Peat-free Challenge. [see also our Peat-free Growers FB page]. You can choose some seedlings from those that our green-fingered members are supplying, which of course will all be grown in peat-free composts and without a trace of insecticide (neonicotinoid or otherwise).  Those plants will be really good for people wanting to encourage insects, especially wild bees (read Maggie’s’ article about them), which expect very high standards.