The Rochford Wildlife Heritage Workshops ran from February to May 2019 at Trust Links Rochford. We are grateful to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for funding this educational programme and we’re proud to show what we’ve achieved with the Wildlife Heritage Workshop. Over twelve weeks, Trust Links members and volunteers created a wide range of wildlife habitats including building a wildlife pond, building dead hedges, planting wildlife plug plants, developments to the existing green roof, and constructing bug houses and habitats for solitary bees.
The programme was designed with accessibility and inclusivity in mind, particularly for adults living with mental health problems and other disabilities.
The Rochford Wildlife Heritage Workshop worked closely with John Little from the Green Roof Company to design and build the pond, as well as other wildlife habitats and features in the garden.
The Workshops were a fantastic opportunity to explore the local wildlife heritage in Rochford and encourage the use of native plants in gardens. We encouraged the local community to participate in the workshops, with taster sessions on pond design, dead hedge constructions, wild flower planting, and identifying wildlife species. We consulted experts in areas of green roof design, specialist insect-habitat construction (e.g for solitary bees and moths), and dead hedge-construction. We have installed an interpretation board about the wildlife pond and the other habitats we created over the twelve weeks.
Dead hedging is a traditional method of building barriers using cut branches and foliage. It is a great way to re-use garden waste and is a carbon-neutral method of garden management. We were excited for our wildlife conservation to carry forward Trust Links’ commitment to sustainable living whilst also rediscovering a traditional woodland management craft.
Over the first four weeks we planned the initial designs, measuring the space in the garden for the pond and working out where to place the dead hedge. After carrying out the site survey and deciding on the right depth and dimensions it was time to start digging the pond. We discussed what wildlife would be attracted to the pond and how it would increase biodiversity in Rochford.
Once we had dug the pond and laid the liner, we began filling the pond with water at the end of week four. In our fifth workshop we planted the pond with native species of aquatic plants, laying pebbles for the beach. Once the pond was complete and ready to become a habitat we turned our sights to the bug habitats, looking at the different wildlife that we wanted to attract and designing structures that animals could live in.
Weeks six and seven saw us hard at work building the bug houses, using a mix of recycled and natural materials including branches, bamboo, pine cones and egg boxes. A clever addition to our bug houses are the stores of merino sheep’s wool, which small animals can tear out and use to build their own habitats like bird’s nests and burrow. In week eight we completed our solitary bee houses, ready to be filled with dozens of bees hibernating during the winter.
The last four weeks of the Rochford Heritage Workshop were devoted to constructing the dead hedge, which surrounded the raised beds that we planted with a variety of native wildflowers. The finished dead hedge circles the raised wildflower beds and provides an excellent “wildlife corridor”, vital to conservation efforts. The final Wildlife Heritage Workshop was taken by a professional Entomologist, who gave a talk on insects’ habitats, behaviour, and life cycles at St Laurence Orchard and Rochford.
In total, twenty people attended the Rochford Wildlife Heritage Workshops, many of whom live with mental health issues, and we had three volunteers supporting the delivery of the Workshops. “I enjoyed being part of a larger project and seeing it from the beginning to the end was very satisfying”, said GW, one of the members involved in the Workshops. “I felt better both physically from the work involved and my mental health improved, leaving me feeling more relaxed.”
Another volunteer, RL, agreed with GW, saying: “I enjoyed the course. I felt physically fitter from the manual work, and my mental health and wellbeing also got better from working outside alongside nature.”
We each found that we learnt something unique from the Wildlife Heritage Workshops, about ourselves and about nature. NW said: “Everyone found something different from completing the course. The pond has added depth to the garden and it brought people together through working on a common theme. I enjoyed using my woodworking skills, as there is not always the opportunity to use them in regular sessions.
One of our Mental Health Practitioners had more say. “The members and learners are proud of their achievements and they enjoyed the course by learning new skills, improving confidence and self-esteem. Visiting John Little’s business and learning about entomology there was a brilliant end to the course and was enjoyed by all who went.”
As well as improving the garden, adding to local biodiversity, and teaching participants new skills, we most enjoyed the time we spent in the outdoors with nature – a mindful way to learn. MF said: “I enjoyed the wildlife project and now it has finished I like seeing lots of bugs and bees and the solitary bee posts.”
KS added: “The poly-tunnel gave an insight into plants, while the pond has given the gardens and additional focal point of interest. The pond constantly changes as an environment, and as it matures it encourages different wildlife.”
Overall, the Rochford Wildlife Heritage Workshops encapsulated everything unique about Trust Links: how therapeutic gardening, outdoor learning, teamwork and sustainable living are powerful tools in learning to live with good mental health. Thank you again to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, without which none of these success stories would have been possible.