Picket Twenty Urban Park’s Wildlife – An introduction to Andover for non-locals!
We all have an in-built tendency to complain and moan. I’m moaning now about people moaning! So, it must be true. Development has, especially in the past, been about destruction; fields into dense housing, hedges torn out, rivers canalised, trees removed. Generally, things are now better, although the UK’s potential new high-speed railway goes through every ancient woodland it possibly can and avoids ‘posh’ people’s sterile agricultural land. However, there are some real high spots – a series of conservation-minded organisations in Dorset have pooled their land to form a mega-nature conservation area (for Britain). On a smaller scale I will give my local authority credit for the Picket Twenty Urban Park. It has plenty of positives in its design with something for most folks.
Picket Twenty is a large, new housing estate tacked onto an existing hamlet and just a couple of miles from the market town’s historic centre. The park is adjacent.
Andover is considered to be of Saxon origin … so, possibly 1500 years old, but the Romans were here even before that with a fort just north of the town.
With a constant water flow along the River Anton it would have had watery meadows, water mills and forest nearby to supply timber, charcoal, deer meat and herbs for cooking and medications. Now the settlement is a hub for small-scale industry, general commerce and commuting to London – which is about an hour away by train. Arable agriculture surrounds the town with wheat, barley, oilseed rape (canola) and grasses for a biogas plant. There are few cattle, but sheep dot the chalky hillsides.
Effort is being invested in focusing more on our crystal-clear river and there are ambitious plans with a revitalisation of the retail centre. The waterways have a trio of urban parks / conservation areas along their lengths and a new team-game activity hub (football and cricket) was recently established on the upper lands just to the west – Picket Twenty.
The numbers and diversity of native trees and shrubs planted has been impressive, even if I would have reduced the planting density in places. Dense thickets have started to draw in many passerines and buzzards and red kites are often around. The games pitches have been well prepared and consequently their worm population is high – attracting even buzzards in wet weather.
The shrubs and emerging forest trees in the planting have become high and thick enough for a flood of nesting birds and their song has been a delight during my exercise walking. House sparrows, finches, warblers, tits and thrushes are now well established in the wildlife community. A rich supply of fruit is now maturing and wil also bring in the winter migrant birds.
Mammals are in short supply. I have spotted an occasional rabbit, a fox left its territorial marker earlier this year and small mammals must occupy the hedgerows but of stoats, weasels, badgers and deer there is no sign. Hopefully there is a resident hedgehog or two, yet their droppings elude me.
The flow of white flowers from March until now has been both attractive and a food source for myriads of organisms. Now the inevitable arrival of (non-native) buddleias is showing itself as they burst into high-summer flowering and have their butterfly admirers. Skippers, whites, hairstreaks, meadow specialist such as the meadow brown, gatekeeper and marbled whites, and the commoner species are all building up their numbers. Soon white admirals and out two local fritillaries will join them … perhaps even the purple emperor.
At ground level not everything (but most!) has been mown to ground level. There is a transient pond (to drain excess water off the pitches) with annual flowers including the uncommon prickly ox-tongue lining its edges. A wonderful wildflower walk has been sown, and insurgents are creeping in amongst the shrubby plantings – including orchids. Mown pitches are filling with clovers – red, white and the rare hare’s-foot, plus the usual grassland ‘weeds’ that donate seeds to the birds. It is far more diverse now than the grassy fields it has replaced.
Some folks are even adding the seeds of rare species to enhance the biodiversity!
In 100-years this will be a lovely spot. Can’t wait!
So, Picket Twenty Urban Parks is not a biological wasteland … even if there are no games currently going on because of another biological invader … a Coronavirus!