“I’ve lived here 40 years, and I think the bluebells this year are the best they’ve ever been,” says Philip Andrew.
There are of course plenty of brilliant bluebells locations in Sheffield: Woolley and Ladies Spring Woods, for example, or the Gleadless, Porter, Rivelin and Limb Valleys. After a national newspaper tip off, Ecclesall Woods may see some extra bluebell visitors in the next few weeks. But if those visitors really want to explore the area’s spring flowers they’ll encounter a problem, says Marilyn Small from the Friends of Ecclesall Woods.
“Over the pandemic, we saw a massive increase in visitors here,” she says. And those visitors included diverse groups of people who’d never visited the woods before, adds Philip.
“But they were surprised to find there was no easy way to get between the woods,” says Marilyn. “People would say to us: ‘Why can’t we cross the road safely?’”
In 2021, the Friends of Ecclesall Woods (FEW) launched a petition asking the council for safe crossings across the 40mph Abbey Lane road that bisects many of the main paths and bridleways through two of the largest areas of Ecclesall woodland.
The council agreed to carry out a feasibility study a year ago, and on Friday 20th May (at 11am) FEW have invited officers to a public meeting to allow FEW volunteers to update the almost 6,000 petitioners about the likely next steps.
The meeting location at the JG Graves Woodland Discovery Centre, with its cafe and toilets, is in ‘wood 3’ while across Abbey Lane, in ‘wood 2’, is an easy going trail suitable for people with prams and wheelchairs.
“It’s a struggle for people in wheelchairs to use it, as they often don’t feel confident crossing the road,” says Marilyn. “Having that difficulty is limiting for many people, which is a real shame.”
“The feasibility study has been done, but we haven’t seen the results yet,” says FEW member Claire Cruikshanks, “so the meeting on the 20th is for anyone to come along and hear what the council has to tell us.”
Ideas from petitioners include refuges at 2 or 3 locations in the centre of Abbey Lane, which would enable slower walkers, cyclists or wheelchair users to cross more safely without having to watch two streams of 40mph traffic at once. (FEW point out that the same road has several similar refuges a few hundred yards away to the east).
The possibility of mini zebra crossings is also popular, and a reduction of the 40mph speed limit, although the cost of a light controlled crossing may be prohibitive, while also not providing for the three or four points where people need to cross.
Philip Andrew lives nearby, and says during the early Covid lockdowns the sight of nearby trees through the seasons kept him going. “You’d see the changing colours, and realise that nature didn’t recognise Covid, it just carried on happening. For my own mental health, it was a lifesaver for me that the woods are here.”
Claire found that the woods allowed her to carry on family life during the lockdown regulations. “The screams of the kids are different here, because they don’t bounce off the walls, and when they come here you see them running around, and they’re really joyful. They could also meet older family members here when they couldn’t get too close.”
Claire would like to see better consideration for people wanting to visit local parks and woodland around the whole city. “I think they should include providing access to parks and green spaces in building contracts,” she suggests.
As visitor numbers increase, FEW advise people to stay to the footpaths to avoid trampling on spring flowers, and to be ready to take litter (and dog bags) home if bins are full.
And until the crossing places are improved, the advice to motorists is clear, says Marilyn.“Please slow down and watch out for us!”More info: https://friendsofecclesallwoods.org.uk