Last month we took a trip to Frome to visit the Rodden Brook Nature Reserve, designed by Novell Tullett in 2004 with the dual purpose of flood mitigation and habitat creation. The site is on the eastern edge of Frome, Somerset, where the Rodden meets the River Frome and forms part of the town’s flood attenuation strategy.
The nature reserve is a naturalistic landscape and includes open water, vegetated marginal wetlands, scrub woodland and wildflower grassland. This diversity of habitat supports a variety of fish, amphibians, insects, birds and small mammals and the reserve has been designated a Local Wildlife Site by Mendip District Council because of the biodiversity recorded there. The reserve is divided into two areas, to provide a wildlife refuge and protect breeding species only one area is open to the public, seasonally. When the site itself is not accessible, during the breeding season, the wildlife can be observed from a living willow viewing screen in the neighbouring meadow, or the road bridge which divides the site.
Frome Area Wildlife Group (FAWG), a group of naturalists and volunteers manage the site, funded by the neighbouring ASDA store as part of a S106 planning agreement. They also monitor and record the species which use the reserve. We had a guided tour with two members of FAWG who were able to give us useful insights into the development of the landscape over the last 16 years. For example, the vigorous growth of reeds (Phragmites australis) in the marginal areas encroach on the open water habitat. Therefore, the ponds require regular digging out every few years to retain the depth lost to the natural silting process as sediment washes in from upstream. However, in another situation the same vegetation growth has been acting as a pollution filter and has successfully protected the wetlands from toxic spillages which have affected the river upstream. It is this balance which makes landscape design a puzzle of moving parts and the reason we always welcome site visits as an opportunity to learn!
The nature reserve is wetland frozen in time to perform its task as a sponge and protect Frome from flood water. Left to its own devices the system would naturally balance, becoming a wet woodland. As a flood amelioration zone it would not be effective without FAWG maintaining its current characteristics and is a prime example of how management is necessary to achieve landscape objectives. It also highlights the added value of a landscape to a community involved in its care and maintenance. Places in which you can get hands on and interact with nature are sadly few and far between, yet as we have increasingly seen and felt lately are incredibly important to our health and wellbeing. While this is a place for all local people to connect with nature, and is popular with joggers and photographers alike, those who invest their time in the extra responsibility of management really benefit and find their involvement even more rewarding. In the case of Rodden, management is funded by the supermarket whose construction went hand in hand with its development. However, the governance principle of community involvement in management and maintenance can be applied in many other situations, from city parks to residential shared space, and with the right balance of professional skill and volunteer energy can be a mutually beneficial and sustainable setup.
This was our first in person meeting as a complete team since Covid-19 restrictions were introduced, with the added bonus of getting to know some of the users of our landscapes, which is always nice! In these times particularly, the perfect location for a distanced get together!