Who we are
The Friends of Danesbury Local Nature Reserve are a group of volunteers who have been organising monthly work parties throughout the year since 1998. Most work parties have carried out habitat management and path clearance, with periodic larger project activities, one of which is the restoration of the Victorian Fernery.
We are currently about 20 members strong, although over the years numbers have fluctuated and for a year or so we were only 3 strong! But fortunately when we schedule more demanding project-based work we are able to gain added support from other local volunteer groups: the Friends of Mardley Heath and the Sherrardspark Wood Wardens.
Where we work
Welwyn village is approximately 40 kms North of London close to the A1(M), and Danesbury Park, is on the North side of Welwyn. The Access Page gives detailed directions.
The Local Nature Reserve is an extensive area of natural grassland, now rare in Hertfordshire, which is rich in fungi, wild flowers, butterflies and birds, and a range of grasses which reflect the changes in soil composition.
Danesbury Park, formerly an estate of some 500 acres of parkland surrounding a mansion, (originally named St John’s Lodge) is managed by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council (WHBC) and officers have supported the Friends group since its inception with training opportunities, tools and equipment, and help from contractors with larger projects.
Danesbury Park was designated a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) in 1998 covering an area of some 25 hectares (65 acres), and is laid out in the form of 2 fields/pastures: The ‘Park Field’ from the B656 Codicote Road in the West, and the ‘Fernery Field’ which stretches from Danesbury House eastwards to the A1 (M).
What we do
On non-project work we typically clear overgrown paths and invasive scrub to encourage the regeneration of grasses which, if left unmanaged, would become woodland.
The first project in 1998 was to open up the Ancient Track (Ghyls Hill), and subsequently the volunteers cleared areas of scrub, and undertook some hedge layering. Having completed a large project between 2013-2015 to clear scrub from the lower Codicote Road (B656) slopes, we turned to the next project.
This next project was to evolve into a significant community asset and a formal group The Friends of Danesbury Fernery (FODF) was formed with a Management Committee to control it.
Project – the Recovery and Restoration of a Victorian Fernery
The Victorian Danesbury Fernery happens to be sited in what is now the eastern pasture of the Local Nature Reserve, and known as The Fernery Field.
The Fernery was built in 1859/60 by the then owner, William John Blake, and his renowned gardener Anthony Parsons. It was built in an old chalk pit, and incorporates artificial stonework (known as Pulhamite) manufactured in situ by James Pulham & Sons, a Broxbourne based Company of National standing.
Pulhams were tasked with constructing a grotto, a dropping well, a pass, and a rustic bridge over a gorge. It was hugely successful and an 1881 RHS Journal described it as ‘the best fernery to be found in the Home Counties’.
The Friends started this new Project to ‘reclaim’ the abandoned and very overgrown Victorian Fernery. Apart from the renowned collection of rare ferns it once contained, of principal interest was the Pulhamite artificial rockwork which was completely hidden from view under nettles, alder, scrub and dumped spoil.
Volunteers have undertaken extensive research in local record offices and in the RHS’s Linley Library over the years, and whilst there are historic references to both the gardens at Danesbury and the career of Head Gardener Anthony Parsons himself, unfortunately there are no papers in existence which show exactly where all of the Pulhamite features were positioned on the site, nor where the species of ferns were planted, nor how water was brought to the site and re-cycled.
The site had not been maintained as a garden for 100 years and it was virtually impenetrable.
For a report on progress since go to Progress Reports