A place to get away from it all, enjoy nature and breathe in the fresh air – Cherry Fields

Back in 2011, Cherry Willingham Parish Council undertook consultations to discover people’s aspirations for the village, the results of which showed a clear desire for more greenspace and access to the River Witham. With this in mind, 12 acres of agricultural land was purchased in 2016.

Nigel Hooper, the Vice Chair of the management committee, explains how Cherry Fields was designed with the whole community in mind. “We’ve always tried to think about the entire community from toddlers right through to older people as everyone needs something a little bit different.”

From scramble trails for youngsters to clamber through to the BMX/MTB track and viewing mound for the teens to enjoy, it is a place that can spark the joy of being outdoors into our youth at a time where technology dominates everyday life. “For teenagers it’s somewhere to go and be yourself without anybody looking over your shoulder” says Nigel.We cut a wildflower meadow last autumn and stacked all the grass up with some limbs from willow trees,” Nigel recalls, “and in the winter it was turned into a den – it was huge! It was so impressive and would have taken a lot of work, it was great to see.”

This greenspace isn’t just a place for the younger generations to enjoy though – it is the perfect area to walk your dog, socialise with friends, take some time to yourself or make your way down to the river. “The most popular walk is down to the river, along the riverbank and back.” Nigel explains, “Some people go down there to fish but the new steps and ramp, mean that people of all ages and abilities can now get to the river. Older people in the village who remember swimming there as children and are now able to go back on their mobility scooters, which is great!”

Another aspect that cements this space within the community is the just under 10,000 trees the site boasts. “All of the trees have been planted either by volunteers or on community tree planting days, so there are teenagers who talk about being brought down by their parents five or six years ago as youngsters to plant a tree, and they know which tree they planted – they will point to a tree and say ‘this is my tree!’ and that is so nice to see and gives a sense of ownership.” says Nigel.

People greatly benefit from getting outdoors in ways we all appreciate from the last few years – the space to clear your mind, socialise with other people as well as the health benefits of getting active. At Cherry Fields, there are, of course, other residents who have made the space their home. “We’ve been building habitats from the bottom up.” Nigel describes, “We have planted purely native plants which means that the native insects will feed on those plants, and the small mammals and birds that then feed on them will thrive, so the foxes, badgers, kestrels and hawks that feed on them will come in too. We have the otter family in the river which you can see more and more often as they have become so tame with people using the riverbank. Two families of roe deer and hares are also frequently spotted on the site. Diversity of wildlife is starting to build up and if you take your time and you just look, the number of animals, birds and plants that you can see down there is phenomenal and that has been achieved in just five years, so in another five years it will be even richer.”

“Since the 1950s most of our wildflower meadows, ponds and native woodlands have disappeared. Once common animals are also disappearing, like hedgehogs (down 95%) and toads (down 68%), so being able to restore some areas of habitat locally, even in a small way, is really important. It is also important for young children to take part and to be able to actually get their hands in the earth and in the ponds and just see creatures that they wouldn’t normally encounter.”

The tree and wildflower planting and seed sowing days held over the past few years have brought a large number of families out into the fresh air to enjoy themselves and many friendships have grown as a result. An annual village picnic, with music, children’s games, cycle races, local brewery and stalls has also become a well-attended summer fixture. This year the Platinum Jubilee beacon will be lit in Cherry Fields in June and a special Jubilee picnic held in July.

Historically, this site has, in one way or another, been utilised by people for years and years. Evidence has been found whilst developing the land that people have been there for the last 6000-8000 years. Several flint arrow heads, lots of flint blades, bronze age bones, roman potsherds, medieval pottery, musket balls and coins are just a few of the finds on display at the local library.

It is a real privilege to enjoy spaces such as these in our communities, and the tireless work of volunteers should not be taken for granted, as it is these individuals who ensure these important spaces continue to be around for years to come. With this in mind the Parish Council is working on a long-term management plan for the fields. This should ensure that Cherry Fields continues to be a place to get away from it all, enjoy nature and breathe in the fresh air. What could be better than that?