Nature and nurture: the benefits volunteering at Friends of Wollaton Nature Reserve

Words: Caradoc Gayer
Photos: Caradoc Gayer
Wednesday 15 May 2024
reading time: min, words

Within Nottingham’s large catalogue of green spaces, Martin’s Pond, Harrison’s Plantation and Raleigh Pond are three hidden gems tucked away five minutes’ walk from Wollaton Park. In 1976, these sites were collectively recognised as Nottingham’s first Local Nature Reserve. To learn more about this tranquil locale we spoke to the couple that head Friends of Wollaton Nature Reserves, the volunteer group which have diligently cared for the reserve since 2003.

Living in Nottingham, it’s sometimes easy to forget about its many verdant green spaces until, by chance, you might encounter one which for decades has enjoyed care and attention from its local community and is all-the-more beautiful today for it. This was my experience in visiting Martin’s Pond, Harrison’s Plantation and Raleigh Pond in Wollaton, three sites that have changed immensely since 1976, when they were jointly recognised as Nottingham’s first Local Nature Reserve.

Wollaton couple, Malcolm and Margaret, 77 and 75, who volunteer at the reserve, illustrated this by showing me a 1960s photo of Martin’s Pond with Nottingham’s industrial skyline visible in the background. The reserve looked completely different to how it does today. “From the entrance gate, you could see as far as the boardwalk and the coal mine,” Malcolm said. “The whole thing was just reed-beds.”

Nowadays, when you walk through the ornate entrance gate into Martin’s Pond, you’re presented with very tall trees which conceal the city-skyline. I visited the site before speaking to Malcolm and Margaret; closing the gate behind me and wandering along the pond banks up to the adjoining river, I couldn’t help but feel that the clichéd idea of forgetting that you’re not in the middle of the countryside, but a city, couldn’t be more applicable here.

This is in thanks to the volunteer group that Malcolm and Margaret partly founded in 2003, Friends of Wollaton Local Nature Reserve. The group primarily meets on the second Saturday of every month for conservation work, with tea, coffee and cake provided for everyone who attends. Some volunteers however will work all-year-round on the odd day, determined to make the three sites as beautiful as they can be.

“At the minute, we’ve got a group of about twenty-people to call on, because there’s always something in-between those work parties that we have to attend to, if we can,” Malcolm said. “Like if a tree has fallen down and blocked the path or if we need to work on the waterfall, at the bottom of the pond.”

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It is very social, and not just hard-work all of the time: that’s a key thing about our group. Keeping the troops happy with tea and coffee

The care and attention of the volunteers was evidenced as I walked away from Martin’s Pond, through the trees and to Harrison’s Plantation, where the paths and hedgerows are meticulously well-kept. Work on this area often involves the removal of invasive species, like rhododendrons and Himalayan Balsam. I then arrived at Raleigh Pond, an expansive body of water which was in the past a clay pit. Here, the biodiversity of the reserve is at its richest: carp, perch, pike, frogs and toads live in-and-around the pond and bats will sometimes fly overhead.

“2006 was the first year that we won a green flag for biodiversity and we got it each year each year since, but we couldn’t get it this year because of the cost,” Margaret explained. When asked about the support they get from the council, the couple reflected that they have always been relatively independent as volunteering organisations go: they can normally afford all of the tools and refreshments they need via the £3 membership fee for Friends of Wollaton.

“Last year we cut down a rhododendron at Raleigh Pond,” Margaret said. “We had to ask permission for that. The council took it all away in big bags. If we need tools, we can ring them up, but we mostly choose what we want to do.”

This wasn’t the case prior to 1950, when fishing rights to the pond were held alternately by a local reverend then by the District Nursing Association, while during the Second World War German and Italian prisoners-of-war were tasked with building a sluice gate on the north side of Martin’s Pond. At this time local people weren’t always free to take care of the site as they saw fit.

“During the 70s, the pond was saved by local people because they were going to fill it in,” Malcolm said. “There was a petition to save it in 1974, and thirty volunteers turned up to clear up the rubbish and such. Then, in ‘76 it was designated a local nature reserve.”

Nowadays, Malcolm and Margaret’s volunteering scheme continues to be an asset for the Wollaton community, providing social opportunities and encouraging gratitude and good-feeling.

“It is very social, and not just hard-work all of the time: that’s a key thing about our group. Keeping the troops happy with tea and coffee,” Malcolm said. “And people always say thank you and appreciate what you’re doing, which is nice,” Margaret adds, showing me a thank-you card from a local which contained a thirty pound donation.

It was clear overall from speaking to the couple, that their work on the reserve was significant of something rare and valuable: decades-long investment by a local community in a green space with a very long history.

“We came here after here in 1977, after all the clearing-up work had been done,” Malcolm reflected, which was demonstrable of their long-term commitment to their custodianship. I was inspired by this and said goodbye to the couple, aiming to return to the reserve, while considering how if everyone tried living in as selfless a way as possible then our green spaces would inevitably be all the better for it.

People interested in joining Friends of Wollaton Local Nature Reserves can inquire via the Facebook group of the same name. For other green space volunteering opportunities around the city, check out

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