We are the Local Environment Group for the area around Prestwood in Buckinghamshire, including Great Missenden,
The Hampdens, The Kingshills, North Dean and Speen

Our Aims

We aim to protect and enhance the quality of the natural environment through the involvement of local people.

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Protecting Our Environment Registered charity No. 1114685

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Prestwood Nature The Local Environment Group for the Prestwood Area

Disturbed Areas

Nairdwood Lane allotments, PrestwoodHabitats regularly disturbed by man, from gardens to wastelands, provide opportunities for annual plant species that are able to regenerate and complete their life-cycle quickly, but are unable to compete with established vegetational communities.  These plants seed abundantly and provide nutritious food for birds such as finches and other herbivorous creatures.

These habitats are by their nature transitory, so that conservation is problematic.  By and large these species must find their own opportunities as and when they present themselves, and long-lasting seeds is one way in which they are adapted to their situation.  Recently, when Prestwood Nature restored the Sheepwash pond, the surrounding land was considerably disturbed and an interesting collection of plants not seen there before emerged to take advantage of the lack of competition from established perennials, but very soon this will grass over and these plants will not re-appear.  As its name implies, “waste”-land is unlikely to remain in that state for very long, especially given the economic value of land in this area, and the fact that most people dismiss such sites as useless eyesores, preferably to be converted to something more productive.  And unless disturbance is regular, wasteland will soon become dominated by perennial plants (nettles and docks particularly value the high nutrient levels of wasteland) and then by bramble scrub, losing its biodiversity.

Roads and pavements, however, provide a chance for some of these plants, which can grow in the narrowest of crannies.  A walk around the centre of Great Missenden or the central residential areas of Prestwood will reveal a wealth of plants, a mixture of native and exotic garden escapes, that is quite different from any other habitat, and often quite as colourful and attractive if one can overcome the tendency to dismiss them as mere “weeds”.  Another good site for these “interstitial” plants is the grounds of Missenden Abbey, which is particularly important for wall-growing species like yellow corydalis and is the only local site for rustyback fern. Generally, the only sites for smaller ferns in the area (that is leaving aside the large woodland ones) are the stonework provided by a few old buildings, especially churches and railway bridges.  These are small sites, however, and whole populations of rare plants can be wiped out in a day’s work “cleaning up”.

One type of disturbed land that does tend to persist, however, actually occupies a significant percentage of local land, and that comprises gardens and allotments.  Prestwood Nature has carried out surveys of wildlife in gardens and allotments, and studied how people use and manage their gardens.  (See British Wildlife December 2009 pp 85-95 "Rural gardens, allotments and biodiversity" by Tony F Marshall for an account of these studies.) These habitats were revealed as supporting a huge range and number of wild species, although with a bias towards common species rather than those that are threatened.  For some groups, however, gardens are probably critical.  One of these comprises the amphibians.  With the decrease in the number of surviving ponds in the countryside, garden ponds now provide the majority of their local habitat and are therefore critical to the survival of frogs, toads and newts, as they are for many other pond inhabitants.  Similarly, garden compost heaps are probably the main habitats for slow-worms in the area.  While the long-term impact on bird populations is difficult to measure, the popularity of bird-feeding in gardens has certainly boosted survival levels over lean periods such as the winter and the number of bird-boxes available increases chances of breeding.

 Allotments are similar, although their sheer size may make them even more important, and the fact that they are less frequently weeded or tidied up makes them much more likely to provide a habitat for native annual plants.  Scarce arable weeds that are now difficult to locate in farmlands that are intensively treated with chemicals were found growing in some numbers in the allotments, including dense-flowered fumitory and corn spurrey.  Prestwood Nature has publicised these findings and encourages wildlife-friendly (and wild plant friendly) gardening, including the use of peat-free composts, which it is cooperating with local garden centres in promoting, and conducting trials of these composts in comparison with traditional ones. A demonstration wildlife garden has been started at Greenlands Lane Allotments, Prestwood, to show how gardens can be made environmentally-friendly.

Further information:   Allotments Wildlife Survey          Garden Wildlife Survey        Missenden Abbey flora