Birds Edge Countryside Charitable Trust (BECside) is based in Holmfirth and is providing a wildlife haven, with disabled visitor facilities, on land off Birdsedge Lane on the outskirts of Birdsedge, nr Denby Dale.
Although there are a number of nature reserves in the Kirklees and surrounding areas, none of them are completely accessible to disabled people. This project is different and aims to combat that.
Through personal experience of taking out disabled family members, it was found that there were very few places where it was possible for them to experience the countryside. Many places with access for disabled people are more like parks and not 'natural'. Disabled family members and friends have said, in the past, that even the limited access at the project was a wonderful treat and the experience in parks is just not the same.
The BECside project is being developed on the site of a garden nursery, abandoned due to theft. The need of the project was identified by talking to the people that matter the most; wheelchair users and their carers.
The disabled people that will use the project will need wheelchair-friendly footpaths and parking, allowing them close access to nature, but they also want it to be as natural as possible and to be able to see a variety of habitats. Wildflower meadows, wetlands and tree plantations are but a few of the habitats that will be accessible, when the project is finished.
The BECside project will improve opportunities and facilities for disabled people, from the local and wider area, to experience woodland and nature in a safe and user friendly environment. In co-operation with British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV), volunteers with mental and physical health problems have been involved in the work and continued involvement will improve their social and inter-personal skills so that they can live more confident and independent lives.
Volunteers will be involved in every aspect of the project from the planning and organisation through to delivery of practical work and publicising the project.
Aims of the project
To promote the conservation, protection and improvement of the physical and natural environment for public benefit, in particular for wheelchair users.
Encompassed by farmland and the mature, private woodland of Rusby Wood nature reserve, the main purpose is to create a haven that is disabled-friendly and to involve disabled people with physical and mental health problems in its upkeep and management.
Access for All
A level off-road parking area will be improved and special gates have been installed to allow easy wheelchair access and a 500 metre circular path was completed, in 2007, with 200m surfaced for wheelchair use. Alas, during 2009 the paths became terribly overgrown and floods damaged the surface. At the time of writing, they had been cleared and every effort will be made to keep them clear. To this end, a £1500 brushcutter has been purchased with the help of donations.
In addition, work will also continue to complete another 500m to 600m of pathways continuing through the woodland round the field edge. These paths will have short branches off at suitable viewing points overlooking the grassland and lakes. In time, a tactile trail will be developed for the visually impaired.
Once the lakes are built, a wheelchair friendly path will be provided around one of the lakes with fishing jetties to the lower lake and viewing platforms to the other lake which will be reserved for wildlife.
The rest of the land will be used to create wildflower meadows, which will be visible from the wheelchair friendly paths.
Schools and other groups will be offered access for education and training purposes and it is hoped that some practical help will result but this will not be a pre-requisite.
Schoolchildren - Birds Edge First school is next door to the site, which has great potential for environmental education activities. Children from the school have been given guided tours and have so far become involved with the supply and erection of bird boxes, which they will monitor
Woodland and hedges
In all, over 5000 trees and shrubs have been planted, over the last 12 years. A lot of the earlier trees are now well established with some between 10 and 15m high. Some of the trees are specimens and, eventually, information plaques could be posted next to trees of especial interest. A rockery is planned along the lower dam and this will be planted with bird and insect-friendly ornamental shrubs and heathers.
The existing mature hedge alongside Birdsedge Lane is being regularly maintained to encourage vigorous and dense growth for the benefit of nesting birds.
Within the site, beetle banks were created, during 2008/2009, with a gorse hedge along the top. Already, the gorse has attracted hundreds of butterflies in the summer and chaffinch, linnets and robins are just a few of the birds believed to be nesting.
The beetle banks and the adjacent cover are ideal for grey partridges, which were not seen last year, and it is hoped the habitat will encourage them to return.
Nature conservation and enhancement.
13 species of butterflies have been attracted and it is hoped to improve on this with the introduction of beneficial shrubs and plants and the creation of wildflower meadows.
Birds and animals sighted have included Blackcap, Whitethroat and Willow Warbler, in addition to abundant berry and seed eating birds like Linnets and Goldfinch, Thrushes and Blackbirds etc. The endangered Willow Tit has been seen and, eventually, maintenance of the meadows will hopefully bring Skylarks and Lapwings back.
The undergrowth has encouraged Woodcock and Pheasants. Some years, a pair of the endangered Grey Partridge was successful in raising broods. A family of Stoats and a Kestrel appear to have taken up residency, together with an Owl which is regularly seen roosting in the dry stone walls. They have probably been attracted by the explosion in the population of mice and voles etc.
At the time of writing, hares have not been seen for a couple of years, since one was shot by some unknown moron. However, just this month (May 2010) a very large specimen was seen ambling along one of the tracks, so hopefully we will see them more often again. (update, spring 2011 – breeding pair on field)
A migrating Ringed Plover, rare in this area, stayed by the pond for 3 days in spring 2008 and the wet area has been visited by a curlew recently. A pair of Snipes is also seen regularly and it is hoped to attract migrating waders, albeit on a small scale, by developing reed beds and shallow edges to the lakes.
Many of the trees planted in the early years are now large enough to accommodate bat and bird boxes and children from Birdsedge First School have been involved in the erection of boxes for Robins, Blue Tits, Coal Tits and Great Tits, to name a few.
The badgers from the Rusby Wood reserve also seem to like our woodland and there are many signs of their night-time visits.
Less able bodied people especially will need toilets and a retreat, in case the weather turns nasty, and a purpose built shelter is to be built near the parking area.
The shelter will also provide an undercover viewing area for the lakes and information boards will be displayed giving information on the local wildlife.
The building will have alternative energy, either from photovoltaic panels and/or a small wind turbine. Enough power needs to be generated in order to supply one or two charging points for electric wheelchairs or scooters but this is yet to be properly assessed, as the threat of theft would be a constant worry.
Now for the begging bit.
We have had occasional help from various groups and individuals in the past but the project is turning out to be more than a full time job. Anyone who can offer practical help will be most welcome. Tasks will include tree and shrub planting, tree maintenance, levelling paths, clearing debris (hedge trimmings etc) and, of course, the never ending battle to stop weeds encroaching onto the paths.
Materials are always needed:- Beams and decking/railings for a footbridge, fence posts or anything that can be used as a tree shelter or stake and of course any building materials for the disabled shelter and w.c or even hardcore for the paths.
Schools and other groups are welcome to use the land for training purposes and studies, especially the provision of bat and bird boxes etc. It is also intended to clear all the hedge trimmings and form piles which will act as refuges for birds and animals.