Big Brown Bash - restoring the Decoy Lake

Chris Connell, Volunteer Chris Connell Volunteer

As part of the celebrations to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the birth of Capability Brown in 1716, we had a special day clearing scrub around the Decoy Lake and on the island. The Decoy Lake is the main surviving Brownian landscape legacy at the Forest.

The Decoy Lake

The Decoy Lake has been an overlooked area, in more senses than one.

It is a major outcome of a plan proposed in 1757 by the landscape designer Lancelot "Capability" Brown for modifiying the original lake.  This pedigree has however has only recently been more widely appreciated.

The lake has two islands.  The smaller one, at the southern end, is part of Brown's scheme.  The larger island is however a relatively recent addition, being formed in 1980, when a channel was cut behind the bank of the lake, as part of the programme for rebuilding the dam across the main part of the lake.   This programme also resulted in the Decoy Lake being cut off from the main lake, 

Trees and scrub have been allowed to grow along its banks and on the island, screening the lake from the surrounding banks and footpath.  

Previous work

Clearance work along the banks has been on-going in the recent past, to open up views and improve the general apearance.  As an unexpected by-product, the water quality in the lake has improved, as evidenced by the more diverse catches reported by the pond dippers.  

The Big Brown Bash

On 31 Aug, appropriately a day after Brown's baptismal anniversary,  a team of conservation rangers and volunteers led by Kim were rowed across to the island, to start work on clearing the area.  Trees had grown around the edges, with branches reaching out over the water whilst the central area was thick with smaller trees, obscuring some original trees such as a fine oak in the centre.

Using lopers, hand saws and chain saws, slow but obvious progress was made.  Cleared ground began to appear, and the lake gradually started to become visible again.  Debris was burnt on site, on a large bonfire.  

By the end of the day, the northern half of the island had been cleared, a view cut through the centre and progress made on the southern part, revealing the oak.  

The work continues

Encouraged by the visual impact created by the initial onslaught, work continued over the next six months, so that by February 2017, the entire island was cleared.  The central oak now stands clear and proud.  A new vista has been opened up, with the opposite side of the lake now visible across the lake.   

Six months later, the island is cleared
The island in the Decoy Lake after extensive scrub clearance
Six months later, the island is cleared