At home on the nature reserve

Neil Fletcher will be opening his nature reserve to the public for only the third time in six years.  Pic: Scott Wicking
Neil Fletcher will be opening his nature reserve to the public for only the third time in six years. Pic: Scott Wicking
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EVERYWHERE IN the countryside there are signs proclaiming the phenomena that has become Open Gardens.

There are even some that have doubled up with that other increasingly popular village event, the scarecrow festival, often thought to have been started in Yorkshire by the villagers of Kettlewell.

This weekend Settle, Burley-in-Wharfedale, Middleham, Long Marston, Barwick-in-Elmet and no doubt numerous others all join the Open Gardens party of 2015. Glaisdale in the North York Moors is one such village that is embracing both cultures.

Garage owner and cattle showman Neil Fletcher has Thelwell-themed ponies, Bugs Bunny and a replica of his favourite dog in scarecrow caricatures on his front lawn and he will be opening up his nature reserve for the third time in six years as perhaps the most unique ‘garden’ on display in the county this weekend.

Visitors can also see his Thorneythwaite Fold of Highland cattle grazing peacefully in the verdant pastures of this beautiful dale.

“My wife Lucy and I decided to open our nature reserve as part of Glaisdale Open Gardens to show people what can be done in the countryside. Ours is a completely contrasting experience to the pristine and wonderfully well-tended gardens in the village and features two large ponds and many trees that have been donated in addition to those that were there already here and those I have planted. We have oak, beech, hazel, holly, fir and sweet chestnut.

“Twenty trees have been donated from people who either live in the village or have an involvement with the dale and each of them have the first names of those who have given them so there are trees called Mike, William, Fred, Pat, Mark and Louise.

“I’ve also created a 30-yard honeysuckle walk that is really coming along nicely. Visitors enjoy the contrast between our area and what you normally expect from one of these events.

“Our four Highland cows are all home bred and will be in the field adjoining the nature reserve. They’re all extremely placid and that comes from being handled properly from a very early age. When we show them at local agricultural shows such as Egton, Danby, Rosedale and Ryedale, we spend 90 per cent of our day talking about them with visitors and letting people have photographs with them. At the shows Highland cattle make a big impression. When you see the look on a little person’s face light up when they are being pushed in a wheelchair and have been given a comb to groom one of our cows it fills me up.”

While Neil had always been interested in purchasing a small block of land near to his garage it wasn’t until he started with his Highlands that what he was after became available.

“We used to rent a couple of paddocks for Lucy’s pony and some horses but then my elder brother Peter who runs the rare breeds centre at Graves Park, Sheffield said I should get some Highland cattle. We bought two calves at Oban market in 1998 and we’ve had Highlands ever since. Our proudest moment was winning the president’s trophy and interbreed championship at Egton Show.”

Neil and Lucy purchased 14 acres of land from local farmer Bill Stangoe in 2000. It is the steeply sloping tract of land with a small wood at the foot of it with the two large ponds that has become the nature reserve and what Neil now regards as his main hobby.

Community participation is another reason why Neil enjoys being a part of the weekend, encouraging tourists to take a closer look and also raising much-needed funds.

“What we offer to Glaisdale Open Gardens is a nature walk and our nature reserve is in my opinion one of the nicest places in the dale. Our wildlife includes deer, rabbits, waterfowl, kingfishers, owls, frogs and fish. It’s also the only time other than by invitation that it is officially open to the public. We wanted to join in with the event because it raises such important funds for charities and good causes both in the village and in North Yorkshire, including the Yorkshire and Great Northern Air Ambulances. Around here it’s vital to have those kinds of services.”