2022 Report from the Chair of Trustees

It was my pleasure this year to deliver the Chair’s report to our AGM. This was the first time I’ve done it since taking over as Chair from Steve Thompson, one of the charity’s founders.

Andy Bentley, Chair of Trustees

The report covers the edited highlights from the year gone by.

We followed it (after tea and cake of course) with a discussion about what we have planned for the year ahead and of the suggestions that people had about what they’d like to see us doing, of which more will follow.

We have had another fabulous year, with some significant new additions to the site and increased participation from members of the local community.

Miyawaki Forest
With support from the Parish Council, we added our Miyawaki tiny forest of fruit next to the existing orchard. Councillors paid for the fencing and some of their trees from their allowances. It’s already seen its first crop this year and we look forward to next year’s harvest with great anticipation.

Celtic Circle
The idea for the Celtic Circle had been floating around for quite a while so it was great to make a start on that. As some of you will know it’s based on the old Celtic tree calendar, with each of the 13 lunar months represented by a different tree. I was very happy to find out that my birthday falls in the month of the mighty oak, much better than my zodiac sign of Cancer the crab.  All the big trees are in. Next, we have to finish it off with the vine, ivy, and reed that will complete the circle. Oh, to be around in 20- or 30-years’ time to see it in it’s full glory!

The one-off event we had to plant sunflowers as a small show of solidarity with the people of Ukraine was a great success. For weeks now we’ve had a great display of colour in among our Miyawaki forest trees and the flowers keep coming. It will be interesting to see if any of them have self-seeded for next year.

Volunteer Days
Our volunteer days have proved popular, attracting new people along throughout the year and allowing us to do all the wonderful things we do.

The local Scout troop has paid us a couple of visits, helping to plant our fruit trees in the Miyawaki Forest and growing sunflowers to be part of our display.

In July, children from Swindon Academy school came along to help us with various jobs around the site. They did a spot of pruning, had great fun rebuilding the dead-hedging around the badger setts, and shifted about a ton of woodchips.

I met a lady while walking the dog who mentioned that her granddaughter had been one of the kids who came to help that day, and who had gone home to tell her family what a great time she’d had.

By getting more children involved we hope to develop a connection between them and the forest. We want them to love it as much as we do. And maybe in years to come, some of those kids will be here in our place.

Individual Volunteers
We also owe a great debt of thanks to all those people that can’t necessarily make it to our volunteer sessions, but who help when they can, particularly with litter picking. People out walking their dogs or making a special effort to go out and help. If it wasn’t for them the forest would soon get buried under a mountain of other people’s rubbish, or we’d be picking litter every month instead of planting trees or looking after the meadow, the paths and so on.

Plans for the future
Over the next twelve months we aim to carry on with some of the things we have started this year.
The Celtic Circle needs to be completed and we’ll be giving some TLC to the plants in the Miyawaki Forest. Some of you may have noticed that we’ve cleared a new area to the north of the Miyawaki Forest where some more trees will be going in.

We hope to have more collaborations with the Scouts, local schools and other groups so we can carry on cultivating relationships between young people and the forest.

One thing we tried this year was to hold some of our sessions on different days and times, so that people who can’t make the regular Sunday morning slot get the chance to become more involved. That’s been really successful, so expect more of it this year.

More than that, we’d love to hear what ideas you have…

Andy Bentley

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A bit of wood work

The original fence around the pond had been showing its age and finally succumbed to vandals earlier this year.

Some of the volunteers at our October session finished off replacing the rails and added new posts for a bit of extra support.

And just in time… a week later the area they were working in was under water as heavy rain cause the burna to flood.

Hopefully it’ll be another ten years before we have to replace them again!

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Clearing Himalayan Balsam

Two dates in July to help rid the Hreod Burna of this invasive species… see below or in our events section for more details.

Last year we did some clearance work along the section of the Hreod Burna that runs through HBUF to remove the Himalayan Balsam. It’s an invasive species that has taken up space usually occupied by native plants along the bank of the burna.

The Wiltshire Wildlife Trust undertook similar clearance work along other parts of the brook.

Himalayan Balsam

Himalayan Balsam

Himalayan balsam was introduced as a garden plant in 1839, but soon escaped and became widely naturalised along riverbanks and ditches, especially close to towns. It is fast-growing and spreads quickly, invading wet habitat at the expense of other, native flowers. Its explosive seed pods aid its spread by sending the seeds into the river, causing further dispersal downstream.

Volunteers working with the Trust have recently started to survey Himalayan Balsam along the length of the Hreod Burna Corridor and have confirmed that the work they undertook last year has resulted in a reduction in Balsam. We’ve been out to some of the areas we cleared last year and there is a lot less now than there was back then.

Their survey also indicates that it may be possible to really make a difference along the corridor, and they are hoping to join forces to make sure it is removed along the entire length of the Burna.

HBUF will be organising two sessions where we hope to be joined by other volunteers working with the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust to clear the Balsam from our section of the Burna.

Our events section has details of sessions on Sunday 17th July and Saturday 30th July. If you prefer you can checkout our Facebook page where we’ll also publish details of both events.

To be kept up to date on upcoming events and other news, why not subscribe to our mailing list?

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Flower Power

At HBUF we’re not just about trees. Each year the flowers dotted around the forest and in our wildflower meadow bring a bit more colour and beauty into our strolls through the fields and trees.

This year we are doing something a bit special, and we’d like you to be a part of it.

We are hoping to plant a hundred sunflowers, the national flower of Ukraine. As well as being gorgeous, the birds and bees will love them, and they should make a wonderful sight during the summer months.

We want you to help by growing your own seedlings and bringing them to become part of our sunflower garden when are ready to plant-out. We have some simple advice on how to grow them here.

We’ll be planting them on the last Saturday in May, the 28th, at 2pm, in the Miyawaki forest enclosure.

If you are part of a youth or community group, we can help you get started with some seeds and growing materials – all you need to find is some soil and something to plant them in (anything that holds dirt!). Get in touch via our contact page to find out more.

If you are concerned about the situation in Ukraine and want guidance on things you can do to make a real difference, take a look at the advice from Swindon City of Sanctuary, or checkout the council’s page on supporting refugees arriving from Ukraine.

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Learner Drivers

Last year HBUF took delivery of the tractor that we have been using to support some of the maintenance activities around the site. We share it with Central Swindon North Parish Council. You may have seen it in action mowing the picnic field and the wildflower meadow. It also has other attachments, like the wood chipper and trailer, that allow us to do a variety of other jobs.

Until now, Steve was the only person with the necessary skills and experience to operate it safely. To share the load, Kate and Andy volunteered to get trained up.

At the beginning of March, Kate and Andy spent two days on a training course run by the John Oldacre Rural Innovation Centre. The centre is part of the the Royal Agricultural University and offers a wide range of training in practical and managerial skills for anyone involved in food production and land management.

The “Tractor Driving – Introduction” doesn’t mess about. After a session on health and safety it was straight out and into the cab. And there’s no little baby tractor to practice on, it was straight into the real thing. Quite daunting when the wheels are bigger than you are!

It’s a little bit bigger than our one!
Reversing the trailer on day one!

The two day course was a real eye-opener into how sophisticated (and complicated!) modern day tractors are. The beasts that they learnt on are a LOT bigger than our little one at HBUF, but the skills and techniques still apply.

After learning how to drive the tractor in the yard it was on to attaching implements like the trailer and mower. Ironically the bigger tractors make that easier, with a lot more adjustment and tweaking possible from the cab than is available with our little one. Not surprising, given how hard it is to make manual adjustments to the bigger bits of kit.

And who would have guessed that they’d be reversing with the trailer on the first day?

Of particular importance for us is the safety aspect in all of this. Learning how to operate the tractor and associated equipment safely for both our volunteers and members of the public is essential at HBUF. One thing that sets us apart from a farmer in their field is the number of passers-by we need to look out for.

Kate and Andy pose beside a tractor out in the field.
Kate and Andy, having mastered the tractor

There was an unintentional age test as part of the course, with a bit of word association. The instructors over the two days were Steve and Austin. Ring any bells?

Depending on your age that might bring to mind a much loved TV show from your childhood or, for younger folk, a star of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). We’ll let you decide who it reminded our pair of.

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Cancellation notice for Jan 17th Work Party

Work Party Suspended

Sorry folks…

The trustees and have agreed to cancel January’s session, and we will review when we can start up again on an ongoing basis.

Even before the lockdown, when we were at Tier 4, it seemed wrong to go ahead. With the national lockdown now in place our decision seems even more justified.

Technically there might have been a way we could work within the restrictions, but we would prefer to act in the spirit of the measures being taken, rather than trying to work to the limits of what we can get away with.

Thankfully, Hreod Burna Urban Forest remains a fantastic place for people to come for their daily exercise. An oasis in the middle of Gorse Hill and Pinehurst.

We’ll be back up and running normally just as soon as we can. In the meantime we are looking at ways that you or your family group might be able to ‘adopt’ an area to look after on an individual basis, without the need for us to all meet up. For instance, maybe you could adopt an area of planting and keep the saplings staked and protected. We’ll be exploring the practicalities of that over the coming week.

If you’re not already, please do consider subscribing to our mailing list to be the first to hear of our plans as they unfold.

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