Countrycare’s work is so varied that we have split it into separate sections to explain a bit about each element of what we do in more detail.
The following are our core areas:
Our practical conservation work covers woodland, grassland and pond management, hedgerow planting and creating new habitats, all with the aim of encouraging an increase in biodiversity and wildlife.
Woodland management might involve coppicing trees, clearing areas of competitive species to create glades, or the eradication of unwanted alien species and planting trees or hedgerows. Coppicing is the cutting the trees at ground level which causes them to bush out as they re-grow, giving improved cover for wildlife. Small-scale tree felling may be involved on occasions.
Grassland management usually involves cutting and raking the site of the arisings so that the nutrients do not return to the soil. Recently we have experimented with green hay strewning (read more on the Biodiversity page). We manage the grasslands for grasshoppers and butterflies as well as for invertebrates and small mammals.
Pond management involves partial removal of surface weed to encourage more light on the water or partial reed removal to create different micro-habitats for aquatic invertebrates. Occasionally we may reprofile the banks of a pond to make it more attractive to amphibians such as the Great crested newt.
In all areas we build countryside furniture: benches, bridges, boardwalks, fences and compost bins and we maintain the paths on our sites.
This work is across all nine Local Nature Reserves and the other thirteen sites that we manage. Countrycare alone would not be able to satisfy Epping Forest District Council’s statutory obligations to manage the Local Nature Reserves for biodiversity. It is with the help of the army of loyal volunteers that we manage this.
And, of course, it is done in all weathers, 51 weeks of the year.
Hedgerows help to define the uniqueness of the British countryside and are an important wildlife habitat. They require sympathetic management if we are to preserve them for future generations.
Whilst many regard hedgerows as a natural feature of our countryside they are really a traditional form of field boundary and enclosure that only exist because of deliberate planting and subsequent maintenance.
Hedges serve to keep stock in a pasture and out of crop fields. They also provide shade for stock, protection from the wind, and guard against soil erosion. They provide both a valuable wildlife habitat and corridor, not only in the hedge itself but also any associated ditch and bank.
Hedgelaying is the traditional way of managing hedges throughout large parts of England and Wales, and has been practiced for hundreds of years. Actively carried out during the winter months, it involves cutting nearly all the way through the base of the stems and laying them over at an angle of about 35 degrees.
The cut stems called pleachers are tucked tightly together, staked vertically and bound horizontally for strength to produce a strong aesthetically pleasing hedge.
Stumps are left as clean and tidy as possible since this is where re-growth is most desired and eventually a new hedge will grow from the already established root system. In the meantime, the laid pleachers act as a living barrier as well as protecting the re-growth from browsing animals. Where the cycle of laying and trimming is repeated hedges can thrive for hundreds of years.
Countrycare works with a group of volunteers throughout the winter to lay hedges in the district. If you would like us to lay a hedge for you call the Countrycare office on 01992 564224 or email: contactCountrycare@eppingforestdc.gov.uk
Countrycare believes it is important for young people to learn the value of the green spaces around them and to grow up not just enjoying the countryside but respecting it too.
To this end Countrycare not only runs environmental education events through the school holidays but we also offer an environmental education package to schools. Work with the pupils can be tailored to meet the needs of a particular school and can range from an hour building bird boxes or learning about trees to a day of practical work on a Local Nature Reserve or even building a wildlife garden in the school grounds.
To find out more about our environmental education package call Countrycare on 01992 564224
See the calendar below for upcoming environmental education events.
Upcoming Countrycare events
If you are applying for planning permission you will need to know if you have protected species on your land or on the development site. After a Phase 1 ecological survey Countrycare may be able to assist with specific surveys if more are recommended. We specialise in Great crested newt or other amphibian and reptile surveys.
Be aware species surveys are time sensitive.
In order to assess invertebrate habitat and its connectivity in the landscape, Countrycare can survey the veteran trees, assess their age and plot them on a map. This contributes to biological records in your area and can help inform planning decisions. Past Countrycare veteran tree surveys have been utilised to inform local parish tree strategies.
Ecological planning advice
Countrycare offers a service to the Planning Directorate giving advice in ecological terms on planning applications. When a planning application is received with an ecological survey or a protected species survey, Countrycare will advise on whether the survey is robust and whether or not it feels that the planning application should be accepted or rejected. Countrycare also offers advice on mitigation for protected species and enhancement of habitat, compensation and biodiversity offsetting. For more information on protected species see the Protected Species section under Biodiversity.