Towards the end of the summer, 2013 I was approached by a couple of gentlemen from Royal Crescent Allotments in Merthyr Tydfil. They told me about their site which comprised of a large number of allotment plots which was loved by the members and provided a space for growing, meeting and more often than not gossiping. They explained that at the back of the plot, they had a small woodland area that had never been suitable for growing veg and they were interested in making it into a nature reserve.
So, I headed up into the Valleys to see what they were talking about. The woodland was pretty much untouched, mainly because it was inaccessible and the only time people had gone in there was to dump old bits of allotment rubbish. This meant that it was the perfect hideaway for wildlife and also had the potential to be the perfect location for local people to discover what species could live in the middle of a housing estate. The group were keen to get the community involved, to get the children outside and enjoying themselves and encouraging new faces into the allotment so we developed a plan.
The first stage of our plan was to make a plan and who better to help us than the local residents. I helped the group to apply for an Environment Wales pre-project grant which paid for an expert to come onto site and find out what species were living in the woodland, but to do this we needed help and that help came from the community. On a slightly wet and cold day, local volunteers came out in force to look for birds, bugs, flowers and trees, providing valuable information that was later used in a management plan. As a reward, they were treated to a barbecue and while they were eating they were grilled (not literally) about what they would like to see on the site, did they want walkways? seating? play equipment etc. The results were good, a variety of species were discovered and the potential for a load more was identified. People showed a real interested in returning to help out or just to come and enjoy nature.
The group are now ready for stage 2, registering with Environment Wales. For this small group, the process looked daunting. They understood the need for policies and good governance, but nobody was really sure where to start, so in the new year I went and sat with the group, helping them to write policies that would not only be useful for getting money but that were beneficial to the group. Each policy started new discussions on rules and future ideas and plans. The group were full of ideas and the documents now contain those thoughts so that people can reference them for years to come.
Following on from that meeting, I will be returning to really develop the project ideas, getting the group to think about what they need to do, how it will be managed and so on. The important thing is to take it one step at a time, ensuring that each stage is completed thoroughly so that the final project will be a community haven for wildlife.