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Our big art project

Meet Kathryn Parsons (pictured), Langdyke’s Artist in Residence – appointed to use her skills to bring a bit of colour to the Trust’s 20th birthday celebrations .

We asked her some questions about her new role. These are her
answers …

Q: How did the idea for the project come about?
A: The initial idea for Langdyke Stories grew out of a conversation with Richard Astle last autumn.  Langdyke has a long history of working with artists, and having ‘artists in residence’.  I was asked whether I might be interested – I said yes straight away!  The next step was to come up with some ideas to Langdyke’s Trustees and Committee.
It felt important to me to involve as many people as possible – Langdyke is all about people coming together to make things happen, and art can be a great way to reach people and help them connect with nature and each other.  That’s where the idea for a community art project came from.  I knew that community projects, where you’re working with lots of different groups, can be complex to manage so I suggested we talk to Sam Roddan of Art Pop-Up, who has a great deal of experience running highly successful art projects.  Happily Art Pop-Up agreed to take on the project, and so “Langdyke Stories” was born, with Art Pop-Up, Langdyke and me working in close collaboration. 

Q: How are things going?
A: The community artwork is now well underway, and in all we’ll be working with 300 people from our local community. Each person is going to create their own miniature artwork inspired by Langdyke’s nature and heritage.  These beautiful gems will be joined together and displayed at the 20th anniversary celebrations.  We’re using paper that has been coloured using a technique called eco-printing, using leaves from the Langdyke reserves to infuse the paper with colour …. I wanted to use eco-printing because of the gentle, relatively eco-friendly processes involved.
Langdyke Stories includes other elements too – we’ve launched a community history project, called The Museum of Objects. Also as Langdyke’s Artist in Residence I’m creating my own artworks for display at the celebrations, and Art Pop-Up will be publishing a beautiful souvenir Langdyke Stories anniversary book for Langdyke.  The book will be published in time for the September Langdyke Stories Celebration and annual meeting in Castor on September 13, and everyone that has contributed to the artwork will receive their own free copy.

Q: Where did the funding come from?
A:  Art Pop-Up secured the funding for the project from the Peterborough Community Fund and Athene Communications.  We’re very grateful to these organisations, and delighted to be able to say that this sponsorship and funding means that this project is not drawing on Langdyke funds.

Q: What are the main aims?
A: At the heart of Langdyke Stories is a desire to spread the news of Langdyke’s work to protect and nurture our local wildlife and heritage in a different, fun and enjoyable way.  The art workshops and the Museum of Objects are giving us opportunities to talk with local people about what Langdyke has achieved over the last 20 years.  We hope more people will become involved by visiting Langdyke’s reserves, coming to events and joining in work parties, becoming part of the Langdyke ‘family’, and that connections within the local community will be strengthened as a result.  Art activities are also a really good way for people to connect with the natural world, and that’s something very precious, especially these days.  We want Langdyke Stories to begin or reinforce people’s connection with Langdyke and the nature reserves, and for those connections to grow and flourish in the future.


Q: How will Langdyke Stories work?

A: Sam Roddan of Art Pop-Up is leading the project, in close collaboration with Langdyke.  As well as managing the project, Sam, who is an artist herself, will also be designing and publishing the Langdyke Stories book. I will be delivering the workshops as well as creating my own artworks that celebrate Langdyke’s stories – the people, plants, wildlife and heritage.  Art Pop-Up will also be running free artist-led workshops for visitors to Langdyke’s summer festival on 29th June.
The Museum of Objects is being led by one of Langdyke’s Trustees, David Cowcill. It was his magnificent idea, and he will be working with a small team of volunteers.
We have already put out a call for beautiful images of Langdyke’s landscape, people and nature – so if you have a photograph that you’d like to have considered for the book please email it to submissions@artpopup.co.uk

Q: How will the Museum of Objects work?

A: We’re inviting people to think of an object that says something about their connection with our local countryside, and bring it along to the Family Fun Day on June 29 , or the Peterborough Heritage Festival.  We’ll photograph the objects and collect the stories.  A small team will then choose their ‘top 10’ stories for inclusion in the Langdyke Stories book.
It feels to me that this part of the project links well with the work of Langdyke’s Heritage and Archaeology Group – they find out about historic connections with Langdyke countryside through the objects that they find…. and the Museum of Objects will do the same only without first having to bury the things for 100s of years!

Q: What will success look like?

A: Success will be.… more people that have heard of Langdyke, more people coming to events, visiting reserves and getting involved in Langdyke.  There will also be a legacy of groups coming together – new contacts being made because so many groups are working together, sometime for the first time…. and also a richer knowledge of our local countryside, its heritage and wildlife.

Q: What are the main events?
A:  Workshops are already underway with community groups.
At the Peterborough Heritage Festival we’ll be taking over Vivacity’s Unit in Queensgate (opposite McDonalds), with a drop-in Langdyke Stories workshop, poets reciting local-landscape-related poems, Langdyke information and an opportunity for people to bring along an object to be photographed for the Museum of Objects.
Other events include:
June 29 2-5pm – Langdyke’s Family Fun Day at Etton-Maxey – load happening as described before
September 13 Langdyke Stories Celebration and annual meeting in Castor will bring together all the artworks created this year, as well as all that Langdyke is planning with a line up of great speakers

Q: What’s happening at the open day?
A: It’ll be fun!  The community artwork will be displayed and visitors will have the opportunity to add to it, for display at the September Celebration.  Art Pop-Up are running free artist-led workshops, there will also be pond dipping, bug hunting, nature treasure hunts etc… all activities are for grownups as well as children!

Q: What’s happening at the Langdfyke Stories celebration and annual meeting event?
A: There will be an exhibition of the artworks created during the residency and Langdyke Stories project, free art workshops As well as talks by a host of eminent speakers.

Q: Tell us a little but about yourself and Art Pop-Up
A: From childhood I have always created and loved exploring different materials and techniques, finding out what they can do – from lace making to silversmithing, sugarcraft to printmaking.  I started off as a teacher in Primary then Further education, and eventually realised that although I still loved teaching, I wanted to shift my focus to creating my own artwork – using different materials and techniques to tell the stories that catch my attention and draw me in.  Usually my focus is on the small details of nature and the history of places – the people, plants and wildlife.  I suppose that’s why being Langdyke’s Artist in Residence resonates so deeply with me.  I’ve been a volunteer with the Trust for about 3 years now (I can’t remember exactly), and it’s a delight for me to be able to use my art to share the stories of how precious this area and this organisation are… to have the opportunity to share with other people some of stories about the rich wildlife and heritage that that Langdyke nurtures

Q: Anything else?
A: erm….. not that I can think of …

Two big birthday events

Plans for Langdyke’s 20th birthday celebrations later this year are progressing well.

The celebration programme includes a series of events designed to appeal to anyone who has an interest in the countryside around where they live.

And many of the happenings are aimed directly at giving the whole family a chance to enjoy time together in the countryside.

The highlight of the programme is a 20th anniversary weekend of events over the weekend of Friday, June 28 and Saturday, June 29.

We will be celebrating twenty years of positive local action for nature and heritage at our reserves and in the countryside surrounding them.

On the Friday our celebrations will centre around an evening festival at Torpel Manor Field on the outskirts of Helpston.

Between 6 and 9pm there will be music, poetry and nature and art workshops.  You are encouraged to bring your own picnic and enjoy a summer’s evening (weather permitting!) on a very special site.  The event is free to members with a small charge for non-members.

On the Saturday the fun moves to the Etton Maxey Pits Nature Reserve where between 2pm and 5pm there will be a variety of family events including pond-dipping, bug hunting, art workshops and nature trails. It’s free to members and all children.

More details will be announced soon, so keep watching this site.

What is Langdyke about?

Some observers have commented that Langdyke is an organisation just for bird watchers.  Not so.

The reserves it maintains and events it promotes for members – and non-members – gives everyone the chance to engage with nature in whatever form they want.

Whether it’s a family walk in the countryside, a summer picnic with wildlife, a chance to explore nature close up or the opportunity to burn off some of those calories by joining a countryside working party – there is something on offer for everyone.

Founded in 1999, Langdyke now manages seven nature reserves – a total of 180 acres of land – has more than 300 household members and even its own flock of sheep.

It is a purely voluntary organisation committed to making a difference to the countryside around us all.

Trust chairman Richard Astle, who lives in Helpston, wrote in the recent annual report: “We want to live in an area where nature is at the heart of our lives. Where swifts and swallows are a central feature of our summer evenings, where otters continue to enthral people as they play in the Maxey Cut, where bees and other insects thrive, not decline, and where there are far more, not less, ponds, meadows, wild flowers, hedgerows and trees.”

Although the organisation’s membership is thriving there is always room for more.  Anyone interested in joining can make contact through this website or the Langdyke Facebook page.

There is also the chance to get your hands dirty and make direct contact with nature by joining one of the working parties which meet weekly at Swaddywell and fortnightly at the Etton/Maxey reserves. They involve helping with a variety of tasks (the work isn’t back-breaking), making new friends and having a chat over a cuppa with like-minded people. There are also working events at Castor Hanglands and Barnack Hills and Holes.

You can usually find details of forthcoming working parties on the Langdyke Countryside Trust Facebook page.

Twenty years of Langdyke


It is twenty years since the formation of Langdyke.  Here chairman Richard Astle sets out the many achievements and looks ahead at the future for nature and the trust …


One of the many privileges of living in and around Langdyke country is just how easy it is to wander out into the wonderful countryside that surrounds our villages. 

And for such a small area, that countryside is surprisingly varied.  Residents can enjoy a walk through the woods at Castor Hanglands or along the River Nene near Castor and Ailsworth or by the Maxey Cut in the northern part of our area.  They can visit local nature reserves such as Barnack Hills and Holes or walk through the quiet tree-lined lanes between Marholm and Etton.  There are major wetlands at Bainton and Maxey; limestone meadows at Southorpe and Swaddywell; woodlands across the patch and even some hills (or perhaps slopes) between the Welland and Nene valleys.

But these landscapes – or rather the wildlife that finds its home here – have been under threat for quite some time now. The list of species in steep decline across our area is long and – for nature lovers, and I would hope all local people – both sad and worrying.  Iconic rural birds such as the cuckoo and the turtle dove have disappeared from many areas (I certainly never hear the cuckoo in Helpston anymore). Nationally they have both declined by a staggering 56 per cent and 93 per cent respectively.  Hedgehogs too are increasingly rarely seen – either dead or alive – no surprise when you realise that their population has been cut in half in recent years.  The list goes on – brown hares, down by 80 per cent; swifts (surely the sound of our summers) down by 50per cent; 75per cent of butterfly species are in decline.  

The Langdyke Countryside Trust was founded in 1999 to face up to this catalogue of natural loss and to stop simply worrying about what this meant for our countryside and get on and do something about it. Spurred on by the planning battle over the future of Swaddywell Pit, Helpston, four local residents set up the Trust with the specific intention of reversing decades of habitat and species loss and to celebrate and conserve our natural world and in time, through changes to land management, and greater public awareness, seek to reverse those declines. 

This year the Trust celebrates its 20th anniversary so it is perhaps worth reflecting on what has been achieved in that time and how the work of local people has made such a difference to many local places and indeed to many local people and of course to local wildlife.

Langdyke at 20

As we enter our 21st year, the Trust is flourishing.  It currently manages seven nature reserves in the area, ranging from the 80-acre Etton Maxey Pits to the 2-acre meadow at Marholm Field Bank, by the A47.  It has 120 household membership, runs a flock of  more than 100 sheep and offers it members a variety of weekly events, including work-parties, country walks, training sessions and indoor talks.

Work party volunteers repairing a fence at Etton Maxey

How did this all come about?

For the first six years after its foundation, the Trust owned no land and had no members!  It helped out with local hedge planting and conservation work in churchyards.  It put up nest boxes in Rice Wood, near Helpston and organised nature walks for its small band of supporters. 

That period all changed in 2005 when the Trust opened its first reserve at Swaddywell Pit, Helpston.  Swaddywell is a very special place – the subject of two of John Clare’s poems it was listed in Sir Charles Rothschild’s famous 1912 list of key places for nature across the country, along with the Thames Estuary and St Kilda. In 1915 it became one of the first nature reserves in the UK.  Since then it had reverted to quarrying and ended up in the 1980s as a landfill site and then a VW racetrack. But when plans for the racetrack were thwarted by local opposition, the Trust stepped in and after many years of negotiation, bought the land off its previous owners and set up its first reserve – at that time a rather barren and waste strewn location, unloved for far too long.

Today Swaddywell is once again special – a place a place of calm and tranquillity, full of flowers and butterflies in the summer and wetland and farmland birds throughout the year. Every week a determined and passionate team of volunteers gather on the reserve and, together with a resident flock of Hebridean and Soay sheep, manage the site for nature and for people. 

After that the Trust’s reserves and work plans accelerated rapidly.  In 2009 we bought Torpel Manor Field at the end of West Street, Helpston (although actually in Bainton parish) and started work on an ambitious project to unlock the secrets of this historic site, the location of a Norman manor house and medieval hamlet.  A Heritage Lottery grant allowed us to create a visitor cabin and static and on-line exhibition and to take forward a detailed project with the University of York, which culminated in the publication of a book about the site. Many local people were involved, learning how to conduct geophysical surveys and take part in field walks and digs pits to discover the historic treasures beneath the ground. And we celebrated with summer festivals, full of music, poetry, nature and drama in 2011 and 2012 and annual heritage workshops.

Bainton Heath was our third reserve, established in 2009, this time in partnership with National Grid.  Bainton Heath is another former quarry, covered in rubble from the London bomb sites and ash from power stations to create a unique habitat.  

Also, in 2009 Langdyke also entered into a management agreement with Tarmac to look after the restored gravel pits between Etton and Maxey, north of the Maxey Cut. Etton High Meadow followed in 2011 and in 2018 we established our third ‘Eastern’ reserve, Vergette Wood Meadow just north of the South Drain, outside Etton.  These three eastern reserves are looked after by another team of volunteers who meet fortnightly, taking on tasks as diverse as running small allotments, launching tern rafts or organising community events.

Langdyke country twenty years on: Click to enlarge

In 2017 the Trust set up a new geographic group, centred in Castor and Ailsworth, to take forward projects in that area and in 2018 another group, Ermine Street, covering Barnack and Ufford was established. Most recently, at the end of 2018 we entered in another management agreement, with Kier and Highways England, to manage a small meadow just off the A47, home to butterflies, moths and flowers.

What has been achieved?

As a result, nature is thriving on all our reserves. At Etton-Maxey Pits wetland birds, such as common terns, lapwing and redshank have returned to breed, water voles have made their homes here too and in 2018 Pyramidal orchids spread across the site in their thousands.  Swaddywell is no longer a waste ground, it is home to eight species of orchid, including two found nowhere else locally and one that is nationally rare and over 1200 species of invertebrate, including the scarce and beautiful grizzled skipper. At Etton High Meadow a new orchard is growing up slowly and dragonflies have colonised the new pond. At Bainton Heath, nightingales sing from the scrub, rare butterflies and moths thrive in the grassland while summer migrants, such as cuckoo and hobby hunt overhead.

And local people have had the chance to watch, learn about and get involved with our natural and heritage world.  As well as the core of regular committee members and volunteers without whom the Trust could not possibly manage its reserves, we have a much wider group who join us for walks such as last May’s nightingale walk around Castor Hanglands which attracted more than 40 local people or for special events such as January’s inaugural wassailing event at Etton High Meadow with over 100 visitors – young and old.   

An evening Langdyke walk in the Hanglands to hear Nightingales sing

And what of the future?

The reality remains however that while nature is doing well on the reserves, it is struggling across the wider countryside.  How would we feel if a walk along the Maxey Cut isn’t enlivened by hares playing in the nearby fields or there are no swifts screaming over the villages in the summer?  What if our children really do grow up never seeing a hedgehog? Or hearing a cuckoo? Is that the countryside we want?

It isn’t what Langdyke is all about.  We are currently working with a range of partners and landowners to take forward a very positive vision for the future of our area

‘As residents, we want to live in an area where nature is at the heart of our lives.  Where swifts and swallows are a central feature of our summer evenings, where otters continue to enthral people as they play in the Maxey Cut, where bees and other insects thrive, not decline, and where there are far more, not less, ponds, meadows, wild flowers, hedgerows and trees.   And where local people can walk or cycle out in safety and tranquillity across this thriving countryside, enjoying the sights and sounds and even the silence of the natural world; enjoying dark skies and cherishing the heritage – both natural and man-made- around them.’

If that seems like a vision you and your family support, then please do come along to one of the forthcoming 20th anniversary events. You can find out about them here on our website.