History of the conservation group – by Brian Fellows (Chairman 2000-2006)
Last updated in 2013
Brook Meadow is a wet meadow of over five acres near the centre of Emsworth, surrounded by woodlands and flanked by two streams. It is full of birds, insects and wild flowers and has Water Voles living on the banks of the river. The meadow was purchased by Havant Borough Council in July, 1990, they constructed footpaths and put up two wooden bridges over the river, but did very little with the meadow itself with the result that it became severely overgrown with rank vegetation. Not only did this seriously reduce the attractiveness of the meadow and its accessibility to the public, but it also diminished its ecological value and made it look like a site ready for development. This is what the meadow looked like when the group took it over in Year 2000
These concerns prompted myself and a number of other concerned local residents to get together to form the Brook Meadow Conservation Group in September 2000. Our aims were to restore, protect and conserve the natural environment of Brook Meadow and its wildlife for the benefit and quiet enjoyment of the people of Emsworth. There were several priorities. We had to get organised and start to care for the site, we had to gain the support of the local community and we had to get good evidence about the ecological value of the meadow. Our guiding vision was that the meadow, with proper care and management, could become both an important reserve for wildlife and a place of natural beauty where people would want to walk and enjoy its openness. It was also our hope that the meadow would, in the future, become a valuable recreational and educational resource for our children.
With the help of the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers we set up the group, elected a committee, drafted a Constitution and opened a bank account. With initial publicity we quickly attracted members who paid £3 subscription to join the group. A Programme of Action was drawn up for the year which included monthly committee meetings, monthly workdays and monthly guided nature walks during the summer months. We also set up a voluntary wardening scheme in which members visited the meadow to note things that needed doing and to record wildlife. We became formally affiliated to the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers from whom we obtained public liability insurance for practical work in the meadow.
Conservation training has been an important part of our activities so as to ensure that all practical work on the meadow is conducted responsibly and with proper care for safety. Members of the group attend conservation training courses in Risk Assessment, Leadership, Emergency First Aid, Wardenship and the use of strimmers. Thanks to membership subscriptions and a number of generous donations we assembled an extensive range of tools. Our major purchase was a BCS Crusader Power Scythe which we obtained with a grant from the landfill tax. This has been a superb machine and has been put to very good use on workdays. We also purchased a Stuhl Brushcutter which has also been put to good use.
Havant Borough Council, who owns the site, has been fully supportive of the conservation project. They gave permission for the group to manage Brook Meadow. They provide funding for the cutting of the meadow and among other things, installed a very nice seat as shown in the photo. We also had dog and litter bins.
It has been an important priority to keep everyone closely and constantly in touch with all that is happening in Brook Meadow. To this end all group members and various other interested people (e.g. members of Havant Borough Council, Hampshire Wildlife Trust, Environment Agency, local naturalists) receive either a printed Newsletter or a fortnightly e-mail bulletin to keep them informed about the progress of the conservation project and about the wildlife on the meadow. More general publicity has included articles in local newspapers and periodicals. I have also given many talks about Brook Meadow and the work of the group to local groups and societies and have led walks in the meadow for various natural history societies.
We produced a logo for the group featuring a Water Vole and this is shown on all our publications.Another important step to publicise the work of the group was the setting up of a web site which is up-dated regularly with pictures, news and information about the group and the wildlife recorded on the meadow. We installed three Metroguard Signcases at the entrances to the meadow and another one in Palmer’s Road Copse specifically for Water Vole information. These signcases are regularly updated with news and photographs and are clearly much appreciated by members of the public.
A splendid interpretation board was designed by local wildlife artist Marian Forster. Marian and Brian worked together on the design of the board for a whole year, but the effort was well worth while. It was finished in February 2004. The board is frequently said to be the best of any reserve in the country! Two boards are located in strong metal frames at the Palmers Road car park and Seagull Lane entrances.
In 2005 the group decided that Marian’s original painting should be donated to the Emsworth Museum in North Street where it could be seen and appreciated by everyone. Here is Marian discussing the picture with David Willetts MP at the official ceremony celebration the handing over the painting to the museum on 26 March 2005.
The group has been active in organising local events including an annual stall at Emsworth Show and Environmental Art and Nature Hunt days in the meadow.
These activities generate a considerable amount of publicity and interest in Brook Meadow and certainly serve to put Brook Meadow on the local map. To further our educational aims we have been visited by many children’s groups and schools.
We have had several visits from the local Wildlife Watch group and local Brownies and Guides. We arranged a formal nature day for children and parents from an inner city school in Portsmouth. This was hard work for all concerned, but extremely worthwhile.
The group has a zero-tolerance view on litter, in the sense that we clear it up as soon as it appears. Dog mess has been a problem, but with education and the involvement of dog owners in caring for the meadow we are winning the battle and the doggie bins are being well used! Generally, vandalism has not been a severe problem in Brook Meadow, except for our poor picnic table which got totally wrecked in an astonishing act of sheer willful violence. The table was a good idea which went badly wrong. Families did use it, but it also became a magnet for crowds of drinking youths and we were not sorry to see the back of it. We still have the problem of noisy parties of youths, particularly on Friday and Saturday evenings, and clearing up vodka bottles and beer cans has been a regular job. We have good relationships with the local beat bobbies who are aware of Brook Meadow’s problems.
Regarding the management of the site we get the helpful advice of advisors from the Hampshire Wildlife Trust. There are three main areas for management, grassland, woodland and waterways. The key feature of the grassland management is the removal of each year’s growth, to reduce the nutrients in the soil and to discourage the growth of coarse vegetation. For this work we employ a contractor who partially cuts the meadow in a mosaic rotation. The cuttings are taken to a sacrificial dump, making sure they are not piled too high and in danger of catching fire, as happened one year.
Grazing by cattle was a possible option that was considered, but after much thought and discussion we decided not to go ahead with the idea. BTCV did not recommend that community groups like ours take on grazing and security and vandalism were obvious problems in an urban setting added to the need for constant monitoring. Also, fencing would impose undue restrictions on free access to the meadow as a public open space.
Generally, we leave the woodland to look after itself, except for clearing fallen branches and monitoring for any dangerous trees or branches. These are dealt with by the Council’s tree officer. The two waterways are generally the responsibility of the Environment Agency though the conservation group does monitor them and keep them flowing and clear of rubbish. We have also been concerned to protect the habitat of the Water Voles and with this in mind we negotiate with the EA before their annual clearance to leave some in-channel plant growth as cover and food for the Water Voles.
One of the prime objectives of the group has been to establish the ecological value of Brook Meadow and this culminated in its formal designation as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC). This status not only helps to safeguard the meadow from development, but it also makes our conservation group eligible for advice and grant aid to assist in its management. To consolidate this status, the Meadow was designated a Local Nature Reserve in 2008. Brook Meadow thus forms an important wildlife corridor linking farmland and woodland.
With the help of local naturalists, we have been busy doing wildlife surveys and now have a fairly comprehensive picture of the birds, insects, bats and plants which inhabit the meadow. The results of these surveys can be seen on this web site. We are particularly vigilant in monitoring and caring for our resident population of Water Voles which are a highly endangered species. Over the years we have received valuable advice on management from Debbie Miller the Habitat Management Advisor with Hampshire County Council and from Clare Bishop of the Hampshire Wildlife Trust. We have a Management Plan for the meadow which is adhered to at our bi-monthly Work Parties. We are in regular correspondence with Graham Roberts of the Hampshire Wildlife Trust regarding the Water Voles.