Every Bluebell Walk is unique, mostly due to weather conditions. 2016 was no exception in the challenges presented but it ended up being the best Bluebell Walk ever in terms of the number of visitors and the amount raised by the participating charities.
Bluebell leaves had started to appear In January due to a mild winter with virtually no frosts. Early daffodils were blooming, which we thought heralded an exceptionally early spring. So we decided to bring forward the start date by one week. This meant asking the charities who had agreed to cover the last week to kindly change their dates to five weeks earlier, no easy task when volunteers had already agreed to be available on certain dates. We should particularly like to thank The Rotary Club of Seaford who helped us out by covering two days of that first week. But we did not realize that the real winter weather would come in March! It was particularly galling to those four charities that changed their dates. If we had retained the original closing date of 15th May we could still have had large number of visitors with the bluebells remaining good that week, so different to the lack of blue in the first week!
Not only did the cold spell delay the bluebells but such a wet winter caused many problems with car parking. Our trusty road verge again came to the rescue for the beginning of April, as it did in that wet spring of 2012. We should like to thank the Hailsham Lions and Cancer Research UK as over their weekends the car park had to be opened regardless of the wet ground just to cope with the volume of cars. They provided sufficient marshals to minimise the number of cars that had to be pulled out with a tractor! We were fortunate that from the 18th April the weather started warming up and with the drying winds and help from a vibrating roller and many tons of stone we were soon able to have the car park field fit for purpose for the remainder of the season. During those first weeks of constant cold and wet weather, parts of the Blue Walk around Beatons Wood often had to have a dressing of shingle to minimize any muddy areas, allowing visitors using mobility scooters to enjoy the path with no worry of getting stuck.
Sadly we noticed this year that more unofficial paths were made into the densely populated swathes of bluebells, especially where there appeared to be a suitable fallen tree for a child or colleague to sit on for ‘that perfect photo’. We did put up notices but with limited success, explaining that once bluebells are trodden down they may take years to recover. This summer we will scatter bluebell seeds over these areas and they will then have to be roped off if we are to maintain those blue vistas that our visitors come to enjoy. The management of the 23 acres of Beatons Wood has to be done sensitively with the aim to improve the visual impact of the bluebells and white wood anemones. This takes many forms, for example the removal last year of much of the brambles and weed grasses had a beneficial effect this year. Also the recent coppicing of areas has allowed more light on to the woodland floor that will re-invigorate the bluebells and anemones for the next few years.
Last year we were delighted to receive the VisitEngland 2015 ‘Hidden Gem’ accolade, apparently the only one awarded in the South East. Having that success under our belt, we have now put the Arlington Bluebell Walk & Farm Trail forward to Tourism South East, for their annual ‘Beautiful South Awards for Excellence’ under the ‘Tourism Event of the Year’ category. The winners will be announced in the autumn.
The internet plays an increasingly important role in where the public look for information, so Tim Church completely re-designed our website www.bluebellwalk.co.uk to make it easy to view and navigate on whatever device is used. This season we re-animated the ‘blog’ with weekly posts and with Tim’s help are making more use of Twitter and Facebook but it is all a time consuming business!
Our thanks go to the Appleton family and staff for their continuing support in hosting the Farm Trail element over their land, and providing access for the six different farm walks, each unique in their own way giving added interest to our visitors. On May Bank Holiday Monday they held an Open Farm Event at Parkwood and with the support of Arla Milk and Tesco there were demonstrations to explain the story of how fresh milk is produced and the work farmers have to do before it is bottled. This created much interest, especially with young families, even though the weather was not ideal and it meant a three mile walk there and back!
We should also like to thank those who work quietly behind the scenes in their various ways, to ensure everything runs smoothly and dealing with any problems that arise quietly and efficiently. Thank you to the participating charities for welcoming our visitors, serving delicious food and keeping everything clean and tidy, to Action for Medical Research for providing the second hand book stall, to Arlington Church with their Plant Stall and to HOPS for selling bluebell memorabilia and of course the ice creams. All the charities this year raised a combined total of £57,385, which added to the monies raised since 1972 (in today’s value) makes a grand total of £888,338.
The Bluebell Walk Partnership of John & Carolyn McCutchan and Philippa & Michael Vine
This message was added on Saturday 28th May 2016
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