A rubberised footpath around the perimeter of the Byng Road Nature Reserve will finally allow wheelchair users and people with disabilities and limited mobility the chance to visit a highly popular natural trail.

Offering safe and easy access, the path will feature seven pause and ponder points with benches where people, children and carers can sit and enjoy highlights such as the whispering wood or the four ponds which attract dragon flies, newts, and a wide range of invertebrates.

Dick Elms (above), a Barnet Environment Centre trustee, researched the various options for opening up access for the disabled with advice from the Sensory Trust.

He liaised with the contractors to ensure the new soft-surfaced path – made from natural rubber mulch – met strict environmental standards.

The nature reserve is part of the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice in Byng Road, Barnet, and the new perimeter path – together with a new children’s sensory walk within the hospice’s enclosed garden – have both been funded by a donation from the Hadley Trust.

“We are delighted that at last we will be able to welcome wheelchair users and people who are less mobile and let them get close to nature in our field and woods.

“The generosity of the Hadley Trust is so important in helping us expand our educational work with children from schools across the borough.

“Now we can welcome people who are less mobile and find difficulty in walking and the Hadley Trust’s support will also ensure there is easier access to the reserve for children and families from the hospice,” said Mr Elms, who worked closely with Asa Kemptster, head of facilities for Noah’s Ark.

One of the pause and ponder points along the path is beside the main field where ceramic butterflies positioned in the grass commemorate children who were cared for at the hospice.

The existing 900-metre path around the perimeter has been re-laid with a new membrane on which there is a two-inch layer of small hardcore then another membrane topped off with a two-inch layer or rubber mulch mixed with resin to provide a smooth, safe surface.

Mr Elms said the environment centre went to great lengths to ensure that the contractors, DCM Surfacing, used a natural rubber mulch which was imported from Croatia and is made from re-cycled tyres.

Jonas Balinskas, team leader for the contractors, said the task of laying a path of this length was quite a change from their regular work providing soft surfaces for children’s playgrounds and play areas.

Since the easing of lockdown in May, the environment centre has again been welcoming groups of up to 30 children from schools across the borough on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

Robyn Stern, who took on the role of education manager after the departure last December of Caroline Gellor, was busy tidying up after the most recent visit by a class of 11-year-old children.

“They had a fabulous time and were fascinated by what they saw and heard. When they closed their eyes in the whispering wood, they agreed that the leaves fluttering in the trees sounded like being at the seaside and the sound of the waves.

“A real highlight is always the visit to one of the dipping ponds to see what invertebrates we find, and they then can look at them more closely,” said Ms Stern, a science teacher, who started helping at the centre when on maternity leave. The area around the pond will have a rubberised surface for ease of access.

Great care has to be taken when the children are shown where members of the Barnet Beekeepers Association keep their hives – just one of the many surprises along the paths of the nature reserve.     

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