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Robyn Hands Over Snakemoor Keys

by Robyn Thorogood – 30th May 2020
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The end of May 2020 sees Robyn Thorogood retire after 27 years of managing Snakemoor Local Nature Reserve. Here he reflects on those years of service to the local community

In 1993 Haddenham Parish Council (HPC) persuaded me to take on the management of Snakemoor but more about this later. Firstly, how did it all start?

It was in 1987 that a few villagers visited Aylesbury Vale District Council's redundant tree nursery at Snakemoor. To start they considered recovering the trees for the village but soon decided to change the overgrown nursery into an amenity area.

Brian Plastow alerted Michael Whitney to the unused nursery. Michael and Stewart Sloan became the main 'movers' to create the amenity area where villagers could walk. Dog walkers and others soon started to use it. Michael asked if I would give a view on the potential of the area and persuaded me to help every two weeks on a Saturday. I agreed on the basis that I would bring a spade and fork but not have any committee involvement.

The latter condition soon fell by the wayside and I joined the Snakemoor Committee. For the workgroups Michael would come with his classic tractor and a reciprocating mower (donated by the Astons of Budnall Farm) to tame the ground cover. We moved the younger trees out of their nursery lines to a more random spread. It was soon to be the Whitney, Sloan, Doreen Higgs and Thorogood families meeting to do the work. Bill Rose and Diana Alderson were keen supporters.

The southern boundary and entrance path fence were installed using an European Environment grant and a Shell UK award secured by Michael.

Sarah Jackson of BCVS (Bucks Conservation Voluntary Service) visited following up an application for money. They provided £100 and helped create a design for Snakemoor. This design has largely informed the Snakemoor Nature Reserve today with mixed habitats of trees, meadow, pond and paths.

Following this excellent beginning I was summoned by HPC to be asked to manage the council's Snakemoor Committee. I agreed but on condition that I never held a committee meeting. Naturally this caused a few coughs and splutters. All was agreed when I explained how I would discuss with volunteer workers, seek expert advice and report to the Parish Council's Annual Meeting. Although both at work and home I had been committed to reducing the use of the world's resources and emissions of carbon dioxide, etc., I knew little about the natural environment. A great benefit of taking on the task has been the expertise gained.

A list is attached of the important achievements. I will complete this report with some of the more interesting management items.

A small expanded area in the ditch formed a cattle watering area. A request was made to enlarge this to a suitable pond. Those in power found all the arguments to say 'no' such as it would not be safe for children, cost too much, etc., this despite the ponds that existed in the village. Stewart fought the battles and created the pond.

In 1993 we were donated our first Snakeshead Fritillaries. These were planted in the new meadow. Many have been purchased since and planted in the north east damp area where they seem to thrive.

The BBC Countryfile programme visited and broadcast an item about our fritillaries in 2000.

It is likely that they existed here in earlier days but debatable as to whether this is the origin for 'snake' being used in the name of the area. Haddenham people called these flowers 'fraucups'!

In 1996 the first layering of the western boundary hedge took place. This was repeated from 2019 by Mike Kershaw.
A milestone was reached in 1999 when English Nature (now Natural England) and AVDC gave Snakemoor a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) designation, thus giving it a good measure of protection. I had invited English Nature to visit and without hesitation they said it was a worthy nature reserve. This despite some village experts saying that it could not possibly be called a 'Nature Reserve' because we had introduced plants and tampered with (managed) the area.

The official opening of Snakemoor LNR was held in April 2000. This was a notable event with guided walks, buffet and drinks. Diana Alderson declared the new status, and council dignitaries were proud to speak. Excellent help for the event came from friends providing the buffet, and from Lesley Davies of the Aylesbury Countryside Project. The large oak seat on the west side of the meadow marks the announcement by Diana of LNR status.

The orchard of ancient apple, plum and damson trees was established in 2000. This has become a good source of fruit but we must not lose sight of the fact that rotting fruit is a home for insects and food for birds, thus helping NR objectives.

In 2002 we gained with HPC a 125 year lease from AVDC. Naturally this did not come easily. HPC agreed to fund and make an application for 999 years. The AVDC Estates Officer told me that this should be acceptable – the council decided to offer 125 years. This caused a large protest group to attend the District Council meeting when I pointed out that Snakemoor had been created by Haddenham volunteers, we had planted oak and yew trees of longer life than 125 years and we had LNR status. They offered spurious arguments such as 'well you see Robyn we have to think with our head as well as our heart. How do we know what will be happening after 125 years'. Little did they know that 18 years later the reserve would be a valuable village open space, especially with the projected large increase in the size of the village. It is assisting climate emergency actions and during the 'coronavirus lockdown' it is providing an excellent area to exercise with social distancing. I accepted the offered lease after sounding out wardens of other prestigious national reserves. They recommended grabbing the offer of 125 years because their leases were considerably shorter!

A second great event was held for the launch of the information board and a new leaflet. The 2nd Real Ale Festival in 2005 donated their profits to pay for these. The 'Beer Festival Committee' helped to host the event.
Negotiations with Network Rail to stop winter flooding of the rail line and improve water supply to our ditch culminated in 2010 with the Network Rail environmental team lowering the ditch. This reinstated flow through the siphon under the line. We took the opportunity to create the water tumble upstream from the pond. This helps to oxygenate the water going to the pond.

The willow tunnel, enjoyed especially by children, was started around this time during a visit by Girl Guides. They planted willow cuttings and since then much work has created the tunnel.

In 2011 we opened the path from the station to the reserve. It was a well-attended and enjoyed event. It was the culmination of 17 years of asking both the parish council and the district council for the strip of district land needed. It was paid for by local donations and a successful bid to the Big Lottery Fund once permission for the path was granted.

During the period described there was much planting of wild plants and a significant number of indigenous trees were planted. Bird boxes were installed. A lot of tree and land management has been needed with major help from volunteers, the village handyman, HPC and individual donations. Flowering plants such as the fritillaries, daffodils, snowdrops, campion, cowslips, wild garlic and bluebells are spreading. The recent establishment of aconites should show similar success. The annual cut and removal of hay from the meadow continues with Michael and tractor. We had to close the reserve due to Foot and Mouth in 2001 and now we are surviving during the 'coronavirus lockdown'. We are unable to hold workgroups, which provide enormous help, and volunteers tell me they miss the wonderful refreshments by Chris my supportive wife.

I now hand over the keys, management and wardenship to the capable hands of Julian Watson. He has been working with me over this last year to ensure that he understands the reserve and has attended relevant courses. I wish him every success and look forward to continuing as a volunteer helper.

Although it has taken a lot of my time it has given a lot of satisfaction. A highlight in 2013 for Chris and me was attending a royal garden party at Buckingham Palace. Thanks to all for the support given. The reserve has 'grown up' from a tree nursery. It gives a real feeling of walks through woods with a meadow and pond.

Robyn Thorogood
May 2020

Smakemoor is a wonderful local asset. The Haddenham community owes Robyn a huge debt of thanks for all his years of dedication in managing and maintaining the nature reserve so tirelessly and we salute him for his remarkable contribution to the life of the village.

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