12th December 2008
It has been a busy week over at Rusthall where work has got underway at the Sweeps Cave. Although we are only a few days into the task of clearing holly and scrub, the views are certainly opening up and rocks that have long been hidden are starting to appear again. We will be re-building the steps down to the cave next week. Looking at the site now, I can see lots of potential to continue clearing new views and paths over the next few years. The only trouble is, that also means lots of expense and yet another drain on my budget.
5th December 2008
The cherry trees are all down, the resulting mess is pretty much all cleared away and we are well into grinding out the old stumps. The new trees are due to arrive on the 16th of this month and the Mayor and press should be turning up for the official ceremony on Wednesday the 17th. Phew. It has taken a fair amount of organising but I think we are nearly there.
No rest for the wicked though, we start another project next Monday. This time it is on Rusthall Common where we plan to open up the area around the Sweeps Cave. This will involve removing a large amount of holly scrub to open up the area to let some light in and re-establish the view over Happy Valley. We will also be putting in a new flight of steps leading down to the cave and clearing bramble and scrub around the cave itself. This is another project being funded by the Freehold Tenants who have already been so generous this year. With their help, I feel we are doing our best to spend the country out of recession!
28th November 2008
So much for my hope that everything would be cleared from the Cherry Tree avenue this week. Almost all of the trees are down and we have started to chip and clear the brush, but the weather has intervened again and we are at a standstill waiting for the ground to dry enough for the big tractor and timber tug to gain access. Actually, if I look back over this summers blogs, I seem to have been moaning about the weather virtually every week; what a year!
It has been interesting to see the state of the cherries as they have come down. virtually every one has been rotten or hollow. Also, as they have been cleared, I have had comments from a couple of people saying that I should not re-plant as the view is great without the trees in the way! Sorry, the new trees will be arriving very soon, so enjoy the view whilst it is there.
24th November 2008
Sorry that I have been absent for a couple of weeks, we have had a major computer problem. It was all my fault. I foolishly opened an e-mail without checking the source and infected the machine with a nasty virus. We have had to have the hard drive removed and cleaned but we seem to be back on track now.
We have been busy over the last few weeks. There has been further clearance at Edgcumbe Rocks, we have cleared all the mess left by our unwelcome campers and we have finished most of the path cutting. The big hedging flail was in last weekend cutting back on the roadside vegetation and we will strim round the posts this week to neaten everything up.
Work started today on dismantling the old cherry tree avenue at Edgcumbe Road. I hope that by the end of the week all the trees will be cleared away and with luck, we will have started grinding out the stumps. Then it will be a question of preparing the new planting pits ready for the delivery of the replacement trees.
7th November 2008
We often get rough sleepers on the Commons, I am afraid it is always a problem on an urban Common such as ours. I try and modify my response tio them in accordance with the way they behave towards the Common; if they show some respect to it, I show respect towards them. It is good to remember that there but for the grace of God go any one of us. However, the camps I found this week were truly appalling for the levels of rubbish snd filth around them. With the assistance of the Police, those particular residents have been moved on, leaving us with an unpleasant problem to clean up.
On a happier note, we somehow managed to complete our last cut of the short grass areas berween showers this week and have made substantial inroads onto our path cutting programme. As soon as the leaves are all off the trees, we can clear some of our drainage ditches and then start to move towards a start on the tree cutting for this winter. The first task in that programme is the removal of the last of the existing cherry trees from the avenue in Mt Edgcumbe Rd in preparation for the planting of the 40 new trees that will replace them.
31st October 2008
We finally ran out of time with the big flail and it has now retired for the winter. The small flail has continued its work, including a significant clearance around Denny Bottom. We will be back on
Tunbridge Wells Common with it next week to clear areas of bracken that were sprayed with Asulox earlier in the year. The volunteers will be out again tomorrow, this time cleaning bramble and scrub from Edgcumbe Rocks. (The picture above, added after this week's blog was written, shows the volunteers hard at work).
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago about the great autumn colour. The frosts of this week have intensified everything tremendously, especially the beech trees. It will not last much longer so forget about the cold or wet and get out and enjoy it while you can, it is over all too soon.
24th October 2008
A good week with the big flail. We managed to get a lot done and in spite of one wet day , we managed to find time for a last cut on the site of this weekends celebrations in Rusthall. As I write, the bonfire is being constructed ready to accompany the big firework display tomorrow evening. I hope the weather will be kind. Of course its Diwali as well, so it is likely to be a noisy weekend for the wildlife. Appropriately, with all these festvals of light going on, it is also the weekend that the clocks go back.
We will be continuing clearance with the small flail next week and we still have one cut of the amenity grass to go. It's going to be a question of picking a last dry period, it makes a big diffference to next springs first cut if we can get a last one done in late autumn.
18th October 2008
We are enjoying some lovely weather at the moment, interspersed with the odd wet day. The autumn colour is just starting to show and will be at its peak over the next few weeks if we don't get a big wind to blow all the leaves off first. One frustration at this time of year is the squirrels. The volunteers have to go out every year to clear oak scrub that invades our acid grassland and if left unchecked would overwhelm it; in the past they would have just been nibbled off by the grazing animals. However, it is galling as you are carrying out the clearance to see all the squirrels out in the grass frantically burying acorns. Sadly, as my dog Jade has got older, she is taking a more relaxed attitude to things such as squirrels.
The big flail has started its work. We have had a bit of down time with weather and mechanical problems but I am sure we will get all we need to done over the next couple of weeks.
10th October 2008
Well, the weather intervened again last week. It was far too wet to get the big tractor onto the ground, so the collector flail will be starting next Monday instead. We did manage to complete the new path behind Brighton Lake however, which looks great. Just as when the first lot of stone was laid down, the weather affected part of the length of the path, so in one section there is a slightly jelly like quality which will, I hope, dry and set over the next few weeks.
One of the Conservators was being flown over the Common last week by his pilot son and took this photo of the new path.
The volunteers where out last weekend carrying out clearance around the Toad Rock.
We leafleted the houses in the area in advance which produced four new workers. I hope they went away pleased with what was accomplished. I had contractors in a few days later to remove what had been cut and run the small flail over the area to give a neat finish.
3rd October 2008
No entry last week as I had a short break back down on the river Wye in the Welsh borders for a few days fishing. Whilst I was away however, things continued with the work at Brighton Lake and in fact the wall was completed yesterday (Thursday 2nd). Twenty tonne of self binding Breedon Gravel is due to be delivered next Tuesday, so by the end of next week all should be complete. The chaps doing it have done extremely well to get such a good result from the re-building of the wall, it turned out to be a much trickier and larger job than anticipated due to the state of much of it. I doubt if any maintenance has been done since Victorian times. I have taken a number of photos but it will have to wait for Julia's return from Spain to get then loaded. I don't want a major demarcation dispute on my hands!
I hope to make a start next week on the cutting of our remaining areas of long grass. The big collector flail will be in and will probably be working on the Commons for the next two weeks. A number of the areas that will be cut were treated with Asulox earlier in the year to control the bracken and we have been waiting for the chemical to take full effect before we clear them.
19th September 2008
We have carried out some clearance of path edges over the past week and this will continue on the minor paths over the next few weeks. In early October, the big machine will be back to cut the remaining large areas.
We will be back at Brighton Lake next week, starting to raise the wall at the back of the pond to allow a dressing of self binding gravel to be applied. It will take a couple of weeks to complete the wall and then another to lay the path but I anticipate a big improvement when it is complete. All this work is being generously funded by the Freehold Tenants, one of the groups that make up the board of Conservators for the Common.
12th September 2008
I am delighted to say that we have been able to complete the clearance of the steep slope below Mt Ephraim this week. All the scrub and bramble has been cleared and we have also been able to start re-exposing the sandstone outcrops there. We ended up doing more than I had expected, which was most gratifying. Obviously it all looks rather raw at the moment but that will soon change as it greens up. The only down side is that it is now another area that will require maintenance; my poor budget. It really needs grazing animals, of course; that is how all the Common was created and managed for centuries but that was before the roads around and across the Common were infested by those dreadful horseless carriages that seem so popular nowadays.
5th September 2008
Unfortunately, the non-stop rain this week stopped progress on the clearance at St Helena after Monday. We will be back next Monday, weather permitting. Although we only got on site for a very limited time,
we made a reasonable impression on the area.
On the up side, we have put in the new footpath at St Pauls Church over on Rusthall Common. This area was very difficult in last years wet winter and to judge from the comments that the contractors have been getting, the new path will be a popular addition.
29th August 2008
We will be starting work next week to clear the slope between St Helena and Gibraltar Cottage of scrub, bramble etc. The purpose of the clearance is firstly to stop the succession to scrub woodland and preserve the grassland habitat that is becoming increasingly rare these days. Once that is achieved, we will be investigating the possibility of re-exposing some of the sandstone outcrops that are just below the surface and have been covered up by vegetation and soil that has built up since grazing ceased a century ago.
22nd August 2008
Lots more broken branches and damaged trees this week. Still, looking on the bright side, those damaged trees will provide some great habitat in years to come.
We have been busy down at Brighton Lake this week rotavating, grading and seeding the area to the rear of the pond which we cleared of scrub at the end of last winter.Current conditions should lead to good, early germination. We are still planning to re-lay the new path at the rear of the pond with a better finish once the wall has been repaired.
We are also hoping to start on the resurfacing of the path at St Pauls Church next week and will be carrying out some clearance at Happy Valley to make sure the views are not lost. We will also be removing invading oak scrub from the grassland between Wellington Rocks and the Victoria Grove.
15th August 2008
Well here we are again. I am back from leave to a fairly wild welcome from the weather. This week's winds were exceptional for the time of year and have led to a number of trees down across the Commons. I think I have managed to get most of the serious ones now; there is just an oak down across a couple of paths in the woodland on Rusthall Common which may have to wait for Monday. Unless, that is, you know different. If anyone sees any other problems, please contact us and let me know. It's easy for me to miss something with 250 acres to patrol.
The long range forecast for the rest of August is for an improvement - well it couldn't really get worse - so I hope to be getting underway with a couple of projects in the next two weeks. Firstly, the construction of a new path at St Pauls Church to improve access there in the winter and then the clearance of encroaching scrub and bramble from the slope between St Helena and Gibraltar Cottage. Start crossing those fingers for me again.
8 August 2008
These two amazing pictures were taken at Wellington Rocks recently, and perfectly illustrate the weather we have been having. They were taken by Chris Cassidy, who writes the local Anke blog, and who also edits the Friends of the Commons newsletter (links to both websites under "Links"). There are two more of his lovely pictures in the gallery, and he has promised us some more for the website soon.
25th July 2008
Thank you all for the finger crossing, it seemed to work because it stayed dry all week and we
managed to get loads done. The large collector flail has been cutting all week and we have cut and cleared large areas of long grass on both Commons. We have had a new, much larger tractor in this time and it has proved to be the right tool for the job. The extra power has greatly improved the machine's ability to pick up the cut grass and has meant that we can travel faster with the cutters running, thus getting more done in the time available. This machine will be back later in the year to cut the remaining areas.
We have also carried out out bracken control treatment on Tunbridge Wells Common and will be moving on next week to Rusthall, where we will be treating the top of the rock outcrops at Happy Valley as well as some discrete areas at Denny Bottom. The bracken treatment is the reason that some long grass areas have not been cut in this sweep. The chemical involved needs to remain on the bracken for as long as possible to get the best effect, so those areas will be cut around the end of September when the bracken will be dying back naturally.
I am on leave for the next two weeks, so no more blog till then. However, keep a look out for new pictures, which I hope will be added here while I am away.
18th July 2008
Many of you will be aware of the latest threat to our Horse Chestnut trees. There has been some
fairly apocalyptic speculation in the press forecasting the death of all our Chestnuts because of a severe infestation of Chestnut Leaf Miner Moth that is underway. This is now spreading through all of the Chestnuts on the Commons and it is very noticable as their leaves become discoloured, looking like autumn has come very early. It is likely that these trees will actually drop all their leaves very early but that does not mean that they will die. Many of these infestations look very dramatic but last only one season. I will certainly not be planning to remove any of these trees this winter but will wait to see what happens in the spring. Having said that, this may be more serious than normal as these trees are also being attacked by the virus that has been causing the bleeding cankers on many Horse Chestnuts over the past couple of years.
Let's all keep our fingers crossed, because to lose another species would be terrible, especially such an attractive one.
Whilst crossing your fingers, please keep in mind my need for dry weather next week as the big collector flail will be making its first visit of the year. Actually, I also need light winds because we will be starting our treatment of the Bracken with Asulox as well. A busy week.
11th July 2008
We seem to be stuck in this procession of low pressure systems at the moment. This week yet again we have been unable to do anything involving machinery as the ground has been too wet and that sadly, means I don't have much to say in this column!
4th July 2008
We are in a quiet period at the moment. In about another two weeks we will be starting cutting the
long grass and also carrying out this years treatment of the bracken with Asulox.
In the meantime, routine maintenance on bins and seats continues with us yet again painting out graffiti on our street furniture and scrubbing it off the rocks, this time at Denny Bottom.
Earlier in the week, I saw about half a dozen house martins hunting over the grass below Wellington Rocks. Normally, this would not even be worth a mention but I think they are the first I have seen there this year. It is pretty much the same all around our area and this also applies to swallows and swifts. I saw a few at the start of spring but I think they were just on passage to the north and west of the country. The immediate suspicion when numbers decrease so quickly has to be a lack of food. If this is the case then it is very disturbing. I have not heard anyone else mentioning anything about this but I am sure that I am right. The screaming of swifts overhead is a classic summer sound but I am just not hearing it this year.
27th June 2008
We managed our first really decent cut of the year on the short grass this week with the weather relenting. It is great to see it finally coming up to condition. We also started on some of the cuts of the long grass with the small flail, although the amount of aftermath it leaves in its wake makes me long to get the big collector flail on site, but we must be patient for another couple of weeks.
20th June 2008
Work at Brighton Lake has finished for the moment. We now have a useable path round the rear of the pond but it is far from satisfactory. The material used is not proving ideal and the edges of the path are not stable. We may have to carry out considerably more work to get a finish we are happy with.
Our strange summer continues, it is midsummers day tomorrow and it feels more like autumn, with gale force winds and still plenty of rain. All the rain plus warm temperatures is causing the grass to grow like mad and as ever at this time of year, we are struggling to get it under control. The small flail will be in over the next few days to clear the adges of some of the most popular paths and then the big collector flail should be here in a couple of weeks to clear a lot of the main areas. Getting the timing right is critical as we wish our wild flowers to seed before we cut.
13th June 2008
With a few delays for rain, we managed to get on with the new path around Brighton Lake this week. It has proved slightly more complex than envisaged as when we removed the old muck and spoil, it became apparent that the reason for the path laying so wet in places is that a whole section has sunk down to water level. We have built the area up and installed a membrane above the water level which should greatly re
duce the problem. Sadly, a final band of rain stopped us being able to put a roller across the new material and it is sitting there rather like porrridge in places at the moment. We obviously hope to be able to finish things off next week if it dries up. Surely it will stop raining soon; after all, it is midsummer's day in a week's time.
This picture was taken by one of the Freehold Tenants who suggested the caption: "I'm not walking through that - it could be this deep!"
9th June 2008
Apologies for the delay in this entry; we had technical troubles last week. Readers of a cerain age will remember the fears of 30 years ago, when we were all worried about the "Leisure Revolution". The concern was, what on earth are we going to do to fill all the spare time we will have when the computers are doing all our work for us? Fortunately, we didn't have to worry; all that excess spare time is taken up trying to get our computers to work and phoning help lines on the other side of the world when they don't.
Last week's weather delayed the start of the work down at Brighton Lake but we are now underway (there is a picture showing progress on the News page).
The week was not wasted, however, as we managed to bring forward the renovation and improvement of various paths across the Common. There is now a new path from the Fairground car park to the Pantiles (in the picture on the left) and the paths at the Forum and the Lower Cricket Pitch have been repaired and re-surfaced.
As I was walking along the Racecourse last week, I was surprised when a roe deer ambled across the track about ten yards in front of me. Although numbers of all species of deer seem to be very much on the increase in our area, roe deer are normally very shy creatures that avoid any human contact so this was a comparatively unusual sighting. I also had a conversation with a gentleman who had been watching a red-backed shrike near the Upper Cricket Pitch. This is not a bird that I have seen on the Commons and does not appear on any of the species lists drawn up in the past couple of decades. The shrike is an interesting bird which is notorious for its more grisly behaviour. It is often referred to as the butcher bird for its habit of creating a larder by impaling its prey of insects or small lizards on thorns or barbed wire fences.
30th May 2008
In spite of the very wet conditions again, we have managed to carry out our 4th cut of the grass for the season. It really was appallingly wet, and we have caused some unavoidable damage in places but it will soon recover. The problem is that if we don't get on and do it, it gets far too long and we are back to square one.
On the assumption of a reasonably dry period, we intend to start work at Brighton Lake next week to restore the old path at the rear of the pond. This path, that shows up on the old postcards of the
Common, has long fallen into disrepair and is more of a swamp than a path now (as you can see, left). We will be excavating the spoil out to a depth of about six inches, putting in a geo-textile membrane that allows water to drain but not to come back up through, putting in a base layer of stone and then finishing with a compacted sandstone dressing. At the same time, we will re-route the spring which currently discharges onto the path and pipe it directly into the pond. Once that is completed, we will be going on to prepare and seed the area between the pond and the woodland edge. See the News Page for more pictures.
23 May 2008
Sorry there has been no report for a couple of weeks.
I had a great break in the Wye Valley. It is a stunning part of the country and being there makes you realise just how absurdly crowded South East England is.
I have come back to a much lusher Common, it is remarkable how much everything can grow in such a short space of time. It has turned into a great spring for flowers and it has been nice to see so many flowers blooming on the edges of the paths cleared by the volunteers in the winter, like the speedwell in the picture.
We have also started on some renovation of our benches. It is remarkable what a quick sanding down and a coat of paint and woodstain can do. We have started with the benches around the Upper Cricket Ground and will move on to a few others next week. Sadly I only have funds to restore another seven benched this year and five of those are being paid for by the Friends of the Commons. The Friends have also funded the removal of five of the old concrete benches.
12 May 2008
No Warden's blog for a couple of weeks as he is on holiday, and couldn't get online to write an
update before he left. Here is a picture of the ducklings he mentioned last week. Sadly there is no sign of the geese with their goslings.
Keep looking out for new pictures on the News page and gallery.
2nd May 2008
Although March winds and April showers still seem to be with us, May's flowers have definitely emerged in the past week or so. The cool weather of the recent weeks have delayed some blooms so that we now have huge numbers of primroses still out at the same time as the bluebells are coming into full flower. This week has seen large numbers of butterflies on the wing too, with similar odd sightings such as brimstones, orange tips and speckled woods all feeding together. Also this week, the pair of Greylag Geese on Brighton Lake have been showing off their six, newly hatched chicks. It is a bit nerve racking watching them and the large brood of Mallard chicks running round so close to the A26 but I am sure they will be fine.
25th April 2008
So much for thinking that we would be able to cut the grass with the cylinder mowers this week. In fact the attempt to cut at all had to be abandoned as it was causing too much damage. We will try again as soon as possible.
The cricket pavillion is almost complete now and is looking great. It is amazing what those few little
touches like putting the railing round the balcony and painting it white can do. I look forward to seeing cricket being played in front of it.
The Cherry tree avenue on Mt Edgcumbe Rd is coming into flower and looking as dramatic as ever.
However, if you stop and have a proper look, you will see that a large number of the trees are missing or dying. In fact there are only about ten of the original 40 trees left.
Thanks to the genorousity of one of the groups that form the Conservators, the Freehold Tenants, we now have the money to re-plant this avenue.
As a consequence, later this year the remaining trees are to be removed, their stumps ground out, new soil supplied and 40 new cherries planted on this site. The new trees will be a variety called Prunus tai haku, the Great White Cherry. These are dramatic trees, rather larger ultimately than the trees there now with good autumn colour as well as wonderful flowers in the spring.
Although the avenue was originally planted to mark the Coronation of George VI, some of the missing trees were replaced in the 1980s by the then manager of the nearby Mt Edgcumbe Hotel in memory of a member of staff who was tragically murdered. We no longer have any knowledge of the whereabouts of either the hotel manager or the murdered girl's family but if anyone can put us in touch, please let us know in case they wish to install a plaque or similar.
19th April 2008
Our quiet period continues. The weather is still making it difficult to start many of the jobs that we have waiting. I am keen to start the preparation and seeding of the areas we cleared over the winter but I cannot start on the preparation at Brighton Lake until we have carried out the renovation of the wall to the rear of the lake, and I cannot start that until the weather dries up and the threat of frost recedes. About the only thing that is active at this moment is the grass cutting and we hope to carry out the second cut next week. This time we should be able to get the new cylinder mowers on it, so it should start to look much neater.
In spite of the weather, spring continues with a lot of blossom starting now. It is the time of year when you realise how many wild cherries there are mixed in our woodland. I heard my first cuckoo this week as well. I have been seeing many deer about locally still carrying their antlers. They usually shed them in early spring and it is obviously starting now, I found a superb set of Fallow deer antlers just off the Common this week. It is fairly unusual to find these as the deer often consume their antlers after they have been shed. This is particularly the case in areas where the land is deficient in various minerals.
11th April 2008
I am not sure if there is a group noun for snowmen, but if there is, it could certainly have been used on the Commons last weekend. It was quite helpful in a way, as much of the cut grass left after our first cut got rolled up with the snow.
It certainly looked lovely whilst it lasted but I think most people were glad it disappeared so quickly. Sadly it vanished before I could get any decent photos; I was walking on the South Downs and it was gorgeous there. Just to complete the madness of the weather this spring, in the middle of the worst of the snowfall I saw something fluttering past, and on looking up I saw a swallow. It must have been wondering what on earth it was doing there and if it had any sense it would have turned straight round and headed back south. Looking back four weeks ago, I was watching bats on the wing and seeing the first brimstones of the year!
4th April 2008
Mercifully, the weather has relented enough for us to get the grass cut this week. It looks a little rough in places because it was getting quite long. We had to use the big rotary cutter this time to avoid doing any more damage than was unavoidable. We will hopefully be able to start using the cylinder mowers over the next couple of cuts which produces a much neater finish.
Once again, with the start of April, horses are allowed back on the Common. As ever, my thanks go to the horse riders for the restraint they have shown over the winter; it is remarkable how much damage a horse can do to paths in wet conditions.
27th March 2008
I and many other people have been going on about the early arrival of spring. Of course four weeks ago it seemed that everything was on the verge of sprouting, or nesting. However, things seem to have been slowed down so much by the endless cold and wet that we are pretty much back to where we would expect.
I see that the pair of Greylag Geese who have nested on Brighton Lake for the past couple of years are back. The picture on the left is from last year. It is a ridiculously small pond for them but they seem to like it and are not put off at all by the proximity of the main road. Even the noise of the stump grinding machine that was there this week does not seem to have bothered them. As soon as it is dry enough, I will arrange for the new clearance there and at Wellington Rocks to be harrowed and raked so that we can leave it to go to grass.
Talking of grass, we will commence grasscutting as soon as possible now; it is all down to the weather.
20th March 2008
It has turned out to be quite a busy week. As I mentioned in last weeks entry, the new owners of the Common offered to finance the stump grinding required after our clearances, and this has been started this week with the stumps around the Wellington Rocks. In the same area, we are also spreading the sand excavated for the foundations of the new cricket pavilion, so this area is coming together. Down at the Major Yorks Rd car park there have been new posts installed along one side to prevent cars spreading out across the grass.
14th March 2008
We seem to have got away with relatively light damage from the gales over the past week. There are a few trees down on both Commons and I will have someone in to sort them out next week. I am hoping that things will calm down weather wise after the equinox in a weeks time as it so often does.
Regular readers will know that the Commons have recently been sold and I am pleased to say that the new owners seem keen to help us in our work. We have recently carried out considerable clearances near the Wellington Rocks and at Brighton Lake. I have been struggling to find the money to complete these works by having the stumps ground out to allow future maintenance. So I was delighted when the new owners,Targetfollow, offered this week to fund the work. This means that this should be carried out in the next few weeks.
There will also be some work carried out next week at the Fairground car park. New posts will be going in along the south side of the site to contain the parked cars and neaten the whole area.
The new cricket pavilion is nearing completion and it is looking pretty impressive. The builder still has a huge pile of sand to remove and we have come up with a cunning plan. Part of this spoil is going to be dumped around the Wellington Rocks to fill in the areas of erosion which fill with water every winter and more will be put into the gullies between the rocks to cover the broken glass and litter that we struggle to remove from these narrow channels. It should also help keep the costs down for the cricket club as otherwise a fleet of lorries would be required to take it all off site.
7th March 2008
it has been a week of firsts. I saw my first brimstone butterfly of the year this week, always a lovely sight. I also notice that the first leaves are emerging on the Hawthorn trees and in a few areas, the first Dog's Mercury flowers are appearing. Slightly off the Common but whilst walking at a local lake last Sunday I watched sixteen Herons soaring above it. These are usually solitary birds but the chance of a little romance makes them quite sociable at this time of year.
The volunteers were out last week and they did some good work removing sycamore scrub and damaged birches to create a new woodland glade just below the Victoria Grove. We have piled up the cut material on the edges of the clearing to create habitat stacks that are very useful for many invertebrates and therefore their predators. We have tried securing the stacks with high tensile wire to stop the kids pulling them apart and building fires as has often happened. Time will tell as to whether this is going to work.
29th February 2008
We now have our amphibians back in most of the ponds on the Commons but as ever, Fir Tree Pond is the most spectacular. Around fifty or sixty frogs at a time can be seen and they have now produced a solid mass of spawn about twelve foot long by four feet wide (thats about 3m x 1.3m to any international readers). It is very difficult to even hazard a guess at how many eggs there are in such a volume. This will prove its worth next week if, as forecast, the weather turns cold again. At least the centre of the mass is insulated against the cold. The newer Cabbage Stalk Lane Pond is also well populated now but nothing in comparison, and in the much larger Brighton Lake, the weed in the centre can be seen moving and twitching with spawning activity. I am hoping that some of this is down to Toads as this pond has always been a stronghold for them.
The last of our volunteer days will take place this weekend. We will be widening a path in the woodland below the Victoria Grove to create a glade and allow more light into the area, thus increasing the diversity of habitat. We really do have to call a halt to any cutting then before the birds start nesting, which cannot be far away now. We will resume volunteer days in September. I will be having contractors in next week to take the stumps left by this clearance down to ground level, something that is not easy to do with a hand saw. That really will be it for now barring emergencies, as I have used up my budget. Fortunately, it is only a few weeks till the start of a new financial year and then I can get on with stump grinding the recently cleared sites. Then of course, it will be time to start on the grass cutting.
22nd February 2008
How nice it has been to have a peaceful week with all the cutting behind us. Just in time as well. The increase in night time temperatures brought the first of the frogs back to Fir Tree Pond. Only a few this morning but I suspect by the end of the weekend we will have a frenzy of amorous amphibians in this pond and Cabbage Stalk Lane Pond. That means the birds will not be far behind, I have been hearing woodpeckers drumming up there all week.
It has been half term this week, so lots of kids have been enjoying the Common. This is probably the reason I had to call the Fire Brigade out earlier in the week. They mentioned that they had been on standby all the previous day as a lot of the Sussex fire fighters were engaged on attending a fire on Ashdown Forest. It would perhaps be sensible to mention here that we are now at peak fire risk time for areas of heathland. The remains of last years bracken and grass is now tinder dry and the strong easterly winds common at this time of year combine to create a very dangerous situation. So, if you are walking on the Common or the Forest in the next week or two, please take care.
Having mentioned that a lot of children have been using the Common this week, they were
noticable mostly by their absence on Friday in the grey skies and cold wind. It was heartening to see however that at least some of them exhibit True British Fortitude and are determined to enjoy a picnic whatever the conditions.
15th February 2008
It has been an excellent week on the Commons, with the dry weather allowing us to complete almost all of the time sensitive work we had scheduled.
The chipping of the brush around Wellington Rocks is done as is our roadside clearance alongside Langton Rd and the removal of a few worrying trees around the site. We still need to come back at a later date to remove the tree trunks around the Rocks and carry out stump grinding there, plus around the car park, behind Brighton Lake and along the road edge but these jobs can be carried out whether the birds are nesting or not.
We also installed four new benches this week. All the benches were genorously donated by members of the public as memorials to family members and I hope they will all be well used and appreciated.
Unfortunately, the frosts of this week have held back the frogs from returning to our ponds in time for Valentines Day this year but I reckon that our first mild nights will bring them out. This looks unlikely for the next week but that is the cost of sunny days at this time of year.
8th February 2008
Thankfully, the weather improved during the week and allowed us to complete the removal of all the brush from the cutting around Wellington Rocks. The trunks of the trees remain on site but they can safely stay there until we can get the big tractor and timber trailer onto the land. We have also been clearing some overgrown hawthorn trees down at Bracken Pond. As soon as we finish the hawthorns, we will be moving on to carry out this years section of roadside clearance. This season we will be cutting back mostly scrub from the edge of the A264 from Tea Garden Lane to St Pauls Church. This continues our programme to reduce liability and risk as well as creating a scalloped, graded , woodland edge as is called for in our management plan drawn up by the Kent Wildlife Trust.
The new cricket pavilion is realy taking shape now with the roof going on. I am assured that it will be ready for the new season but there still seems a lot to do to me. I suspect at the very least that there will still be a smell of new paint for the first game.
1st February 2008
Although we have been halted by the weather at the end of the week, we have managed to get most of the cutting around Wellington Rocks finished.
We have taken away about five loads of chippings off site so far but most of the cuttings are still there. We will be back with the big chipper and a timber tug as soon as the ground dries up again. We still have to carry out some more clearance around the toilet block and we will grind out the elm stumps from the edge of the car park.
We are having to remove all of the cuttings from this project otherwise I fear that it will all end up being burnt on the rocks later in the year. If it was not for this risk, I would have liked to have left a lot on site as habitat stacks. Fortunately, we are able to take all the chippings and timber over to Brickhurst Farm at Pembury which operates a permaculture system as well as a wood recycling operation. So all is not wasted.
25th January 2008
At last we have been able to start work on the clearances around Wellington Rocks and Fir Tree car park. This work will take another week to ten days to complete so there is likely to be some inconvenience to users of the car park as well as a lot of noise and access restriction around the perimiter of the rocks whilst cutting is underway.
The weather also enabled us to carry out a renewal of the steps leading down to Fir Tree pond. The
old steps had done well to last the ten years or so that they did but were finally rotting away and it was turning back to a slope. The pond itself is brimming full and looking good. It has been a regular occurrence over the past few years for the frogs to be back spawning in this pond by Valentines Day; that is only three weeks away. I have already seen wasps and honey bees on the wing, I saw a heron flying with a stick in its mouth a few days ago and last weekend I watched a pair of great crested grebes mirroring and starting their courtship display. I also notice the crocuses next to the fairground are open and the daffodils next to Bishops Down are six inches high. It just seems to get earlier every year.
18th January 2008
I suppose the upside to our current weather is that it is easy to check all the drains and culverts are clear and it is nice to see all our ponds brimming full ready for the frogs to emerge in a few weeks time. The down sides are not being able to get on with our clearances and dicovering that your boots are no longer waterproof. Thankfully, although I may not be much good with a computer, at least I know how to re-boot myself!
Although there is no end in sight to the rain, we have to get on or we will be caught by the birds starting to nest. Therefore we are going to start cutting next week whatever happens and we will have to leave the cut timber stacked on site until the ground dries out. Fortunately, since the Common is on a substrate of sand it does drain very quickly and it should only take three or four days of dry weather to allow us onto the ground.
Finally, for any regular users of the Common, there is a delivery of steel arriving at the new cricket pavillion next Monday. A crane will be required to offload the beams and so Fir Tree Road will be blocked during the delivery. This is likely to take the whole morning.
11th January 2008
Well it may be a brand new year but we still seem to be stuck with the same problems. We were hoping to start the tree clearance around Wellington Rocks this week but the weather had other ideas. We will try again next week but it still is not looking good at least until Tuesday, which is as far as any reliable forcasts go.
Some time ago, I mentioned that we had painted the new stonework on the front of the bat refuge
with a yoghurt and plant food mixture to encourage lichens and mosses to grow and blend with the existing stonework. This is something that I had often heard about as a technique but had never actually used. As it turns out, it has proved amazingly effective. In an unfortunate bit of vandalism back in November, part of the new stonework was damaged and had to be replaced. This meant that when we repaired it, we had one small area of stone that had not been treated with the magic mixture and the contrast is remarkable.
If you are reading this before Monday, you will be wondering why I don't have a picture. Well unfortunately, my glamourous assistant, Julia, is unwell at present and whilst I wouldn't want you to think I am a computing moron; the truth is, I am. Hopefully Julia will return next week; the thought of me trying to upload pictures onto her website might just be enough.
4th January 2008
It seems that everybody is still on holiday; all of my contractors seem to be anyway, so nothing to report in terms of works this week. The volunteers will be out this weekend for their first sortie of the year. We will be tidying up a few areas around the Fir Tree Rd car park and Wellington Rocks.
I seem to say it every year at this time but already the birds are starting to call for a mate. Yesterday was freezing cold with snow flurries and it felt positively Siberian; twenty four hours later it is 12 degrees and the Great Tits are singing their hearts out. On the subject of birds, there seem to be a lot of Goldcrests about on the Common at the moment. You will need to keep your eyes peeled to see them working through the tree tops, but then they are Britains smallest bird.