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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Our Sunflowers are in…

HBUF is all about providing a green space in the Swindon suburbs where people can get closer to nature. We are not a political organisation. But we are all about community. We are all about coming together for the good of all.

When we come here to plant trees or mow the grass or keep the brambles under control we’re not doing it just for us, but for everyone who comes to visit, hundreds, maybe thousands of people, most of them complete strangers out to walk their dogs or take their kids on an adventure.

But our sense of community doesn’t stop at the edge of Gorse Hill or Pinehurst.

On Saturday 28th May, 2022, local people came together to plant sunflowers that they had been growing at home. The sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine.

We’ve all been moved by what is happening in Ukraine. We’ve seen the outpouring of support for its people right across the UK. Here in Swindon some people have opened their homes while others like Kate, one of our volunteers, have made them welcome by collecting donations of clothes and other essentials.

small sunflower plants, freshly planted, some supported by bamboo canes
A close up of some of our new arrivals

Here at Hreod Burna Urban Forest we may not be able to do any campaigning, but we can bring the community together in a small act of solidarity. And we’re really bloody good at planting things. So when I found out that the sunflower was the national flower of Ukraine this seemed like the obvious thing for us to do.

We couldn’t do any of this without our lovely volunteers, who came together with their sunflowers to create our display. We planted between 150-200 plants. There’s a mix of heritage varieties in there, in a range of colours, shapes and sizes, from Teddy Bears to Velvet Queens, so should be quite a show!

We’ll keep you updated as the sunflowers (we hope!) grow and flower, but feel free to come and admire them in person!

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Fantastic Fritillaries

At the end of 2020 we planted 1,000 fritillary bulbs in our wildflower meadow.

After their first showing last year we wondered how they would do this year.

As it turns out, they’ve done wonderfully! We have even more flowers this year, and they’ve made their way further across the meadow.

If they continue to spread at this rate then in a few years they are going to be *awesome*!

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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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How to Grow Sunflowers

First, get your seeds!

You can get a packet of sunflower seeds from your local garden centre or some supermarkets or online.

There are lots of different varieties. HBUF has a mix of heritage varieties that we’ll be trying, a mix of different shapes and colours (who knew, not all sunflowers are yellow?!)

Sunflower Seeds

Pot them up

Fill a pot with peat-free compost to within 2cm of the top and water well. If you don’t have a flower pot then you can always use another container, so long as you don’t mind getting it dirty.

Place 1 or 2 seeds well apart in the pot but not too near the edge, press gently in and cover with 1cm compost. If you can stick a clear plastic bag over the top, it will be like a mini greenhouse.

If you’re doing this at home with your family, why not use a label or a lolly stick to record the name of the person who planted it?

Find a good spot

Place the pot in a warm light place, out of direct sunlight. This could be a windowsill or any other bright spot. Keep the compost slightly moist, don’t let it dry out!

You should see a shoot within a week or two. If you put a cover over your pot you can take it off now. Rotate the pot once a day to stop the seedlings bending over.

Bring them to HBUF to be a part of our sunflower garden!

A couple of weeks before you’re going to plant your sunflowers out, it’s best to harden them off (get them used to being outdoors). Start taking the pots outside during the day and bringing them back inside at night.

Lookout for the dates and times for our planting-out sessions. You’ll find them here on or on our Facebook page when the dates are finalised (subject to the weather).

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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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Miyawaki Magic

We had a fantastic turnout for our volunteer session in March! We started off tree planting in our Miyawaki mini-forest, before moving over to give the Tiverton Field a bit of a spring clean.

Below are the happy, smiling, faces of everyone who managed to get in on the tree planting, we had another half a dozen who didn’t make it into the group shot. We put in our 60-something trees and bushes in the first hour of the session, many hands really does make light work. It was great to have some representatives from the local Scouts group joining us this month.

A group shot of 12 people smiling for the camera.
Planting trees puts a smile on your face 🙂

During this session we were planting cherries, plums, currants and gooseberries. These add to the apples, pears, hazel and sweet chestnut that were put in already. And yes, that is what the sky usually looks like when we are working at HBUF 🙂

Photo of a group of 9 people out in the field planting on a sunny day.
The team in action

After the planting…

Our snazzy new vests let people know who we are and what we’re up to. They’re also a safety feature if we have people out with the tractor or other potentially hazardous activities like the coppicing.

So if you see Andy out doing some work in the woods you can tell that he’s not just some random bloke, he’s a random bloke in a hi-viz HBUF vest 🙂

We may need to order some in smaller sizes for some of our helpers though…

A young boy in an oversize hi-viz vest that comes down to meet the top of his welly boots. His mum is helping him to dig a hole for their tree to go in.
Hayden modelling our HBUF hi-viz

With so many willing hands the planting was finished in record time and we were able to tackle some other important work. Fly-tipping has been a problem over on the Tiverton field and a lot of rubbish had built up since we mowed and cleared it last year. The group took away several barrow loads of household waste.

We are also hugely grateful to the unsung people who litter-pick around HBUF throughout the week. Many people just take a bag around with them as they walk their dogs or go for a stroll. It’s a sad truth that a small number of selfish people leave so much detritus behind them, but heartening to have so many community-minded folk who help to keep the area nice for all of us.

a group of people out in a field collecting rubbish.
Litter picking on the Tiverton field

As ever, if you’d like to keep up to date with what we are up to, you can subscribe to our mailing list to get updates once a month, or you can check us out on Facebook.

Note that you can save some typing with our new Web address:

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Meet our volunteers – Gaby & Juanjo

Gaby and Juanjo have been regulars at our volunteer sessions since 2020. They have tried their hands at most of the things we get up to, from coppicing to tree planting.

Photo of Juanjo and Gaby planting a tree in the Miyawaki mini-forest. The sapling sits in its pot waiting for Juanjo to dig the hole, while Gaby supervises.
Juanjo & Gaby helping to plant the Miyawaki Forest in 2022

My husband and I walk daily in this lovely forest and are grateful to all volunteers who look after it. Today we spent a very pleasant afternoon with nature-loving people working together for present and future generations.

Planting a tree is one of the most rewarding things one can do. It is a thrilling experience placing the small tree carefully in its place whilst imagining what it will look like in the future when it reaches its full splendour. Today, we planted many trees and this feeling multiplied.

Photo of Gaby, spade in hand, standing posing for the camera.
Close-up photo of Juanjo putting the finishing touches to a newly planted tree, patting down the soil with his hand.

I walk in the Hreod Burna Urban Forest and The Venny every day, and I feel privileged to have such wonderful spaces so close to where I live.

Volunteering now and then to plant trees, coppicing or just picking litter up while I walk, is my way of giving a bit back for that privilege.


Juanjo has also used his camera skills to document some of our activities. If you’re part of our Facebook group, you might have seen his video fly-through of the Burna during a session spent battling the invading Himalayan Balsam or his montage of one of our coppicing sessions.

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Volunteer Stories – Kate

Kate returned to help us with the Miyawaki Forest after previously coming out in 2019 to help with the planting of the Cricklade Field. She’s busy with all sorts of projects in the local community around Swindon so it was great to be able to welcome her back to HBUF.

A picture of Kate standing out in the new Miyawaki Forest area, stopping to pose for a photo while digging a hole for her tree to go in

Two enjoyable hours spent in the fresh air and sunshine.

There’s something very satisfying about planting trees. My friend said she likes to imagine who last dug this soil when it was allotments. We thought it most certainly would have been used to grow vegetables during the war years.

To the sound of birdsong and quiet conversation, I imagined what this mini forest will look like long after I’ve gone. Who will harvest it’s fruit or rest in it’s shade?

Yes, a very rewarding couple of hours with the added bonus of a little bit of physical exercise, and great company.


Our volunteers always go away with a smile on their faces. Why not come along and join in? We have regular sessions on the third Sunday of every month.

If you’d like to round up members of your community, hobby or interest group, or colleagues from work, then we’re happy to arrange one-off sessions for you to do something together as a team.

Volunteer Stories – Kate Read More »

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