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21st December 2012

I am afraid that I have very unseasonal news to report today. I am hearing reports of dogs picking up poisoned items on Rusthall Common and have been told that have been a number of deaths. The implication seems to be that someone is putting out poison bait, with the intention of deliberately targeting pets; but I would emphasise that these reports are not confirmed yet. I will of course, keep you all informed of any developments but in the meantime, I would urge all dog owners to be vigilant when walking on the Commons.

Well we seem to have avoided the extinction of the planet but we still have Christmas to get through. At least from today, we start to have longer days again. which is always cause for celebration. I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas; I am hoping to get a boat, it could be useful.

14th December 2012

The volunteers were out last weekend clearing bramble from the rock outcrops at Denny Bottom.  I then had a contractor there this week to clear all they had cut and to strim around many more of the rocks; the area looks a lot better for it.  It always amazes me that the bramble can grow there in such profusion on what is basically just sand; where does it get the nutrients from?  Another contractor has been in the same area for the tedious but important job of removing the grafitti that I mentioned last week. The outline of the grafitti is still visible where the lichen has been removed: perhaps I should try the yoghurt and Baby Bio trick to get it to grow back quickly.

The weather is being uncooperative again but I hope we will be making a start on our next project before Christmas. We will be opening the last section of the second Terrace Walk through the woodland behind Brighton Lake by removing the scrub and small trees that have invaded it sinc grazing stopped. It is still clearly visible within the woodland there with it's intact bank and ditch system. If the weather goes back to cold and dry, that would be perfect.

7th December 2012

I had a great holiday but it's nice to be back, although a thirty degree drop in the temperature is a bit of a shock to the system!

Because of the weather, not a great deal happened whilst I was away; we were unable to do any work to repair the damaged grass around Brighton Lake or at Sunnyside Rd. The land around Brighton Lake has drained and improved a little on it's own, so we took the fencing away this week and it looks a lot better for it. The pond itself is now completely full, the sediment has all settled and the water quality looks excellent; I am very pleased with the results of the clearance and it will be good watching the pond develop over the next six months.

Sadly, we had a quite severe graffiti attack on some of the rocks at Denny Bottom this week. The Police caught the offender and are, I believe, bringing charges. They asked me for an estimate of the cost of the damage done to the rocks but it is very difficult to assess that. Because the surface of the rock is so fragile, any work carried out to remove the paint also removes the weathered surface of the sandstone along with the lichens and mosses, leaving a white scar and an area very prone to further erosion and damage. This site is of course, a Geological Site of Special Scientific Interest, scheduled by Natural England, which makes such a childish and anti-social attack even more annoying. I have to admit, my thoughts were less than Christmassy when I saw it.

28 November 2012

Steve will be back at work on 3 December and his next blog post will be on 7 December.  In the meantime, please do not forget that the next volunteer work party will be on 8 December.

9th November 2012

The Common's trees are looking splendid at the moment with their full autumn colour on show. I don't imagine it will last much longer, so go and enjoy the display whilst it lasts.

We have a slight lull in our work at the moment as we finish off the last of the path widening and clearance. I am away on leave for the next few weeks and when I return, we should be starting on tree work. Our first major jobs will be the re-opening of the rest of the second Terrace Walk above Brighton Lake and the clearance of holly at the top of the 101 Steps to expose the last big rock outcrop there. We will of course also be carrying out minor remedial works on damaged or diseased trees at various sites across the Commons and hopefully, if funds permit, pushing back more roadside trees and scalloping the woodland edge to both improve safety and enhance the woodland edge habitats.

2nd November 2012

Although we have had some pleasant, dry days this week, they all seem to follow very wet nights, so we have not really got anywhere with sorting out the damaged ground around Brighton Lake. It remains very slippery in the area, especially on the steps and path at the rear of the lake as I found out to my cost this week, so please keep out and don't cross the fence at the moment. The pond is filling well and should be back to top level within the next couple of weeks. Having cleaned out this pond, I am looking at carrying out weed clearance on several other ponds over the next couple of years, although none of them will be anything like as difficult or dissruptive as this one.

We were back at Cinder Hill in Matfield this week to collect coppiced heather from the Kent High Weald site there. This material has been brought back and spread on our Common to seed various areas and expand our heather sites. This is a bit of co-operation that has worked well in recent years.

We seem to be having serious problems with our e-mails at the moment. We are only receiving them from people who we have corresponded with before; all others seem to be vanishing to who knows where in hyperspace. If any of you have written to us recently and not had a reply, that is probably why. If that is the case for anyone reading this, please accept our apologies and give us a ring on 01892 554250.

26th October 2012

Very happy to say that the de-silting work at Brighton Lake is now complete, the ruts have been roughly smoothed out and the pond is steadily filling up again. I am delighted with the clearance and relieved that we managed to complete the work whilst causing only very minor casualties to the fish in there. There was no way that we could have removed them prior to the work starting; if we had electro -fished the pond, the fish would have just remained tangled in the weed and it would have been impossible to net it. So many thanks to the chaps from C&P Plant Hire who worked so carefully and sensitively to achieve the result they did. Part of me now wants dry weather to allow us to quickly prepare the land around the pond for re-seeding and the other half of me wants lots of rain to fill the pond up as soon as possible, so I suppose one way or another, I should be pleased over the next couple of weeks.

Don't forget to put your clocks back this weekend.  

19th October 2012

This week has all been about Brighton Lake.  The machines started work on Tuesday and all we needed was a week of dry weather to get the work done; surely not too much to ask, especially as the forecast was quite promising?  Well so much for that idea; the weather has steadily deteriorated as the week progressed.  Once the machines were all on site and the water level was down however, we simply had to get on with it.  Things were not too bad until Thursday when it really started to go downhill with an overnight drenching, and then Friday has just been steady rain.  As a consequence, the area around the lake is now in a dreadful state, with huge ruts and deep mud.  On the plus side, the actual clearance of the pond has gone better than I could have hoped. The sheer volume of dense weed that came out has astounded me; far more than was anticipated.  In spite of this, the contractors have managed to remove the vast bulk of both it and the silt, without killing all the fish.  In fact, we have only removed one carp, a small pike and a rudd.  The contractors have gone home with a new pet terrapin.

We now desperately need a few dry days to help the soil dry out and then we should be able to repair the damage around the pond fairly easily.  There has been talk of a mini heatwave next week but I will believe it when it happens. Never mind, as the contractors said in a moment of desperate humour today "give it twenty years and you will never know we were here!"

12th October 2012

We have managed to finally get a cut on the grass near Inner London Rd to bring it back to some kind of shape. It looks a bit messy at the moment with the aftermath of the cut grass on it but that will soon go.

We have finally reached the point at which we can start on the de-silting of Brighton Lake. I have already opened the little sluice on the side of the pond and the water level is on its way down. The machine should be arriving on Monday morning to start removing the build up of silt from the bottom of the pond. This is going to be a messy job and the site is going to look awful over the next couple of weeks but I hope it will be worth it in the end. I doubt that this has been done before, so we will have the remains of 150 years of partially rotted weed to deal with! We will be doing all we can to minimise the damage to the grass around the pond but some damage is inevitable. Ideally, I now want a couple of weeks of dry weather in which to carry out the work and then some heavy rain to fill the pond back up as quickly as possible. What's the betting that we get precisely the opposite!

5th Septamber 2012

Although it was too wet again to cut the grass next to Inner London Rd, we have been able to cut the steep slope between Mt Ephraim and London Rd. This area has been slowly brought back into management over the past few years, clearing scrub and bramble that was starting to invade the bank and cutting and clearing the grass each year to reduce soil fertility. We have also cleared soil away from the rock outcrops there to expose some of them again. We have also recently carried out clearance to start to re-open the view point near the junction of Castle Rd and Mt Ephraim. This viewpoint used to look out over the lower part of the Town towards the station and out to Broadwater; although I was very sad to lose the big horse chestnut there a couple of weeks ago, it's loss will make it easier to open this view again, there is always a silver lining if you look hard enough.

The Friends volunteers will be out tomorrow for the first time this autumn, this time we will be clearing invading scrub from the grassland below Wellington Rocks. The volunteers meet on the first Saturday of the month throughout the autumn and winter and carry out much valuable work clearing, coppicing and planting, and generally carrying out labour intensive tasks that we couldn't afford to do otherwise.


28th September 2012

The weather certainly lived up to the season, with equinoctial rain and gales last weekend. It caused a few trees to come down, the most dramatic one being along Church Rd, where a large horse chestnut was heaved up by it's roots. This caused the closure of the road whilst an emergency tree surgery team came in to make it safe. The main part of the tree was dismantled and cleared this week. The tree in question was one of the two big chestnuts near the junction with Castle Rd and was one of my favourite trees on the Commons. Both these trees are amongst the first major trees to come into leaf each year and were a real sign of the arrival of spring. Both of them have suffered in recent years with leaf mining beetle and the fluxing cankers that have hit so many chestnuts in recent years. Lets hope the other one does not end up having to be felled as well.

The other casualty of the weather this week has been the grass cutting alongside London Rd. We are still planning to do this as soon as possible and at the moment, the weather looks reasonably hopeful for next week. We will also be cutting and picking up the grass at Denny Bottom.

21st September 2012

It is the equinox today, so it really is autumn now and only a month before the clocks go back; it is a relief therefore to have finally got all the long grass cut. That includes the wildflower areas next to London Rd that have now had the main crop removed, except under the trees where the big tractor does not fit. We will be returning to them next week with the small pick-up mowers to get a proper finish; they will then return to standard mowing for the rest of the year.

There is still a fair amount to do on both Commons with the small flail but my thoughts are definitely starting to turn towards winter work now. We will be starting on tree work next week with the removal of a couple of ash trees at the end of Common View that are suspected of being involved with a subsidence problem, and we will be clearing some holly scrub behind Brighton Lake to prepare a site to dispose of the silt from the pond when dredging starts there in a few weeks.

14th September 2012

We are almost there! We have only about a day's worth of cutting left on our long grass areas. It has been a bit of a slog this year but thankfully, the weather has held out for us. The small flail will continue over the next few weeks, clearing the edges of the big areas and pushing back the paths to their full width. The last act of the big flail will be to cut and clear all the sites involved in the wildflower experiment this year; this will be a great relief to a number of residents of Inner London Rd. The Borough Biodiversity Officer has arranged for a botanist to come in and survey these sites early next week and I will clear them as soon as possible after that.

I have finally heard back from the contractors who carried out the gas works in Rusthall earlier this year and left the area at the junction of Lower Green Rd and Rusthall Rd in such a mess all summer; they have promised to meet me next week to arrange for this area to be restored. I am very keen to get this carried out as soon as possible so that we can get some grass growing there before winter.

7th September 2012

The lovely weather this week has been perfect for cutting the Commons and both machines have been active. The big flail has been welded up yet again which has slowed things down a bit but we are still making good progress. I have been busy with contractors finalising arrangments for the de-silting of Bridhton Lake, which will commence towards the end of this month.

The big issue at the moment seems to be the future of the wildflower areas that we have left adjacent to London Rd. This experiment is nearing it's end and the grass will be cut and removed in the next few weeks. What happens next year will then be discussed at the next Conservators meeting. As I have said before, I feel that the grass areas above Church Rd and the two triangles at Vale Rd should return to normal cutting next year and the experiment should be tried on the other side of the road behind the coach park. Below Church Rd there were some interesting plants, particularly Harebells, which are quite rare on the Common, and I think this area is worth continuing with, albeit perhaps on a smaller area of this section. I am getting some very anti views from some of the residents of Inner London Rd but we would really like to get views from across the Town. If you have any thoughts on the future of these areas, please contact us at info@twcommons.org and I will put all the comments before the Conservators when they meet.

31st August 2012

Work continues with the big flail and it was starting to make it's presence felt with a lot of clearance on Tunbridge Wells. However, as so often happens, it has had to vanish again to be repaired and be welded back together again. It may indeed be the toughest machine on the market as the makers claim, but it is no match for the Common. In spite of that, it has proved to be a very effective management tool on the Commons since it was introduced and has made a huge difference over the years. It is just fortunate that the contractor who supplies it has his own repair workshop and mobile welding facilities!

I mentioned a few weeks ago that Fir Tree Pond is still full of tadpoles with thousands of tiny froglets around it's margins. It is still the same down there and it is becoming obvious that these tadpoles will not now survive. This situation is a result of the massive overpopulation of tadpoles in the pond competing for a limited food supply. The frogs that have developed are those that were spawned earliest and had a head start on the others. It is an interesting example of evolution in progress. reinforcing the success of early spawners, allthough they in turn run the risk of being hit by frost and cold weather. It's a harsh world out there.  

24th August 2012

We have made some progress this week on cutting both our long grass areas and our minor paths, although as I thought, the long grass is taking a lot of time to cut this year. Thankfully, this work of cutting and removing the long grass each year is definitely paying dividends in terms of the amount of grass that has to be taken away. I was down at Edgcumbe rocks today when it was being cut and was remembering the height of the grass there when we first introduced the collector flail about eight years ago. I have some slides of the first cut taking place and the grass was up to the windows of the tractor. This years growth is only about a quarter of that height, so clearly the process of reducing soil fertility is working.

We also managed to carry out some improvements to the new path at Happy Valley this week. The path runs from the Sweeps Cave to the top of the steep slope at the Beacon end of the site and was really too steep to be used comfortably, especially when it was wet. We have now added another flight of steps on the first section from the Cave. It is still just as steep of course, but it is now a lot easier to get up, and certainly a lot safer. We also went to look at the section of new path near the Bumps that has stayed so strangely wet when all around has dried, and we think we have come up with a cunning and subtle plan to sort it out. I don't think I will say any more till I find out if it is going to work!

17th August 2012

On Tuesday evening, about twenty members of the Friends and six experts from Kent Bat Group carried out an initial bat survey on both Commons. We set out from the Edgcumbe at dusk, armed with bat detectors and clipboards and set off in six groups to try and cover as much area as possible. Obviously, we could only survey a small proportion of the whole area, but, as a snapshot, it was very encouraging. There were a number of bats detected in all areas; as expected, the great majority were pipistrelles but we also picked up one noctule bat, as well as, probably, a whiskered bat. It was a fascinating experience, quite eerie at times, but a great way to spend a warm summer evening. Our group had a close encounter with a tawny owl along the Racecourse and, to be honest, we were reluctant to head back to the pub at the end of the session. I am hoping that one or two of us can get on a training course so that we can continue surveying on our own.

We made a start on the long grass this week and the big machine will be back for the whole of next week, which should enable us to make some serious progress. However, it became clear very quickly this week that it is going to be tough going. The grass is so coarse and wiry this year that the machine can only go slowly and  under full power if it is to be effective.

9th August 2012

It is nice to be back after a very pleasant break. It is now time for me to get on with cutting and clearing our long grass areas. The big collector flail should be starting on Monday with the cutting of major paths such as the Racecourse and the clearance of site lines at places such as opposite Bretland Rd on Rusthall Common. The small tractor was in whilst I was away and that will be continuing with the opening up of minor paths over the coming weeks. We also continued with our bench restoration programme over the past couple of weeks and I am very pleased with the results.

Going round the Commons this week after my return, I noticed the difference in the large stand of balsam adjacent to Castle Rd, which is now in full flower. I should really get rid of this invasive alien weed, but it does look spectacular and is at least an excellent nectar source.

I was also very pleased to see how well the harebells are doing in the grass below Wellington Rocks. It always amazed me that such a delicate little plant can survive in what is one of the most heavily used parts of the Commons. I was also surprised when I went down to Fir Tree pond. As well as the countless small frogs in the grass around the pond, there are still a lot of tadpoles in the pond itself. Most unusual this late in the year. 


Catch up on the Common - this Saturday, 4 August, near Wellington Rocks, from 10 am till 3 pm. Mini beast hunts and arts and crafts for children of all ages, plus your opportunity to tell us how you use the Commons and how we could make it better for you.

20th July 2012

It has been a busy week on the Common, and indeed for the whole Town. The Olympic Torch brought huge crowds out to see it and many of them found viewing positions on the Common. It was a great day and everyone seemed to be having a great time, especially the schoolkids, who were frantically waving and cheering anyone who drove past. Then today it was judging day for Britain in Bloom, a rather more nervous day for all those who have put so much work into it. The judges visited the Commons briefly, which was very nice but a bit frustrating as they are on such a tight schedule that we just get a few minutes. It would have been lovely to have been able to take them to the new clearances, or Edgcumbe Rocks.

We have been getting on with cutting paths and tracks, and the weather has allowed some progress on the bench renovations. It actually looks as though we might have a spell of warm, dry weather on the way, although that seems unlikely as I am on leave for the next two weeks; surely I cannot be that lucky?

Back in early August, possibly with a suntan.

13th July 2012

It has been nice to see a few orchids showing up in unexpected places again this year. They are strange, fickle things that appear suddenly and can then just vanish for several years; this year, several new sites have produced Common Spotted Orchids. Pleasingly, these are on areas that we have opened up in recent years by clearing the scrub and secondary woodland to create glades. It would be nice to think they might appear on this years clearance in the next few seasons.

We are continuing with cutting path edges and woodland tracks. This work will continue throughout  the next month or so and will gradually work its way around both Commons. I am on leave for a couple of weeks soon, and when I return, I have got the big collector flail booked to start cutting major paths and edges; starting with the Racecourse and finishing with the new wildflower areas on London Rd. Of course all that depends on some cooperation from the weather.


6th July 2012

We have finally managed to cut and clear the long grass at Denny Bottom, something I have been trying to accomplish for a number of weeks.  This whole area is very difficult to keep under control; the terrain makes it very difficult to get large machines on site and it is of course very costly to carry out hand work.  What we really need is sheep to graze the area, or possibly chamois!.  We still have a lot to clear around Apsley Street, but it is very difficult to do anything there because of the numbers of cars that are constantly parked along the road.

We have started cutting path edges now; somewhat earlier than usual, but the growth adjacent to them is very profuse this year.  We will be cutting the path that runs from opposite the Royal Wells to the traffic lights on London Rd early next week.  I see path users are being forced to walk on the grass there as the vegetation collapses over the footpath. I also hope that the weather is going to let us get on with bench renovation work next week.  I would like to get these finished before the school holidays start. 

29th June 2012

A somewhat better week, so we have been able to get a few things done. There has been a flurry of sight line cutting; some areas were getting very long. Any that have not been done by today should be cleared by the hedging flail on Sunday morning.  He has to come in at about 3.30 am in order to be done before the traffic and dog walker numbers start to build up.  With luck, we will be able to start some more bench renovation work next week and I hope we will finally be able to cut and clear the grass around Denny Bottom.

It has been interesting watching the grass on London Road over the past few weeks. The sections above Church Road are producing a much heavier, coarser, crop of vegetation and clearly have more enriched soil. They are much less attractive to look at than the section below Church Road and will clearly take much longer to get them into an acceptable condition.  The section below Church Road is looking quite promising, except for the area immediately adjacent to the traffic lights, where some major work was undertaken by Highways a few years ago.  Clearly, they restored the Common with imported topsoil with a much higher nutrient level.

The Beacon was finally removed from the Lower Cricket Pitch this week. Sad in a way, it looked quite nice there.

22nd June 2012

Well that's Midsummer Day over with, it's all downhill from here!

Grasscutting is a nightmare at the moment.  The rain makes it impossible to cut most of the time and when it does stop, the grass is so wet that we have to go over it two or three times to cut it properly and try and get a decent finish. Of course it is the same for everybody, so contracts are backing up, putting the contractors under more and more pressure. We are trying to get any urgent sight lines cut with strimmers to keep things safe but it is an uphill battle. If you are aware of anything serious we have missed, please do email me and let me know. In the meantime, apologies to all who are inconvenienced. The annoying thing is that we had the grass in pretty good condition before the deluge started. The hedging flail is promised for next weekend and that should be able to cut many of the banks and roadside edges whatever the weather.

15th June 2012

We have finally been able to cut the edges of the new wildflower areas adjacent to London Rd, and since the grass had got quite long, it still looks pretty rough. The Contractor will be doing the rest of the grass next week and at the end, they will go over the wildflower areas again to get a decent finish, which should greatly improve the look of these sites. We are also starting to cut the edges of paths and sight lines and will get on with this as quickly as conditions allow. The hedging flail will also be in either this weekend or next to cut the long grass on the banks adjacent to the roads, such as opposite Union House.

The Friends of the Common had their Tea Party on Wednesday at the Edgcumbe Hotel. By some miracle there was actual sunshine on Wednesday and everyone seemed to enjoy themslves in what was a lovely setting.

We have lost a few more trees during the winds this week; mostly small but sadly a large oak came down complrte with rootplate across Cabbage Stalk Lane; this should be cleared up over the weekend. Whilst it is sad to see a mature tree come down, the damaged timber and heaved rootplate has created some great new invertebrate and reptile habitat. As the saying goes; it's an ill wind that blows no good.

8th June 2012

The winds have brought a few trees down today, although nothing too large I am pleased to say.  At least it looks as though it will be calming down a bit after this weekend.

Nothing much has been happening work wise on the Common this week with it only being a short week, but it has been busy up there in other ways. A lot of people turned up for the lighting of the Jubilee Beacon on Monday night and, as far as I can tell, they all had a great time. The Borough Council cleaned up very well afterwards for us and, apart from the actual beacon still being there, you would not have known anything had happened by the next day. The pole and basket will be being removed in the next week  and the soil and turf replaced. With the wet conditions at the moment, it stands a chance of taking quite quickly.

The next cut of the grass will be taking place next week and we will be cutting the edges of the wildflower areas next to London Rd and cutting paths across them. This should smarten the whole area up somewhat and define the long grass areas properly.

1st June 2012

Our latest Royal Tree has been planted and the Beacon is all ready to be lit. Rain is forecast, however - good news for the tree, not so good for the Beacon.

We have started our work on the benches, with the ones round the cricket pitch finished already. We will be spreading out to others across the Commons as soon as the weather allows. There are a number of benches near Wellington Rocks that have hard standing to allow wheelchairs to access them easily. These will be part of the restoration programme and we will be resurfacing the wheelchair pads as well. Many of our bins have seen better days and we will also be running a programme to replace the worst over the next few years. Sadly, finances being what they are, we will only be able to replace about three a year. 

The next cut of the grass will take place in the comimg week and we will start to cut the edges of the grass alongside London Rd and cut a few paths across them.  It will also not be long before we have to start on road and path edges.  It is scary how quickly it  comes round; midsummer's day in three weeks! 

25th May 2012

Many of you will have noticed the cage being constructed on the Lower Cricket Pitch. This is not, as you may have hoped, part of a new zero-tolerance policy on litterers, but is in fact where the post is being installed that will carry the Beacon on the day of the Jubilee. On the other side of London Rd, on the grass between Church Rd and York Rd, we will be planting a commemorative tree for the Royal visit at 1.45 on Thursday, so there will be another hole with a rather smaller cage appearing there. The Common has a long history of Royal tree planting. The tree we will be planting this week will be in sight of the oak that marks Queen Victoria's Jubilee and not too far from the first Royal planting that I know of, the Queen Anne Oak, which is just down London Rd opposite Vale Avenue; that dates from 1700.

There seemed to be a huge amount of growth in the week that I was away. Everthing is finally out and the grass was in urgent need of cutting. We also seem to have a lot of Hawthorn flies on the wing, although nothing like as many as the huge swarms we had two years ago. As their name suggests, these flies are very much associated with hawthorn blossom and that is very evident at the moment.

We will be starting work renovating some of the benches over the next couple of weeks and we have had a very generous offer from John Harvey, the Cricket Club Captain, who is going to carry out the work on the benches around the cricket pitch for free. This will give us the chance to concentrate our money on some of the other benches across the Commons that are in urgent need,

11th May 2012

It seems that we are going to get at least a short break from the rain in the next week; something I am sure we will all be grateful for. The Common is looking very green and verdant at the moment, so get out there, have a stroll and enjoy the ever increasing level of birdsong. The next cut of the grass will be taking place next week and in accordance with our new experiment that I mentioned a few weeks ago, we will be leaving the grass between London Rd and Inner London Rd uncut. It will be fascinating to watch what blooms there over the next few months. At the next cut, we will make some paths through the long grass where people seem to be walking; lets hope some definite desire lines emerge.

I am on holiday next week and when I return it will be time to start thinking about the Jubilee celebrations. The Town Beacon will be being lit on the Lower Cricket Pitch on the day itself and we will be planting a Jubilee Oak on the 31st of May to mark both the Diamond Jubilee and the Royal visit taking place on that day. The tree will be sited between Church Rd and York Rd on one of the sections of grass that will be being turned into a wildflower meadow.

4th May 2012

I have been very pleased this week to see how the big clearance that we carried out over the winter has suddenly turned green. The grass seed that we sowed has germinated very well and there is a good covering across the whole area now; it did not seem very likely duing the very dry weather after we had carried out the sowing.

I spent an afternoon with the local Home Educators Group this week and we had a fun time pond dipping at Fir Tree Pond. I remember being very worried for the tadpoles a few weeks ago, but the wet weather has brought the pond back to full level.
Even though I had seen the amount of spawn there was in there this year, I was amazed at the huge netfulls that the children were getting with just a few sweeps through open water. There were quite a lot of smooth newts in the nets as well which was nice to see. The usual other creatures such as diving beetles and their larvae were captured as well but the sheer number of tadpoles was amazing.

We have been carrying out a few minor works this week such as putting in exrta posts around the Lower Cricket Pitch to keep unwanted vehicles off it and as soon as the weather permits, we will be back at Happy Valley to put in the required steps on the new path there. 

27th April 2012

The weather continues to be strange.  We had a fair amount of damage this week from the unseasonably strong winds, including quite a large birch that came up complete with its root plate and blocked a path near the Upper Cricket Pitch.  It is lovely to see some extra water in the ponds though, especially Fir Tree.  I see that the Himalayan Balsam is starting to appear near the cherry tree avenue, and this year it seems to have a fair bit of wild garlic mixed in.  I should spray off the Balsam, which is an invasive weed, but I don't want to lose the garlic; a dilemma!

The wet weather has revealed a couple of problem areas on the new path at Happy Valley: it is quite slippery on the two steep sections.  I had hoped to avoid putting in steps on this path as it would have been useful to have been able to drive the compact tractor along it's length.  It is clear, however, that we cannot leave it as it is and so we will get on with putting a few steps in as soon as the conditions improve.

20th April

We have finally finished off the chipping opposite Vale Rd, which brings a conclusion to our winter work programme and we are now well into the spring schedule, having completed our second cut of the grass. We are planning to run an experiment with the grass this year on the sections between London Rd and Inner London Rd and on the two triangles of grass at the end of Vale Rd. We plan to select a few patches within those areas and leave the grass uncut to see what wild flowers emerge when they are given the chance and are not simply cut off every two weeks. When flowering is over, we will resume cutting of the patches in the normal way for the rest of the season. This may or may not be successful and it will be interesting to see public reaction. If it is popular, we could extend the project in future years and plug plant a greater diversity of flowers into the mix. Keep your eyes on it and let us know what you think.

We had a report this week of a member of the public who found a needle on the Common and put it with other rubbish he had picked up into the bins at the Forum. It is unusual to find needles on the Common, but if you do spot anything, please contact us so that it can be disposed of safely. I worry not only about the safety of the person finding it, but also the safety of the chap emptying the bins if he does not know it is in there. Having said that, thank you as always to the many many users of the Commons who help us by picking up rubbish as they walk round.

13th April 2012

It has been great to have some real April showers this week; everything is looking so much better for it.  The grass on the big clearance has started to germinate and, with the warm periods between the showers, it should not take long for a green haze to appear.  We still have our last bit of chipping to do but the contractor is promising that it will be done this weekend.  We will be undertaking our second cut of the amenity grass next week: it has suddenly started growing very vigorously.

The level of birdsong has risen dramatically over the past week as lots of our summer migrants start to arrive.  I have seen quite a few house martins this week, taking insects over a local lake; no cuckoos as yet but I don't suppose it will be very long before they make their presence felt.  I am again seeing far more bumble bees than honey bees active on the Common, which is rather worrying.  Much of the gorse is in full flower at the moment and a lot of insects are enjoying the nectar on offer.

5th April 2012

Well there was not a great deal of rain but I hope it will prove to be enough to get the grass seed germinating. There is meant to be some more over the Easter weekend, just in time to celebrate the start of the hosepipe ban! Even if the promised rain does not materialise, the cloudy weather will at least slow down evaporation from our ponds. Fir Tree is now full of free swimming tadpoles; a bumper year in fact, but the water in the pond is disappearing fast.

The very last of the tree work should be finished next week. We have completed all the felling but there remains some brush to be chipped or removed on the bank opposite Vale Rd. Then, as our new budget becomes available we will start to think about bench renovations and bin replacements. There are also some more posts to go in to protect vulnerable parts of the Common.

Most of our trees are now breaking into leaf and the Common is greening very fast. On Edgcumbe Rd, the new cherry avenue is just flowering and it is putting on a better diplay each year. Although the weather forecast may not be very tempting for the long weekend, try and get out there at some point. We are just entering that magical period when everything is fresh and vibrant and it won't last very long with such dry soil.

30th March 2012

The weather men seem to have got it right and it looks as though our hot spell is over. They are even forecasting rain for Tuesday! Good news for the seed we put down a week ago and very welcome for the rivers, but the cold will catch a lot of creatures out.; I even saw bats on the wing this week.

We have carried out our first cut of the amenity grass for the year. There were some teething problems with machinery but it is done. We finished the work on the kerbing at Harmony St this week. There remains some landscaping to carry out on the bank behind it but that will have to wait until our new budget is available.

23rd March 2012

It has been a fabulous, though dry, week. We have now finished all the preparation, rolling and seeding of the clearance behind the Forum and it looks great. All we need now is a little rain to help the seed germinate.

Over at Harmony St, the work on the kerbing has been finished but we have to put a bit of tarmac down on the road surface to even out the camber and make it easier for cars to get one wheel up on the lower kerb. This is due to be carried out next Wednesday.

The warm weather has quickened the frog spawn in Fir Tree Pond and the whole pond is now quivering as thousands of tails have started beating. There are still frogs there and some spawning continues but not at the manic level of a few weeks ago. The horse chestnut trees on Church Rd are breaking into leaf and I have seen quite a few Brimstone butterflies and a few Orange Tips on the wing. I know we are desperately short of water and the effects will be felt later in the year, but at the moment it is just glorious to feel the warm of the sun on your back. Enjoy the weekend.
16th March 2012
We have been delayed with preparing for seeding on the clearance behind the Forum, which will now take place next week. It's a shame because there is a little rain forcast for the weekend and that would have been perfect for the newly sown seed. However, the machine was available for today, so we have been able to carry out some work at Happy Valley that was scheduled for later in the year. We have excavated a new path running up the steep slope there to link the existing path from the Sweeps Cave to the Beacon end of the escarpment. I am pleased to have been able to have done this now, so that it will be available for users during the summer

At Harmony St, the kerbing work is almost complete. All that remains is to tarmac up to the new kerbs and insert some concrete between the two layers. We will put some of our restoration seed mix there to green it all up as soon as possible.
Spring is coming on us very quickly now. I have seen several butterflies this week, including the first Brimstones of the year. I see the big Horse Chestnuts on Church Rd are coming into leaf as well as many of the smaller trees.

9th March 2012
Work at Harmony St to install the new kerbing is proceeding well and we should be finished by the end of next week. At Sunnyside Rd, the work to renew the gas main has been causing chaos, both on the Common a well as to traffic in the area. They had a moling machine there on wednesday that spewed a vast pile of mud onto the Common and the whole area looks like a first world war battlefield at the moment. We still haven't been approached by the gas supplier and nor has the owner of the Commons. Hopefully, the longer they leave it without talking to us, the more moral pressure they will be under to give some compensation to us. We shall see! As a contrast, all the crocuses are out on the other side of the road and are making a very brave display.
Over on Tunbridge Wells Common, we have now finished the stump grinding on the big clearance behind the Forum, bringing the destructive phase of the project to an end. Next week a machine will be arriving to clean up the site and prepare it for seeding, which I hope will take place by the end of the week. With luck, this should germinate quickly and the whole site should start to green up by early April.

2nd March 2012
Fir Tree Pond has been a frothing frenzy of frantic frogs all this week. The activity is subsiding as the weather cools but there is a great deal of spawn in the pond already. Many people have been enjoying the sight and trying to get photos; it's one of those wonderful spectacles that really marks the onset of spring.  There are more photographs in the gallery.
We have been busy again this week. This time we have been installing large posts along both sides of Sunnyside Rd where it crosses the Common. This should stop the gradual erosion of the Common edge there and also make the whole area look much smarter. The residents seem pleased with the work and in fact have made a contribution to the costs, which is very nice to report. Sadly, in the same area, contractors from Southern Gas have turned up unannounced and started digging the grass up in a major operation. We understand the work needs doing but it would be nice to have been asked, rather than have them just turn up and wreck the area. It seems the renewal work is going to take about fourteen weeks, as they have to work their way right down to Bretland Rd.

Next week we will be getting underway with installing double kerbing at Harmony Street to sort out the problems there. We will be removing the posts that were put in last year, so it should increase the space available. My next job then will be to try and stop people parking up on the grass on the Toad Rock side of the road so that I don't have to re-install the posts there!

24th February 2012
We have had a busy week. The work on the edges of Castle Road has been completed, we have taken down some large, dangerous trees that were hanging over the Pilates studio on London Rd behind the 4 wheel drive dealership there and we have pretty much finished the clearing up of the big new clearance between there and Castle Road. I am pleased to have got this far because we are clearly just in time. The frogs were back in Fir Tree Pond this morning when I had a look, and that usually coincides with onset of bird nesting. Next week, we will start stump grinding on the clearance and the following week a machine will come in to prepare the ground for seeding. Once again we will be putting down our mix of grass seed suitable for sandy soils and, with luck and a little rain, it should turn green quite quickly.
Also this week, we have planted two oak trees donated by the Friends to mark the Diamond Jubilee.
One is on Rusthall Common on the grass area at the top of Lower Green Rd and the other is on Tunbridge Wells Common on the big new clearance carried out a couple of years ago near the new cherry tree avenue at Edgcumbe Rd. Also near there, some of you may have noticed a new hedge planted adjacent to the path beside the Edgcumbe Hotel, that we have put in to hide the rather ugly storeroom building there.

17th February 2012
Work has continued throughout the week on the big clearance and excellent progress has been made.  All the trees that have to be removed, except the roadside ones, are now down.  Most of the top has been disposed of and the log wood will be going on Monday. We will then be starting on the other side of Castle Rd, taking down damaged and overhanging trees from the roadside along the length of the road, as well as removing the two oak trees that are hanging right over the fitness studio on London Rd.  With luck, all of this should be done by the end of next week, well in time for the start of bird nesting; I am pleased.
I now have my new camera (it's a Fuji HS20 for those that are into that sort of thing), so we should be able to bring you regular new photos again.

10th February 2012
Work is progressing very well on our big clearance project: we have completed almost all the cutting and have now started to clear away the arisings. We still have some crown lifting to do on the remaining trees to improve the views through the cleared area; this simply involves removing low branches from the large trees that are being retained. Already it is possible to see the improvement to the area.
As part of this years work, we also intend to cut back dangerous or overhanging trees from the other side of Castle Rd. It seems sensible to do this at the same time as the big clearance and complete the work in this area. As well as the obvious safety benefits, there are other reasons for this work. Castle Rd is one of the worst roads in West Kent for car crime, mostly break ins to steal radios or valuables left there. The ease of concealment and escape is one of the reasons for this, so our clearance should help, especially as it will give much better coverage by the CCTV camera at the end of the road.

3rd February 2012
We started work this week on the first of the new clearances I mentioned last week. We are working in the area of the Common bounded by Castle Rd, Edgcumbe Rd and London Rd. We have begun clearing between the footpath coming up from the Forum and Castle Rd, intending.to leave any decent trees and remove the rest. The trouble is that I cannot find anything much worth keeping in this area. There is plenty worth saving in the rest of the proposed clearance but I think we will be doing some re-planting here with some native species before the spring. We have also started to clear around the anthills near Highbury; this is one of our best remaining acid-grassland sites on the Commons. We have pushed back bramble from the anthills and have coppiced gorse there, as well as removing encroaching scrub and crown lifting trees. The volunteers will be planting 120 trees on the edge of the area this weekend to provide future screening against road noise.

27th January 2012
I am very pleased to say that we have secured another generous chunk of funding for some exciting projects on the Commons this year. In the autumn, we will be carrying out some de-silting work on Brighton Lake and some extra work at Happy Valley to extend the path network. The first project will start next week with a continuation of the clearance work opposite Vale Rd that we started a few years ago. We will be removing damaged and fallen trees, plus a number of birch saplings and a lot of bramble. The aim is to create more wood pasture like that adjacent to the path coming up onto the Common from the station,
We heard some very sad news this week with the death being announced of Patrick Shovelton who founded the Friends of the Common in the early 1990's. Patrick was a real driving force after the hurricane in 1987; he did a great deal to push the Conservators forward with the consultations with the Kent Wildlife Trust that lead to the adoption of our management plan. His energy and charisma gave the Friends a great start and it is still a thriving body which works closely with the Conservators; a very valuable legacy to have left the town. Everyone who worked with Patrick will have fond memories of him and he will be sorely missed.

 20th January 2012
I am sad to report that we have had a recurrence of our old vandalism problems at our bat and reptile refuge near Fir Tree Road car park. The stonework blocking the old entrance was kicked in again, leaving it open to the elements, which must have been a rude awakening if there were any bats in residence. If there were, I hope that the frosty nights did not do too much harm. We have already repaired the damage and closed up the hole. This happened several times in the past and we wondered if kids believed that it was the entrance to the rumoured tunnels that supposedly run under the Common and that was the reason for the damage. To try and stop this, we put up a sign explaining what was behind the wall and this seemed to have stopped the problem until now. Let's hope that this is a one off.
We will be carrying out some clearance on Rusthall Common next week to remove encroaching scrub and bramble adjacent to the footpaths at Still Green and Taylors Hill.
13th January 2012
We have been clearing a few more damaged trees that we found this week but it has been a fairly quiet period. The volunteers did some good work at Edgcumbe Rocks so we could do with a bit of rain to help the trees they planted to block road noise in the future. We have been planning ahead for the next few months and preparing for the forthcoming Conservators meeting. We have a fair bit of roadside tree clearance to complete before the nesting season and it is starting to feel as though that might be early again this year. We have also been getting things ready for the start of grasscutting, which is not that far away. We have gone out to tender again this year, so I may be having to organise a new contractor.
There have not been any photos on this page for a few weeks now and that is because my camera has finally given up. Fortunately, I have been offered some money to replace it, so hopefully I should be able to start posting them again soon

6th January 2012
Happy New Year. I hope you had a great Christmas and holiday break; I did.
The new year certainly started with a bang. The stormy weather on Tuesday was the worst we have had for a while and did considerably more damage than the winds at the end of last year. Having said that, we still got off quite lightly. There is a lot of debris on the ground and a few minor trees down but apart from Hungershall Park, where we had to remove half a dozen trees that had heaved their root plates, there was relatively little cost to the Common. .
Now that the weather has calmed down and the sun is shining again, spring does not seem too far away. As I was out on the Common this mornibg the birds were very active and the Great Tits in particular were very vocal calling for mates. Normally, by Valentines Day we have frogs arriving in Fir Tree Pond and that is only around five weeks away, so keep your fingers crossed.
The volunteers will be out tomorrow planting some new trees at Mt Edgcumbe and clearing a bit of scrub from the rocks and then we will be starting to concentrate on tree work for the rest of the winter. I want to continue my programme of pushing back roadside trees and scalloping the woodland edge. The tragic events in Tunbridge Wells on Tuesday make this work seem even more prudent.

Page last updated: 22/01/2013