The Year in Focus: turning interest into action
The past year has seen WildCookham taking on new challenges, with new projects and activities, some building on work started the previous year. As awareness of the environmental crisis has grown, we have been joined by many local people wanting to learn more and to play their part. We have also seen our local council, the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, declare an Environmental and Climate Emergency, following this up with clear statements of intent to address the issues at a local level.
Our group is moving steadily beyond its original focus (to inform Cookhamites about their local wildlife and habitats) to a more active involvement – gathering more data about our local environment but also taking on specific projects, and managing parts of our local landscape. Our successful Events programme has continued through the year with 33 talks, walks and other activities, covering a broad range of interests and activities. Our thanks, in particular, to Deborah and Robert Behrman for the use of their Lea Barn though the year and to the Odney Club for access to their excellent facilities during the Cookham Festival and for our best-attended meeting of the year.
Work has continued through the year at our own Harris Woodbridge Reserve and we completed the first phase of an initiative with the National Trust to restore some of the local Commons to wildflower meadows. We have been asked to help with a scheme for the paddock adjoining Holy Trinity Church; we’re working with the John Lewis Partnership on projects at the Odney Club and Winter Hill Golf Club; and we are advising Harwood House care home on their planting programme.
Our data collection projects have continued with the aim of giving us a ‘ground zero’ from which we can then measure improvement. The survey of our hedgerows and footpaths, at the request of the Parish Council, has now reached the stage where we can start the work of restoration where it is needed. Likewise in the coming year we’ll be taking steps to improve the quality of some of Cookham’s ponds as a result of our survey of these. And a new project will aim to identify all of our notable trees, to ensure that these are registered and steps are taken to protect them.
The second year of our Wild About Gardens Awards doubled the number of participants and also saw Wild Maidenhead adopting the scheme across several of the Borough wards. This is the way for many people to make a difference to our local environment and the enthusiasm for it is very encouraging: we aim to build on this with some exciting ideas for 2020.
The land acquired by the Borough at Battlemead, adjoining Widbrook Common and the River Thames, has been another focus for us. Local wildlife groups want to ensure that this 110-acre site, with significant ecological value, does not simply become a public park. We are now working with the Council and interested parties with the aim of ensuring that Battlemead is saved as a precious piece of habitat with the potential to bring a wide range of animal and plant life to the site, whilst allowing it to be enjoyed by local people.
We also branched out during the year with our first exhibition – photos taken by amateur photographers of local wildlife and wild habitats. More than 120 photos arrived from which we selected around 50 for the exhibition. Prizes for winners in three categories were possible thanks to the generosity of Canon and exhibition sponsor Renaissance Leadership. Our first calendar, using images from the exhibition, followed: it has sold well and resulted in a contribution of some £400 to our funds.
Helping people find out more about our wildlife is a key part of our role, hence our decision to buy a trail camera. We let this out to supporters for a month at a time, with a charge of £10. It has been a great success: the cost has been covered and it is now booked out at least six months ahead.
All of these activities are only possible with the interest and active engagement of our supporters. Our Facebook followers have risen steadily and now top 400 and we have more 300 also on our mailing list and Meetup site. We are indebted to them. With this growth – along with increased income from our activities and from fund-raising for specific projects - comes added responsibility. During the year we gained formal recognition as a charity. This will call for some changes in the way we run the group, including a degree of formality in electing trustees, reporting our finances and in engaging with our supporters. We shall be taking steps to achieve this through the coming year. This will be assisted by the recent addition of a new Treasurer and of a trustee responsible for our membership.
These two key people join the group of trustees who, along with our project leaders, have put so much effort to make the activities possible. Our thanks to them all.
The challenge we face is daunting. The outlook can look bleak. But we are optimistic: our belief is that we must all do something to turn the tide and the best place to start is on our doorstep. We hope that the decade starting in 2020 will be the one when humanity finally wakes up and acts. We are doing so in Cookham!
On behalf of the Trustees