Walking around Moreton Hall, it is easy to overlook all the work that goes into ensuring its plentiful public open spaces remain so attractive.
Take Natterer’s Wood for instance.
Newcomers to the estate will not be aware of the sheer number of people who helped community wildlife group Woodland Ways transform it from bare field into flourishing woodland.
For seven years, from 2002-2008, two classes a year from Sebert Wood Primary School helped to plant trees on the seven hectare site, as, for three years, did pupils from Abbots Green Primary School.
Around 250 adult volunteers also helped, and the West Suffolk branch of the United Nations Association.
Drawing on ideas from a well-attended public workshop held in 2001, Woodland Ways, with the help of a £49,000 Heritage Lottery Grant, added an easy-access path, ponds, hedges, a play area and a bat-shaped wildflower meadow.
The bat landscape art was chosen because Natterer’s Wood was named after a species of bat which hibernates in historic chalk mines under it, the natterer’s bat.
It is visible from the tower of St Edmundsbury Cathedral, which is a reminder that churches across Suffolk are an important home for bats.
Chairman of Woodland Ways Nick Sibbett, who is a professional ecologist, said: “My ambition is for Natterer’s Wood to last 1,000 years, although I won’t be around to see it.
“I think one of my regrets is that it hasn’t been used as much as we hoped it would. That’s something Woodland Ways is going to think about in the future, to see if we can encourage more use of it.”
The woodland group, which is made up entirely of volunteers, was started through the inspiration of environmental charity Green Light Trust.
It had such success with Natterer’s Wood that St Edmundsbury Borough Council was confident in letting it manage three more of its sites on Moreton Hall – 200-year-old woods Pond Covert and Home Covert, and its smallest site named Woodland Ways Pond by nearby residents.
The group spent £2,000 lining the pond in Pond Covert, which was created as an emergency flood storage area in the early 1900s, and has seen its maintenance work lead to an increase in flowers like bee orchids and yellow rattle.
Ducks travelling to and from that pond can often be seen crossing Symonds Road.
Woodland Ways volunteers also opened up paths at Pond and Home Covert, making them more accessible to the public.
Of Home Covert, Mr Sibbett said: “A few dog walkers occasionally pushed their way through the undergrowth so we opened up a really good path through the woods and it’s now used by people going to the local shops and the community centre.
“It was the same thing with Pond Covert – a few people tried to push their way through but we opened it up and made it a much more popular place than it had been. I get excited about the changes that gradually happen to the land and that people are using it more, I find it very satisfying.”
During the last 10 years, Woodland Ways has planted 3,500 trees on Moreton Hall. It has also recently taken on two new woodland projects.
The first, a former Christmas tree plantation, sounds as if it will keep members busy for some time, having become so overgrown that some of its trees are as tall as five storey buildings.
The second is an area of community woodland off of Lady Miriam Way.
Mr Sibbett said: “For a fairly small housing estate, to be able to look after so many pieces of land, I think that’s quite remarkable really and it’s thanks to everybody pulling together.”
He added: “I think there’s a limit to how much Woodland Ways can expand because, every time we acquire new areas, the need to manage old areas doesn’t stop. In the long term we’ll be caring for and managing the areas we’ve already got.”
And that is why members are so important. Some ‘armchair members’ continue to provide support from as far away as Spain, South Africa and America.
Others take part in work parties hosted on the second Sunday of every month, with the youngest participant just four years old and the oldest in their 80s. People with learning difficulties or special needs are also welcomed, although they must be accompanied.
Mr Sibbett said: “That social side is important to me. It’s sort of a recreational activity in itself.”
He added: “We’ve got about 60 householders that are members – that’s about two per cent of the population, which is in line with other organisations like the RSPB.”
Occasionally the group carries out plant, bat and insect surveys.
“Participation in those surveys gives people understanding and enthusiasm for their local area because often wildlife is something we see on TV but it’s here on Moreton Hall and we want people to go out and experience it and enjoy it,” said Mr Sibbett.
The recent installation of an infra-red camera has enabled the group to capture rare shots of badgers in a woodland near Moreton Hall.
But there is much more wildlife to be seen around the estate.
Mr Sibbett said: “If people want to explore all this they need to spend time opening their eyes and their ears and not be distracted by other people or things. They should just stand or sit peacefully and be aware of what’s around.”
If you have any ideas about what could be done to improve the appearance of Natterer’s Wood, what Woodland Ways could do better or differently, or if you want to find out about becoming a member, email Mr Sibbett on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01284 723847.