Madeleine’s Patch
Peacock butterfly at Madeleine’s Patch

A Tragic Accident Inspires a Haven for Wildlife

It will be three years this Christmas since my wife Madeleine Parnwell drowned in a Fenland drain near our house when, one dark December night, her car inexplicably left the road at Puddock Drove, Warboys.

Madeleine’s Patch
Madeleine Parnwell

This horrendous, tragic loss of the life of a woman who unselfishly helped all and anyone that needed it still leaves a deep, painful scar in the hearts of me and my three daughters, Claire, Mary and Emma. But in the immediate aftermath, still reeling from the shock that tore the loving heart of our family from us, we vowed to ensure that something positive would come from her passing to help make sense of this random, unexpected tragedy.

And so the idea of Madeleine’s Patch was born. In the past two-and-a-half years we have created a wildflower meadow and nature reserve on 1.3 acres of former Fenland arable land as a living memorial to her name.

Wildlife Corridors

Since the patch was created, with the help of kind volunteers now known as ‘Madeleine’s Mates’*, we have planted hedges both within the nature reserve and in the wider landscape. These serve as green corridors for wildlife to safely move along, and also to feed and shelter within. The wildflower meadow is now well established and attracting many bees and other pollinating insects.

With the permission of neighbouring landowners, we are now embarking on creating more wildflower corridors along the public droves to create linking beelines. Our vision is to eventually link Wicken Fen with the Great Fen via a wildflower network, with Madeleine’s Patch at the hub.

An Oasis for Local Species

Many species have moved into Madeleine’s Patch and Madeleine’s Patch HQ (her former home), which is being managed for wildlife in synchrony with the patch. The uncommon water shrew has made a home, along with water voles, a species which has suffered a 90% population crash in the past 30 years. Riding the thermals, red kite and buzzards soar effortlessly overhead. Roe deer and muntjac come to drink, and sparrowhawks bathe in the ponds, perhaps to lose a few irritating parasites in the heat of the summer. By moonlight the secretive badgers visit too, and snakes and lizards bask in the sunlight, whilst newts thrive in the waters.

A Community Resource

The reserve is becoming a resource for community activities, with local wildlife groups visiting for days out and training events. We have opened dialogue with local schools to discuss using it as a living classroom to chime with the curriculum. Photographers regularly attend to capture pictures, and writing groups and artists have also made contact to see how they can draw inspiration from the wildlife that thrives in this Fenland oasis. We are contemplating a ‘Talk the Walk’ experience, where people can come on a guided walk and then write about their experience in the tranquillity of this natural environment.

Looking to the future

And for the future? If funding is forthcoming, we can acquire more land in the locality to join up with Madeleine’s Patch to make an even bigger, better reserve and/or create steppingstone links across the landscape. In today’s context of climate change and threatened extinction of much of our wildlife, these links and safe havens are increasingly essential.

From stardust we are made, and to stardust Madeleine has returned. But her memory lives on – with every buzz of the bees on a drowsy sunny afternoon, from the sigh of the wind in the trees to the plaintiff mew of the buzzards wheeling overhead in their flight of honour, and in the plop of the water vole diving into the drain that enfolds the patch.

*If you would like to become a ‘Madeleine’s Mate’ to help alongside likeminded people with citizens science species surveys or habitat management work parties, or if you have a suggestion for an event that could use the natural resources of the patch such as a wellbeing session, or even if you would just like to bake a cake for an open day fundraising event, then please contact Steve on 07786 443802 or steve@madeleinespatch.org.uk

WORDS Steve Parnwell


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