By Annabelle Holland
Before Annabelle retired, she was the Head of Art and Contingent Commander at the Stamford Endowed Schools. Now she works in a voluntary capacity for various organisations including Forestry England, Burghley Estate, Barrowden Community Shop, the Duke of Edinburgh scheme and the Combined Cadet Force.…. But here she writes about the satisfaction she derived from helping to start a new group to carry out volunteering in part of Rockingham Forest.
Just before I retired, worried about filling my days, I enquired about volunteering for Forestry England at Top Lodge, Fineshade, as the natural world and the countryside have always been a great interest of mine. Three years ago, I completed my first shift on the ‘Welcome Desk’ and also started to participate in the work parties. I found the welcome desk interesting; the opportunity to chat to people and answer questions, about walks in the forest, or in the local area, and I discovered that many had travelled quite a distance to come to Fineshade. We are so lucky to have this lovely woodland on our doorstep.
Before and after pictures of ditch clearing with the Butterfly Conservation group
The work parties are enjoyable too. It’s lovely to meet other volunteers and the tasks that we do vary enormously; from clearing young birch trees to improving adder habitat, to coppicing and planting trees. Forestry England also arrange visits and talks for their volunteers so, for example, I have learnt how Grimsthorpe Estate is managed, attended a hedge laying course, and learned about the flora and fauna of Fineshade itself.
At one time the FE volunteers from Fineshade were ‘lent’ to Burghley Estate to plant some trees. These trees were planted along the edge of the park, beside the A1 and were to replace those originally planted by Capability Brown in the late 1700s. His trees are now at least 250 years old and unsurprisingly, reaching the end of their lives, so to maintain his ‘vision’ of the park, these old trees are being underplanted with saplings, or “whips”.
Capability Brown’s ancient trees in the background with the new underplanted trees in the foreground
Some months after this tree replanting session, I chatted to Peter Glassey, Burghley’s Head Forester, and he told me that he was ‘desperate’ for volunteers, so I offered to gather a group of people together to help him. I contacted a few friends and we were very excited to be able to meet up to carry out some work in Burghley Park. Once again, the work involved maintaining Capability Brown’s naturalistic landscape. The very old Chestnut and Sycamore trees alongside the golf club had been underplanted with young trees some years ago, and their tree guards needed removing to enable them to grow unhindered. Peter had found a company that recycled these plastic guards so the ‘team’ duly collected them. Very satisfying, as the task was not only conservation work, but recycling too. It took us about four Saturday mornings to clear the area and the woodland looked so very much better in the end. It was a fascinating area, because deep in the wood is an ancient quarry, whose stone was used to build the original A1, that came right through Stamford.
The ancient quarry, whose stone was used to build the original A1 road through Stamford
Other tasks were soon found for us on the wider Burghley Estate and new volunteers joined the group. We helped to clear the path along the Torpel Way, between Stamford and Uffington, also an area of woodland near Wothorpe but the most rewarding job was tree planting in Barrowden where I live. The crop of cricket bat willows near the River Welland had been felled and because of future restricted access, no more crop willows were to be planted there, so Burghley decided to enhance the area. There were eleven local volunteers who planted 185 trees one morning in March. They are a mixture of Guelder Rose, Hazel, Pussy Willow, White Willow and disease resistant White Elm. Having recently inspected them, a year on, the majority are growing very well indeed. This planting will, in time create a lovely natural habitat for wildlife beside the river.
The planted trees beside the River Welland at Barrowden
Having access to such a beautiful old estate and learning about its landscape and ancient trees is wonderful and I now have a huge respect both for Capability Brown’s foresight and for today’s foresters who maintain the estate’s twelve and a half thousand acres. Peter’s knowledge is really comprehensive and I have learnt not only about the evolving landscape history of the estate but also about the life stages of trees, why they grow in certain ways and how to calculate the age of a mature tree. The pleasure of ‘working’ outside and helping to maintain our woodland heritage is a joy, especially being able to chat to other volunteers. There are several more jobs that Burghley have in mind for the volunteer team, so I am sure that we’ll be busy in the future.
If you are interested in joining us, do get in touch .
When I retired, I was worried that I would be bored, but this work in the forest and my other volunteering ‘jobs’ certainly keep me occupied, are good fun and give me a great sense of satisfaction.