Meadowfield Nature Study Centre – A quiet revolution.
A Quiet Revolution
In these times of environmental uncertainty it is heartening to be reminded of the tenacity of nature, if only we just give it a chance, and that we can make a difference.
The global issues that beset the stresses and strains on the world can seem so daunting, so seemingly ‘out of our hands’ that we may be left with a sense of helpless resignation; ‘what can I actually do to make any difference at all?’ In our desperation we may be forgiven for neglecting to look closer to home, feeling that more local concerns are all very well but pale against the worldwide menaces presented by climate change and wholesale habitat destruction.
This is, of course, understandable, but nonetheless somewhat misguided. The local environment matters, for it is here that we find the natural world in a form that we can relate to and build an affinity with. Here our individual actions are noticed and our voices heard more clearly. To ask, ‘how can I make a difference?’ can be proffered as a genuine question rather than an exasperated plea.
But what of the bigger picture? What of the relevance of the local to the global? At a local level the attitudes of individuals can be changed, who might, in turn, carry the message further and wider; one person tells two, and those, two more each and… well, so begins a quiet revolution. In our back yard we can re-forge the links with our natural environment and rekindle the respect and sense of value for it.
The rural fringe of South Essex’s urban sprawl may well seem an unlikely place for a revolution. But in a place called Hockley, not far from Southend-on-Sea, the word is being spread. For it is here that Meadowfield Nature Study Centre came into being. Not that at any point during the previous century was there a sense of revolution in the air. During this time it existed in its previous guise as a plant nursery and it was as such that the current owners, Jane and David Mann, acquired it. But in the ten years of their tenure a change has taken place.
The nursery has evolved into a nature reserve. “We bought the site as an operating cut-flower nursery”, says Jane, “and we continued production for about two years afterwards”. Jane is a lady with a passion for plants, but discovered that running a commercial nursery was not all she had hoped, and as she recalls: “I soon found myself exploring some alternative future for this wonderful site”.
It was idyllically placed; a two hectare site surrounded on all sides by hedgerows and mature trees and with distant views northwards of the gentle valley of the River Crouch. As someone also with a love of nature, she had been quick to set about enhancing its natural qualities. Several hundred native broad-leaved trees and shrubs were planted, as well as a small selection of exotic specimens, and a large pond excavated. It was clearly somewhere with a great deal of potential.
The path towards realising this potential came into view. Jane, a former school teacher, had the idea to “bring the classroom outside”, to offer Meadowfield as somewhere for hands-on learning and experience of growing plants and the wildlife at large in the local environment. A friend working at a nearby school arranged the inaugural visit, and encouraged by its success Jane contacted two local primary schools, who continue to visit the centre today. The seed, for want of a better phrase, had been sown and Meadowfield’s part in the revolution set in motion.
Over the years since, with increasing interest from schools in the area and the provision of a wider range of Curriculum based courses, the scope of the centre has steadily grown, alongside its increasing wildlife conservation potential. An impressive array of plants and animals has been recorded from Meadowfield’s modest area.
The grassland is coloured by a variety of spring and summer plants, meadow buttercup, grass vetchling and trefoil among them. More than fifty species of bird frequent the place or have passed through and the hedgerows and long grass are threaded by of the secretive movements of shrews, voles and wood mice: creatures that attract the predatory attentions of weasel and fox. The list of insects has topped two hundred and counting, including eleven species of dragonfly and damselfly that breed in the two ponds, unusual butterflies like the brown argus and a host of hoverflies, bugs, bush-crickets and others that thrive among the mosaic of habitats; a wonderful minibeast menagerie for keen young children to marvel at.
With the centre’s facilities and nature’s very own learning resources to hand, Meadowfield is a place where an interface between people and wildlife is made available, a place to open eyes and stimulate interest. With this is mind, Jane says “We wanted to create a place where children could get close to nature, in a safe and secure way. If we can light a spark in even just one child in a class, then it is all worthwhile”.
Meadowfield is somewhere that the significance of the local environment is well illustrated in the role it plays in establishing awareness that can later be applied to those more wide ranging issues of our global concerns. Not everyone will have the means to facilitate what has so generously been put in place here. The wider message though, would be that we can all find a way to connect with natural world and have a positive and genuine influence on our local environment, perhaps through an involvement with some community concern like Meadowfield. Even just by means of our own passion and interest we might to find a way to light that spark in someone else, and if that one person tells two of their friends, and those, two more each……
Meadowfield Nature Study Centre.
Church Road, Hockley, Essex SS5 4SS www.meadowfield.org.uk