Marsh Common, in Weston near Welford, has undergone a considerable transformation since the Parish Council voted to take on its maintenance in November 2020.
Work has been carried out in order to preserve this special place and to facilitate public access. Wet woodland habitat such as this is increasingly rare nowadays and provides an important home to an array of wildlife.
Paul St Pierre of the Environment Agency explains; "In addition to creating and supporting the River Lambourn itself, the springs which feed the river along its length also create important wetlands adjacent to the river. These wetlands are generally labelled as 'fen/swamp' or as 'wet woodland'.
"Depending on the strength of the spring, these wetlands can be seasonal or permanent, most commonly they just fluctuate in extent and degree of wetness. The wetlands within the valley bottom support a wide range of plant and animal species, including amphibians and reptiles, a multitude of rare and sensitive invertebrates, and many grasses, wildflowers and fungi.
"One particular species which occupies these calcareous wetlands is Desmoulins Whorl Snail (Vertigo moulinisana). This species is often locally called the 'Newbury Bypass Snail' as it was the protected species which held up the construction of the A34. Desmoulins are a very small species with a max shell size of about 2.5mm.
"These wetlands are so important that many are also designated as separate SSSI's and SACs within the valley. The wetlands play an important role in supporting the river ecology - for example, many of the juvenile fish species will take refuge in these areas, especially during high flows. As well as ecological value these wetlands play an important role in storing water during high flows, reducing flood risk downstream, and also store significant quantities of carbon - restoring healthy wetlands is a key objective of the UK's approach to tackling climate change.
"Marsh Common at Weston is an excellent mosaic of deep and shallow pools, with an extensive population of swamp and fen plant species such as the impressive Greater Tussock Sedge. There are stands of willow scrub, which are very attractive to many of our migrant and resident warbler species such as willow warblers, white throats and black caps. It is also perfect habitat for the rare and declining nightingale. The pools will attract many species of amphibians - frogs, toads and newts - in the spring - with the surrounding scrub and wetland plants providing excellent habitat for foraging adults as they emerge from the pools. The extensive pasture, hedgerows, and areas of scrub along the Lambourn Valley will support many small mammals, which in turn will attract owls. It's a very beautiful and sensitive area of habitat within the Lambourn Valley."
Unfortunately, over time this important habitat and area of Open Access Land had become rundown, partially blockaded and evidently used as a place to dump and burn waste. When this was brought to the attention of the Parish Council in 2020, it was decided the council would carry out cleanup and maintenance works to facilitate public access. The vital importance of access to open space could not have been more clearly highlighted than it has during the recent pandemic, so this made restoring the common a priority for the Parish Council.
While clearing the common metal sheeting, old bricks, burn pits, mattress springs and various other discarded items were uncovered. Several trailer loads of detritus were removed by Councillors and volunteers.
Apparent evidence of a recent party/festival was also found, including signs proclaiming "No Trespassers" and "No Picnic Area". It is important to note that the public are indeed entitled to access the common, as it is Open Access Land, where 'right to roam' applies, and therefore the perfect place for a picnic (as long as litter is not left behind).
Since clearing the common, and with the installation of a new sign and footbridge, the area has been given a new lease of life, at the heart of our parish, as an important and cherished open space for everyone.
The Parish Council would like to thank parishioners, the Environment Agency and West Berkshire Council for the crucial help and support we have received during this endeavour.
The common is accessible via the footpath which heads north from Weston Mill (WELF/27/1), via the five bar wooden gate on the Lambourn Road. Alternatively, it can be accessed via the footpath heading east from Elton (WELF/16/2).
Please note barbeques and fires are not permitted and dogs must be kept on a lead of no more than 2 metres long to protect ground-nesting birds.
28/3/2022 - A news update about the wildlife on Marsh Common can be found here: Wildlife on Marsh Common
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