A towering sanctuary

Words by:
Caroline Bingham
Featured in:
September 2022

When Lincolnshire Life celebrated its 60th anniversary in April 2021, Caroline Bingham visited the Ashing Lane Nature Reserve, near Dunholme, to feature the work of the Nettleham Woodland Trust. Part of the conversation with trustee Rod Newborough was how we could celebrate the landmark for the magazine with a lasting legacy for the reserve. Last month Caroline returned to cut the ribbon on The Tower, a sanctuary for raptors and other wildlife.

We met Rod in the Ashing Lane car park along with some of the other trustees and supporters who had come for the official opening. It was a day when a fine, intermittent drizzle fell but I had to remind myself that the reserve, for most of the year, includes many acres of wetlands and ponds.

Most of these had dried this summer. Rod explained that so many cracks had opened up on the rides that they had brought in a soil planer the day before to fill in some of the deeper crevices.

The origins of the reserve lie in Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust (LWT) being gifted an area of heavy clay soil by local farmer Elsie Pickering in 1984. They began planting trees on land adjoining Pickering Meadow in 1991 to create Watts Wood, which was gifted to the Trust by Sylvia Watts in

Nettleham Woodland Trust was formed in 2006 as a community group dedicated to the development and management of the woodland around Nettleham and in turn was granted a 125-year management lease from LWT for the Ashing Lane Reserve in 2010. Since then the Trust has established a further 50 acres of woodland, planting more than 30,000 native trees and shrubs.

The Lincolnshire Co-op Wood features species of willow that will tolerate the normally wet habitat. Other features celebrate volunteers and local partnerships such as Sylvia’s Gate in memory of Sylvia Wood and Cathedral Copse planted in 2017 to commemorate the 800th anniversary of The Charter of the Forest.

After my initial visit Lincolnshire Life agreed to help fund a raptor and wildlife tower which would offer an attractive nesting site for multiple species of birds. A blueprint for a building was obtained from The Barn Owl Trust and after submission to West Lindsey District Council planning permission was granted last November. Due to the wet conditions the foundations, in an area of the reserve known as Middle Wood, were not laid until February but once spring arrived construction could begin in earnest with bricks donated by the Pickering family. The roof and solid oak door were built and fitted by retired carpenter and supporter Brian Saville, also voluntary.

Chris Williams, chairman of Nettleham Woodland Trust spoke to thank the many businesses and volunteers who have worked on The Tower. Dave Bromwich, reserves officer of LWT was also present to witness this latest addition; further evidence of the confidence that LWT has in the stewardship of the reserve under the Nettleham Woodland Trust. Finally, I cut the ribbon and unveiled the name plaque above the door.

The two storey building is open to the elements through openings on all four sides of the upper level, but weather and intruder protected by a craftsman-made oak door and overhanging eaves.

The larger entries will all have nest boxes behind them. Rod, who retired after a career of more than 40 years with the Forestry Commission, is not known as ‘the tree man’ for nothing. As well as an expert knowledge of forestry and wildlife he is a woodturner and craftsman. He has already installed a barn owl nest box and is working on the variety of boxes which will attract smaller raptors such as kestrels. They will all be accessible from within The Tower by trap-doors so that ringing of chicks or cleaning can take place. Kestrels prefer their boxes to be level with the entry point so stone ledges have been included on some openings to suit their needs. Bore holes in the cement layer between courses will attract bees and other solitary insects and space under the eaves will hopefully attract house martins to build their nests.

I climbed the ladder inside to get what will be a bird’s eye view from The Tower. Even with all the boxes in place there will still be room for other wildlife to find nesting spots and shelter. Down below guests were already enjoying the open air buffet lunch which had been spread on tables. I climbed down to join them and Rod explained that he had already found peacock and tortoiseshell butterflies sheltering from wind and rain on the ceiling one evening.

On the day we visited colourful, wind-sown wild flowers were the backdrop to the site but once the dry weather ends The Tower will be surrounded by small ponds which have already been dug out and formed either side of the central walkway. I found it hard to see which wildlife would not be attracted to this very desirable residence; warmth, shelter, abundant food and an enviable view across the neighbouring landscape. I look forward to returning to see how many species and their offspring have started their life’s journey in The Tower.

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