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When I joined The Royal Parks seven and a half years ago, the majority of our budget was provided by the Government, today that has significantly reduced but across The Royal Parks we have managed to gain funding from a variety of sources to continue valuable improvements.

In Richmond Park Robin Hood and Pembroke Lodge car park are undergoing renovation, a new access path and bridge over the Beverley Brook will soon open. A new club house for the golf course opened last week (after 15 years of planning!). All of the parks' road gates and toilets have been refurbished and the tree guards, benches and road posts are undergoing some much needed attention.

We were very fortunate to secure £1.5 million from The Heritage Lottery Fund and BIG Lottery Fund for the work at Isabella Plantation, which has moved on a pace with the restoration of the three ponds. On May 5th, in partnership with the Holly Lodge Centre we will be running a free minibus service from Ham Common to Isabella Plantation so visitors can see the improvements for themselves.

I am delighted that conservation projects have also been included in this winters work programme with nearly 4 hectares of rhododendron removal and two new fences being completed in Sidmouth woods, funded by the Forestry Commission. The Friends of Richmond Park have funded a new ditch and pond near Robin Hood Gate and the parks' horse riders have all clubbed together to help fund the restoration of the bridleways - true community spirit in these times of austerity. I have also felt heartened through this long winter by our new Shire horse contractors who have worked voluntarily to harrow bracken dominated areas, horse rides and hay meadows.

At last the busy winter work programme is nearing completion and the weather has finally turned summery. The parks wildlife has now declared that spring is finally here and celebrating the warmer weather. Last week I met with the Bat Conservation Trust to test some new bat monitoring equipment and in a little over half an hour we recorded about 30 bats of five different species. At one point I had around eight bats circling my head and over 10 toads croaking at my feet as they migrated to the Pen Ponds to breed.

Frogs and toads tried to emerge from hibernation during a couple of warm days in March but only a few spawned, with the rest being delayed until mid-April. The parks ponds are now abundant with tiny tadpoles and the herons have grown fat as they binge eat on their amphibious treat for a few days.

The gorse flowers in the north of the park fill the air with a heavy scent of coconut - which apparently some people can smell and some people can't, I'm always reminded of the old country saying that 'when gorse is out of bloom, kissing's out of season' - because it actually flowers a little all year round!

In February I found the familiar trails of grass across the park where badgers have 'backwards rolled' balls of dried grass bedding to their setts. They will now be nursing young deep underground. I'm also becoming increasingly aware tawny owls in the park near the lodge where I live (I know I'm very, very lucky). There appears to be one calling to the south and another to the north so in my insomnia I seem to be dividing two owls making territory or courtship calls.

I also do voluntary work for three conservation organisations and last week I took care of a common pipestrelle bat that wasn't able to build up enough fat reserves during last year's wet summer to survive the long winter. We humans have had to endure a long cold winter, but I'm reminded that for much of our native wildlife it's been really tough and the nature conservation value of reserves like Richmond Park is so important to help the natural populations ride through the good and bad years. I guess we are all looking forward to a long, hot summer!



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