In 1999 Shortmead House stood in five acres of wooded overgrown land. A matted undergrowth of bramble, thistle, ivy, snowberry, and ground elder choked any previous domestic planting. The half acre lake was a muddy puddle filled with debris and the orchard and kitchen garden were very neglected. But beneath the undergrowth there was evidence of former care.
Shortmead now covers 24 acres with the owners having systematically cleared, restored and developed the grounds into an amalgam of formal gardens to enhance the house. Alongside this there are informal areas which provide an environmental habitat ideal for public access and a valuable educational resource.
The gardens are designed and managed by Marilyn Bond with the assistance of dedicated volunteers and with support from tree and conservation officers from Central Bedfordshire Council, Moulton Agricultural College and Shuttleworth Agricultural College. To date they have removed over 400 self set Sycamore which had invaded the earlier planting.
Students have assisted with planting boundary hedgerows and a number of semi-mature trees around the lake in order to replace lost habitats. An avenue of twenty Hornbeam trees has been established to replace the original Elm avenue.
Many of the newly planted trees are of particular significance to the owners, having been given to commemorate their wedding here in 2008.
For the future, there are plans to:
- erect an acoustic bund alongside the railway boundary which will be planted with a mix of native trees of local provenance,
- establish a tree nursery to replenish stock,
- plant an osiery bed, and
- plant further hedging.
The intention is to extend the environmental corridor for wildlife and secure the estate planting for future generations.
The Great Crested Newt can be spotted in the shallows around the lake except in winter when they move into the woodland to hibernate under logs and tree roots. In early spring the male grows its distinctive comb to attract the female for breeding. They can live as long as 27 years, are dark grey-brown with spots and have a spectacular orange underbelly. There are no fish in the lake or pond as they would eat the young newts and endanger the colony.
Stag Beetles can grow up to 12 cm and are easily identified by their antlers. They will be found hiding in dead trees and roots which we have left around the estate. Not all the black beetles you see will be these – there are numerous other species which live near the log walls.
The site is one of scientific interest, providing a safe haven for several endangered species, including the Great Crested Newt (triturus cristatus) and Stag Beetle (lucanus cervus). There are at least 36 types of bird breeding or feeding on the estate, including woodpeckers and cuckoos and numerous species of fungi.