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Restoring and Revitalising Hobbayne Woodlands

Ealing Wildlife Group create a stag beetle loggery at Hobbayne Half Acre Fields

Urban woodlands can be beautiful, inspiring places, but without regular care and attention, they can become overgrown and uninviting. In fact, though it may seem surprising, a woodland that’s carefully managed can be more favourable to wildlife, as well as more appealing to people.

Our regeneration project at Hobbayne Woodlands in Hanwell, Ealing, is a brilliant example. This green space is owned by the Charity of William Hobbayne, which was founded in 1484 by a local yeoman. Sitting on the Hobbayne Half Acre Field by the River Brent, it’s close to Ealing Hospital and several schools. Sadly, the woodland had deteriorated over the years. Dense, tangled foliage made it dark and intimidating, so rather than being used for relaxation and exercise, it became a hotspot for anti-social behaviour.

In 2016, the Hobbayne Half Acre Field Association (HHAFA) was formed. Its members were determined to regenerate the site, along with a nearby plot of severed land called Billets Hart. With support from Heathrow Community Fund’s Communities for Tomorrow and The Charity of William Hobbayne, we partnered with HHAFA to improve access, raise biodiversity and strengthen existing habitats. Our goal was to make both areas havens for wildlife and the local community.

 

We wanted the restored woodland at Half Acre Field to welcome people of all ages, interests and abilities. To help us achieve this we worked with local schools, Ealing Wildlife Group and Ealing Mencap, which supports people with learning disabilities and their carers.

Research shows that education and play in natural settings can offer children many benefits, and it can bring wider social and environmental gains too. There are 5 schools within a few minutes’ walk of the woodland. With a well-managed, biodiverse green space on their doorstep, they’ll have new opportunities to provide outdoor learning.

Trees for Cities and Mayfield Primary Planting Day at Hobbaybe in EalingIn November 2016, pupils from Mayfield Primary School helped us plant new trees to enrich the woodland. They also joined in as we created a stag beetle loggery. For many, it was a new, exciting experience that made them feel more connected with the space. As one budding tree-lover said, “I live nearby so I’ll be able to visit my little tree to make sure it’s okay.”

As well as planting a total of 510 whips – 210 at Half Acre Field and 300 at Billets Hart – we’ve focused on making the woodland easier for people to explore. We widened the existing footpath and created a ‘Woodland Ride’ – an open space within the woods that lets in sunlight and allows a bigger mix of plants and animals to thrive. More light also means there’s a lower likelihood of antisocial behaviour.

Coppicing is a traditional pruning method that involves periodically cutting young trees down to ground level, so that several stems regrow from the stump. It’s really important that this technique is preserved, because it lets in more light, helps wildlife thrive and makes our woodlands richer and healthier. We’ve created a coppice at Billets Hart, and added coppiced areas to Half Acre Field. Both will encourage creatures like butterflies, which prefer open woodland.

Trees for Cities Hobbayne Half Acre Woodland restoration projectWoodlands involve a delicate balance between the plants growing on each layer. Sometimes this balance is threatened by invasive species that smother other plants. At Hobbayne Woodlands, we’ve removed Japanese Knotweed, Himalayan Balsam and Giant Hogweed, and cleared excess ivy. We’ve also restored the mature apples trees that once belonged to allotments on the site, and we’ll add to their number with new trees over time.

When it comes to wildlife spotting, Hobbayne Woodlands has amazing potential, with highlights including kingfishers and 2 species of bats. When they’re nesting and hunting, bats depend on deadwood, as well as mature and riverside trees. We needed to thin the canopy layer of the woodland to let more light filter through to plants lower down, but we’ve made sure that plenty of bat-friendly trees are standing strong.

The brilliant blue kingfisher perches on riverside branches before diving for fish and insects. Better management of the vegetation along this part of the River Brent will give the birds a firmer foothold and help them find nesting spots.

Now that the woodland has been restored, keeping it healthy and safe will be a far easier task. Together with HHAFA, we’ve created a long-term management plan that will give every potential visitor a chance to enjoy this green haven, from pipistrelle bats and stag beetles, to children watching over their growing trees.

This project is kindly funded by Heathrow Community Fund’s Communities for Tomorrow and The Charity of William Hobbayne.