Open Spaces Group
The Witchford Village Society Open Spaces Group (OSG) consists of volunteers from Witchford working for conservation and enhancing access to the countryside.
The members meet every two months to plan activities, and around once a month to carry out maintenance on the rights of way, manage open spaces and lead guided walks.
The OSG works closely with the parish council and a number of organisations within the village.
Latest Village News
Sep 12, 2018
Community Orchard The fruit trees of the community orchard survived the long drought, some with a little help with water. Others were not so fortunate. As reported last month, two apple trees Read more...
About the Open Spaces Group
Rights of Way
Since our founding in 1989 we have helped to open all the rights of way in Witchford that were blocked, and with the county council we achieved the redesignation as a right of way the bridlepath across the old Witchford airfield, a route that had been stopped up since World War II. We placed and continue to replace waymarkers, and in conjunction with the parish and county councils maintain the paths as far as possible in good condition. We also arrange and lead a number of guided walks on the RoW throughout the year.
Our aim in maintaining and waymarking the routes and conducting guided walks is to encourage people to venture out into the countryside and enjoy the experience. Further encouragement is provided through the Witchford Walks leaflet, which describes and illustrates several walks in the village. It was prepared by Witchford resident Terry King and the parish council in 2010. Copies are available at Witchford Post Office or from the Parish Clerk.
Sandpit Drove Conservation Area
In 2005, with the co-operation of the parish and county councils, the OSG set up the Sandpit Drove Conservation Area, in a part of Byway 11 (Sandpit Drove) adjacent to Witchford Village College. The conservation area covers an area of around 1 ha, and contains a pond restored in 1992, a strip of scrub and elm-dominated woodland, individual trees, hedgerows and meadow. A circular path through woodland and meadow, named Sparrowhawk Way after the sparrowhawks that bred in the woodland, was created by volunteers and opened by the local MP James Paice. A management plan for the Conservation Area has been drawn up by the OSG, and management activities are undertaken on the site 2 - 3 times a year to enhance its conservation value and maintain public access. The activities include tree planting, pond clearance, grass cutting, wildflower meadow maintenance, litter picking, and installing and maintaining bird and bat boxes (the last working with Witchford scouts who have made many of the boxes).
In the autumn of 2011 we established a wildflower meadow in Sandpit Drove where previously there had been rank growth of thistles and nettles. Funding was provided from the parish council and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Biodiversity Project Fund. Since then we have carried out further seeding, and have managed the meadow by selective early cutting to reduce rank grass growth, and weeding to control annual and perennial weeds. We now have a successful meadow with a diversity of flora and invertebrates.
The Millennium WoodThe Millennium Wood is a site of 0.3 ha owned by the parish on the south side of Main Street. It was planted in 1999, and subsequently the Woodland Group was set up by the parish council to manage the wood on its behalf. The Woodland Group meets twice yearly to set out the management programme for the next six months, and then implements the management activities. The OSG is a member organisation of the Woodland Group, and most active individuals on the Woodland Group are also part of the OSG.
About one third of the site was left as meadow. This is cut annually in June and the hay raked off and stacked. Native hedging was planted in 2000 along the boundaries, and hedgerows were established by trimming over a number of years. The wood is now maturing as the canopy closes over, and current management is focussed on coppicing, and shrub and woodland flora planting.
Access and information about the wood was improved in 20ll when an information board was installed and a new public footpath created to provide a second entrance on the wood’s east boundary. In 2012 a picnic table was installed by the parish council.
The Old Recreation Ground
The Old Recreation Ground is a 1 ha (2 ½ acre) parcel of land that was awarded to Witchford parish as a result of the Inclosure Act 1861, at the time of the draining of Grunty Fen. The award for ‘The Witchford Recreation Ground’ refers to ‘that piece or parcel of Land …to be held in trust as a place for Exercise and Recreation for the Inhabitants of the said Parish and neighbourhood’. It is situated to the west of Grunty Fen Road on the north side of the catchwater drain, around 500 m from Main Street.
There was a proposal in 1942 to sell the land owing to its ‘unsuitability for recreation purposes’, but luckily the sale did not happen and the Old Rec is still owned by the parish. Following the award to the OSG of a £1000 grant in 2007 from the Conservation Foundation, with the co-operation of the farmer who leased the land from the parish council for herbage, we restored an old farm pond, planted a boundary hedge, planted fruit trees (with Witchford Pre-school), and provided an oak sleeper picnic table and bench for the benefit of visitors and users of the public footpath that passes through.
In October 2012, the herbage lease lapsed and the parish council asked the OSG to put forward proposals to set up and maintain a community orchard with hay meadow. Following public consultation and discussion, the OSG’s proposals to the parish council were approved, and the community orchard was established in February 2013. More than 40 Witchford residents planted 62 local varieties of apple, pear, plum and cherry trees purchased from the East of England Apples and Orchards Project, and locally sourced cobnuts. Funding was provided in part by the parish council and also as a result of an application by the OSG to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Biodiversity Project Fund.
The planting is just the start of a long process of managing the orchard as a community project, directed by the OSG in conjunction with the parish council and the local farmer who is cutting the grass for hay and maintaining the hedges and ditches. The orchard will provide apples, pears, plums, cherries and cobnuts through the summer and autumn, as well as habitats for a diverse range of wildlife and flora.
New Pond, Manor Road
In June 2013 a long-established plan for a new pond near Cathedral View Park on Manor Road finally came to fruition. A pond was shown on the site in old ordnance survey maps but it was filled in during 1975, when there was a reference in the parish council minutes to ‘New Pond’, so this is the name by which the pond is now known The ground was cleared in December 2010 as the first stage in re-creating the pond to a plan drawn up by Witchford scouts. However, the site is traversed by power lines, and the location of the underground cables and obtaining the approval of the power services company to carry out the work was a lengthy process. The initial work of excavating for the pond was a parish council-led operation in June 2013, supported by Witchford scouts and the OSG.
In January 2014 the New Pond bench donated by Dick Till was installed, with a plaque of dedication to Matt Till acknowledging the role of Witchford Scouts in making the New Pond project happen. Tree planting was completed by Witchford Scouts and OSG volunteers in February to a planting plan agreed with the parish council. Willows of different varieties were planted in a row along the drove to the bypass and around the pond, and at the eastern side a small grove of silver birch was planted. Willows were also planted in a living bower around the bench. All the planting was funded by the parish council.
In April a picnic table was installed, funded by Ely Runners in appreciation of the holding of the Grunty Fen half marathon in Witchford, and the scouts, supported by the OSG, planted pond-margin native plants (reed, sedge, rush, iris and others) obtained from various ponds and ditches around Witchford. The pond was officially declared ‘open’ at a ceremony attended by representatives of Witchford Scouts, Ely Runners, the parish council and the Open Spaces Group.
Over the winter the pond had filled with water, and with the arrival of spring, frogs and frogspawn, smooth newts and many invertebrates appeared in the pond, and by the summer a number of dragonflies, including Britain’s largest, the Emperor.