Prestwood Nature The Local Environment Group for the Prestwood Area

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      by John Obee,  Boug’s Project Leader

‘Are you doing Community Service?’ I have been asked this question many times in the past few years when I have been working down at Boug’s Meadow. I say no and tell them about Prestwood Nature (PN)  and then carry on. On reflection I was doing work for the community but not to pay back any debts I may have to society! So what exactly have I (PN) been doing there and why.

Back in 2006 Tony Marshall, Joy Mead and I attended a meeting in Great Missenden to discuss the potential improvement of the meadow next to the car park in Link Road. From that meeting and the pledges of support from the attendees emerged the start of a new Prestwood Nature project.  All projects need a name to enable focus and communication. Tony did some research and found that the land used to be farmed by a family by the name of Boug so the project became Boug’s Meadow.

The original PN Management plan was drawn up and the funds sought to do the work. The key objective was to create a wild flower meadow with full public access as an amenity for the local residents of all ages.

It was envisaged that the creative part of the work would take about 3 years, with ongoing maintenance thereafter.

The site, owned by Chiltern District Council (CDC) is about 55m square and encompasses about 0.3 hectares. Within its boundaries are the stream bed of the (infrequently flowing) Misbourne River, a meadow and a small copse. The western boundary runs alongside a car park, with Link Road on the southern side. The eastern boundary is next to a horse paddock and the north edge has a public footpath running along it.

John Obee determined not to be beaten!When we took over the management of the site from CDC the meadow was a very scruffy patch of weeds with virtually no wild flowers. Docks and nettles covered almost all of the meadow area and a soil sample test showed that the fertility was such that significant wild flower growth was going to be difficult to achieve. The copse was totally overgrown and full of old, unsafe elder . The eastern boundary was a decaying hedge, also predominately elder. The south boundary was fenced and the northern one with the footpath also partially bordered by old elder. Wildlife signs were restricted to many enormous rabbit holes, complete with residents, and a few birds in the copse.

On receipt of some funding from CDC and the Chilterns Conservation Board (CCB) we set about our task in earnest. Top priority was to start a regime of regular meadow cutting. By removing the spoil we hoped, over time, to gradually reduce the fertility of the soil. We could not get a large motorised mower with grass box onto the site so we purchased scythes and field rakes. Tony had some experience of scything and we soon formed an effective team. Alongside the cutting and raking we also started to clear out the copse and planted a few trees and bulbs in and around the front of it. A soon-to-be-large compost heap was starting to form on the southern boundary! During 2007 we also erected a notice board at the site with funds kindly donated by the Great Missenden Rotary Club.

IHedge plantingn 2008 freshly-cut hay was strewn on the scythed meadow. After much stamping and stomping on it we cleared it away hoping that we had shaken some of its seeds onto the ground. Not much germinated! So, we carried on with the cutting regime and then in November 2009 we scarified the meadow surface and scattered £400 worth of seed on it. Although some of it germinated, docks and nettles continued to be the dominant features of the landscape! Since then the nettles have gradually receded in favour of grasses and flowering plants and the docks have been virtually eliminated.

In the Winter of 2009 we erected a picket fence along the car park boundary complete with netting to stop litter ingress. Inside the fence we planted over 600 hedging plants. At the same time as the hedge planting we had a splendid oak bench built in the meadow. Soon after this the Chesham Archaeology Club did an initial survey of the site, expressing much interest in the 'wagon' road we had already uncovered just inside the eastern boundary fence. This must have led to Missenden Abbey originally. They were also enthused by the small brick-built arch bridge that crosses the stream bed. They did some ‘sample’ trench digs around the overall site and plan to return to the site at a future date.

In Autumn 2010 we felled the straggly elder trees along the eastern boundary and cleared out a two metre hedge line where we then planted a good selection of trees and hedging with guards against the rabbits! Daylight now streamed into what was once a dark copse. We also plaPlanting the "Royal Oak"nted 30 trees  around the meadow,  kindly donated by the Village Centre Pre-School Nursery, Holmer Green.

In 2011/2012 we continued with our scything/raking regime and gradually improved the grasses/flower to nettle/dock ratio in the meadow. More dead elder was removed from the copse and the hedges regularly pruned. With the consent of the owner of the horse paddock the eastern boundary nettle 'forest' was gradually brought to heel and ground cover plants rapidly started to  take over the floor of the wagon road and the boundary itself. More hedging, donated by the Woodland Trust, was planted together with a 'Royal' oak tree to mark The Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

In 2013 we negotiated a contractor-cutting regime with CDC. The contractor managed to get powered machinery to the site and during the year 3 cuts were carried out. The machines used did not pick up cuttings so immediately after each cut PN volunteers raked off the cuttings to try and continue our efforts to impoverish the soil. This new regime reduced our labours somewhat and as a result we had fewer work parties that year. The highlight of 2013 was the return of the Misbourne which flowed through the meadow for 5 months. We even had a family of ducks. In the summer we had a table installed in front of the original bench and also had a second bench erected under the alders bordering the stream bed. Some of the cost involved in these installations was met by the Great Missenden Revitalisation Group (GMRG), who have been stalwart supporters of Boug's over the years. We also planted some hedging alongside the footpath on the northern boundary this year with more plants donated by the Woodland Trust. Three new nest boxes were put up on the trees in the copse in the Autumn.

2014 saw the return of the river again, this time for several months. Ducks and moorhens took advantage of this treat as did we! Many more wild flowers started to adorn the wagon road. So much better than the (almost) conquered giant nettles. In the meadow there was a good show of flowers including lots of cowslips. Our biodiversity was definitely on the rise. In July we held a public 'come and see what we are doing here' event. Unfortunately it poured with rain but not before a few kids had had a go at dipping their nets in the river and what goodies we had  under the gazebo had been eaten!

The river deserted us in 2015 but the now 'damp' riverbed was full of rampant growth including watercress. The car park hedge thickened and flourished. In the autumn we double- dug an 18sq.m patch of meadow and sowed a mixture of grasses and flowers. We fenced the area off and looked forward to a good germination! We also planted dozens of berry -carrying trees around the perimeter of the copse. They were a free gift from OVO Energy. During the summer our volunteers built an excellent compost enclosure under the trees.

This spring we were pleased to see a mass of waving grasses in our fenced area soon to be followed by a reasonable show of poppies and daisies. As well as the usual maintenance tasks we started on the job of clearing out our 10 year accumulation of rubbish from our old scruffy compost heap and transferring it to our new enclosure. We also used a new hedge trimmer, kindly donated by GMRG, for the first time. It worked a treat!

So here we are 10 years into our plan. We have a car park fence/excellent hedge, a good  tree/hedge screen along our eastern boundary,two oak benches, an oak table, abating nettles, virtually no dock, many emergent meadow grasses and plants, a much lighter and partially replanted copse and a splendid compost enclosure! Our efforts have cost about £6000 in grants/donations and we have contributed about 3000 hours of fairly strenuous voluntary labour. Many batches of (my wife Valerie’s) flapjack have been eaten. We have experienced drought (but now have access to the water in the car park toilet block), rabbit invasions, litter ingress – including an enormous laughing gas canister, and of course  the battle of the docks and nettles. On the plus side we have seen  grass snakes on several occasions and had numerous families of blue and great tits raised in our three nest boxes. Many people are now using the site as an amenity Where we go from here?

Well, we continue with the contractor cutting regime, hopefully with machinery that can pick up the cuttings. We will prepare and sow more 'patches' of theFlap-jack time meadow, foster and prune our hedges, clear out more of the copse and properly establish our infant pathway through it. It will eventually be linked to paths cut through the swaying meadow grasses and flowers! We are confident we are winning in our overall bid to create a wildlife meadow.

You never know one day we may even get the time to sit on the benches and enjoy the view!  

John Obee, Boug’s Project Leader - August 2016


Boug’s Meadow – A Work In Progress