It's been three years since the first saplings were planted in May's Wood in Dorset by people who came along voluntarily to help Doctor Brian May realise his dream of creating a native woodland. On September 28th, 2013 hundred's gathered to listen enthusiastically as 'Dr Brian' shared his vision of a place where wildlife and humans could enjoy the peace and tranquillity that trees and meadows can provide. "It was truly one of the most memorable and different days of my life." Dr May said after he had mingled happily with the eager participants, mainly from the nearby villages of Bere Regis and Shitterton.
Mums, dads, grandparents children and dogs, along with the local vicar, head teacher from the village primary school and the district councillor, all turned up in true community spirit armed with wellington boots, and spades. They were joined by an army of volunteers from Brian's Save Me charity and local wildlife groups. Soon, everyone, had sleeves rolled up , ready for action in the first field of many on the 164-acre site. Some were there to remember loved ones by planting a tree in their memory whilst others came along to help mark a moment in history, keen to help make a difference for future generations.
Forestry company UPM Tilhill were on hand to give advice on the correct way to sow a sapling and help it bed in. Soon the area was a hive of activity, with lots of determined digging and co-operation in a joint effort to do something that matters. Brian planted the first oak sapling in Horse Close Plots, then went on to plant a couple more before assisting others and joining in the community spirit.
"There was a huge feeling of hope and happiness all around" Helen Parker remembers. Her then 8-year-old daughter Zebedee gave Dr May a hand written thank you letter with a promise that she would look after the wood. "I could see it really meant a lot to him," Helen said. "Yes and I've kept my promise by regularly walking around May's Wood picking up litter when we go to check on how our oak tree is growing" Zebedee added.
Community leader Alison Bennett joined in the celebrations with friends and neighbours. "The woodland is growing well now and I often take my two spaniels there for walks, " Alison said. Alison had another important role on the day when she sang The New Woodland Song, along with ladies from the specially formed Pop-In singers and the local primary school children who also formed a choir for the occasion. The song was specially composed for the opening ceremony and local musicians supported the performance. " I remember the day three years ago when we learnt the woodland song that Linda taught us and we all walked to a field and performed it with the children of the village school and in front of Brian May," Alison said.
The planting is now complete for the whole site and over 100,000 trees have thrived throughout the seasons, with an abundance of colour to surprise and delight its visitors, thanks to the sandy Dorset soil and good drainage. Skylarks, swifts and swallows fly by, darting around the rustling leaves and specially designed pathways. that are speckled in late spring with daisies and clover. There have also been reports of native adders slithering around in the undergrowth.
Tony Bates is the chairman of the Bere Regis Wildlife group and takes strolls regularly around the wood. He led a special May's Wood walk when 37 people turned up to learn more about the nature reserve on their doorstep and plans to organise more.
"Most people were keen to know the names of the trees and plants. It is easy to distinguish them now by the leaves as they have really shot up with all the sun and rain we have had. It's quite easy to recognise the oaks, but there are also lesser known types such as the White Poplar , Silver Birch, Aspen, Alder, Birch, Wayfaring tree and bushes such as the Gelderland Rose. I am quite impressed by the organisation of the planting, which is tiered to make full use of the space. Tony explained. The Bere Regis strollers are another group that meet regularly and often enjoy walks through the woodland and up the gentle slope of Kites Hill where a large mature oak towers like a protective parent over the young developing saplings.
The native Corn Marigold has survived the transition from corn fields to woodland and much wild flora and fauna such as the Ox-eyed Daisy, Knapweed, Common Dogwood, Campion, foxglove, wild mint, bluebells and poppies are finding their comfort zone amongst the numerous wild grasses that carpet the ground. We were excited by the appearance of the rare Bladder Campion when we met and Tony hopes that more hidden species will begin to appear. "Seeds can lie dormant for years and now the area is clear of pesticides and ploughing maybe we will continue to be surprised," Tony remarked.
There seems to be no doubt that the four legged visitors are benefitting from their woodland exercise. I passed a few very happy Chappy's with their owners on a fine summers day. "It is definitely a lot better as it was difficult to negotiate the crops previously. There is more open space and Bruno and Tresca absolutely love it for their daily walks. " Sylvia Spurdle remarked when I stopped to chat with her. Meanwhile, Bob Croom has difficulty keeping his pet Bella out of the grass as she plays her favourite game of throw ball. "She really loves it here and its made such a difference for the village" Bob said.
Almost 100 children from Bere Regis and nearby villages will be benefitting directly from the site in the new year when they move into their brand new primary school, which has been built on the edge of May's Wood. "The new school will be surrounded by many different species of trees and it will make a perfect outdoor classroom for the children to learn about the natural world." Community leader Alison Bennett added.
May's Wood, you have blossomed beyond expectation and have brought so much joy to many nature lovers, successfully sowing the seeds for the next generation to enjoy.