Studham Common (Pennant)

Friends of Studham Common

Sited near the Bedfordshire town of Dunstable, Studham Common is a rare area of acid grassland, with several endangered species of British plants, animals and birds. To recognise the work that has been done to preserve this valuable habitat, the common has been given a Green Pennant Award for the past three years.

The common, which covers 27 hectares, has had a chequered history. Torn up in World War Two to grow crops, it has only slowly recovered. By 1997 when the Friends of Studham Common took over the management, the footpaths and bridlepaths had partially disappeared, the hedgerows were overgrown and the gorse was receding. Pam Rumfitt, chair of the friends group, explains: "In summer, the common is absolutely beautiful. We wanted to ensure that it was kept in good condition."

Keeping it in good order has taken a lot of work. Every month, fortified by sandwiches prepared by local helpers, work parties do selected tasks on the common. Rumfitt says: "We clear footpaths, plant hedgerows, plant gorse, and look after the newly planted trees. It’s a great day out." Over the next year the friends hope to do some traditional hedgelaying and — with the assistance of a contractor — they will be removing some of the self-seeded sycamore trees.

Around 15 people turn up to the monthly work party. There is a larger January work party usually attended by community police officers, councillors, MPs and about 40 volunteers. The friends’ efforts have helped the habitat. More skylarks are returning to the common.

In addition, the rare green-winged orchid and the slightly more common bee orchid are starting to reappear. And 17 boxes have been put out for the rare hazel dormouse — and three of these boxes are now being used for nesting. Rumfitt says: "It’s a lovely little mouse. It has dark eyes and a fluffy tail. It’s very elusive and lives in trees."

Other sources of help have been found. The local council pays for a ranger and equipment. Scout groups and primary schools have also worked on the site. In addition, the Mayday Trust, which helps rehabilitate offenders and people with mental illness, sends volunteers.

The friends group hopes to continue managing the land in environmentally acceptable ways. It is applying for grants from Natural England to help manage the grasslands. It is also looking at using sheep to graze the common and keep down the more vigorous growth.

The friends have applied for grants from the Grass Roots Foundation to pay for walks and talks and for wildlife surveys of the common. Rumfitt explains: "The common is highly valued. We’d like more people from the village to get involved. A lot of our helpers are retired and we’d like to attract more young people. The common is a wonderful place and we’d like to keep it that way."

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