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Winter Willows

Posted: Sunday 12th February 2017 by OutdoorLearning

Epsom students help Surrey Wildlife Trust make living arch

A group of students from Epsom College joined us at Bay Pond to create a living willow archway between the meadow and our wildlife garden.

It was great fun making an arch with living branches

The wildlife garden at Bay Pond was originally created as a butterfly garden, showcasing different flowers to attract a variety of pollinators. Since Dawn Fielding joined us as Wildlife Gardening Officer in 2015, it has become a space where different wildlife gardening techniques and styles can be demonstrated.

With the help of two dedicated volunteer gardeners, we have made a small wildlife pond with an adjacent bog garden, planted a raised bed brimming with scented herbs, filled the borders with nectar-rich flowers and climbers, and strategically placed homes for solitary bees, bumble bees, butterflies and more among the foliage.

Earlier in the year, the decision was taken to expand the garden. The weekly conservation volunteer work party made short work of dismantling the existing fence, leaving us with a blank slate and a few precious extra feet of space to play with.

Arriving on a frosty winter’s afternoon, six A-level students from Epsom College headed out onto the reserve to see some existing structures made from this most magical of trees: a willow dome made in February of this year, and a willow tunnel woven around 10 years ago. With these and some additional photographs for inspiration, they got on with transforming the flat meadow boundary into a living 3D structure – leafless for now, but come spring it will be host to lots of invertebrates to fuel our garden ecosystem.

Their first task was to harvest their resource. Using loppers, they pollarded three vigorous willows, piling up the long whips to transport back to the work site. Once back in the garden, the students made 40cm deep holes by hammering a metal spike straight down into the cold (luckily not frozen!) soil. They pushed each whip deep down into the holes and trod the earth down around them.

Once enough long willow branches were planted in the ground, the tallest of them began to bend the branches in towards each other, using cable ties to secure the archway in place. Extra, smaller willow whips were pushed in alongside the arch and woven in to hold the main branches together.

An hour later, the arch was looking fantastic. The fence that will run either side of it is yet to be constructed, but now the first step towards our new wildlife garden boundary is complete. Hopefully one day the students will return to see how their living arch has developed over the changing seasons and passing years.

Bay Pond is one of Surrey Wildlife Trust’s educational nature reserves, and as such is only open to SWT members by prior arrangement, and to the public for events. Our next open day ‘Spring at Bay Pond’ is on 1st April 2017 from 11-4. Come down and see their arch for yourself!

Lucy Gummer
SWT Education Tutor


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