Andy Stevens - Assistant Ranger
Having been involved with the Friends of Langley Park from its conception has played a very important part in allowing me the opportunity to join the Country Parks Team as an Assistant Ranger. I feel very proud to be part of a busy and highly motivated team that are working on some exciting projects, especially those involving Langley Park.
The day-to-day life of a ranger, come rain or shine, is varied and interesting, covering all aspects of maintaining and managing the various parks and facilities - from picking up litter, educating people about the history and conservation management within the parks through to animal rescue and film crew supervision.
Each day has its routines that are required to keep the parks running safely, but the unforeseen often happens and the team has to be ready to deal with whatever may occur.
One of my favourite parts of the job is educating people about the various aspects of the country parks in the hope that they will go away with a better understanding of what we do and why we do it. People like to ask questions and it is always nice when you can answer them in a clear and concise manner, so I look forward to seeing you around the parks and answering any questions you may have.
Jez Gabb, Ranger
Whilst thinking about what I could write for this article I took a moment in Langley Park to gather inspiration. It is a misty autumnal day with the earthy smell of fungi in the air. Instantly I am taken back to my first memory and experience of Langley Park.
We journey back through time to around 1984/85, when an eight-year-old boy new to the area goes on his first trip with his new school. I venture through the gates on board a coach down the main avenue at Langley to the old stable block. At the time, rather than plush flats the rooms above the archway are used by the countryside team as classrooms for visiting schools. Inside I vaguely remember the musty smell of the stuffed British mammals and birds which I guess were part of Robert Harvey’s monumental ‘I shot that’ collection. Here, girls and boy’s of Langley’s Marish Middle School assembled around tables and were greeted by a ranger (what an effect this must have had on me!). This part of the visit fades a bit. I am sure we spent time learning information about the autumn and its relation to wildlife, polished off with a quiz or fact sheet no doubt.
After sandwiches the real fun began when we were unleashed upon the wider park. Each of us was given a small bag to collect items from nature to draw/stick and write about once back at school. I have fond memories of this nature walk.
First to the Arboretum to examine the trees. We peer through the gate to the walled garden, imagining the secret garden on the other side. Then up the Vista we go, taking in the colours and smells that Langley offers in autumn. We reach the ha-ha (I get confused thinking it’s pronounced Ah-ha, like the successful band of the time) and I first learn about its use as a non-visually-intrusive barrier against deer at this time: information I still pass on to visitors today. Then into the Temple Gardens, climbing and jumping out on each other in the maze of then wide, well-pruned tracks. Next the class stood around the grand old yews where we all found it hard to comprehend the extent of their existence. I still do now!
A game between the boys is invented at some point, the object of which is to find and explode puff balls before others can. Millions of fungi spores are artificially released this day and I feel content with my personal effort.
Out into the open by the toilet block next for more of an open run around. I imagine this is probably a relief to the teachers and ranger, now that they could see us all and not have to worry about one going stray among the rhododendrons. After a while it's back down via the avenue to the classroom for squash and end of day conclusions. Then on to the coach where we are pleased to be given 'Apple coach' badges by the driver before being taken back to school.
The visit that day has a lasting effect on me as a young lad. It gives my new town an historic identity and shows me a great place to play war with my brothers and mates.
I continue to visit Langley Park as I grow up with my family. As well as with the scouts, then on my bike on my own. When I was 16 I often visited the park with groups of friends. On sunny days groups of us would hang out, trying to impress girls we were with by showing off.
When entertaining groups and individuals in my current role as a ranger for the Country Parks, I often draw on my memories of my first visit, for inspiration and enthusiasm to carry out my work.
I am excited about the future of Langley Park. The Heritage Lottery Grant, and what it will mean on the ground in the park (such as the effect on the visitors’ experience: new or veteran) will be fantastic. I am equally enthused by the creation of an Audience/Education Officer for the park. What a blast from the past this role will be, and important in many ways to the local community for access and educating visitors such as local school groups. Who knows the wider effect? Maybe in 20 years’ time a ranger again will write an article to the Friends of Langley Park, describing their visit to the park with their school and the effect it had on them. We here in the present know that this is a possibility due to the hard work and effort we all put in to receive the HLF funding.
Matthew May - Ranger
It didn’t take me too long to decide what subject to use as a basis for this article, as my few visits to Langley Park have always left one major impression on me above all others: the stature of the collection of Giant Redwoods (Sequoiadendron giganteum)the park boasts.
These massive trees, often referred to as either Giant Sequoias or Wellingtonias, were clearly favoured for a time in the planting plans of one of the Park’s former owners or designers, as they tower above the deciduous natives and other imported trees which have stood for many years in the park and gardens.
I have not yet had the opportunity to count the number of these trees at Langley but I know their enormous height and girth ensures that any visitor to the park will know they are there, particularly as the main cluster seems to be around the higher ground at Verney’s Walk, which happens to be fairly close to the car park.
In its native Sierra Nevada, California, this colossal tree can reach a height of almost 100 metres. They can live for a staggering 3,000 years and when they have been felled, specimens in the past have apparently weighed in at 2,000 tonnes. Think about that for a second: that’s the equivalent of 335 adult male elephants…from just one tree!
The world’s biggest standing Wellingtonia – which is also the largest single living thing on earth – is affectionately named General Sherman. The General has a diameter of almost 18 metres and is 95m tall. It’s not the tallest tree in the world (that accolade belongs to a cousin: a coastal redwood), nor the fattest, but it is truly a champion in terms of all-round volume.
The dramatic bulk of these redwoods, combined with their position geographically, seems to account for the news that the vast majority of the American veterans of the species have been cut down, seemingly needlessly, by man. Their timber is useless for most building due to its brittle nature, which is often the case with trees which grow at such an incredible rate.
Luckily for us we do not have to go all the way to America to see fine examples of these trees, as since their ‘discovery’ (surely native Americans knew about them already?) in 1841 they soon spread to the UK, where plant enthusiasts of the time must have delighted to see a grandiose species take so well to the vast majority of our soil types. Despite this, and the fact that many of our specimens have a greater stem girth than oaks and chestnuts 10 times their age, most Wellingtonias in the south east of England now have rounded tops and are not thought to be growing upward any more.
Still, there’s plenty to marvel at. The thick, spongy, fibrous bark is nature’s way of protecting the tree from the kind of vicious forest fires which have savaged California’s forests over the years. Indeed the Giant Redwood has adapted perfectly, even relying on the fire’s heat to release seeds for propagation in the resulting ash and suddenly-clear forest floor that results.
Despite my awe at these gigantic trees, which the writer John Steinbeck described as “a vision that stays with you always”, it may be surprising to hear that they are by no means my favourite species. That particular honour goes to a member of the cedar family – but that is a story for another day…as I believe Langley may have one or two of those elegant masters of the tree world in its collection as well.Thanks to everyone, and watch out for those school groups in the future, as you never know what they could turn into.
Tim Williams, Head Ranger
There has been a lot of talk from us at the Country Parks Office recently about a significant amount of money that we have successfully been awarded to carry out management to veteran trees and to restore Wood Pasture in Langley Park. The thing that has occurred to me is that unless you are in the countryside industry where wood pasture is very much the ‘in’ thing it is a term that you do not really come across in every day conversation.
What is it? Well Natural England’s definition is as follows:
‘Lowland wood-pastures and parklands are derived from medieval forests and emparkments, wooded commons, parks and pastures with trees in them. Some have subsequently had a designed landscape superimposed, mostly in the 16th to 19th centuries. A range of native species usually predominates amongst the old trees but there may be non-native species which have been planted or regenerated naturally.’
In plain English, the wood pasture we have today are fragments of much older landscape that was made up of vast areas of open woodland, rough pasture, veteran trees with a mix of scrubby woodland thrown in for good measures. The veteran trees are the key important feature, it is these trees that provide a home for a large number of very rare beetles, bugs, flies, plants, fungi and a whole lot more. Probably the best example of wood pasture left in the UK is Windsor Great Park - here you can see fragments of a landscape that has remained unchanged for thousands of years. The New Forest also contains very good examples of wood pasture and so does Langley Park.
Surprisingly, given its size, Langley Park can really hold it’s own when mixing it with the big boys of wood pasture. In fact, Langley Park is such a good example that it is currently rated the 3rd most important site in the UK for finding some very rare deadwood beetles (126 species) that only live in areas of ancient wood pasture. It is also home to some pretty amazing and very rare Cranefly, and the Oak Polypore fungi which is just about the rarest of the rare in the fungi world!
There is now a real feeling amongst experts that this may be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the importance of Langley Park on a national, if not international, basis. Some of the species found here have only previously been recorded in the UK in Windsor Great Park. Also, the species found so far is based on very limited survey work. With more survey work taking place this summer there are sure to be more important and exciting finds for Langley Park.
Now Bugs, Beetles, Flies and Fungi may well be very exciting (well to some of us anyway!) but the real stars of wood pasture are the veteran trees. These not only provide the all important habitat but they are also significant landscape features and of great national importance in their own right. Langley Park has at least 300 trees that can be considered veterans, mainly Oak and Beech although there are also Sweet Chestnut, and of course the Yew that qualify for veteran status. The reason that they have survived is mainly due to the fact that that they have been incorporated into parkland landscapes and have formed part of ‘designs’ since the 13th Century. This is common across the UK and is the main factor why we, as a nation, have such a good surviving population of veteran trees.
To secure their future and to preserve this important habitat there is a lot of work that still needs to be done. Post war the wood pasture environment in Langley Park had gone into decline, under-management in controlling secondary woodland and scrub regeneration being the main problem. If you look at an aerial photo from the late 1940’s you can see how open the park used to be - look at a more recent photo and you can see how Birch and scrub has filled in the gaps making it more of a continuous woodland than a wood pasture.
To combat this and to start restoring the wood pasture, this coming winter work will begin on Haloing around the veterans. This means removing scrub and some trees to give the veterans breathing space and to start developing a more open wood pasture environment. This will be done over a number of years to limit the shock to the veteran trees and indeed the park as a whole. Each veteran tree will also get it’s own mini management plan which will report on it’s condition and recommend any work that may need to be done. For example, some Oaks tend to get very top heavy so crown reduction is necessary to prevent the loss of large limbs or even the whole tree collapsing.
Long term as the secondary woodland and scrub is opened up and wood pasture is restored, the re-introduction of grazing with native breeds of animal is a real possibility. Grazing with the right animals is the ultimate tool in managing wood pasture - Longhorn cattle, for example, will eat any new scrub coming through, and keep grassier areas managed without the need for machine cutting. Obviously historically it would have been the deer herd in the park that did this very effectively, but the high costs of fencing and the intensive management required for deer means hardy cattle are a much better low intensity option.
Steve Heywood - Head Ranger
Over the past few years I have had numerous chats with members of the public whilst doing my rounds in Langley Park, some of which on the subject of deer!
Many claim never to have seen any, or even go to the lengths to deny that there are any still within the park.
Whether these individuals have just been unlucky on their visits I don’t know, but for the majority I reckon there is a case of what I term ‘countryside blindness’. People often look but they don’t see. In my view you would be hard pressed to visit Langley Park without seeing a deer or at least seeing the signs that deer have left behind, for example deer droppings, footprints, etc.
Historically Langley Park was a Royal hunting park in the gift of kings, first mentioned in 1202 when 100 live does and bucks from the forest at Windsor were transferred to stock the Park by Richard Mountfitchet.
In the early years deer hunting shaped the landscape of Langley Park, and although a maintained and enclosed stock of deer are no longer kept there are however small populations of wild deer which now roam this ancient landscape.
Langley Park boasts two species of deer which are present throughout the year. The larger and only native deer in the park is the Roe Deer. These are non herding solitary deer which can only be found with others of the species during mating season between July and August, although on occasion and much to the dismay of Farmer Whitby (because roe deer graze on his arable crops!), I have had the pleasure of seeing three to four roe’s together in the field bordering Langley Avenue at other times of the year.
The other smaller and more numerous species of deer that roam Langley are the Muntjack deer. This deer is a native of Asia and became naturalised in Britain about 1900 after a small population escaped the Duke of Bedford’s Woburn Estate in Bedfordshire. The deer’s success is due to the fact that it breeds all year round, and in some cases may produce a fawn every seven months.
I have never seen a fawn in Langley but have sighted two in Black Park, and let me tell you it’s a sight and a half. The adults are only the size of Labrador’s and the fawns could easily be mistaken for a rabbit to the untrained eye – they are that small!
Muntjack’s are the easiest deer’s to spot in Langley because they often freeze when seen, in the hope that their excellent camouflage will protect them. They are also solitary like Roe.
I have often stood for several minutes happily watching a Muntjack, apparently frozen to the spot, unmoving until I go on my merry way. There truly are excellent photo opportunities for this deer!
It is a real pleasure to be able to watch deer in the free and open landscape, and I hope the people that walk Langley Park enjoy watching them just as much as I do!