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Volunteering with the Petersham Common Conservators

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

For this year's WR-AP volunteering day the team got together with the Petersham Common Conservators to plant sweet chestnut, hazels and British bluebells in order to recreate a unique and endangered habitat. The type of environment we were planting is a vital nesting ground for birds, such as nightingales, as well as being a habitat for protected species like the hazel dormouse. It will encourage biodiversity within Petersham Common as well as taking the woods a step closer to it's natural state.

Image 2: J.M.W Turner 'England, Richmond Hill, on The Prince Regent's Birthday', England, 1839

We started the day with a walk through the woods with Ken, our connection to the Petersham Common Conservators and WR-AP's first official client back in the day, offering insight into the history of the space and the surrounding buildings. He even took us to the spot where Turner painted his famous views of the Thames, which is on the common as opposed to up Richmond Hill as its commonly thought. The view has been obscured by tree growth over time but Ken is working on trimming the foliage so it's visible again. After a demonstration we got planting the first of our many saplings and bluebell bulbs.

The team weren't afraid to get down and dirty, digging holes and chopping up fallen branches to clear the way for the new trees. Each tree we planted was surrounded by up to 5 British bluebell bulbs so eventually the glade will look like those idealised bluebell woods you see in National Trust guides. You might be wondering 'why the focus on British bluebells?' Well, they are actually at risk of being over taken by new hybridised plants after the introduction of Spanish bluebells about 300 years ago. The Spanish variety is hardier with more dominant genes so is outcompeting our delicate native flower. It's even against the law to intentionally pick, uproot or destroy bluebells in the UK. Hopefully our bulb based contribution to the population will flourish and help boost their numbers. We had a lovely little interlude half way through our toiling which consisted of a burst of rain, kelly kettle coffee and pastries from the Swiss bakery to keep the energy up.

In the end we planted 150 trees and 2,000 native bluebell bulbs which we were all pretty proud of, even Ken wasn't sure we'd get it all done. Here's how we looked, with a well earned pub lunch, and how the glade should look after all our hard work!

You can find out more about the history of Petersham Common here

This blog has been written by Amber, our design and communications lead. Amber is a 2020 Communication Design graduate from the Glasgow School of Art and founder of Bloom & Body, a small ceramics business focusing on the human form. You can read more about her here.

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