Houghton Hall Park Scoops Another Award

Houghton Hall Park, a historic parkland site in Houghton Regis owned and managed by Central Bedfordshire Council, was recently given a ‘Highly Commended’ award in the ‘Biodiversity and Landscape Improvement’ category at the CPRE Living Countryside Awards. Despite its urban environment, the park is a haven for a range of wildlife due to careful habitat management.

Councillor Steven Watkins, Deputy Executive Member for Community Services - Libraries, Leisure and Countryside at Central Bedfordshire Council, said: “Houghton Hall Park has a range of habitats, including grasslands, scrub and woodlands. With so many habitats in a relatively small area, it makes for a rich diversity of wildlife. We are indebted to the Friends of Houghton Hall Park who help us to manage these habitats through regular working parties. They keep the parkland at its best and ensure a rich biodiversity for all to enjoy.

“The park has been transformed to meet the needs of a growing community, whilst retaining its valuable heritage and other unique features. It is now accessible for all via a network of surfaced pathways.”

Meadow at Houghton Hall Park. Photo: A D Winter 2018

The grasslands at Houghton Hall Park are home to a range of wildflowers, including cowslips and oxeye daisies, which attract insects such as bees and butterflies ranging from meadow browns, marbled whites to large skippers. The scrubby areas and hedgerows are good for birds, especially summer visitors such as blackcaps and whitethroats. The woods make great habitats for muntjac deer and grey squirrels, and for birds such as nuthatches, great spotted woodpeckers and chiffchaffs. Blackbirds, wrens, great tits, robins and song thrushes add their voices during the spring and summer.

Conservation activities have included hazel coppicing and using the cut branches to create a fort-building zone where children can use their imagination to play. As well assisting with the natural environment, a group of around 20 local volunteers have helped to create the kitchen gardens whose produce is used by the park cafĂ© to make homemade meals. They have also grown pumpkins for this Sunday’s Halloween pumpkin painting event at the park.

In 2015, the council was awarded £2.2million from the Heritage and Big Lottery Fund as part of its ‘Parks for People’ grant scheme to transform the park and build a visitor centre for community use. The centre is free to visit, has free parking (for three hours) and is open all year. It is also fully accessible, including an accessible toilet.

With such a small team of staff on the ground, Houghton Hall Park would not be what it is today without the enthusiasm, dedication of time, skill and efforts of a group of around 20 local volunteers who have contributed in various ways.

Picture L-R: Rachel O’Leary (Park Manager), Jenny Osborne (Community Gardener), Helen Nellist (HM Lord-Lieutenant of Bedfordshire).

To volunteer at Houghton Hall Park, please email hhp@centralbedfordshire.gov.uk. For details of events, visit www.facebook.com/houghtonhallpark