Wild Amersham Explained

Wild Amersham is a group within Sustainable Amersham set up by local people who care about the natural world and want to act to make a difference. To know more about who they are and what they do to encourage others to enjoy, learn about and support local nature, read the article written by its team lead Marieke Bosman for the Society’s May 2024 Newsletter.

The wildlife meadow at St. Mary's school
The wildlife meadow at St. Mary’s school


‘Nature is not a place to visit. It is home’. Gary Snyder

When I first made Amersham home I was enchanted by its nature.To walk from my front door into a lovely beech wood, through green fields or across a burbling chalk river was just magical. Yet, over time, I realised that Amersham was not quite as green as I imagined. Like much of the UK, healthy, wild habitats are rare, even in Amersham. Much of our local land is covered by busy roads and sprawling buildings. Those green fields are not nature but monoculture farmland sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. Most of our parks, sports fields, road verges and private gardens are mown and tidied so much that wildlife struggles to find shelter or food. Our woodlands are intensively used by humans and grazed by too many deer, and our rivers polluted by effluent and sewage. Climate change is not helping.

‘We forget, in a world completely transformed by man, that what we’re looking at is not necessarily the environment wildlife prefer, but the depleted remnant that wildlife is having to cope with: what is has it not necessarily what it wants’. Isabella Tree

The global outlook for biodiversity is grim. The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world, and Amersham is not spared. For many people this is so overwhelmingly that they feel any effort is futile. I often feel downcast, but it’s still worth trying to make a difference, and I was sure there were others in Amersham who felt the same way. In November 2021 I suggested to the Amersham Allotment Association that we set up a biodiversity group. A small number of enthusiastic fellow allotment holders met to brainstorm ideas and eventually decided to become an Amersham-wide group named ‘Wild Amersham’. Our key aim was to enable everyone to help make Amersham richer and healthier in biodiversity, but how?

We did not want to reinvent the wheel but benefit from the experience and knowledge of existing community organisations. So rather than setting up a new entity, we joined Sustainable Amersham, closest to us in our objectives and flexible enough to host us as a new group. In addition, we developed good working relationships with many other local organisations, including the Amersham Band, St Mary’s School, Amersham Hospital, the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT), Amersham Town Council, Amersham Community Board, the Chiltern Society, Work Aid, a local tree surgeon, Tesco, Amersham in Bloom, a photographer and many more.

‘We should be rebuilding biodiversity wherever and however we can. Sometimes this is as simple as giving plants and animals the space they need to succeed.’ David Attenborough

Our key objective is to enhance and regenerate biodiversity in Amersham – in other words, to make space for nature. We do not plan to turn Amersham into a wilderness but with every bodies help we can create more locations to host wildlife? This could be as simple as people putting up nest boxes in their gardens, a hole in their fence for hedgehogs, or leaving part of their lawn unmown. So we were delighted when three organisations with larger pieces of land approached us to create three sizeable ‘habitat projects’.

Scything at Amersham Band
Scything at Amersham Band

Amersham Band, which dates back to 1845, was recently given the lease of an overgrown field on the corner of Rectory Hill and School Lane to (sustainably) build a Band Hall. The Band approached us to ask for our help in managing the rest of the site for nature. The land is chalk meadow surrounded by shrub, both of which can be very rich in biodiversity. We approached BBOWT and the Community Board for funding and advice. Together with committed Band volunteers, we held a range of nature events. We now manage the meadow and native hedge and monitor species and have already recorded some 85 species of plants and shrubs, as well as many birds and insects. A grass snake slithered away when we were scything the meadow: one of the reasons why machine mowing is not great for biodiversity!

St Mary’s School heard about the work at the Band site and asked us to help it create a wildflower meadow with a heritage orchard as part of its 150th anniversary last year. The land is part of the same chalk meadow as the Band site, but was ploughed, put to grass and used as a playing field which was mown weekly. With support from BBOWT, we set to work. It was wonderful to see what can happen if you give nature a chance: within weeks of simply not mowing the field a stunning meadow with buzzing insects and rare butterflies appeared along with some 60 species of native wildflowers.

More recently we were contacted by Amersham Hospital. A group of active volunteers had turned the Hospital’s neglected gardens into a haven of peace. The Hospital asked if we could now help turn its lawns into wildflower meadows. The project is well underway and we are also introducing other wildlife features, such as nest boxes and bug hotels.

We are ecstatic to have already created so much space for nature in Amersham, and grateful to all our partners and volunteers who have helped to make it happen.

‘To reconnect with nature is key if we want to save the planet.’‘Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved.’ Jane Goodall

The dawn chorus walk
The dawn chorus walk

Restoring biodiversity in Amersham is obviously our main aim. But are local people aware of what is so special about Chiltern wildlife, and what threats it faces? So we made it a part of our mission to organise events that encourage local people to enjoy and learn more about nature in Amersham. We started in May 2023 with a Dawn Chorus Walk. 30 people met at 5am to listen to spring bird melodies in Rectory and Hervines woods. It worked: people raved about the walk and what they learned. Since then we have organised some twenty events for children and adults. We have given a workshop on wildflower identification; constructed nest boxes with children; held a talk about the Misbourne; run a seed swap; trained volunteers in scything, and much more. The events are led by local experts and well attended by enthusiastic local residents. We know we are doing the right thing when children peer at a plant or insect with great fascination; people say ‘I learned so much today’ or tell us later what bird they heard in their garden or what changes they have made at home to welcome nature.

We would of course like to know whether all our work is, well, working – so we also monitor species in the three habitats (and at Pondwicks). Together with the Bucks Amphibian and Reptile Group, we’ve put down refugia (mats our cold-blooded friends like to shelter under) to monitor their presence or absence. Meanwhile, trained volunteers are surveying wildflowers, and we are also developing ways to monitor birds and insects. One of our supporters is working on a habitat map covering the Amersham area that will hopefully encourage local residents to record species they see.

It is not a bad ‘natural history’ for Wild Amersham’s first two years. We now have an enthusiastic group of volunteers, supportive partners, three habitat projects, well attended regular events and some 85 people receive our newsletter. To carry on and hopefully grow we need more volunteers with time and skills as well as supporters and partners who bring can ideas, contacts and enthusiasm.

If you are interested in finding out more, perhaps attending an event, or signing up to our newsletter or volunteering with us on an occasional or regular basis please email wildamersham@gmail.com.

Will Wild Amersham, a small group, turn the tide of biodiversity loss? I don’t know. I do agree with Jane Goodall though that ‘you cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.’ As Wild Amersham, we decided to make that difference by bringing our community together to enjoy and make space for nature. Seeing the results we are making together in our community, not only inspires us with hope but also brings such joy.

‘Is it necessary to say any more? Have you heard the goldfinches singing in the wind, above the final fields? Have you ever been so happy in your life?’ Extract from ‘Goldfinches’ by Mary Oliver

Marieke Bosman *
Wild Amersham @ Sustainable Amersham

May 2024 Newsletter

* Marieke is Dutch and studied Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies at SOAS. She spent her career making grants to and advising aid programmes for children and civil society in the Levant. She has lived in Syria, Palestine and Egypt. Over the past few years Marieke has volunteered for nature organisations in the Chilterns and paints wildflowers as @mrsbloem. Marieke lives in Old Amersham with her husband Adrian.