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Celebrating Ten Years of the Earley Environmental Group

Meeting for an AGM on 26 January 2015 the locally based Earley Environmental Group marked its tenth anniversary and celebrated the achievements of its first decade. The room was set out with display boards, newly designed leaflets and a table laden with butterfly cakes, and the occasion was favoured by the presence of Earley's lady mayor. Before the business of approving the accounts and electing a committee for the coming year, chairman Alan Broodbank presented his report for 2014 and reflected on the Group's longer-term success.

He outlined the recent programme of talks, including those with a wildlife theme - 'British bees', 'Damsel- and Dragonflies' and 'Places to see special birds' - and others with a more controversial edge, such as 'Love Food: Hate Waste' and 'Why bother with fracking?' The Environmental Group usually presents six or seven such talks in the year, interspersed with visits to nature reserves in the vicinity. In 2014 these included Moor Copse and Thames Valley Park.

Alan highlighted the success of the annual bug hunt, held each summer for youngsters, taking particular pleasure in noting how the activity this year had apparently inspired one child seen later in the day exploring the hedgerows with a butterfly net of her own.

The Wednesday volunteers had been hard at work in the Nature Reserve, he reported, planting native trees, creating new hedgerows or maintaining existing ones, and planting a huge number of woodland flowers such as primroses, snowdrops, bluebells and daffodils. But for these to thrive they do of course need light so the removal of bramble has also been a recent priority, along with other tasks like hazel coppicing and eliminating the invasive Himalayan balsam from the banks of the Loddon. Over the years the Group has been very active in pursuing major projects around Earley. Planting the reed bed in Maiden Erlegh Lake comes to mind, restoring Marefield Pond on Rushey Way and landscaping the open space around the BMX track in Paddick Drive. In 2009, 60 local people volunteered to plant 500 trees around the edge of Laurel Park as part of the BBC's Breathing Places challenge to plant a million in one hour across the UK. Recently the Group's volunteers have been helping to remodel the butterfly garden in Instow Road.

Alan took the opportunity to thank the Town Council for its tremendous support, not wishing to give the impression that the Group's activities are somehow solely its own achievement. It is very much a community-based group and many things it undertakes are joint efforts with other organisations or individuals - not least Grahame Hawker, the Senior Park Ranger. As an example, one of the most talked-about issues in Earley this past year has been the wonderful displays of wild and nectar-rich flowers on roadside verges. These couldn't possibly have been undertaken without the Town Council's encouragement, equipment and expertise, while members of the Group spent many hours on hands and knees removing the choking weeds that would have swamped the flowerbeds if left unchecked. The outcome has been a beautiful floral feature and "an avalanche of admiration" from the public.

Another success for the Group has been the protection of sites where heliborine and pyramidal orchids grow. Each year signs are placed to identify the three locations and maintenance contractors engaged by the council are instructed to defer mowing until the growing season is over.

Identification of sites has been aided by the various surveying projects undertaken by the Group. From early days EEG volunteers have helped to collate data for the Wokingham District Veteran Tree Project, and others since have traced the myriad footpaths, cycleways and quiet lanes in Earley for publication as a leisure map. Latterly a weekly working party has turned its attention to recording the range of wildflowers to be found on Earley's verges.

Freedom from litter along these verges and hedgerows has been an aim from the outset and each year the Group organises a litter pick which involves the voluntary participation of cub packs, school groups, and university students, along with members of the public. The Group even won a prize from Wokingham Council in 2009 for collecting the most rubbish during the Borough-wide 'Big Tidy Up' - 90 bags! More recently litter picking has been extended to the Thames towpath and the Group collaborates closely with MERA in extending the spread of EASI - the Earley Adopt a Street Initiative.

The Earley Environmental Group has achieved much and Alan proudly reckons, "one would be hard-pushed to go to any spot in Earley and not see evidence of the Group's activities". The extent and nature of these activities are such that the Group were winners of BBOWT's Dorothy Morley Award in 2008 for involving the community in conservation.

If you'd like to know more of these and its many other activities, visit the Group's website, or its stand at the Green Fair in August, and ask to receive the (free) quarterly newsletter.

Edwin Trout with Alan Broodbank

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