Hreod Burna Urban Forest takes its name from the Hreod Burna (‘rushy brook’ in Anglo-Saxon), which runs beneath Cricklade Road near the Gorse Hill Chinese takeaway and the Hawthorn Pharmacy, and continues right through to Akers Way where it joins the River Ray.
In 2008 our story begins, when the Haboakus development company started public consultations on a proposed 150-home development on Pickards Small Field and Kembrey Grass. Residents were opposed to the loss of the fields and began the battle against the housing development.
In 2010, Haboakus proposed a larger project of 240 homes, this time to include even more open space. Local residents continued their protests, proposing instead to turn the area in question into an urban forest.
In 2012, no doubt affected by the economic downturn as well as the community protests, Haboakus withdrew and the alternative project, which had been proposed by local resident Steve Thompson, was negotiated with the council.
In 2013 the Hreod Burna Parkway Preservation group was formed and work started. It was originally intended that there should be allotments in what is now known as the picnic field, but this plan was later changed. Hundreds of whips (young saplings) were planted, as well as fruit trees; the Forestry Commission, as part of their Big Tree Plant, donated all the trees, whips and saplings via the Great Western Community Forest. The woods were thinned to allow light into the ground, the brook cleared of much rubbish, the paths improved and covered with planings, and a new bridge was built over the brook between Ballman Field and Kembrey Copse. In autumn 2013, the Charity Commission awarded charitable status to the group, newly named the Hreod Burna Urban Forest (Charity No 1155603).
A great deal of the heavy work during the initial period was done by the Community Payback Team, to whom is owed a huge vote of thanks. They became part of the team and were as upset as the Committee and Trustees by the theft of whips and of a number of fruit trees ready for planting. Other vandalism at the time included the removal of tree guards from the new saplings (who knows why).
In 2014 Swindon Borough Council sent to the Trustees a letter confirming HBUF’s legal position.
In 2015 a group of workers came together to create a dam in the stream just at the edge of the woodland area at the north-western part of HBUF. This created a natural pool in the stream and waterfall, bringing much better conditions for water-loving plants and even small fish. As well as the dam the workers also built a bridge over the new creation joining the two sides. This first bridge was vandalised with the destruction of the hand rails. This spurred on the team to build a better, wider bridge with more substantial hand rails and wooden railings around the pool.
In 2016 the group won a Tesco Bags-of-Help grant, leading to the planting of thousands more trees, the building of a picnic area with six sturdy picnic tables, the purchase of a scythe mower, as well as of a container hut in which to keep tools and mower. The new wildflower meadow was then sown that autumn, east of the orchard area in what is now known as the Ballman Field.
Individual plantings continue to take place by members of the community as well as by members of the group and our volunteers. We have elm trees, a magnolia, horse-chestnut trees, apple trees, holly trees – the plantings continue unabated. We have also planted spring bulbs in their thousands, some in 2016 and more in 2017. Primroses have been planted by anonymous donors, and iris have arrived beside the dam.
HBUF is a community treasure and resource – it belongs to the local community and all ideas are welcome at our monthly meetings. These now take place on the second Monday of the month at St Barnabas Church small hall in Gorse Hill.