Hidden treasure revealed at last

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A HIDDEN treasure of Ponteland Park could soon be revealed to the public.

The Friends of Ponteland Park (FOPP) have been working tirelessly to improve the area for residents and wildlife alike, adding attractions such as a young people’s wood and a meadow.

And now the group is applying for another £10,000 grant from the Big Lottery Fund to open up two sides of the oxbow lake to the public.

Northumberland Wildlife Trust has spent two years working on the lake and the efforts are paying off as moorhen have returned and frogspawn is on the increase.

If the grant is approved it will enable work to start in April to build steps to the lake and a boardwalk around sections, as well as a dipping platform.

Meanwhile the Friends group will pay for seating, marginal planting, shrubs and trees.

Chairman Margaret Stainsby said: “The lake did fall into some neglect and you couldn’t really tell where the water ended or started so it was a little bit of a danger, but we hope that with the work that has taken place the quality of the water will improve and we will start to see more wildlife.

“There is more frogspawn visible this year and there are cyclops and waterfleas. You have to start at the bottom of the food chain to attract the other wildlife.

“We hope to open up the lake to the public because it is very difficult to get to at the moment and if we get the grant we hope it will become a relaxing, nice lake and a different place to visit in the park.”

The Friends group was formed in November 2005 to improve the appearance of the area, encourage and support local wildlife, create a living landscape and enrich the experience of park users.

The organisation now boasts more than 250 members, with subscriptions helping to pay for its environmental work, and it continues to develop new attractions and enhance the park in keeping with its character.

In the last year there was a professional survey of the meadow, which was created in 2008, and members have decided to extend it to blend more naturally into its surroundings, raising wildflower plants from local seed and obtaining others from Northumberland farms.

The meadow is serving as an important habitat for insects, voles, shrews, field mice, frogs, bees and butterflies.

And in recent months a more unusual visitor has been spotted along the park’s riverbank — an otter.

There have been five reported sightings in the last two months and it is hoped that many more will follow.

Other park residents include heron, dippers, great spotted woodpecker, treecreeper, bullfinch and nuthatch, and the original seven installed nest boxes have been increased to 12, with the Friends hoping to add more this year.

The group will use boxes created by children at the Party in the Park event and they will be painted green so the youngsters can recognise their own creations.

More bat boxes will also be erected and the FOPP plan to hold ‘bat nights’ when members can try out recently purchased bat detectors.

Local Scouts have already sampled the equipment and discovered that the park boasts both soprano and common pipistrelle bats.

Owl boxes may also be put up and red squirrel conservation is supported.

An ongoing long-term project for the group has been the removal of Himalayan Balsam, with members spending four years on the task, but now it is showing rewards as the plant has almost disappeared from the river banks, both in the park and neighbouring areas.

Work continues to plant native daffodils in the meadow and members turned out in force to help create a Marie Curie Garden of Hope on the bank between Waitrose and the Memorial car park.

The group spent a full day in the autumn planting 4,500 daffodil bulbs, with 10 sacks bought by Ponteland Town Council and six by the FOPP.

The Rev Peter Barham from St Mary’s Church blessed the site.

Margaret said: “We are hoping that like FOPP more people will go green in looking after their environment — the rewards are immeasurable.

“We want to encourage youngsters to leave their laptops and go out and explore the local countryside and discover the wonders of our native wildlife.”