Derwent Green Gym reinvigorated a tired and forgotten strip of land at one edge of the well-used and cared for Little Chester Allotments. The land is 1.3 acres in size and was formally used as additional allotment plots. For a number of years they have been standing empty and had become overgrown with brambles and covered in discarded rubbish.
In 2007 permission was given by the LCAA and Derby City Council for the Derwent Green Gym to apply to the Lottery’s Breathing Places fund to turn this neglected land into a wildlife reserve.
The bid was successful and £9270 was awarded for the work to begin.
Over the winter of 2007/2008 the land was cleared of rubbish and brambles. Derwent Green Gym turned it into a haven for both people and wildlife, putting in wheelchair-friendly paths, creating three wildlife ponds, planting trees, installing seating and information as well as planting up a large area using locally-sourced wildflower meadow seed.
In July 2008 the site was officially opened by Beverley Rhodes, the Environment Project Officer for Wild Derby who praised the project and said the partnership was fortunate to have LCAA and Derwent Green Gym as part of Wild Derby.
Debbie Court from The Derbyshire Biodiversity Partnership presented a certificate acknowledging and congratulating all concerned on helping to meet the Partnership’s County targets.
Kelly Hart from The Big Lottery represented the funders and Ruth Bucknell from DCC was also among the 40 or so people who attended.
All of the work was done by volunteers and students. Coming from all backgrounds and ages the volunteers included BTCV’s Biodiversity Action Team, the Derbyshire Conservation Volunteers, Derwent Green Gym volunteers, Derby NVQ students studying Environmental Conservation, students from Merril College, St Giles Special School as well as allotment plot holders and numerous others.
The project has been guided by BTCV, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, and Derby City Council. They have helped to design the area and apply for funding. Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s ‘Valuing Meadows’ project has been able to supply the project with not only advice and a soil survey but also Derbyshire-grown meadow seed.
The aim of the project was to create a small haven for the plot holders to enjoy and to allow people to contribute towards improving conditions for wildlife in Derby City. Open days will allow members of the public to enjoy the site or they can get involved by joining a Green Gym session (Tues, Wed or Fri from 10 am).
Improvements to the site have continued with the creation of a small hazel coppice and ongoing management.
2011 Report: After a very long, cold winter and a dryer than usual spring the Wildlife Site has produced the best crop of wildflowers since it was created in 2007.
Noteworthy plants have been the primrose and cowslip in early April, ragged robin through May and an abundance of ox-eye daisies. Birds-foot-trefoil is attracting Common Blue butterflies and Small Copper butterflies are attracted by the docks (rumex). Skippers and 6-Spot Burnet Moths breed on the various grasses.
The ponds are once again full of tadpoles which in turn will help to replenish the frog and toad populations which were hit very hard in the freezing winter. Dragonflies and damselflies are another feature of the pond area.
There is a fox’s lair on site with regular sightings of these animals.
Birds have been very active over the past months with a strong population of goldfinches and occasional sightings of the Peregrine Falcons, nesting in Derby Cathedral, flying and calling over the site.
This area, along with the rest of the allotment site is leased by LCAA from Derby City Council. An annual rent is paid to the Council which together with the annual water charges from Severn Trent Water determines the rents for each individual plot.
Management of the site is undertaken by Derwent Green Gym with most work parties taking place over the winter period except for the annual mowing of the wildflower meadow in September and the maintenance of paths around the ponds and seats.
Year on year since the habitat has become established we have seen an increase in the flora and fauna on the site.
This year two orchids, a bee orchid and a common spotted orchid, were found.
Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies, which have been declining nationally, have maintained their presence and Common Blue Butterflies have increased.
Little Chester Allotments Association are under increasing pressure to provide more allotment plots. This is important both to reduce their waiting list and to provide revenue from rents.
In 2010 they reclaimed the top half of the wildlife site, which had not yet been developed and was comprised of mainly bramble, and turned it back into allotments. Earlier this year a second area was reclaimed at the lower end bordering the coppice.
Management of the site is done by volunteers from the Derwent Green Gym under supervision by qualified leaders. Should any extra input be required BTCV or Groundwork would be invited to provide support.
Future management will comprise:
• Continued winter control of brambles and scrub which will be placed onto a compost heap providing a habitat for many species.
• Late winter maintenance of the ponds with two thirds of aggressive weeds being removed as needed.
• Monitoring of the young trees on site.
• Cutting of the wild flower meadow to be done early September. Cut plants to be left for 24hrs to enable any seeds to drop into the ground. Cutting will then be raked off and placed onto compost heap.
• The paths around the ponds should be mown regularly during the summer months to enable safe and easy access to this area.
• Hard pathway will be maintained for safe access.
• Notices warning of the danger from ponds and advising that all children visiting the area must be accompanied by an adult, will be placed in the information box and beside the ponds.
This wildlife area is important not just for the pleasure and relaxation provided to plot holders and the natural pest control and insect fertilization of crops it brings. It is also a small oasis of biodiversity within the city which gives a staging post for species using the green corridor to the river and beyond.
Pupils from Da Vinci Community College have been able to use this site for field trips which enable them to gain a greater understanding of the natural world and the importance of conservation. We plan to continue to offer this facility whenever possible.
No major structural changes are planned for the future.
Species monitoring will continue with reports being sent to relevant organisations.
While understanding the position of the LCAA and their need to provide more allotment plots, our aim is to conserve what the Wildlife Site holds and maintain an ongoing management routine which will ensure the future health of the site and encourage a greater diversity of species.
Once this habitat is lost it cannot easily be reclaimed and both Derwent Ward and Derby City would the poorer.