Park volunteers bid to save vandalised trees and improve Town Fields in Doncaster

For many it is a green paradise near the heart of Doncaster where they take their family, walk their dogs or play sport.

Sunday, 4th April 2021, 6:00 am

But for a dedicated group of volunteers, Town Fields is now also a beloved place which they want to improve for those who use it.

This month a core of four dedicated dog owners decided to set up a volunteer network called Friends of Town Fields. Although it is a place they love, they saw things that they thought needed changing.

And just three weeks later, that original four has grown to 18, with many more expressing an interest in getting involved.

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Jon Lyall and Dave Bentley, pictured wrapping one of the Trees to protect it. Picture: NDFP-23-03-21-FriendsTownFields 6-NMSY

Founding member and chairman Alastair Lang, who lives just round the corner near Town Moor Avenue, has been a regular user of the park for 20 years, since returning to Doncaster after living abroad while working for the Balby based firm Bridon Ropes.

He had got to know others from their walks with the pets – and it became clear they shared the same feelings for the park.

He said: “Three weeks ago, there were a few of us who walk our dogs on Town Field and were concerned about several things we had seen happening.

"The council has been doing some improvement work down there, planting new trees and putting in place new bins. There seemed to be one or two things that were going wrong.

Alastair Lang and Dave Bentley, pictured marking out the path edges. Picture: NDFP-23-03-21-FriendsTownFields 2-NMSY

"We just thought 'wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a group of friends who would work with the council and help?’”

"It’s still a relatively new and small group, but we’re looking to improve things here.”

The original gang of four was Alastair, Jon Lyall, Simon Marsh and David Bentley.

Before they got together to set up the friends group, they only knew the names of each other's dogs. Now they are in regular contact over park issues - and know each other's names!

One of the Trees which has been damaged. THe group are hoping to get it replaced and then protect it. Picture: NDFP-23-03-21-FriendsTownFields 4-NMSY

Once they started doing work to help improve the park, others started taking an interest in what they were doing, and signed up for the group. Others have already expressed an interest.

Among the first issues they decided they wanted to deal with were residents' concerns over newly planted trees in the park.

"The council had been replacing trees that had been lost,” Alastair said. “They planted quite a lot, and also planted them in Elmfield Park and Regent Square.

“But some of them were being destroyed. We think it may have been an aggressive dog that had been wrecking them by biting through the stems.

"In around a week, or 10 days, we’d seen six trees destroyed. They were 10ft high saplings that only had thin stems.

"So we looked around our garages to see what we could find. We came up with some black sacking and some wire mesh. We used those to wrap around the three posts that are placed around each tree. It provides an extra barrier. We are hoping it protects the trees."

Their second project involved the hard-surfaced paths which wind their way around the park, and new bins that were placed along the route.

There was concern that some of the grass and soil had spread onto the hard surface over the years, making the pathways around a metre narrower than they originally were at some points.

Members felt that the bins had been located on spots which were effectively in the middle to the original path.

The group offered to move the soil off and return the paths to their original width. That is currently on pause though because there are concerns that some sections of the hard surface that had been under the soil may have crumbled.

Alastair Lang and Dave Bentley, wrap netting around the Trees to help protect them. Picture: NDFP-23-03-21-FriendsTownFields 8-NMSY

But some of the bins have been moved further back to where the original path would have been.

Alastair said the group were keen to improve the paths.

They have also offered to carry out litter patrols, cleaning up the site, and have had litter picking sticks and bin bags promised to them by the council to help with the task.

Alastair said there were other issues that they would like to see addressed. He is concerned over graffiti, drug use in the park, as well as its use by prostitutes and their clients. He has been concerned to see used condoms in the park, which is close to a primary school.

But he is also impressed over action the council has taken to address problems in the past.

Last year there were concerns over cars driving onto the park and doing 'doughnuts' - thus causing damage through their tyre tracks. Officials responded by placing heavy blocks in entrances that had been used by the cars. These stopped vehicles getting in. Officials also repaired and strengthened fences, he said.

Alastair and his black labrador, Jess, love the park.

He said: “I think it's pretty much unique. Other than Regent's Park in London, where else do you find 110 acres so near to a town centre?

"There are biodiversity areas where they’re not cutting the grass, to encourage insects and wild flowers. It’s well used by football teams and people out walking or walking their dogs.”

In the future, he believes the group will be looking to make things happen at the park. For instance, one of the team of volunteers is looking to arrange a dog show there when circumstances allow for it in the future.

And he expects there may be more similar projects in the future as the Friends of Town Moor group establishes itself in the years to come.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Liam Hoden, editor.

The group have dug some of the overgrown edging out to show how wide the pavements should be. Picture: NDFP-23-03-21-FriendsTownFields 5-NMSY