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The Friends of Fairy Dell
The Friends group was formed in August 2005, from a group of like-minded people. By then, several of them had already written to Mayor Mallon suggesting that remedial work was necessary to prevent the Dell from becoming completely overgrown.
The Friends of Fairy Dell work alongside Middlesbrough Council Countryside Team and various other organisations, including Tees Valley Wildlife Trust, Middlesbrough Environment City, Groundwork North East and Wildflower Ark. Their aim is to restore and improve the physical environment for the local community and the habitat for wildlife. This involves volunteers who work for two hours each week, 9am to 12noon on Tuesday mornings, doing whatever tasks are necessary and have been identified in the Council’s Fairy Dell Management Plan. The Friends also work with the Countryside Team to put on a variety of events, mainly for children, to encourage them to use and appreciate Fairy Dell as their own ‘countryside on their doorstep’.
Fund raising is another aspect undertaken by the Friends’ group. This shows that, even though Fairy Dell began life in 1857, it is still far from being completed.
Fairy Dell was originally the gardens and grounds belonging to Gunnergate Hall which was built in 1857 for the Quaker banker, Charles Leatham. By 1868 it was a magnificent building, with sweeping lawns, well wooded grounds, a lake with a boat house, tennis courts and greenhouses and an impressive driveway. Its final owner was Sir Railton Dixon, a ship builder and Mayor of Middlesbrough. When he died in 1901, his widow, Lady Dixon, went to live in Great Ayton, where she died fourteen years later, leaving the Hall empty. It was requisitioned by the army during the First World War, but was finally demolished in 1946 and the land acquired by Middlesbrough Council. The ‘top lake’ was part of the early gardens and would have been used as a boating lake. Much of the Victorian garden and its plants are still visible – especially the large rockery near to the waterfall.
Between 1977 and 1981, the lake was built as part of the flood defences for central Middlesbrough, by widening Marton West Beck into the present lake and using the soil as a flood defence mound. Older people remember fishing and swimming in the lake, plus riding bikes and walking on the paths, but gradually it became too overgrown to be enjoyed.
The major turning point for Fairy Dell was brought about by the thousands of Middlesbrough people who voted for the ‘Transforming Fairy Dell’ Project (put together by Dr Susan Antrobus, Middlesbrough Council) in the Big Lottery’s Peoples’ Millions competition in late 2005, which was screened on Tyne Tees TV. Winning the award of fifty thousand pounds, plus the further contribution of almost fifty thousand from Middlesbrough Council, was the beginning for putting Fairy Dell back on the map as a local beauty spot for people of all ages to enjoy. Woodsmen and foresters started work to selectively thin trees and lift crowns in order to open up footpaths and improve the Dell. It was a major task.
It was at this stage that the ‘Friends of Fairy Dell’ group was formed.
Since then, several other lottery applications plus various grants have been successful, thus enabling many different projects to be carried out – all with the same aim – to improve Fairy Dell:
1) Big Lottery Breathing Places: 4th October 2006 to 2007 for £9,361 – the Fairy Dell Flowerscape Project. It was for biodiversity work, publications, communications & promotion, wildlife events and training workshops.
2) Awards for All Lottery Grant: 27th April 2009- £9,880 - ‘The Countryside on your doorstep’. The aim was to promote and increase understanding of Fairy Dell. This included 4 Guided Wildflower Walks and 2 Plant Identification Days plus a competition for Primary School children to produce a drawing that accurately describes a plant. A Fairy Dell ‘Festival’ took place on 1st August 2009 which involved the local community.
3) Breathing Places (Phase 4) Lottery Grant: 21st April 2009 to 31st December 2009 for £1,697. Springwatch - ‘Down in Fairy Dell’ was an event for horse logging, chain saw carving, wild flower planting and other events for children. A ladybird sculpture was created as a bird feeding station at the birdhide.
4) Community Council Grants have been successfully applied for from both Marton West and Coulby Newham wards.
5) A Tree Council hedging plant grant was applied for in October 2009 to plant 800m of mixed hedging plants around the cycle track perimeter of Fairy Dell. This was made available through the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust. The planting was completed with help from the community. On Saturday 5th December, Fairy Dell entered into a national ‘Tree’o’clock’ competition to plant as many trees as possible in one hour. Local children, Brownies and Girl Guides, plus many adults turned out to help. The result was amazing, although not completed. On 9th December a group of ten volunteer staff from Lucite International arrived to plant the remaining hedging. The Friends’ group were very grateful for so much support.
6) Community Spaces Lottery Grant – Access and Art in Fairy Dell: 17th June 2010 for £39,000. This grant improved the footpath in the ‘Gunnergate Wetland’ section of the Dell; improved the access from the Park into the Dell by re-building the steps plus creating a surfaced footpath; included more carved oak seating made from a fallen oak tree on site; improved signage within the Park and Dell; planted more native wild flowers in various areas of the Dell, including a small wild flower meadow below the lake. The Fairy Dell Festival took place on 10th October 2010 to launch the completion of the above work.
The second stage of this grant will pay for a new promotional leaflet which is currently under production; a secure tool storage area; and a Wildflower Walk led by Martin Allen, a local botanist working with Wildflower Ark, taking place on Sunday 10th July 2011.
7) Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland donated 2,000 purple crocus bulbs to Fairy Dell in October 2010 as part of their ‘Big Bulb Plant’, when they were partnered with the Eden Project and the International Flower Bulb Centre in Holland. On the 5th 6th and 7th October, 2,000 bulbs were planted by children from four local Primary Schools with help from Martin Allen, Wildflower Ark, and the Friends’ group. 120 thin turves were cut by the Friends’ in a grass embankment above the lake so that the 500 bulbs per school were planted, with 20 bulbs under each of the 30 turves per school. At the same time other wildflowers were planted beside a path to create a new wildflower area. The result was a very colourful area in Spring 2011.
8) In May 2011, cowslips were given to Fairy Dell (and other local groups) through the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust via Dr Susan Antrobus. (She had originally worked for Middlesbrough Council, was instrumental in getting the original People’s Millions Grant and was the driving force for the formation of the Friends’ group.) The cowslips were part of the ‘Native Flora Translocation’ scheme from Dalton Piercy Reservoir, by Hartlepool Water, who, along with Tees Valley Wildlife Trust and the Tees Valley Biodiversity Partnership, had organised the removal of turf and native flora before reservoir extension begins. These turves are currently with Martin Allen at Wildflower Ark, Nature’s World, ready for planting out in the autumn with help from the local Primary Schools.
9) There have been recent discussions with Tees Archaeology (Robin Daniels) concerning the ‘Mediaeval Trod’ or ‘Monks’ Trod’ which has been located within Fairy Dell. It is hoped that a Heritage Lottery Fund grant will be applied for in the near future. The aim is to involve the local school children (and perhaps adults as well) by having a ‘dig’ on one section of the path. Both Tees Archaeology and Middlesbrough Council Rights of Way Officer have offered to ‘match fund’ the grant application.
10) To further improve the new hedging (no. 5 above) correspondence has already taken place with The Woodland Trust to apply for their free community tree planting pack. Applications are invited to apply for a 120m (420 trees) by 30th September 2011. These will be used for ‘gapping up’ the existing hedgerows.
All these monies have enabled the introduction of many wood carvings, carved ‘story telling’ seats, the bird hide plus play area and much planting of native wild flowers by local school children within the Dell. The primroses have been especially successful.
A local amateur wildlife photographer has recently joined the Friends’ group. Using a bird hide, plus hours of patience, he has successfully snapped the resident kingfisher, dipper and heron, as well as other more common garden birds. Ducks, moorhens and coot enjoy the lake.
A Tees Valley Wildlife Trust officer is a regular visitor. He has been monitoring the water vole population in particular, and all new footpath work has been carefully supervised to avoid any danger to their habitat. Previously he took a group of people on a successful ‘bat walk’ around the lake.
There are currently around 15 people who might attend the regular monthly meetings on the second Wednesday of each month. The mailing list of ‘interested’ families stands at 250, some of whom live some distance away. Some of these regularly attend the various functions, while others may have been to only one or two more specialised events, for example the ‘bat night’ or ‘wildflower identification’. Young children enjoy their own events, such as the annual ‘teddy bear’s picnics’ and ‘minibeast hunts’.
In general, it is a much used area, especially by dog walkers, although it is now also a venue for the running of Trail Races and we understand that more are scheduled. Recently, footpaths have been built by Middlesbrough Council to link Fairy Dell to Coulby Newham Country Farm. Families can easily combine the two venues to give an enjoyable day’s outing, moving easily between the two places. The ‘Walk Middlesbrough’ initiative involves walks within Fairy Dell, in which some of the Friends’ group may become more involved.
The Fairy Dell Festival has become an annual event. It was originally funded by Middlesbrough Council and then incorporated into lottery grants as the ‘launch event’ and now this year (September 4th 2011) it will be from Middlesbrough Council again – as a community venture. It is held as a celebration of enhancing Fairy Dell and to encourage more local people to enjoy and use all aspects of it. The Festival aims to provide entertainment and information for all members of a family and the local community. The exhibitors range from demonstrations to ‘hands- on’ activities in a wide range of arts and crafts, pony rides, games and activities for children, dog agility, competitions and dog charity stalls. There are also stands which advise on environmental issues, health etc and then fun things, for example the magician and face painting. Visitor numbers have gradually increased with last year being approximately 400 people. It will all depend upon the weather!
Lists of other events which have taken place during 2010 and those for 2011 are included, plus the poster for this year’s Festival event. The cover page is photographs showing the Dell at different times of the year, taken by members of the group. The final page shows a few events organised by the group.