Netanya’s historic Sergeants’ Grove is to become a first-of-a-kind community grove combining a recreation site with urban nature conservation, according to a plan approved last week by the municipality.
The 263-dunam (66-acre) site is under the aegis of the Jewish National Fund. Its name derives from an incident in 1947, in which members of the Irgun Tzvai Leumi, the pre-state underground militia led by Menachem Begin, hanged two British army officers. The city prefers the name “Oak Grove.”
Nature conservation organizations opposed earlier proposals that called for much of the wooded site to be covered with roads, buildings and playgrounds. The city and the JNF equipment changed their approach after ecological surveys showing the site was home to an unusually large number of rare and endangered plant species, such as the purple iris.
A survey carried out in the grove five years ago by ecologist Ron Frumkin found 283 wild plant species, of which 29 were endangered. He found particularly rare varieties such as Labilliardiere’s clover and rare varieties of lupins, orchids and tulips.
Netanya, it must be said, was the first Israeli city to put an ecologist on the payroll.
City officials say the new proposal has two main goals, the development of a community forest and the conservation of unique natural elements.
It limits new construction to less than one percent of the area of the grove, and includes the building of a visitor’s center, a memorial and an observation lookout tower to be built. Playground equipment will be restricted to two locations.
All activities in the grove must be approved by an ecologist, including maintenance, pruning and earthwork. The latter will only be carried out after plants have bloomed and their seeds have spread.
Nesting boxes for songbirds, raptors and bats are planned for the grove, to encourage the reproduction of these animals. The Mount Tabor oaks in the grove, which presumably sprouted from acorns transported by animals, are to receive special protection. The JNF is to support the survival of oak saplings by protecting them with biodegradable sleeves.
As for the rare plants, the proposal specified that some seeds are to be collected and taken to the Volcani Agricultural Research Institute at Beit Dagan, for placement in a gene bank. Others will be sowed in other parts of the grove, in order to avoid irreparable harm in the event of catastrophic damage to part of the grove, such as from fire or trampling.
One part of the grove contains what is known as a “moist depression,” a winter pool where unique species flourish. The municipality will monitor this area and water it if needed.