10 things we loved about 2019’s Festival of Wildlife

Trust volunteer Charlotte Morgan visited her first Festival of Wildlife in July. Here’s why she’ll definitely be back next year...

1. The learning

What a great place to pick up a little extra knowledge. We learnt about the history of Panshanger Park (did you know parts were landscaped by Capability Brown?); the plight of badgers because of government culls; what to feed a stranded hedgehog (never bread or milk); how to identify a Tree Snipefly; and the best place to spot a kestrel in Hertfordshire.

Panshanger Park (c) Jen Gilbert

Panshanger Park (c) Jen Gilbert

2. The setting

Panshanger Park, between Hertford and Welwyn Garden City, is an absolute gem. It covers almost 1,000 acres of countryside in the Mimram Valley and comes complete with woodland, lakes, ponds, reed beds, grassland, a dragonfly trail and even the largest oak tree in the country, which Queen Elizabeth I herself planted (or so they say).

3. The enthusiasm

Whether it be caring for badgers, bees, bats or hedgehogs, every conservation group (each had their own stall) was loud and proud about what they do. Beekeepers stood in the rain, keeping an eye on display hives; the hedgehog folk inspired with DIY hedgehog house displays; and the local bat group plastered their helpline on as big a sign as they could find (it’s 07517123200, by the way). Plus everyone in a Wildlife Trust tabard gave us a smile, and many thanked us for taking the time to visit.

Jonah from Herts Wood carving a spoon

© Frieda Rummenhohl

4. The shopping

It’s way more than jars of jam and knitted tea cosies. The arts and crafts marquee was a treasure trove of quality merchandise, all made by local artisan producers. The Herts Wood stall, run by woodcarver and Berkhamsted resident Jonah Maddox, was especially irresistible – our new vase is made from Ashridge Estate spalted silver birch and is beautifully etched with black ‘zone lines’ made by fungi. Never has decay looked so good.

5. The sandpit

What better way to entertain kids than with a huge mound of sand and plenty of toy trucks? It’s always a winner, even in the rain, and when that became too busy there were hay bales to crawl over, children’s stories to listen to, and crafts to make.

Festival of Wildlife 2019

© Frieda Rummenhohl

6. The talks

The Festival of Wildlife mastered the art of appealing to everyone. So, just as there were stalls and activities for those with limited wildlife knowledge, there was also an entire programme designed for conservation buffs. A one-hour quarry tractor tour explored the geology of Panshanger Park, and all weekend, there were detailed talks from experts on tree identification, the 26 varieties of Hertfordshire dragonfly, water voles, European eels and even mammal poo.

Longhorn cattle at Panshanger Park

© Frieda Rummenhohl

7. The longhorn cattle

Longhorn cattle were introduced to Panshanger Park in April 2019, purely because of their eating abilities. Dubbed “nature’s magnificent lawnmowers”, the cows’ low-intensity grazing helps manage the grasslands in a natural way. Plus those heavy hooves poach up the ground and create patches of bare soil in grasslands, attracting invertebrates and reptiles. We got to meet these fine beasts, and watch them at ‘work’.

8. The mud

It may not have been the sunny summer day many were hoping for, but we loved all that rain and mud. It lent a Glastonbury feel to the festival and gave the little’uns plenty of puddles to jump in. Besides, there’s no such thing as bad weather – only bad clothes. Right?

Puddingstone Distillery campfire gin

© Frieda Rummenhohl

9. The food

Wood-fired pizzas, smoked pulled pork burgers, warm cinnamon sugar crêpes, homemade thalis and, best of all, a stall devoted to locally-made gin. We tried the cask-aged Campfire Gin (made by Puddingstone, the first gin distillery in Hertfordshire) and were warmed to the cockles by its cosy caramel and bourbon notes. Did you know that Puddingstone also make a special edition Himalayan Balsam pink gin, in association with the Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust?

10. It’s free!

Expert talks, tractor rides, hay bales, sandpit mountains, guided walks, longhorn cattle encounters, plus the beautiful backdrop of Panshanger Park… all for free? See you next year!

 

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