Danesbury is a historic parkland once linked to Danesbury House. It is now managed extensively using rare-breed cattle and occasional cutting. The nature reserve can be accessed from residential roads in Welwyn and by footpath from Oaklands, Potters Heath and the Codicote Road.
This kind of grassland is now rare in the county as a result of changes in farming practice, losses arising from development and management neglect. Many grasslands have been agriculturally improved with the use of chemical fertilizers and herbicide sprays and this has destroyed many once botanically rich and diverse habitats.
Danesbury still has a wide variety of flowering plants which support insects and, therefore, also birds.
Having its origins as historic parkland, Danesbury also still has a number of large mature trees which are of huge value to wildlife, especially bats, owls, fungi and insects. These trees continue to be important even after they have died, fallen down and begun to decay. There is a presumption against routine pruning of dead wood unless it is perceived to be of threat to visitors.
During winter 2015-2016, the Friends of Danesbury Park, assisted by other local Friends groups, have undertaken an exciting restoration project in the 'Fernery'. This wooded dell on the east side of the reserve was created during the 19th century as a special Victorian garden exhibiting ferns. This was a fashionable thing to do at the time but fashions change and the dell had almost disappeared from view under an impenetrable mantle of dense growth. The Friends have cut nettles, cleared away collapsed bushes and carefully revealed the artificial rockwork, known as 'Pulhamite', constructed to display the ferns. Later this year, it is intended to restore a safe path around the dell and to establish spring bulbs and other native plants - as well as a few ferns.
In the lower Park, Friends and contractors have continued to remove more 'scrub' to encourage grassland to return. Over the last 10-20 years, hawthorn, elder and blackthorn bushes have started to invade the grassland habitat. Over 96% of natural grassland habitat has been lost in Hertfordshire since the 1940s so the borough council is trying to make sure that the grassland at Danesbury retains its biological importance.
Local volunteers from the Hawk and Owl Trust, working with the Friends of Danesbury, have continued to monitor our owl and kestrel nest boxes. Fresh barn owl pellets have been found recently near one of our boxes. This is exciting news and we hope that the owl will find a mate and decide to stay at Danesbury.
Each year our grazier from Maydencroft Farm, near Hitchin, brings his rare breed cattle to graze the meadows. Grazing usually begins in April and continues until October as long as there is sufficient grass. In some years the grassland is also cut to remove overgrowth not kept under adequate control by cattle grazing.
The old sunken way giving access to the reserve from the Codicote Road and the nearby Singlers Marsh Local Nature Reserve has responded well after being given its new all-weather surface. Some small scale vegetation maintenance will take place during the year to make sure the path is kept open.
The Friends of Danesbury Park is a small but very enthusiastic group which works on the nature reserve once a month throughout the year. They undertake a variety of tasks including care and maintenance of trees, scrub control and surveying of butterflies. If you have time to spare and would like to help, please contact us.