Holy Trinity Community Garden – five years on

It’s been 5 years since work started on the community garden at Holy Trinity, Aldershot, with the aim of creating a wildlife friendly area in the Victorian church’s grounds. Information was gathered from various nature oriented trusts and with much help from local volunteers the garden started to take shape. Now visitors are greeted by flowering rowans or cherry trees at the church’s entrances.

The wildlife hedge from Woodland Trust is beginning to mature and the nectar bars are attracting pollinators. The old yew garden has become a haven of flowers and trees and the vegetable beds have flourished.

Last year the church was successful in its bid to acquire one of the Queen’s jubilee trees. The Deputy Lieutenant of Hampshire wielded a spade  and joined with volunteers to celebrate the apt arrival of a native  alder tree.

This year the church was thrilled to be awarded its silver Eco church award!



Over the last year the Trust has been working with Rushmoor Council to develop a project to address a lack of tree cover in their urban areas.

Rushmoor targeted the Urban Tree Challenge Fund administered by the Forestry Commission. This offered 80% of costs to plant larger trees (to give instant impact) in areas that were short of them. Larger trees are much more expensive to establish with the extra protection and watering required to make sure they survive in urban areas.

Rushmoor identified 14 areas across Farnborough and Aldershot that could take a total of 200 trees with a budget of £156,000, but this required match funding of 20% – which is where the Trust stepped in. As possibly the only body in a position to ‘bridge the gap’ we submitted a bid for the necessary £26,000 to the Farnborough Airport Community Environmental Fund, which Rushmoor themselves would be unable to do – and were successful.

After a wait Rushmoor has now heard that their grant bid has also succeeded, with two years to plant all 200 trees. At time of writing 30 trees have been planted in three sites across Aldershot; Ivy Road Recreational Ground, Redan Hill Gardens and Whitchurch Close.

Look out for further details for the 24/25 planting season as all help will be welcomed.

Steve Bailey

Tree management in the Blackwater Valley

Coppicing and Pollarding 

Coppicing is a traditional method of tree management that involves repetitive cutting of the same stump (Stool), near to the ground, allowing the shoots to regrow. This is to provide a supply of small-wood for fencing/hedge laying, wattle, charcoal, furniture, and other uses, most recently for bean poles.

Coppice regrowth. ©: Emma Jolly/ WTML

Most coppicing would be in particular woods which would have large “standard” trees and other trees which would be coppiced. The most common was Hazel but Sweet Chestnut was also coppiced.

Hazel coppice stool.

Rowhill Copse is still managed with rotational coppicing, done by the volunteers, it produces open areas where the woodland flowers can flourish after the cut. It is well worth a visit in Bluebell time.

There are a few abandoned coppice trees along the Valley like this one near Farnborough North Station.



Pollarding is a similar management tool but involves the regular cutting of upper branches to encourage regrowth of dense foliage at the top of the tree.
The cut branches can be used for firewood, building materials and other coppice products. Pollarded branches were traditionally used for animal fodder. When woodland trees were pollarded it opened up the canopy in the same way as coppicing.

There was a very large Black Poplar in Shepherd Meadows, Sandhurst but it became too large and fell apart. Nearby there is a Weeping Willow which has been pollarded within the last ten years. You may find abandoned pollards along the valley as they are no longer used as in the past.

Black Poplar before collapse.

The next picture shows a Pollarded Oak tree alongside the Blackwater at Swan Lake Park, the very swollen top shows that it has been pollarded over many years, although this is unlikely to continue today.

Happy Holidays from the BVCT!

However you choose to spend your festive period, we hope you have a wonderful time with family & friends and can find opportunities to get out into the Blackwater Valley, perhaps to work off the Christmas lunch!

We look forward to sharing more of how we're working to improve the Valley in 2024!

Rail to Trail Walk success

On Sunday 22nd October 2023, BVCT hosted the Rail to Trail walk, starting from North Camp station and covering the 8 miles to Sandhurst station. A great morning was had by the twelve people and two dogs who joined us on the trip, meandering through the wonderful countryside the Blackwater Valley has to offer. Even the weather was kind!
There are great parts of the Blackwater Valley you can explore without a car so check out our Rail to Trail and other walks.
A huge thanks to Sarah for organising and leading the walk!


It is twenty years since, on 15 September 2003, the Blackwater Valley Countryside Trust was incorporated as a limited company. We registered as a charity in 2006.

Dave Pilkington was our founding chairman and treasurer and our initial aim was to tap into funds which public bodies such as the Partnership could not access, and use them to improve the 23-mile Blackwater Valley Path and the Valley environment more generally. Dave’s enthusiasm guided us until his death in 2014, but there have been many others who have donated their time and skills.

Raising funds and supporting projects remain among our key activities. Over the years, fuelled by the various enthusiasms of our trustees and other helpers, we have also taken a more handson approach in some areas. We have contributed over £250,000 (and over £20,000 in small grants to organisations whose aims match our own) and much time and expertise to:
• build and install roosting and nesting boxes for various birds and mammals. This includes 261 bat boxes and 3 hibernacula, 150 dormouse boxes, hedgehog boxes, around 100 swift boxes, and innumerable boxes for other birds;
• enrich the native flora along the Valley, particularly in degraded woodlands;
• improve reed beds;
• erect 50 stumperies where stag beetles can mature;
• resurface paths and install seats and signage along the Valley;
• promote wildlife-rich community gardens and churchyards.

We have organised walks and talks so people can enjoy the environment and learn more about it. Major walks have attracted over 250 participants, many of whom used the walk to raise money for charities. We have provided links between wildlife, access and local interest communities along the Valley, organising the Forum in 2017 and the Blackwater River Festival
in 2019.

Within the last few years, we launched a Rail to Trail campaign to encourage people not only to get out into the countryside more, but to do so using one or more of the railway stations along the Valley. (Of course it would be as beneficial to the environment to use local buses or your own pedal power, rather than drive the car.) We adopted North Camp station in 2021.

With your help we can achieve as much, maybe more, during the next twenty years.

sites placeholder

Urban Tree project success!

The Trust is pleased to announce it has been awarded £26,000 by Farnborough Airport Community Environmental Fund to support tree planting in Rushmoor. This is a joint project with Rushmoor Council aimed at increasing tree cover in urban areas. We have agreed that the Council can use this amount as match funding for their bid to the Urban Tree Challenge Fund which if successful would significantly increase the funds available.

Out and about in the valley

Lots of us have been out and about enjoying the valley over the Summer months, see just some of the photos below. Share yours with us on our Facebook page!

Bat Boxes in the valley

Under Steve Bailey, the Blackwater Valley Countryside Partnership has been putting up bat boxes since 1990.

As most woodland sites within the Valley are relatively young or immature there are few natural roosting sites for bats. The provision of artificial roosting boxes also has the benefit of allowing us to monitor the bat population in the valley, at least to some degree.

When the Trust was formed one of the annual fundraising subjects was “Homes for Bats”. This enabled us to fund new boxes and also encouraged contributions from other sources such as the Surrey Bat Group, Hampshire Bat Group and some local authorities. The number of bat box projects within the valley was boosted, and altogether there are now 13 bat box schemes along with five development mitigation schemes. Among these are 6 sites with 130 bat boxes which were erected as part of the Trust’s bat box project, plus 3 hibernation sites with another 30 boxes.

We aim to monitor bat boxes regularly to check that we are putting them in the best locations, and to learn about the local bat population. During the covid pandemic monitoring was put on hold as there was a fear that the virus could be passed into the bat population. More recently it has become possible to check boxes again but with strict protocols and of course with the appropriate licence. We decided to try and check all our bat boxes during 2022 – 248 boxes to check, and we added or repaired another 13.

The species most often found in boxes is the Soprano Pipistrelle, Pipistrellus pygmaeus (see right). This bat is closely associated with watery habitats, unlike the Common Pipistrelle, Pipistrellus pipistrellus, which is the species you are likely to see around your house.

The other bat which you will find over water is Daubenton’s Bat, Myotis daubentonii. This is known as the Water Bat. It feeds on insects emerging from the lakes, rivers and canals, and we get them regularly on one site. We have only recorded two other species using our boxes, the Brown long-eared Bat, Plecotus auratus, and Natterer’s Bat, Myotis nattereri.

Bat boxes have proved to be a very important tool for monitoring and probably protecting the local bat population. In the first few years around 5-10% of boxes were used, now at our established sites, it is over 50%. This shows the very real difference that the generous supporters of the BVCT have made to local conservation. Thank you all.

Another milestone!

North Camp Station work reaches another milestone.

The fifth phase of the Rail to Trail (R2T) project at North Camp Station has been completed.  BVCT and its partners have turned what once was a derelict piece of land on Platform 2 into something not only more aesthetically pleasing but also more environmentally friendly.

Following the adoption of North Camp Station by BVCT under the GWR Station adoption scheme attention soon turned to how the station could be made to look more attractive and passenger friendly.  One of many ideas was a proposal to build a wildflower garden.  After negotiations between BVCT and Southeast Community Rail Partnership (SCRP), GWR and Network Rail were approached and permissions soon were gained to proceed.

Working with North Camp Matters Community Association (NCMCA), we contacted local landscape company Hortus Paradisi who designed and priced a scheme.  Funding was found bringing together a syndicate of sponsors.  With the optimal planting season in mind plants and shrubs were ordered.

As excavation on a working platform was not permitted due to the presence of underground services, the project required us to build a raised bed.  A detailed survey of services was carried out before we started.  All cutting and preparation had to be carried out off site as no power tools were allowed in the vicinity of a live railway track.  With the kind permission of the Old Ford public house, materials were delivered to the pub, and assembled in situ.  Before this specific safety training for working on a railway property was undertaken; everybody working on site needed to earn their GWR hi-viz jacket and safety certificate as a ‘station friend’.

The first job was to clear the site of existing rubble and unwanted materials.  The work started in a very cold snap in January 2023 when the ground was solid and it took some time to get back to a suitable surface to start the new construction.

Sleepers were first put in place, then topsoil, then a membrane topped with bark mulch.  All the building materials were sponsored by Kebur Garden Materials Ltd.  A special thanks goes to Jo Holtom and the Kebur team for supporting the project.

The final task was to install some wildlife friendly plants to encourage biodiversity to flourish.  For the keen gardeners amongst you these were Rhododendron Percy Wiseman,  Polystichum setiferum and Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’.  The bed was finished off with wildflower turfing.

Planting does not look entirely after itself – another role for volunteers.  The planting at the station is currently tended by BVCT, and the Rotary Club of Farnborough will soon have members who are station friends who can assist.

The R2T project has been a true community partnership bringing together individuals and organisations who have a common interest in the environment and well-being. The railway station has acted as a catalyst and there is no reason why this type of initiative cannot be replicated at other railway stations along the North Downs Line, which runs from Reading to Gatwick.  If you would like to be involved in similar ideas in your area along the Blackwater Valley, please contact Chris@bvct.org.uk for further information.

The new planting was formally “opened” on 7 June when people who had helped the project came together to celebrate the completion (subject to ongoing maintenance) of this stage.

The site in January
And again in May
And finally, June

From left to right in the photograph the people attending on 7 June included: Alan Taylor (BVCT), Peter Bassett (NCMCA), Chris Smith (BVCT), Andy Gallaugher (Senior Duty Manager GWR), Cliff Mosey (Director Kebur Garden Materials Ltd.), Jo Holtom (Kebur Garden Materials Ltd.) Caroline Salmon (SCRP Community Rail Officer, North Downs Line), Alison Andrews (Chair, NCMCA), Bernard Baverstock (BVCT), Cllr. Diane Bedford (Rushmoor Borough Council and Rotary Club of Farnborough), and Steve Bailey (Manager BVCP). Not in the photo but equally important were Clive Ayling (Customer Sales Advisor GWR Ticket Office at North Camp Station), Emily Moore (BVCP), Margaret (manager Old Ford) and David Daniels (retired former SCRP Community Rail Officer, North Downs Line).