A busy start to big year for Bourne’s volunteers

This article appeared in the Farnham Herald of 14 January 2022

Eleni Knox carrying a bundle of cuttings.

The Bourne Conservation Group made a good start to the New Year by carrying out clearance operations in Burnt Hill Wood on behalf of the Borough Council. Parts of this attractive green space had become overgrown in places by gorse, holly and laurel which was impeding access for walkers and joggers. The volunteers therefore opened up the pathways in such a way as to enhance the natural habitat for lower storey plants such as heather and bilberry which will provide substance for wildlife in the spring.

Images: (L) The group of volunteers enjoying the bright winter sunshine, showing some longstanding members with youthful Duke of Edinburgh Awards students. (R) Around the bonfire: Charles Fearnley,  Emma Herbert, and Will Munroe.

2022 is an important milestone for The Bourne Conservation Group for it will have achieved 20 years of successful community service in South Farnham. Originally formed by Dr Stan Cockett to help the local authorities maintain the woodland and footpaths of the area, it soon moved on to a series of wider improvement projects starting with the busy junction of the A287 Frensham Road and Lodge Hill Road where recent roadworks had left an untidy area most unsuited to this gateway into the town. The grassy embankment was improved with new native hedge plants and a raised flower bed built with wooden railway sleepers. The first plants there were put in by children of The Bourne School.

In quick succession further projects were undertaken starting with the Community Garden in Middle Bourne Lane where the main work was to plant young trees and to dig a pond in order to begin the creation of a haven for wildlife. In later years both this garden and the Crossroads site became regular stopping places for judges in the Nation in Bloom Competition in which Farnham has consistently performed with outstanding success.

The project in the Old Churchyard on Vicarage Hill opened up a fresh dimension for the Group’s work for it combined both biodiversity enhancement and care of the lychgate and monuments, many of which were broken or on the ground. Residents of The Bourne had been buried there for about a hundred years from 1860 to 1960 and the stories of their lives provide a window on the parish at a time when it was expanding rapidly. Helped by the research of the late Wendy Maddox, the Group is now the custodian of a mass of data relevant to the social history of the area.

Although the physical work of the Group has mainly been limited to The Bourne it has always been fully conscious of the wider setting of the village in the valley of The Bourne Stream which forms a major corridor across South Farnham. This led to another project which is still ongoing – the eradication of invasive alien plants such as Himalayan Balsam from the valley.

Cooperation with the authorities, the Wildlife Trusts and other local volunteer groups has always been a feature of the group’s conservation activities and it was this, together with the worsening environmental crisis in the world, that led it in 2019 to make a proposal that a more inclusive Biodiversity Group should be formed. This attracted wide support leading to the formation of the Farnham Biodiversity Group which is now well advanced in developing a Biodiversity Action Plan for the whole town.

So, as 2022 dawns, The Bourne Conservation Group stands ready to continue all facets of its work and to celebrate its 20th birthday in style. There is plenty to be done and new active members are needed to help with the wide spread of tasks including, for example toad watches in a few weeks’ time, to help protect this attractive but declining amphibian.