Volunteers needed for memorial nature reserve

Steve Parnwell with grass snake

Steve Parnwell - with grass snake - Credit: David Chandler

Volunteers with an eye for nature are being sought to help out with a reserve set up as a memorial to an ecologist who died in a road accident.

Work at Madeleine’s Patch, near Warboys, has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic but now restrictions are being lifted there is an opportunity for getting involved in all aspects of the reserve, ranging from helping to maintain the site through to surveying the wildlife and plants which can be found there.

The reserve was set up as a tribute by the family of Madeleine Parnwell, 68, who died in December 2017, when her car left Puddock Road and ran into a waterway as she returned to her home in the village.

She worked in an ecology business with her husband of more than 40 years Steve, a retired senior police officer with the Cambridgeshire force.

Madeleine’s Patch was created by her family who wanted to create a living tribute to her which reflected her love of the countryside and the things which lived in it.

Steve said: “It has been a great success so far, but we do need more volunteers to assist with things like fundraising, staffing stalls, acting as marshals on open days, practical work on the site, carrying out surveys and it could help young people with an interest in ecology in their studies.

“Physical work also means it is a ‘green gym’ where volunteers can work with like-minded, friendly people.”

He added: “We would be pleased to welcome anybody who wanted to help in any way, shape or form.”
Steve, who has had a lifelong interest in nature and as a Chief Superintendent was the country’s most senior police wildlife liaison officer, said neighbouring landowners had been planting hedges in support and that the project had been working with a local photographic club, a dementia group and the Greener Futures group in Warboys.

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He said he hoped the reserve would be able to expand in future and form part of a series of interconnected “green islands” which would enable wildlife to move between them in safety.

“The vision, beyond my lifetime, would be to see green channels linking Madeleine’s patch to the Great Fen and to Wicken Fen in the east,” Steve said.

He said they were keen to develop habitats for insects which were under threat from a range of environmental problems, adding: “Without the insects you don’t have the bottom of the food chain.”
Steve said business was also going well at their ecological consultancy Greenwillows Associates, despite the impact of the pandemic. It is based at the former smallholding where Steve and Madeleine started a self-sufficiency project. 

Cambridgeshire County Council is considering safety improvements on Puddock Road, an accident blackspot which has claimed the lives of a number of drivers and their passengers, including a spate of fatalities around the time when Mrs Parnwell died.

A coroner also raised concerns about the safety of the road, saying that closing the road would bring “significant issues” and that safety barriers seemed the most logical option.

Steve said that despite his personal tragedy, and that of other grieving families, he did not think it was practical to install safety barriers along the many miles of rural roads which ran alongside waterways.

“For specific blackspots installing some safety barriers would be reasonable, I think,” he said. “Reducing the speed limit could possibly help, although there was no suggestion my wife was speeding.”

He was not in favour of proposals to restrict traffic flows along the road because it was a key route across the fens and restrictions could cause significant inconvenience to many local people. 
Steve said the nature of the fen soil, which was prone to move, also meant the roads were difficult to maintain.

“The question is how many deaths do you need to make it a statistical imperative,” he said.

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