The Jim Mansbridge Wildlife Area is in the north-east corner of the Alric Avenue Allotmants site. To find it, turn left in front of the car park on entry from Cambridge Avenue.
The area was named after a stalwart of Alric Allotments who died in 2007, aged 90, having only given up his plot (very reluctantly) the previous year. Jim's father was one of the original tenants when the site started in 1922, and Jim and his sisters often accompanied their father to the allotments. When Jim grew up he had his own plot (no 23) and then he moved to his father's allotment (no 24) after the latter's death. Jim was always around when there were jobs to be done, and helped with working parties well into his 80s. He also had a wicked sense of humour, remarks delivered with the straightest of faces, and his plot was immaculate almost to the last. We miss him!
The committee named the wildlife area just before Jim died, and it made him very proud to know he had this memorial.
The wildlife area dates from 1994, when the committee agreed to use plots 21, 22 and 23 as a wildlife area. They had proved unlettable for several years as they tended to flood each time there was heavy rain, and this also made them unsuitable for "housekeeping" functions, such as car parking or manure deliveries.
The design is for a core 'jungle' area of bramble scrub, with some trees, as a habitat for wildlife to live undisturbed. This is bordered by a managed strip adjoining the path, containing mostly native shrubs and trees, and a managed area to the front incorporating a pond, a grassy mini-meadow and some planted areas, with a bird feeder and birdbath.
Quite a lot of energy was put into clearing the managed parts and digging, lining and filling the pond. Kingston Council kindly gave us a grant for the pond liner. The Council's Environment Officer (alas, a victim of subsequent cuts) put us in touch with the International Tree Foundation which provided shrubs and trees for the strip, and helped with their planting.
Other items have turned up to fill the gaps: several buddleias; a honeysuckle layered from a member's garden; a crab apple given in memory of a friend's partner; and the 'yoghurt trees' - a rowan and birch, which came as freebies with vouchers from yoghurt-eating friends.
The plants in the strip have flourished and grown, so they have virtually joined up into a mixed hedge, with a variety of flowers and fruits in their season. The initial intention was to have wild flower plantings but these did not thrive, so the front part has evolved to include various plants, including:
• some self-seeded elsewhere and transplanted, such as aquilegias, feverfew, forget-me-nots and poached egg flowers
• some grown as extras from members' own ornamental sowings, including wallflowers, pansies and alyssum
• green manure plants, such as phacelia and crimson clover which are left to flower and attract insects.
Why the reserve is important
The area's main role is to provide a haven for wildlife. This is ever more necessary now our site has (fortunately!) lost the overgrown plots which were a feature as recently as 10 years ago.
Foxes certainly frequent the area, and the neighbouring golf course has badgers who probably stray into our site at night.
The 'jungle' provides living and hibernating opportunities for frogs, toads, newts, slow-worms and perhaps hedgehogs. The flowering plants attract butterflies and other insects - many of them beneficial, such as hoverflies whose larvae eat aphids - and some produce berries which provide a valuable food source for birds. Frogs and toads appear in the pond in spring to mate and produce spawn, and then disperse around the site to (we hope) feast on slugs, and dragonflies can be seen mating in flight over the pond in summer.
The birdfood attracts a variety of birds; these are mostly great tits, bluetits and sparrows but greenfinches, goldfinches and great spotted woodpeckers turn up now and then. The taller trees provide nest sites and perches for songbirds such as thrushes, blackbirds and the very pushy robins which appear as soon as one puts fork to ground.
A learning opportunity
The other function of the wildlife area is to provide interest and visual pleasure for plotholders, so why not come along and see for yourselves, and bring your children or grandchildren? (We recommend supervision of children for safety reasons, especially near the pond.)
Each year we invite children from local schools, guide and scout groups and other organisations to visit the site, and this is a popular stop in their travels. Children love to spot the wildlife around the reserve. But please don't take any of our spawn or tadpoles home because these will grow into our next generation of frogs and toads. (If you are worried about the tadpoles because of low water levels in the pond, please tell a member of the committee, or feel free to add a bucket of water or two from one of the nearby water tanks.)
In 2017 a shallow culvert was dug along the northern boundary line of the Nature Reserve, to alleviate the flooding that was common in the wetter months. This seems to have reduced the frequency and duration of flooding, and we have a long-term objective to continue the culvert along the full length of the southern boundary. The water drains eastward, across the edge of the golf course towards the A3, and eventually making its way into Beverley Brook, through Richmond Park, and into the River Thames.
Photo courtesy of John Streeter
"Jim was a great personal friend of mine, both of us having the common working experience of having served out ‘time’ as police officers – in Jim’s case the British Transport Police and in mine the Metropolitan Police. We spent many happy gardening hours discussing our respective experiences in addition to putting the world to rights while enjoying the odd tipple."
"I took this photo of Jim during one of our working parties some years ago which shows him in typical pose which will doubtless be remembered by many still active on the site. "
In Spring the guelder roses, crab apple and juneberry provide a good show of blossom, as well as daffodils and celandines behind the pond. Later on there are hawthorns, apple trees and a huge wild rose. The green manures and buddleias come into their own in Summer when the dragonflies are also visitors worth seeing. Berries are a colourful feature in Autumn, notably the spectacular guelder roses and rose hips. So put a visit to the wildlife area on your to-do list.