A New Willow Wetland Walk in Sandown

Where there’s a willow there’s a way.  

Determination will overcome any obstacle says the saying and that’s certainly what Arc Consulting have done when they enlisted the help of the Community Payback Service to create the Willow Walk, Sandown Bay’s newest wetland walk.

Willow wetland walk winding woodchip path
Winding Woodland Walk

At the far end of Dinosaur Isle’s car park you will find a meandering woodchip path leading through a wooded wetland area where willow trees thrive in what looks like a higgledy piggledy mess of twisted branches and fallen re-rooted trees and catkin laden canopies.  Less than a year ago, the area was dense and impenetrable, wooded and marshy but the ongoing hard work is transforming this wetland area in to something quite special.

Higgledy piggledy willow trees
Higgledy Piggledy Willow Trees Photo by Create Harmony
We’re going to be planting some buckthorn to attract brimstones.” Said Ian holding a man made sculptured bee's nest, as we approached the start of the path.  Brimstones, I discovered are common bright yellow butterflies that often emerge in early spring and buckthorn, a small spiny tree, is their main food source.

Ian Boyd holding man made scultured bees nest made by artecology
Ian holding a man made scultpured bees nest made by Artecology

The Wonders of Willow

Willow trees are amazing survivors.  Fossil records show they existed over 50 million years ago and some alive today, can be 300 years old. Like the buckthorn, they are dioecious, meaning they have separate male and female trees and although typically, the males have more colourful and flamboyant catkins, they are shorter and don’t produce as much nectar as the females.

Buff tailed bumble bee feeding on willow nectar
Buff Tailed Bumble Bee feeding on Female Willow Catkin photo by Arc Consulting

Although willow is extremely useful to humans, it is vitally important to wildlife.  We used to use the bark which contains salicin, an anti-inflammatory, in the production of Aspirin; we also use willow to make baskets, living fences and cricket bats.  But willows are extremely important to the conservation of wildlife and have ensured their survival since prehistoric times by pollinating in 4 different ways using wind, birds, insects and self pollination by lowering their branches or dropping them to the ground.

Willow trees on Browns Golf course
Willow branches drooping towards the ground

A whole circle of life around a willow tree. 

Willow is one of the first trees to flower each year and on our walk, at the end of March, we spotted buff tailed bumble bees that had just emerged from hibernation feeding on the nectar and chiff chaffs, newly arrived from Africa perched on the branches in the hope of picking off a few insects.  In the summer the willow attracts butterflies during the day and because the flowers don’t close at night, moths are attracted to it in the evening to feed on the nectar which in turn attracts bats.  The life around a willow doesn’t stop above ground, the base of the trees make a great habitat for insects and bees which often nest in the tussocks of grass around the roots.

comma butterfly sunning on the nettles
Comma Butterfly Enjoying the Sunshine Photo by Arc Consulting

Willow trees are not pets!

With a renewed enthusiasm for the wonders of willow and a warning about how destructive they are to domestic drains in their search for water, we headed off to the tall reed beds where a cetti’s warbler treated us to a beautiful song. 


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