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Staking their claim
When the Craven Vale Community Association (CVCA) began thinking about regenerating the woodland on the west side of Whitehawk Hill, they needed money to get going. Community development officer Amy Allison from Trust for Developing Communities put in an application to the Big Lottery Fund. The group won £9,000 and A Walk On The Wild Side was born.
Grant Scott is the chair of the CVCA. He says, “We want to take the woodland back to its natural state of biodiversity. The biggest problem at the moment is it’s largely a single species woodland of sycamore, so nothing else really grows there.”
Sycamore is an invasive species which moved in when the allotments that used to occupy the two-hectare site were abandoned. “No one’s touched it for about 50 years,” he says.
So far, the project has seen oak steps installed to make paths easier to navigate and some areas cleared and turned into glades. Even these minor changes have led to new wildlife moving in. The rare white-letter hairstreak butterfly has been spotted, along with the more common blue. Since butterflies are an indicator species, the health of which is a good marker of the health of other wildlife in the area, CVCA are hopeful that this is a good sign.
Grant says, “We’ve got a lot of wood pigeons but we’ve also seen some black caps and wrens, along with badgers and foxes. We had a bat walk that was really well attended, about 17 people.
We didn’t know whether there were bats in the woods or not, but we found two different species up there.”
The project started in February this year and is set to run until February 2012, by which time the team intend to install a hazel coppice with about 150 whips of hazel, a couple of hedgerows made of native trees and shrubs and put in a small orchard of about 25 apple trees.
They have also employed a local carpenter to make large notice boards from sycamore and reclaimed wood from the West Pier, and felled trees are being used to make exercise equipment. The improved and more accessible woodland will also provide a link to Whitehawk Camp, the Stone Age monument at the top of the hill, which predates even Stonehenge.
Grant says, “We’ve had help from the Brighton Conservation Volunteers with clearing the woodland of brambles and creating the steps on the pathways. Also, the Green Gym have been helping out alongside residents. Everybody’s getting involved.
I think people have started using the woodland a lot more too – dog walkers, people coming up to have a look around.”
So what happens after the funding runs out? Grant says the project will be ongoing. The woodland will still need to be managed, ensuring brambles don’t overrun and the area doesn’t revert to its previous state of neglect. “We’ll most likely create a Friends of Craven Vale Woods group,” he says. “We’ll get more wildlife in and more people using it.”
* To get involved with A Walk On The Wild Side contact Grant Scott on 07763 015157