For the Common good
PUBLISHED: 12:50 24 August 2006 | UPDATED: 10:45 06 May 2010
WITHIN three minutes of walking on to Norton Common your Comet reporter had seen a green woodpecker, a comma butterfly and lady s bedstraw flowers. To be honest, left to her own devices she would have been lucky to spot a bird, a reddish blur and some yel
WITHIN three minutes of walking on to Norton Common your Comet reporter had seen a green woodpecker, a comma butterfly and lady's bedstraw flowers.
To be honest, left to her own devices she would have been lucky to spot a bird, a reddish blur and some yellow petals in the grass.
But under the guidance of Angela Forster, projects officer at the Countryside Management Service, Norton Common in Letchworth GC was revealed as a treasure house of flora and fauna.
In fact, its habitat is so rich that it has just been designated as a Local Nature Reserve, only the third in the North Hertfordshire area - the others are at Oughtonhead and Purwell in Hitchin.
Next Tuesday, August 29, The Countryside Management Service and North Hertfordshire District Council, which owns the Common, are inviting the public along to celebrate.
The fun will kick off at 11.30am with a short ceremony followed by a guided walk, activities such as making a birds' nesting box and a scavenger hunt with small prizes. There will be refreshments and a chance to learn more about the Friends' group which supports conservation at the Common and carries out practical work.
Last winter members helped to clear pathways which had become overgrown and that work will continue, along with other projects to coppice trees and encourage saplings to grow in the woodland areas. Letchworth naturalists have also carried out improvements at the Common over many years.
Some of Norton Common has never been cultivated but in the open spaces you can clearly see undulations. These mark where the medieval strips of land were ploughed centuries ago, creating troughs and ridges.
"One of the nice things at the Common is that you have got areas for wildlife and also more formal areas," said Angela, who works with NHDC and the Countryside Management Service on managing the site to encourage wildlife and make it accessible for visitors.
Rabbits help to keep down the grass on the first field in the Common, some areas are cut and the site is managed to encourage wild flowers such as cowslips and harebells.
There are scores of species scattered through the various habitats including parsley waterdrop wort, water mint, the sulphur flower clover and southern marsh orchids.
A 25-yard stroll along one of the main paths reveals trees such as oak, maple, ash and hawthorn while some of the hedge is very old indeed - not surprising in view of the fact the Common runs beside the ancient Icknield Way, reputedly the oldest track in the country.
Birds are equally prolific, including tawny owls, kestrels, nuthatch, linnet, goldfinch and summer visitors such as willow warblers and blackcap.
Springs that feed the two marshy areas are rich in calcium and iron salts, giving the water leading into the Pix Brook a reddish hue and petrifying anything that falls in close to the source.
A section of the Great Northern Cycleway has just been laid through the Common. It provides a pathway of chippings beside the 1937 horse chestnut and lime avenue, planted by schoolchildren to commemorate the coronation of George VI.
Children are among the many visitors to Norton Common, playing with their families and watching the dog walkers and couples stroll past.
"The Common is a magnificent resource for North Hertfordshire," said Cllr Ian Knighton, NHDC portfolio holder responsible for parks.
"It is wonderful news that it has been designated as a nature reserve.
"I would urge everybody who doesn't know the Common to come and walk round. It is wonderful to see such a large variety of habitats so close to the town and so many people committed to making sure it continues to flourish.
"Please come and join our celebration on August 29 and see for yourself.
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