Monthly sessions are being organised to keep Lake Wood in Uckfield tidy because of worries about anti-social behaviour there.
The initiative comes from Jude Stewart whose family, along with two other families, cleared litter and a make-shift camp from the beauty spot on Monday.
Jude wanted to find a way of keeping on top of an anti-social behaviour problem at the wood and to save its owner The Woodland Trust from big clean-up bills.
Love Lake Wood Tidy Up Team
Her solution is to set up the Love Lake Wood Tidy Up Team with an events page on Facebook showing dates people can help.
Jude says on the page: “Lake Wood in Uckfield is a our very own beautiful haven with it’s lake, caves, huge rocks, redwood trees, bluebells in May and so much more.
“Unfortunately it is often used by people who do not respect it and leave their rubbish behind making it unsightly and a danger to animals and other people with the plastic bags, broken glass, and tin cans.
First Monday of every month
“On the first Monday of every month there will be a ‘clear up’ evening at 6.30pm.
“Bring thick rubber/gardening gloves and a bin bag and we will see you there. Let’s look after this beautiful space of ours.”
One person who will be pleased to see action taken is ecologist Martyn Stenning, a volunteer warden at Lake Wood for many years, who also studied the site’s blue tits for his recently published book: The Blue Tit.
After hearing about the recent problems at Lake Wood Martyn told Uckfield News:
“I am deeply troubled about Lake Wood. I was always concerned that when the Woodland Trust took it over that they insisted that it be open to the public. I was concerned about vandalism and the disturbance of nature. My fears have been realised in no uncertain terms.
“However, there is principle at stake, and a history that is being perpetuated into the future. Back in Mesolithic times (9600 - 4000 BC) humans lived there in the rock shelters that can still be seen, and used flint tools that can still be found there.
Sand rock cliffs
“These people probably drove large animals over the sand rock cliffs there causing them to injure themselves, thus making it easier to kill them for food. Fires would have been regular and ALL wildlife would have been game.
“Since then, the ancient ghyll valley has been dammed (c. 1780 AD) to increase what was the Uckfield Pond to its present size.
“Alien plants were brought in during the times of the British empire which compromised the otherwise natural vegetation rendering it hostile to much of the native wildlife.
“It has always been a man-managed habitat, but is still rich in primeval features such as the rocks, self-seeded trees and understory and all the c. 70 species of birds that use it and the insects that they feed on, resulting in a dynamic ecosystem.
“We have removed most of the alien invaders, mostly with volunteer labour and there are dozens of people in Uckfield who love Lake Wood. It has provided the material for my book (The Blue Tit) and was material in the argument to preserve Downlands Farm from inappropriate development in 2008.
“I still believe that Lake Wood is a wonderful place, and a few thoughtless individuals who insist on abusing it are easily dealt with if we have the will.
Cease inappropriate behaviour
“I have had words with many groups of such people there over the years, treating them firmly but politely, but usually uncompromising in my insistence to respect Lake Wood as a nature reserve and cease their inappropriate behaviour.
“It always works. The litter is easily cleared away, and I have done it many times. Lake Wood is resilient and dynamic and will not be permanently damaged if we are careful.
“We just need a small group of committed Voluntary Wardens to carry on my work. I only regret that despite trying, I have failed to find anyone with the will to commit themselves to the task.”
Martyn said it might be worth involving the police a bit more, though they seem stretched as it is.
Appalled by behaviour
Dave Bonsall, East Sussex site manager for The Woodland Trust, said he had spoken to a lot of the regular visitors to the site who were appalled by the behaviour of the irresponsible few but sometimes didn’t realise that their own children were involved.
He added: “I think the general litter problem is decreasing as a result of more people picking it up but, as you know, it’s not easy when there’s such a lot of stuff left behind after a weekend of camping and parties.”
Dave said he made no apologies for flagging up Lake Wood’s unenviable reputation as his most troublesome site in East Sussex as he thought the community should be aware and take some responsibility for it.
He added: “As a charity we rely on membership and donations to achieve our aims and it’s not a good use of that resource to clear up other people’s mess and damage.”
He was pleased that Jude’s communiation with him prompted her to go to the wood with family and friends and clear the rubbish and that she was to visit the wood with the same group once a month to help keep on top of the litter and said: “I’m hoping that the bad publicity will have a positive outcome in the end.”
Dave said he wouldn’t encourage people to approach anti-social groups, that was definitely a job for the police.
He added: “I also think its worth involving the police even if they are stretched. What might be seen as a minor problem in the eyes of the law has a disproportionate effect on the community and us as the landowner.”
For example, in 2016 The Woodland Trust spent more than £1,100 on litter clearance at Lake Wood, including using a boat to clear the lake and reedbeds. And last year they spent more than £800 repairing an overflow pipe that controls the water level in the lake which was vandalised, allowing the water level to drop by two feet. It took many months for the lake to properly re-fill.
“As Martyn points out there is a conflict between our conservation aims and allowing public access but all conservation bodies as faced with that challenge. If we don’t engage with people, we won’t have the support and we won’t be able to promote conservation to the wider public.
“We need everyone to engage with nature in all ways – I’m fascinated by the effect of the recent David Attenborough programme highlighting the plastic waste issue. This is an old problem that no one was interested in until it was shown in high definition on Sunday night tv.”
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