Photo gallery: Volunteers help conserve north Norfolk nature spots while keeping fit

PUBLISHED: 11:00 14 February 2013

North Norfolk Workout Group at Sadler's Wood, North Walsham. John Bennett sawing the logs.

North Norfolk Workout Group at Sadler's Wood, North Walsham. John Bennett sawing the logs. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2013

Deep among the skyscraping pine trees something is stirring in the undergrowth.

The rustle of foliage, click of breaking twigs, and gentle chatter pinpoint the activity.

So, what kind of creatures - as Sir David Attenborough might say in hushed tones - are at large in this patch of woodland on the edge of a north Norfolk town?

It is the local Workout group - a nomadic species which migrates between a handful of nature sites tending the countryside, and boosting their physical and mental wellbeing at the same time.

The workers are busy with saws, pruners and spades helping to slowly transform part of Sadler’s Wood at North Walsham.

Their “queen”, chairman Lucy Seely from Briggate, easily distinguishable in salmon anorak, explains: “It is a group for people who are not really gym-going creatures.

“People who join don’t need any experience or to be particularly fit. If you can just plant one tree and enjoy a chat you are just as welcome.

“Anyone can come along, improve their health including your mental health because you feel productive and useful, and it is benefiting the countryside too.”

Group members range from their teens to early 80s. As well as trimming unwanted scrub to let more light into the woodland floor to help bluebells and other plants to thrive, the volunteers help plant new trees, and at Sadler’s Wood have also created a new wild flower meadow, which should appear for the first time this summer.

They also regularly do work at Holt Country Park, Holt Hall, Sheringham Park and Links Wood and Station Wood at Cromer, as well as The Patch community garden at Sheringham.

Joint secretary Andrew Parker,32 from Edgefield, said the group had been going three years, but after the original funding ran out last October it was now run entirely by the volunteers themselves.

The loss of a minibus meant people used their own cars, lifts and public transport to get to the twice weekly sessions on Mondays and Fridays which run from 1pm-4pm.

The work at Sadler’s Wood is part of the slow transformation of a man-made pine plantation dating back to the 1960s and 70s. It is managed by North Norfolk District Council whose ranger Will Fitch said the aim was to remove the non-native pines, and replace them with native oaks - a process that would take many years.

Pines hosted just 20 species of bugs, while oaks could be home to 200 - which was a better food supply for birds.

The workout party, like the wood’s own Friends group, was useful extra manpower to help the rangers who had to cover a range of sites across the district.

“It is a massive help to have volunteers because we have so many sites,” he added.

Robin Sidle, 34, from North Walsham said he was also a gym member but found the working group more sociable - and it has awakened an interest in the environment that saw him hoping to go back gto university to study ecology.

Also helping out was Hannah Clarke from NHS Norfolk’s local team which is looking to refer people to the group, to help their their physical and mental wellbeing. “It can make a real difference to people’s lives,” she added.

John Bennett, 66 from Mundesley Road, North Walsham had been a member for four years - and said he had felt a difference in his fitness, as well as helping the countryside.

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