Replacing stony paths with rubberized surfaces will enable more children, especially those with special needs, to get closer to wildlife and experience the sounds, smells, and sights of the nature reserve, and especially its sensory trail.
Popular features for children include wildlife ponds, pollinator corner full of plants attracting bees and butterflies, a meadow with a chance to look out for grasshoppers, and the whispering wood, where the rustle of leaves can sound like ocean waves.
Resurfacing of the paths is due to start shortly and could be completed before winter following a donation from the Hadley Trust which stepped in to help after the Friends of Barnet Environment Centre were told by the Lottery Heritage Fund that applications for funding could not be considered until well into next year.
These latest improvements are being carried out jointly with Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice with the aim of offering greater access to families and children at the hospice as well as local schoolchildren.
There will be direct access from the hospice playground to the network of paths around the nature reserve.
One extra special stop-off point will be access to a memorial garden where parents and families can place commemorative ceramic butterflies in memory of children cared for at the hospice.
Bernard Johnson, chair of the friends of the environment centre, thanked the Hadley Trust for their “amazing generosity” which he said would transform their ability to welcome disabled children and allow them to share the sensory experiences of the nature reserve.
“We took advice from the Sensory Trust at the Eden Project and they recommended paths made of rubber compound because they are easier for access and are durable and long lasting.”
Because of the Covid.19 lockdown the centre has been closed since March which meant the cancellation over the spring and summer of 69 school visits. As a result, 2,045 children, plus teachers and helpers have missed out on tours of the nature reserve.
Caroline Gellor, the centre’s environmental education manager, has kept in touch with schools with regular newsletters and she is taking bookings for school visits from May 2021. If lockdown restrictions have been eased, the centre hopes to re-open after Easter.
Volunteers have continued working in the nature reserve during lockdown and their efforts were rewarded with an open day for members, volunteers, and their families in late September (27.9.2020).
Mr Johnson was on hand with maps of the sensory trail and “pause and ponder” points which he hopes many more children and their families will have the chance of enjoying from next spring.
Visitors are encouraged to keep to paths and children are told not to stand at the edge of ponds along the trail:
Centre garden: Listen to the buzzing of bees visiting nectar rich plants. (The nature reserve is host to seven hives of members of Barnet Beekeepers Association).
Wildlife ponds: Look carefully for pond skaters, dragonfly nymphs and newts. Listen to the hum of hoverflies and dragonfly wings.
Pollinator corner and sensory raised bed: Nectar rich species attract butterflies, moths, and other insects. Rub the aromatic leaves of herbs.
Tree tunnel: Sunlight filters through a tunnel of blackthorn trees. Watch out for blackbirds, thrushes, robins, and wrens.
Cherry view: Look across the path at two wild cherry trees and the Guelder rose that produces a flush of berries in autumn – great food for birds.
Big Oak Corner: Cross the bridge to hug the beautiful, native oak around 280 years old. In spring look for bluebells opposite the oak, and on summer evenings look out for bats flying across the allotments.
Whispering wood: Wind in the aspen trees sounds like waves in the sea.
Pine wood: Miniature pine forest with Norway Spruce, Douglas and Grand Firs which provide habitat for breeding goldcrests. Rub the pine needles, to smell the aromatic pine.
The Meadow: Listen out for grasshoppers and crickets. Watch the grass swaying in the breeze. Jackdaws often fly overheard or perhaps a passing red kite or hovering kestrel.
Monterey Triangle: The Monterey pine is one of the finest trees in the reserve. It helps provide cover for the reserve’s amphibian hibernaculum – a pile of twigs and earth that is a hibernating place for newts, frogs, toads, and grass snakes.
Willow ponds: Willows around the ponds – look out for late dragonflies.