5th January 2021
The Land Trust’s ‘Green Angels’ programme has had a fantastic first two years delivering its award-winning, free environmental training courses to adults across Cheshire and North Staffordshire, giving them the chance to gain practical skills through hands-on learning. Based at Hassall Green Nature Reserve and also operating at Silverdale Country Park, the project is now looking forward to the next three years, in which it plans to deliver a wide variety of community events, volunteering opportunities and adult environmental training programmes.
It has been an exciting start at Hassall Green Nature Reserve which is nestled between Alsager and Sandbach. Since the project started on site in June 2019, a total of 103 free training course places have been taken up by adults from across Cheshire and North Staffordshire, who have learnt about subjects ranging from wildlife identification and natural craft workshops, to scything, environmental education, bushcraft and survival and countryside management. Green Angels works in partnership with expert organisations such as the Wildlife Trusts and specialist training providers to deliver a high quality and valuable learning experience.
Open to anyone over the age of 18, the courses are beginner level, free of charge, and are set to continue in 2021, with courses in woodland management, wildlife identification, countryside management, natural and rural craft being planned, alongside volunteering opportunities over the coming year. Eligible trainees receive a certificate upon completion, which can be helpful for career and further learning prospects.
Opportunities have been described by participants as ‘inspirational’, ‘rewarding’, ‘refreshing’ and have ‘reignited wonder for the environment’.
Helen and Linda both attended the ‘Wildlife Identification’ course in 2019, and have shared how the experience has helped them since. “I would not have had the confidence to pitch the garden idea to the town council before” said Helen, “so working with Green Angels and the other rangers has really helped me see I have something to offer”. Helen has since joined a number of other courses and volunteering activities throughout 2019 and 2020. Linda told us too that “the [Green Angels] training has kickstarted my nature writing and [is] making me consider wildlife more in my own garden. I have written another piece for Cheshire Life on planting for pollinating insects and have just received confirmation from the editor that this will be published… So a big thank you to the Green Angels project for that”. Other trainees who have been involved in Green Angels have gone on to develop new careers, find employment and undertake further more formal training. Across the board, the opportunities have been described by participants as ‘inspirational’, ‘rewarding’, ‘refreshing’ and have ‘reignited wonder for the environment’.
In attending courses, trainees have not only learnt new skills, connected with the natural world, and met new people, but they have also contributed to local biological and wildlife records; erected countryside fencing along the site boundary; employed traditional methods to cut the meadows using scythes; created multiple homes for nature including bug hotels, toad abodes, hibernacula and bird boxes; and used natural materials such as bramble and willow to weave baskets and bird feeders!
The new pond will attract all sorts of new life, from newts, frogs, toads and grass snakes, to diving beetles, mayflies, dragonflies and damselflies.
Trainees on the recent ‘Wetland Creation’ course even designed and created a large pond and additional seasonal pool in the woodland edge of the nature reserve. This was a particularly muddy task, not least when they had to ‘puddle’ a clay liner into the bottom of the pond to help keep the water in! It’s an exciting new addition for the nature reserve though, as it provides a brand new habitat area for a wide range of wildlife. It’s hoped that the new pond will attract all sorts of new life, from newts, frogs, toads and grass snakes, to diving beetles, mayflies, dragonflies and damselflies. This new abundance of life should also provide additional food for the birds, and the important bat species which already use the nature reserve for feeding and commuting activities. There will be volunteering opportunities available over the coming year to chart and record the wildlife progress of the pond and measure how it develops.
Hassall Green Nature Reserve is currently open by appointment only, but it is hoped that the project activities will continue to provide more access opportunities for local people. The site is only 2.2 hectares, but it packs in a lot for its size! The nature reserve boasts two meadow areas, which so far have been increasing in biodiversity value year on year; a mature woodland area; steep banks of exposed bare ground, which are important for invertebrate and mammal life; a young plantation conservation area; and over 500 metres of hedgerow habitat, which is being continually planted up by volunteers to increase the species diversity. This mosaic of woodland, glades, meadows and the new wetland area, provide a vital mini-ecosystem to support a wide range of wildlife. Green Angels will continue to improve the site for wildlife and biodiversity through courses, volunteering and events that take place on site.
“The pandemic has presented challenges for the project, but we are confident that we will continue to adapt and deliver as much as we are able to in a way that is safe for all those taking part.”
The pandemic has presented challenges for the project, but Green Angels Project Officer Josie Muncaster remarked with optimism that ‘with some creative thinking, a successful online course during the first lockdown, social distancing and a bespoke woodland hand-washing station, we are confident that we will continue to adapt and deliver as much as we are able to in a way that is safe for all those taking part. It was wonderful to be able to run short courses outdoors with small groups from July through to October 2020 and we are looking forward to getting started again in 2021’ said Josie. ‘It has been a different way of working, but we’re committed to putting our funding to good use to provide lots of opportunities to as many people as we can, given the constraints.’ In attending courses during the pandemic, trainees reported feeling “completely safe regarding Covid. It was well thought through, with excellent hand washing facilities”.
As 2020 draws to an end, the focus shifts onto 2021, and a busy programme of activities is being scheduled. This will include some new and exciting training courses, including Traditional Timber Roundhouse Construction and Ecology Survey Methods, along with some repetitions of successful existing courses like Bushcraft and Survival, Scything, Willow Weaving and Environmental Education.
“Every course or volunteering activity is valuable to people for a wide range of reasons”, said Josie, the Project Officer. “Trainees join us to develop their careers, improve their mental and physical health, meet like-minded people, improve their confidence, learn more about nature, and to combat loneliness, amongst other things. Volunteering is a hugely rewarding thing to do and it’s great that we are able to offer all of these opportunities as part of the project”. On the future of the project after the funding ends in 2023, she remarked that “We are hoping to get a Friends of Hassall Green Nature Reserve group together, so they can continue with the momentum that has developed with the project so far”. An online initial consultation will be held in February 2021 regarding the Friends of Hassall Green Nature Reserve group.
For more information about Green Angels at Hassall Green Nature Reserve or Silverdale Country Park, you can get in touch in a number of ways:
For some children it's probably their first encounter with wildlife, so for them it's a really good educational place.
Emily, Site Ranger, Bentley Community Woodland
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