As we all know, in these straitened times every council in the country is trying to get a gallon out of a pint pot. Bedford is no different. It is grossly understaffed for the work that needs to be done in its many country parks. But it has hit on an answer. And that is to supervise groups who work there on a regular basis as volunteers. This only works as a solution because the volunteers get an enormous kick out of the work. And, fuelled only by tea and biscuits, they keep coming back for more.
I’ve worked on such a gang at Priory Park, and can honestly say that the sessions are educational, hard work, friendly and fun. My fellow volunteers are a mix of exceptionally sociable environmentalists, professionals from all fields though many have links to conservation or horticulture, and retirees who recognise the need to stay active. They are the nicest bunch of people you can meet. And that seems to be par for the course whichever group you want to work with at any park.
With this in mind, right now Bedford’s Hill Rise Nature Reserve (which is near Kempston’s Challenger Academy, next to the cemetery on Foster Hill Road) is urgently seeking new volunteers with carpentry skills to build bird-boxes.
This location is a hidden gem. See www.hillrisenaturereserve.org.uk. In fact the response to a recent appeal for volunteers provided several dozen able and willing workers. But none have carpentry skills. And these are needed to build bird-boxes.
If you can help, or if you know somebody with these skills who would, please contact Shalaine on 07954 386328 or email email@example.com.
If you would like to know in general terms about local opportunities for volunteers then you should contact Katie Lewis who is the Events & Community Engagement Officer within Environment Services at Borough Hall, Cauldwell Street, Bedford MK42 9AP. You can call her on 01234 228759. Or email her using firstname.lastname@example.org
Meanwhile Jon Bishop (Bedford’s Country Park Warden and a man who’s responsible for several sites in the region) is always looking for help from capable volunteers.
Expect hard work that’s certain to burn thousands of calories. So this is a marvellous way to tone up whilst losing some weight. But it’s a bit of a social event too. And it will get you out of the house to make new friends.
If you’re interested in being a Priory Country Park Volunteer (you’ll be amply rewarded in drinks and biscuits) then you can get hold of Jon Bishop by emailing him using email@example.com. Sessions are usually on either the first or the last Sunday of the month (yet are subject to change, so check first) and the meeting-point is the park ranger’s compound behind the Cloverdale Retreat café. But the next session is due on Sunday 27th October. The one after that will be on Sunday 24th November. Volunteers will meet at 9.30am for a 10.00am start. And, if you cannot get away on a Sunday or you’re a glutton for punishment, other opportunities are available during the week.
Hops are one of the many crops you are allowed to forage, within reason, at Bedford’s parks. Since beer is made from just water, a glutinous grain (which is most commonly malted wheat or barley), yeast and hops, then foragers are getting an important constituent for free. Hops are easy to pick too. (You don’t need many; only 2 ounces or 50 grams for every 5 gallons of beer you make. So please don’t take more than you need!) You may be able to find barley too. And this would all be a great hands-on education for your kids.
Wild barley and hops abound at Priory Park. And nobody minds if you pick them for your own consumption.
Autumn sees crops of rose hips. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re what is termed the ‘secondary fruit’ of roses. And that includes wild roses. So you’ll find them all over Priory Park but everywhere else too.
‘What on earth can you do with them?’ you might ask. Well the answer is ‘lots’. Rose hips are very rich in vitamin C and the most famous constituent of rose hip syrup, which was a staple pick-me-up for kids for decades alongside buttercup syrup (which is delicious) and cod liver oil (which isn’t). Vitamin C, of course, is good for staving off colds and influenza. And, if you get one of these viruses, vitamin C will help you to rid yourself of the illness a little sooner.
In any event rose hip syrup tastes pretty good and will boost your immune system, help you heal, and improve all sorts of things. Vitamin C stops us from getting scurvy, prevents fatigue and depression as well as connective tissue problems such as gingivitis (a gum disease), petechiae (blood spots), rashes, internal bleeding and impaired wound-healing (so vitamin C helps us to combat bacteria as well as viruses).
Rose hips can likewise be used to make tea jelly and wine. Though they’ve also been used in soup, beverages, pies, marmalade and bread. Apparently the Swedes think rose hip soup is great. But, if IKEA is any guide, they think meatballs are too.
It’s easy to make rose hip syrup. Collect the rose hips first. Squishy is good. They should be easy to pull off the stem. But watch out for the thorns and remember these are on wild roses. Wash them if you’re wussy. Then, anyway, boil them up with some water for maybe 20 mins or so. Try to macerate them with a potato-masher; if they are soft enough you can pulp them. If not give them a bit longer on the boil. Then strain the gloop through a sieve. You may find that the underside of a ladle is the ideal way to force the gloop through. It is important to lose the white seeds in the centre. One suspects these can cause anaphylactic shock. Certainly dust from rose hips has caused such problems for production workers. But it seems like, once the seeds are removed, the gloop is safe and the resultant product is well worth the time and effort. Then add a little sugar to taste, though what you have should be sweet anyway. Leave that to cool before you store it in a bottle in the fridge. Shake before use. Just a spoonful will do you wonders!
It’s pretty much the same process. With the potential to create some amazing wine for about 20p a bottle. But you need a good kilo of fruit (excluding the waste) for every gallon you make. And a kilo of sugar. All that would normally go into a proper fermentation vessel, sterilised for the purpose (with something like a kit for babies’ bottles). And an air-lock. But actually you can just use a cooking-pot with a lid as long as it has a breathing-hole. The pressure of the escaping gas should keep the bugs out. Yet you need some dried yeast too. For that I’d recommend you try The Happy Brewer (see www.thehappybrewer.com) because they’re pretty local (now relocated near the Black Cat roundabout on the A1).
Anyone who regularly visits Bedford’s parks will realise that they’re treasure-troves for those who like to pick fruit, and that’s something which families love to do together.
Michaelmas has come and gone (it was 29th September; it always is) so country lore says that one should forget blackberries. We’ve had no frost yet, so there may be some around even now. But if you’ve seen any then you have better eyes than me.
The blackthorn sloes are looking good (though you’re supposed to wait until after there’s a frost). So you can think about making sloe gin (pierce each one just once with a pin and add sugar – with almond essence – to a bottle of dry gin; what could be easier?) And there are the odd nuts around too.
Most fungi arrive after a frost. We’ve had one and it’s been damp. And you’ll find them usually, on the edges of forested areas. Remember, though, if you’re foraging, that what looks like an edible mushroom may be poisonous. You need to be an expert to be able to make a positive identification.
Lots of people go looking for famous mushrooms such as the chanterelle. Unfortunately edible and non-edible species are often easily confused. So people will, for example, think they have found a chanterelle when in fact they have a cortinarius speciosissimus. And those destroy the liver, kidneys and spine.
Actually the death cap kills 90% of those who die from ‘mushroom’ poisoning in Britain. Apparently it gives you what is akin to dysentery, then lets you feel better before it moves in for the kill. That’s almost sadistic though, curiously, scientists now know that fungi have DNA that is far more like human DNA than it is like that of plants. This curious overlap of DNA may explain their potential danger to us.
This isn’t scaremongering. I used to work with an Italian who lost several members of his family during WW2 when a single poisonous plant went into a cooking-pot by accident. The only person to survive was very very ill. And they’d not eaten the meat of the fungi, just drunk a little of its juice.