Shingay-cum-Wendy nature reserve open to public for Red Cross Open Gardens

PUBLISHED: 17:34 12 June 2019

Mill River Nature Reserve in Shingay-cum-Wendy. Picture: Stuart Bennett

Mill River Nature Reserve in Shingay-cum-Wendy. Picture: Stuart Bennett

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A private nature reserve in Shingay-cum-Wendy is to open to the public this weekend as part of the nationwide Red Cross Open Gardens event.

Will Garfitt's original artwork of the Mill River Nature Reserve. Picture: Will Garfitt RBAWill Garfitt's original artwork of the Mill River Nature Reserve. Picture: Will Garfitt RBA

Each year throughout the summer, the Red Cross hold open garden days at some of the finest private gardens throughout the country to raise money for the charity, and for the first time Mill River Nature Reserve will be part of the Cambridgeshire programme - from 2pm to 5pm on Saturday.

The reserve - which is normally only open to the 55 households in Shingay-cum-Wendy - covers 75 acres and was created by Vine Farm Solar Park in collaboration with and for the benefit of the parish, and in consultation with the Beds, Cambs and Northampton Wildlife Trust.

Philip Paxman, who instigated the reserve, told the Crow: "The solar park is the largest in England, providing carbon free power for more than 11,000 houses in East Anglia.

"The reserve was designed to shield the solar park from view, to provide amenities for residents and especially for nature conservation.

Mill River Nature Reserve in Shingay-cum-Wendy. Picture: Stuart Bennett Mill River Nature Reserve in Shingay-cum-Wendy. Picture: Stuart Bennett

"It is a remarkable model of responsible development that recognises local residents as key stakeholders in projects that impact their environment.

"We have a very enviable village asset, and we want to balance human presence with conservation. We are nervous if we open it to the general public that it would become overwhelmed, but we are very much looking forward to welcoming visitors this weekend."

The reserve straddles Mill River for 3km from the 600-acre Bassingbourn Barracks County Wildlife Site, to its confluence with the river Rhee, which in turn connects it to Wimpole Hall's avenue and estate - creating a major wildlife conservation corridor connecting a series of valuable habitats.

Philip said: "To establish it, more than 40,000 trees and shrubs were planted, four bridges built, 12kms of paths laid and major habitat improvement carried out, in particular river restoration.

Mill River Nature Reserve in Shingay-cum-Wendy. Picture: Stuart Bennett Mill River Nature Reserve in Shingay-cum-Wendy. Picture: Stuart Bennett

"Formerly part of the Wimpole Estate, an avenue of 180 lime trees has been planted, in homage to Wimpole's own unique avenue - the longest in the country.

"The avenue has been named Wentzel Avenue in gratitude to the landowning family who generously established and maintain the reserve."

Rare birds include nesting barn owls, hobbys, buzzards, sparrow hawks, woodpeckers, tree creepers, several warbler species, cuckoo, dabchicks, coot and English partridge.

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Water voles have recolonised the river and otters have been seen running through every week. Reptiles include toads and frogs, and a flourishing population of grass snakes has been re-established after an absence of 40 years.

The only rare and endangered native white clawed Crayfish left in the county maintain a healthy arc population in the adjoining lake, and rare dragon flies, may flies and butterflies abound. The river is said to be swarming with minnows, sticklebacks and gudgeon.

There are wild flower and water meadows, ancient pollard willows, woodland, marginal plants and extensive scrubland planted to attract Nightingales.

The Red Cross will be providing cream teas in the marquee beside the stepping stones across the river, and there will be a talk and conducted nature walk by artist Will Garfitt at 3pm on Saturday.

Botanist Alison Schwabe will lead a wild flower hunt for children and there will be a series of self-guided walks varying from one to seven kilometres in length.

For nature lovers, this rare and enchanting afternoon is on from 2pm until 5pm on Saturday, with the conducted walk at 3pm.

There is wheelchair access and parking available, the entrance is from Wendy village.

The entry fee is £5, but children go free.

On the county border, there is another open gardens at Odsey Park on September 8.

The Victorian garden of about three acres has been recreated over the past 35 years with a recent addition adjoining a new barn conversion.

It features a walled garden, statue and other garden walks, as well as lawns, borders, bulbs and roses. There is a Millennium Avenue walk to the temple and family mausoleum.

Tickets are £5 per adult and can be purchased at the door.

For more information and to view the full programme go to redcross.org.uk/get-involved/fundraising-and-events/open-gardens.

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