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20th December 2013

Work has been underway this week to clear drainage ditches across both Commons; probably just as well given the rain that we are getting at the moment. We have continued with the clearance of the new path on Rusthall Common and good progress is being made. I don't suppose the work will be finished before Christmas but I hope that the route should at least be passable by then.

It is the shortest day tomorrow. It always lifts my spirits to think that the days will start getting longer, even if the worst of the weather is probably still to come. Definitely a reason for celebration.

I will be back in a couple of weeks to let you know what happens on the Commons in 2014. If the weather permits, we will be getting on with a new clearance on Tunbridge Wells Common between the Victoria Grove and the Racecourse straight after the break.

I hope you have a great Christmas and New Year.

16th December 2013

Sorry for the delay in posting this; our system fell victim to Friday 13th!

We had a good day with the volunteers last week, with lots of useful clearance at Bulls Hollow and the clearance of the ivy that was starting to completely obscure the Loaf Rock at Denny Bottom.

Still over at Rusrhall, we have started on cutting a new path through the woodland in the central section of the Common. This path will run from the bottom of the steps down from the Tarry Path and make its way through the little valley back towarfds Rusthall Rd, coming out near the junction with Sunnyside Rd. This work will open a new route through an area that has been unaccessible for many years and should largely complete clearance work in this compartment of the Common. Whilst we are there, we will also be clearing silt from the pond there to re-open some usable clear water for our amphibians.

6th December 2013

We were able to take advantage of the continued dry period this week and installed a hard surface on the path leading to the Marlpit Ponds on Rusthall Common. Almost 40 tonnes of stone had to be put down, so we were very lucky that the conditions allowed heavy machinery to repeatedly track over the area without causing too much damage. The shift of attention over to Rusthall meant that the clearance on Tunbridge Wells Common was temporarily halted but we will return to that next week and should be able to finish then.

Thursday's strong winds stripped the majority of the remaining leaves off the trees and brought most of the autumn colour to an end. The colours of the last few weeks were absolutely stunning, it was one of the finest displays I can remember and went on very late; it is, after all, only two weeks to the shortest day now. 

29th November 2013

It has been a busy week and much has been accomplished. Bracken Cottage pond on TW Common has been cleaned out and the outlet repaired. This should fill up nicely over the next few months and will return to its proper depth now the leak has been sealed. We also partially dredged Fir Tree pond (left), removing much of the reed mace that was starting to take over one corner. There is now a good depth of open water ready for the return of our frogs in just a few months time. We will clean out the other side of the pond in a couple of years.

We have continued with our clearance down near Castle Rd and work is progressing well. Next week will probably see the end of this task, after we have cleared a new path through to Wellington Rocks and ground the stumps below soil level.

The wildflower areas next to London Rd were raked with a chain harrow to prepare them for seeding with Yellow Rattle this week.  We also sowed some Devils Bit Scabious, Cowslip and Knapweed seed in the same areas. The Yellow Rattle is going in because it is parasitic on grass and should help reduce the problem of the grass outcompeting the new wildflowers in these areas. Further down London Rd, outside the Old Post Office, we have created two new seed beds on the little triangles of grass there. These have been sown with Poppy seeds which should come up next spring. This is to commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War next year; you may see Poppies appearing elwhere on the Common too. 

22nd November 2013

Well the weather certainly did not cooperate as we hoped, and my contractors spent a pretty soggy week. We have started on the clearance near Edgcumbe Rd but conditions have made progress fairly slow. It really was not easy getting the fire going apart from anything else. We will continue next week and should finish without too much trouble. As well as the clearance, we will be creating a new path through the remaining woodland towards Wellington Rocks. Once all the cutting is done, we will grind all the resulting stumps below ground level, so that future maintenance of the site will be easy and inexpensive. As we approach next spring, we will be seeding the area with our restoration grass mix, just as we did on the recent clearances further down Castle Rd.

Now that the leaves are dropping quickly, it will soon be time to start to clean some our paths and clear some of our drainage ditches.  We are still waiting to put in the new surface on the path to the Marlpits on Rusthall; I think we need some frosty weather before that happens now.

15th November 2013

The improvement in the weather this week allowed the Common to dry out somewhat and we were able to complete the grass cutting and path clearance at Happy Valley. We have carried out a great deal of work in this section of the Common in recent years, which means that there is a lot of maintenance to keep everything open. It is a lovely area and it can be properly appreciated in the winter when the leaves are off the trees and the views open up showing the dramatic topography of the site.

We also managed a final cut of the amenity grass areas this week to leave everything neat for the winter. All the cutting equipment will be going into mothballs now, but it will not be long before they are back again; probably around the middle to end of next march.

Hopefully the weather will continue to be cooperative next week as we are planning to start on the first of the winter's clearances. This will involve opening up between the two paths that come down from the Wellington Rocks to the top of Edgcumbe Rd. To accomplish this we will mostly be removing young birch and sycamore saplings although there are one or two of the larger trees that are damaged enough  to need remedial work or possibly even felling. When it is finished, it will not only open another sunny glade for the benefit of our reptiles and invertebrates but will also partially re-open one of the classic old vistas across the Lower Cricket Pitch towards Trinity Church tower.

If we are very lucky with the weather, we may also be able to put in the new path we plan on Rusthall Common to improve access to the Marlpit Ponds area.  

8th November 2013

The volunteers were out last weekend and they helped clear a lot of the fallen timber from the Racecourse, as well as clearing some of the regenerating scrub from one of our heather sites, prior to it being cut by the big flail this week. These heather sites are important "stepping stones", allowing lizards and other reptiles, as well as many invertebrates to spread back out and recolonise the areas of the Commons that had been consumed by scrub since the loss of grazing in the early nineteen hundreds. We create these new heather areas on parts of the Common that been cleared and scraped, or sometimes on areas that have suffered from fire damage. We import cut heather from Ashdown Forest and Cinder Hill Reserve near Matfield and spread it out on our prepared sites to allow the seed ro drop out and germinate. However, without any grazing animals to remove birch, sycamore and other seedlings, these areas are quite ephemeral and would quickly be lost again without regular cutting. Hopefully, the cut parts of these sites will regenerate and will give us different age groups of heather within them, which will increase their wildlife value still further.  

1st November 2013

Although we lost a few trees in last weeks storm, we got off relatively lightly.  Strangely, it was the Apsley Street area that suffered most, not what you would expect in what seems a fairly sheltered area. The most serious was an oak that had its top snapped out, which ended up still lodged in the tree right over Apsley Street.  To complicate the situation, the tree was next to a telecom pole with a tangle of phone lines underneath it, and the road was already in chaos because a new gas main is being installed there.  We had to get a large cherry picker in which completely blocked the road for a day, meaning that the gas engineers had to abandon work until all was safe.  Just further down the road, another smaller, ivy clad tree came down onto two parked cars.  Amazingly, when we cut everything away and cleared all the sawdust, they were both completely undamaged.  Apart from that, everything else was quite minor and we had all the paths open again by the end of Wednesday, although we still have some clearing up to do on the ground. 

25th October 2013

The new path at Common View is in place ready for Saturday's bonfire and fireworks. To judge from the forecast, it will be a boon to all, as it looks to be wet and very windy. The worst of the wind is predicted for Sunday night, so we will be on standby to deal with any damaged trees and fallen branches.

We have been clearing the 101 Steps and the slopes of Happy Valley this week. The small flail will be there next week to cut all the level areas and we will be trying to get the bramble below the Sweeps Cave under control. We will also be installing yet more anti-parking posts at the top of Major York's Rd and at the old Master Transcriptions site near the Pantiles.

18 October 2013

We have continued with the anti parking post replacements last week but also had our first damaged trees of the season, including one that temporarily blocked Castle Rd for a while. Most people were very understanding about the delay as we cleared away the timber, but some others were not. It is quite extraordinary how angry some people get, even with the men who are trying to re-open the road for them, and rather amusing as well at times!

Our main task in the coming week is to install a new path onto the Common at the recycling centre at Common View. The existing access point can be quite slippery when it is wet underfoot and I have had several requests to do something about it. We are keen to get it done by next weekend because, of course, it is Rusthall bonfire there next Saturday.

This change in the weather has really accelerated the turning of the leaves and there are some lovely colours emerging. Some of our field maples in particular are splendid now; lets hope it isn't all blown away too quickly.

11th October 2013

A bit of a wake up for us today with gale force winds and tumbling temperatures; a taste of things to come I am afraid with it only being a couple of weeks until the clocks go back. It was only last Saturday that I was out with the volunteers on their first foray of the season and we were all sweating as we cleared gorse and bramble from the Wellington Rocks and removed the new oak scrub from the grass between the rocks and the Victoria Grove. Lots of regular faces turned out and we had some new recruits as well, which is always nice.The volunteers will continue to meet on the first Saturday of the month through until April when we stop for the start of the nesting season.

We got a cut of all the amenity grass areas completed gefore the rain came. We are reaching the end of our scheduled cuts now but we will continue as long as the state of the ground permits even if we have to pay for an extra one or two; we never know how when we will be able to start next year if we have a wet winter, so it is always worth cutting as late as possible in the autumn.

We have been replacing a lot of missing anti-parking posts down Inner London Rd this week and will be carrying out the same task next week at the Master Transcription site and on the drive to the Edgcumbe Hotel. We have been meaning to do this for ages and the start of the wet weather has finally spurred us into action.  

4th October 2013

We have finished cutting the bank next to London Rd although we still have to clear the cuttings when they have had a chance to dry. If you walk past, you may notice a couple of small patches that have not been cut yet. This is because those areas currently have quite large wasp nests in them and we decided to take the prudent course of waiting till there have been a few frosts before we clear them! We also brought the mowers  back in to cut over the wildflower areas that had been cleared with the big flail and get them to a condition where they can now go back into our routine cutting regime. In the same area, below Church Rd, we have been replacing damaged and missing anti parking posts to try and halt illegal parking on the grass there. When these are done, we will be moving on to replace posts on the drive to the Edgcumbe Hotel and around the parking area outside the Master Transcription building on Major York's Rd.

This week has also seen us get close to the end of the clearance of our tracks and paths. We have done a full clearance around Edgcumbe Rocks and they now look great; we have also carried out extensive clearance around Common View and this should now be ready for the Rusthall Bonfire celebrations in a couple of weeks. That really just leaves us a few bits and pieces on Tunbridge Wells Common and Happy Valley to finish. 

27th September 2013

The promised good weather arrived and gave us a lovely week, the autumn colours are starting to appear and it is looking like a good mushroom season is upon us. There are still good numbers of bees and butterflies about and there seem to be quite a number of Southern Hawker dragonflies on the wing at the moment, hunting over our glades and grasslands.

We have started cutting the big bank between London Rd and Mt Ephraim. The cut grass will be left to dry out and then collected, so it will take a while to finish but then it will bring the cutting of the large grassed areas to an end. We still have a few weeks work left on the tracks and paths but we are definitely reaching the turning point from grass cutting to trees and scrub in our work schedule. The volunteers will be starting their winter tasks next saturday, with the usual clearance of scrub and gorse from around the Wellington Rocks and the grassland between them and the Victoria Grove.

20th September 2013

It is the equinox tomorrow and by rights we should be experiencing rain and gale force winds. Instead it looks as though we have a bit of an Indian summer to look foreward to over the next few days. Good news for most of us but bad for our litter picker, who is never happier than when wet weather keeps everybody indoors. However, things change quickly and it will soon be cold and wet enough even for him, so make the most of it.

My week has been dominated by one of the quarterly meetings of the Conservators but we still did manage to get some practical work done, completing the clearance around Brighton Lake and the Terrace Walks. I am very pleased with the way that the new section of the Lower Walk that we opened up last winter has greened up. Work clearing tracks and paths will continue for the next few weeks and we will also be cutting and clearing the big bank between St Helena and Gibraltar Cottage.

In spite of all the road closures, around fifteen people turned up for last sundays guided walk. Both we and the competitors in the 10K run were treated to some unexpectedly lovely weather.

13th September 2013

We have finally finished cutting and removing the long grass areas with the big flail collector. We still have to clear the big bank between Mt Ephraim and the coach park on London Rd but this has to be cut by hand; it is simply too steep for the flail to work on. We have crown lifted the trees below Church Rd to enable the wildfower areas to be cut with the big machine but here too, we still have to carry out some cutting with a smaller machine to get the last bits. There are plenty of signs that the wildflower plugs we put in earlier in the year have taken well; we saw devils bit scabious, mallow and knapweed in flower alongside our harebells. Hopefully, many more plants will flower next year and they should be helped by the extra light we are allowing in by the crown lifting. Cutting the paths and tracks with the small flail will be continuing for the next few weeks, so I am hoping the weather stays reasonably dry.

This Sunday is Heritage Day and there will be a guided walk of the Commons, starting from Fir Tree car park at 10 30. In an unfortunate clash, the Hospice in the Weald 10K run will be starting on the Lower Cricket Pitch at the same time. Because of this, most of the roads around the Common will be closed, so it could be difficult to reach Fir Tree Rd. On top of this, the weather forecast is not good so I wonder how many will turn up.

6th September 2013

A lovely week again other than today, which has allowed good progress on the cutting of all the grass and paths. I think there may have to be a pause next week if the weather predictions are correct but we should still have plenty of time to get finished before the weather really changes.

We installed another new seat next to the cricket pitch by Wellington Rocks  this week; we are getting quite a number of donated, memorial benches these days. It is nice to know that people loved the Commons and want to have memorials there but unfortunately, everybody wants them in this area, I guess it is the heart of the Commons and the area most people think of. This latest bench was installed as part of the ring of benches right on the boundary and I think that is where any further benches in the area will have to go. However, since Linden Park CC have gone up a division, we have had noticably more spectators up there, so I hope that some more benches on the boundary will be quite useful.

30th August 2013

The small flail has been back this week and is making good progress on the smaller paths and tracks across Tunbridge Wells Common. It will be back next week to make a start on the paths on Rusthall Common and should be able to make a significant impact. Apart from the Happy Valley section, it takes relatively little time to cut the paths on Rusthall Common as there comparatively few of them. The big flail will be returning next week as well and will be cutting the meadow areas of the Commons. We will be starting down at Brighton Lake and hopefully running straight through both Commons in the next two weeks. I just hope the long range forecast is correct because at the moment it is showing good weather till the middle of September.

As well as being invaluable for letting our big machines cut the Commons, the current weather is simply a joy to be out in. With everything reaching ripeness, the Commons seem to be bathed in gold in this lovely sunshine. The rowan berries are fully out, the sloes are ripening, the blackberries are nearly ready and the hazels are covered in cob nuts; it is definitely the end of summer and the start of autumn. I have to confess that this and early spring are my favourite times of year.

23 August 2013

A very quiet week since most of my comtractors have been on holiday this week. Most of them return next week, so we should be resuming grass and track cutting then. We were able to take advantage of the dry, still conditions this week to do some spraying to treat a stand of japanese knotweed at Common View and also to kill much of the bramble that is invading the area in front of Toad Rock. I am always amazed by the way that bramble thrives on our Commons, especially in places such as this where it is growing on nothing but sand; how does it find enough nutrients to flourish as it does. Sadly, we have not been able to continue with our bracken control programme this year, as the specific herbicide we use has been suddenly banned by the EU. Whilst there are many herbicides that will effectively kill bracken, the great thing with the one we use, Asulox, is that all it kills is bracken, so it is possible to treat an area without destroying everything else there as well. The reason for the ban is not because Asulox is harmful to the environment if used properly, it is because of a by product of the manufacturing process. This is a disappointing situation as Asulox has made a big difference to the Commons in recent years and there is no similar product that can replace it . There seems to be some hope that the situation can be resolved, so I and many other reserve managers are keeping our fingers crossed. 

16th August 2013

We have made good progress with path cutting this week, having completed most of the central block of Tunbridge Wells Common. The contractor we use for this work is very much in demand at this time of year, so we have to be content with one or two days a week from him. I will probably get him to go over to Rusthall in the next couple of weeks, where he should be able to make a big impact in a very short time.

The big flail will be back soon to cut our meadow areas including the experimental wildflower areas adjacent to London Rd. These areas have perhaps been a bit of a disappointment this year with not many of the wildflower plugs that we planted last spring flowering, except for the cowslips early on. In spite of this, the plants seem to be doing pretty well within the sward and are probably just getting properly established and should start to show next year. We will be crown lifting the trees here soon to allow the tractor to get proper access to cut the grass and this should also help the plants by allowing more light to reach them.

11th AUGUST 2013

Sadly, neither the strimming at Denny Bottom or the grass cutting was done whilst I was away, but they now have been and the Common looks much better for it. We have just about caught up with the most urgent of the cutting back on major paths and we should be able to start on the minor paths next week or the week after.

I also hope to be carrying out some work at the top of Castle Rd in the next couple of weeks, to try and halt the terrible erosion problems there. We will have to move back the tree trunks that we put on the left side of the road to give some protection to that side in order to achieve this, which is not a very satisfactory situation. In truth, that part of Castle Rd is simply not wide enough to allow parking up one side and still allow traffic to pass without eroding the Common. The obvious solution would be to put double yellow lines down but KCC Highways are not very optimistic about this happening any time soon, if at all. Similar situations are developing on a number of roads across both Commons and gradually the roads are becoming wider and the Commons are becoming smaller. This issue is going to be a difficult one to resolve without the active cooperation of Highways, especially given our limited resources.

I have started to see a few more swallows and martins on the wing in the last week or so. Are they already moving back south prior to departure? Could this be the first sign of the approach of autumn? I see the rowan berries are ripening.

2nd August 2013

The National Judges for the Britain in Bloom competition visited us last Friday. Everything seemed to go well and the judges seemed interested by both the history of the Commons and the current management and usage. The Chairman of the Friends, John Barber joined us and did a sterling job helping to entertain and inform and doubling the amount of information we could get across in the limited time available.

I was not around for most of this week as I went in for a bilateral posterior approach ptosis correction and blepharoplasty ( you will have to Google it ) on Tuesday. However I am hoping to get back next week to discover that the grass has been cut and the strimming has been finished at Upper St/Harmony St. We shall see. 

26th July 2013

We have managed to achieve quite a bit of clearance this week, with both the small flail and the large collector flail working. There is still some way to go to catch up but we are getting there. The short grass has slowed down now and I don't want to cut it too short or it will just end up burnt and brown like everywhere else. Instead of the usual cut therefore, we will concentrate on getting rid of the annoying stalks that the usual cutters are missing and that are making some areas look very untidy

Over at Edgcumbe Rocks, we have pretty much resolved the problems with the sewage leak. With the help of the excellent environmental protection team from the Borough Council, we have got Southern Water involved and they have located the source of the problem. After a lot of digging, they found a spur pipe that was leaking badly and this has now been capped. The area will remain fenced over the weekend and then next week the top few inches of contaminated soil will be removed. Hopefully it will not be too long before we can fully re-open the area.

19th July 2013

We are properly uderway with grass cutting now, we are just cutting the key areas at the moment, the large areas of long grass will have to wait another six weeks or so. The small flail has been replaced this year and the new machine is coping well. As usual, the big machine has proved vulnerable to the extreme vibration and flexing that the Common inflicts on it and it  has already snapped a steering linkage. We are well used to dealing with this sort of problem by now,the contractor involved has his own mobile mechanic, and it should be back on monday.

We seem to be getting somewhere with the sewage leak at Edgcumbe Rocks. I had thought it likely that the problem was coming from the nearby hotel and adjacent houses but that now seems very unlikely. We have had some invaluable help from Rob, the owner of the Edgcumbe since his return from holiday. He is, it turns out, an experienced dowser. He tracked the course of the various drainage runs in the area and marked them for us. When we got hold of the official maps showing the location of the sewers and drains , he was shown to have been amazingly accurate. We are still not completely sure, but it looks likely that the problem is coming from a main Southern Water sewer on the edge of Church Rd. If so, this is probably good news, as it should make it easier to resolve quickly.

Anyone who has been down to the area in front of theses rocks in the last week will have seen the clear evidence of alien vistors there. There is a perfect circle in the grass, but unusually, it is made of pine cones; a lot of pine cones. Actually, it seems that there was a ceremony held there by a wedding party; they spread out the cones in a circle, put lit candles on them (glad I didn't know given the tinder dry conditions) and stood inside the circle for a blessing. All very nice, but it would have been even nicer if they had cleared them up afterwards. Oh well, better than the usual smashed bottles that we suffer from. The smell from the sewage must have offered an interesting counterpoint to the festivities!

12th July 2013

We have just been visted by the Britain in Bloom judges for a brief tour of part of the Common. Unlike the last couple of years, they were running on time, so we were able to walk them from Wellington Rocks and the cricket pitch down to the Royal Victoria Grove and back. Although this gives them only a brief glimpse of the Common, it is better than the last few years when they have been running late and we have been reduced to a four minute slot! The judges have a ridiculously busy day and they must be exhausted by the end of it but I hope they get a good impression of our lovely town.

Now that is over, we can concentrate on getting on with some serious grass cutting and try and get everything under control. I think I might have to send the small flail over the area of short grass down near Brighton Lake, the  grass stalks seem to be so tough this year that the small mowers are not getting them and it looks very rough.  

7th July 2013

Sorry there was no posting last week; I was away for a few days.

Work has been underway this week to renovate some of our benches.  Eleven have been done across the Commons, and Linden Park Cricket Club have again kindly tidied up the ones around the perimeter of their ground.

The collector flail started work last week and its first job was to start cutting the areas where we would be taking the Britain in Bloom judges next week.  We had decided to take them to Edgcumbe Rocks, where there has been a lot of work done over the last few years.  Sadly however, when we started clearing the long grass we found an area where sewage was seeping to the surface of the ground.  I assume this must be coming from the Hotel and nearby houses but it is going to take a while establish what is happening and repair the damage.  We had a similar incident over at Happy Valley a couple of years ago and it was a long and tedious process to sort everything out with the insurance companies.  In the meantime, we have fenced off the area but I don't suppose the Bloom judges would be very impressed, so I guess it is back to Wellington Rocks.

Both the collector flail and the smaller machine will now be starting to clear long grass areas and path edges.  Please bear with us as we work our way round; this years growth seems heavier than ever and everything is having to be done earlier than usual. 

21st June 2013

Amazing to think that it is Midsummers Day already. The Commons are looking incredibly lush at the moment and we are struggling to keep the roadside vegetation under control. The hedging flail is coming in this weekend to cut all around the edges of the main roads and we are busy strimming all the sight lines at road junctions. We are just waiting to find out where we will be meeting the Britain in Bloom judges in a few weeks and then the big collector flail will be starting work.

Although the weather has been so cold this year, it does seem to have been to the liking of our orchids, which are now appearing in eight or nine different sites around the Commons. It is not only us, most of the orchid sites in the area are producing bumper crops this year. 

14th June 2013

First it was the fearsome Yeti stalking the Common and terrorising innocent ratepayers (it was in The Sun, and you can't argue with evidence like that) and then we learned that Wellington Rocks were actually transported here by Druids and are a Pagan Temple where savage human sacrifices took place (The Courier). Now however, things have got even worse, as Hitchcock's, The Birds has come to the Commons (this time it's genuine). Over the past couple of weeks, there have been quite a few reports of a crow dive-bombing walkers and trying to attack dogs in the area either side of Edgcumbe Rd. Presumably there is a nest nearby and the crow suspects the intentions of anyone approaching too close, but it be quite intimidating when it happens, they are surprisingly large up close!  So, if you are of a nervous disposition, or have a very small dog, you have been warned. Hopefully this behaviour will stop when the nesting season ends; if not, I will have to check the bylaws to see if there is something I can threaten the crow with.

7th June 2013

Although it is still cold, the grass has been growing and we have reached the stage of having to cut the sight lines at road junctions and crossing points.  I hope to have the hedging flail in this weekend or next to cut the road verges all around the Commons.  The way things are growing, it will soon be time to start cutting back overhanging trees from the edges of footpaths.  We put a hard surface down on the path leading from Wellington Rocks to the top of Edgcumbe Rd this week; the weather was perfect and meant that we had no access problems getting the materials on site and it has rolled in well.  This is a very well used path so I hope this makes life a bit easier for Commons users, especially when the rain returns. 

The dry weather we are now experiencing also is just right for bench restoration, so we will be starting on that in the coming weeks. As the weather has improved, so the volume of litter has started to escalate, particularly on the Lower Cricket Pitch and Wellington Rocks.  On the cricket pitch, most of the rubbish comes from picnics and barbecues and is not too difficult to deal with.  Sadly, however, we still have to clear lots of smashed bottles from the rocks each weekend, although I have to say it is as nothing compared to the problems we had there a few years ago, and our excellent litter contractor does a great job of removing it before all the children turn up to play there in the morning.

31st May 2013

I have returned to a quiet week on the Commons. We have been putting in new posts at the layby on Coach Rd where we cleared the woodland edge back during the winter. This is a bit of a problem area for fly tipping, which is why we cleared the scrub, so now we need to stop people being able to drive onto the Common there.

Whilst I was away, posts were also added to the edge of Harmony St to stop people parking right on the bend. The grass seed we put down there a few weeks ago is now germinating well but we need to do some more work on the edge of the grass to cover the new mesh we have installed there. I think this is going to be a job that is slowly worked on throughout the year untill we can get full coverage of grass to lock everything together. We will get there in the end though.

Next week, weather permitting, we hope to put a hard surface onto the path leading from Wellington Rocks to Castle Rd. We re-leveled this path a couple of weeks ago and hopefully the new stone surface will make it much more resistant to water damage in future.

17th May 2013

From a work point of view it has been a fairly quiet week; from a weather point of view, not quite so much so. The wind was very strong on tuesday night, one or two trees lost branches and another couple came down completely. There is one currently across a path just below the cricket pitch on Tunbridge Wells, but we will be removing that tomorrow morning. Down at Brighton Lake, we think we have finally sorted out all the drainage issues. During our excavations we uncovered a huge 12" pipe; when we unblocked it, the water vanished as if going down a plug. It all now seems to be going under the path and straight into the pond as was originally intended.

I am away next week on my annual, usually fruitless attempt to fish the tributaries of the River Wye when the Mayfly are hatching. Sadly, I think it highly unlikely that any self respecting Mayfly will want to emerge in current temperatures, so it looks like it could turn into a walking holiday again this year.

10th May 2012

Just when we thought we had things sorted out at Brighton Lake, water has started to appear out of the ground again at the Town end of the pond. We cleared another blocked pipe further up the system last week and I think this has dislodged something that is now blocking the pipe lower down. We are clearly going to have to replace the whole system, as we probably should have done to start with. To be honest it is only another 25 metres of pipe with a couple of tonnes of pea beach, so it is not a huge job. Whilst down there, we also prepared and seeded the last of the areas dug up by Morrisons Utilities when they replaced the gas pipeline over the winter. They seem to have no intention of doing the work and as it was only a small area, I thought we would just get it done. However, we soon found that just to add insult to injury, they had dumped all their rubbish, bits of pipe and stones there. This of course meant that the whole area had to be cleaned and graded by hand and then some new soil introduced. I think Morrison's will be getting a call after all!

 I spent a day with the local Home Educators group this week and we ended up at Fir Tree Pond, as we often do. The kids found some tadpoles, quite a few newts and a variety of invertebrates that kept them amused for several hours. Interestingly, they also caught a number of frogs of various sizes. Clearly, this means that in spite of the cold weather earlier in the year, some tadpoles were hatching and maturing throughout April. I still have not seen any Damsel or Dragonflies yet this year though. 

3rd May 2013

We have carried out the treework at Common View for the insurance claim, and I hope that it is the last tree clearance of the season.

The weather seems to be steadily moving into spring and the big flush of leaves is underway. I heard my first couple of Cuckoos this week and the first ducklings are swimming on Brighton Lake. Swallows and Martins have been hawking over local lakes for the past few weeks as they move through, on passage to the west and north. The bank holiday weekend looks as though it could finally bring some good weather with the wind dropping away, so get out there and enjoy it.

We had another cut of the grass this week and it is looking pretty reasonable now. Whilst it was being done, I had a look at the area below Church Rd, where we recently planted all the wildflowers. It was a lovely suprise to find quite a few Cowslips already flowering there; I wonder what will appear next. 

26th April 2013

Before the levelling The drainage work at Brighton Lake has dried out the ground very well with the aid of some lovely warm days, and we have managed to prepare the soil and sow grass seed there this week.  The picture on the left shows how it looked after we replaced the drainage.

And this is how it looks now it has been levelled and seeded.

We have also seeded the Terrace walk behind the pond and finished seeding at Harmony Street.  Today's showers are perfectly timed, therefore, and should help to speed the germination process.

We have started work to improve the path that runs from Wellington Rocks to Castle Road.  This path had become badly eroded at the top end and turned into a steep gully.  We have carried out some landscaping work and levelled it back out and, in the next couple of weeks, we will be adding a stone surface to the area.

Very sadly, we have been ordered by our insurers to fell a number of Ash trees at the end of Common View in Rusthall; terrible timing with the birds just starting to nest.  These trees are being blamed for contributing to a subsidence issue affecting a house there.  Demands like this from insurance firms are becoming much more common and many of them seem to go against all that I learnt about the structure of trees when I was studying for my tree surgery exams many years ago.  The trouble is that if we deny the claim and do not follow our insurers advice and are then found liable, we may have to pay for the entire cost of the underpinning works, which would bankrupt us . We therefore have no choice but to comply, however spurious we think the science being quoted is.  The work will be carried out next week.

19th April 2013

We have now carried out the drainage work at Brighton Lake, and even in the first twenty four hours since completion, the beneficial effects are clear. It turned out to be a more extensive job than we first thought and in fact we put in a total of seventy five metres of new pipe in three runs, as well as around nine tonnes of shingle. We have not trimmed the ends of the three pipes yet and if you look where they are, you will see a steady flow of water  feeding back into the pond; it is not surprising that it had stayed so wet in the area. Whilst there are still boggy patches there, it is a major improvement already and with luck it should be dry enough towards the end of next week to harrow the ground and re-seed all around the pond.
Above the pond on the newly opened section of the Terrace Walk, we have renewed the drainage there as well. We have re-dug the ditch above it and installed new culverts, so that too should become much more usable as it dries out. We will be putting down new seed on this area as well over the next couple of weeks.

Over at Harmony St, we have now carried out the landscaping work, spreading a layer of soil over the new reinforced mesh we have installed and seeding it. Conditions are pretty ideal for germination now, so it should not take long for the area to green up and the grass to lock everything together. The contractors are just re-digging the posts there which were originally put in too shallow and once that is done, the work will be complete.

12th April 2013

We think we have finally discovered the cause of the problems down at Brighton Lake, where the ground damaged during last autumn's de-silting work has remained persistantly sodden.  It seems an old clay pipe was crushed, presumably by the heavy machinery passing over it repeatedly.  With the very high water table levels it is only now possible for us to excavate, but now we know what we are dealing with it should be easy to remedy.  As far as we can see, we would have needed to replace the old pipe soon anyway, as it was very clogged with roots.

Over at Harmony Street, we have been waiting for the last of the steel pins to arrive from the supplier to fix the mesh down fully.  It is rather annoying because I was hoping to have it all landscaped and seeded this week.  Mind you, with the intensity of last night's rain, it is perhaps just as well or it would have all ended up at the bottom of the road.  Hopefully, we will be back in business at the start of next week and then we can spread a thin layer of soil over the mesh and get the seed down. This means that we will have to fence off the area for a while whilst the grass gets established but then everything should be locked in place by the grass roots and we can let everybody get on with their lives.

On Thursday morning the frogs arrived back in Fir Tree pond.  There are not that many yet but I am sure that numbers will swell as the weather warms. Amazingly, as well as the frogs, there were a number of tadpoles in evidence.  I had given up on any of the earlier spawn surviving as we have had five weeks of bitter cold since it was laid; they are clearly tough little things with a determination to survive.  Good luck to them.

5th April 2012

We are still waiting on the weather but have managed to make good progress at Harmony St, where the plastic mesh has all been put down and secured to provide a decent pedestrian path and help with the parking problems. We now have to wait for a bit of warmth to provide reasonable conditions to sow the grass seed which will grow through the mesh and lock everything into position. We will have to exclude people, and especially cars from these seeded areas for a couple of weeks while the grass germinates and establishes, but I hope it will all be worth it when it is completed. 

I am also hoping that we will soon be able to make some progress on the damage to the edge of the Common at Castle Rd, where there is terrible erosion being caused by cars and large vehicles. We are trying to work with Highways to come up with a compromise that will satisfy all parties but it is not easy. This is an increasing problem on roads across both Commons and we really need to come up with a practical and affordable solution.

29th March 2013

As we move into April, it seems that we might be entering a period of drier weather. I would be very happy if we are, even if it is going to remain cold. I can't wait to be able to sort out the ground around Brighton Lake that has remained a mess since we carried out the de-silting work on the lake last october. It will also enable us to prepare and re-seed the ground at Sunnyside Rd that has been in a terrible state since last years gas main repairs there; it should also enable us to complete the works at Harmony St. Some dry weather will be very welcome for the grass cutters too; we managed to get a first cut in a couple of weeks ago and since the cold has prevented any significant further growth, we should be able to get a good finish early in the season.

Apart from a bit of chipping and clearing away, we have come come to the end of our tree work and clearance for the winter. I am normally rushing like mad to get everything completed before the birds start nesting but this year everything has been so delayed by the cold spring that we seem to be finished in good time.

22nd March 2013

We have managed to catch up after last weeks weather problems, and the ten large Scots Pines have gone in on the areas cleared over the last couple of years between London Rd and Castle Rd. They certainly are splendid specimens; they are currently around ten feet tall and will be dominant features in these areas in years to come. It would be lovely to think of Nightjars hunting round them on warm summers nights in the future. We have put in a lovely Copper Beech there as well; this was donated as a memorial tree.

As well as the tree planting, we have also managed to get most of our wildflower plugs into the grass sward below the Church Rd, London Rd junction; the rest of them should be going in on monday. We were right to cancel last weekends planting session for these, it would not have pleasant to have been doing it in last saturday mornings weather. They were very healthy looking little plants and I hope that a good number of them will flower this year; it is certainly going to be interesting to watch this area develop as the spring and summer progress.

Many of you will have noticed that we pollarded a large Sycamore next to the path between the Fairground car park and Hungershall Pk this week. This tree has a rather worrying split at it's base and was making some very alarming noises in the recent high winds, so we have reduced it to remove most of the leverage and stress as it flexes. We will monitor this tree as time passes and take any further steps as required.

15th March 2013

We were supposed to be planting some large Scots Pines this week on the clearance behind the Forum but the snow put an end to that as the machine that was going to be lifting them at the nursery was out of action. Hopefully, we will be planting them this coming week instead.

Another delayed planting is the thousand wildflower plugs that the volunteers were due to be planting in the grass by London Rd tomorrow. The supplier has advised us to postpone the operation in view of tomorrows forecast of heavy rain all day. We really need to get these plants in by the end of the month, so we will be re-scheduling as soon as possible, even if it has to be a week day. 

8th March 2013

Although it ws a soggy end to the week, we managed to carry out our first cut of the short grass before the rain set in. It is always a relief to have an early cut and get things under control, it could be a while before we can cut again and the grass grows very quickly when it gets going. Having said that, it looks as if we are returning to winter if only briefly and that will slow everything down again.

The frogs were fooled by the weather as well this week as they returned to Fir Tree pond in good numbers. By this morning, there was quite a lot of spawn in the pond and although the outer eggs in the mass of spawn may die in the coming cold, the eggs in the middle should be well enough insulated. There will be future spawnings as the weather improves again but the eggs that survive from this week will have a clear advantage later in the year. A gamble; but that is evolution in progress I suppose.

There are still a few trees that need some remedial work but we have otherwise finished our roadside clearance for this year. We will be grinding out as many stumps as we can on the edge of Major York's and Bishops Down so that we can maintain them easily in future. The volunteers carried out their final clearance session last weekend, pushing back scrub from the edge of the footpath into Denny Bottom; although I hope many of them will be able to come and help us plant wildflowers in the grass by London Rd next weekend. That pretty much brings tree cutting to an end, just in time for the birds to start nesting and everything to begin again.

1st March 2013

Work on roadside trees has continued this week and we have made good progress on the edges of Major York's and Bishops Down, all that remains is the section of Major York's between Hungershall Pk and Neville Park. There are some trees right on the edge of the road that have to be removed in this area, so we will need traffic control at times; hopefully, we will not affect traffic too much. At the top of the road, outside the Spa Hotel, we have had to take drastic action over one of the old lime trees there. The tree has been slowly decaying and we had to pollard it to make it safe a few years ago. It has now reached the state where it cannot be left standing next to a footpath and so we have stripped off all the branches and we will fell the trunk in one and remove it the next time the timber tractor is in. Sadly, it is so rotten that we cannot use it as a barrier, or a seat anywhere on the Common. There are one or two other trees that I know still require remedial work but we are well on track to have everything done before the birds start nesting. I know it does not feel very spring like at the moment but things could change very quickly. Even though it is cold and grey, I have been aware of a slowly rising tide of birdsong and swelling buds over recent weeks and the forcast is for rising temperatures in the next seven days.

23rd February 2013

We have made good progress with the roadside work this week, with the removal of scrub alongside both Major York's Rd and Bishops Down. There are still a number of small trees right next to the carriageway on both roads that need removal but these will require traffic control in place for the work to be done. I hope that we will not need to remove any of the large trees remaining in the cleared areas, allthough some remedial work will definitely be required on some. 

Some of you will have noticed that the grass areas between London Rd and Inner London Rd were cut this week. The more observant will have noticed that the cut grass was also removed on the section below Church Rd. This section is of course the area where we intend to continue our wildfower experiment this year so the cuttings were removed to help reduce soil fertility, we will also be scarifying the central part of this section in the next few weeks, prior to planting a thousand wildflower plugs and seeding with Yellow Rattle and Ox Eye Daisy seed in mid March. The wildflower plugs will be of species such as Cowslip, Betony, Devils Bit Scabious and Birds Foot Trefoil. The planted areas will be left uncut until the end of the summer, when we will cut and clear the resultant crop, rather like a hay meadow. The margins of this section will be kept cut short throughout the year, as will all the areas of grass above Church Rd. The grass on the other side of London Rd, adjacent to the coach park will be left uncut this year to test it's suitability as a future wildflower area.

15th February 2013

It is ironic looking back at what I was writing at this time last year; the big concern then, was of course the lack of water in our ponds and whether there would be viable breeding conditions for our amphibians. This year, I don't think the frogs will have to trevel far to get to the ponds; the ponds are well on the way to them! The ground is still utterly sodden, our woodland tracks are quagmires and the ground around Brighton Lake is still utterly unworkable. In fact, at the  north end of the lake, there are new springs bubbling out of the ground and it is almost impassable without wellies. Presumably because the ground water level is just so high. I was hoping to start mowing the grass by the beginning of March.

The roadside clearance is underway. We removed some ivy covered hawthorn and birch scrub next to Eridge Rd first and now we have moved onto Major Yorks, where we are removing roadside scrub starting from Hungershall Park down to the Racecourse. Larger trees are remaining where possible but there may have be some removals, or at least pollards. We will have a better chance to inspect them and make desicions with the scrub removed.  

8th February 2013

Contractors have been busy over at Happy Valley this week where we have been clearing an area of holly scrub at the top of the 101 Steps. We are doing this to expose some more of the sandstone outcrops there as well as to uncover some very fine oaks. Happy Valley is the only part of Rusthall Common that has much in the way of veteran trees and this reflects the historical usage of the two Commons; Rusthall was often refered to as the Industrial Common. Happy Valley however has Royal connections because of Queen Anne's visits to the original Cold Baths, the remains of which are in the grounds of the Beacon Hotel. One other benefit of the clearance is the way that the removal of this scrub has opened the view along the steep escarpment there; it has dramatically revealed just how much of a horseshoe the slope really is.

We start work on our roadside trees next week. We will be starting by removing some ivy covered and dead trees from the woodland edge next to the A26, between the Sainsbury's roundabout and the Wyevale Garden Centre. Once these are done, we will be moving our attention to the edges of Major York's Rd. This work is primarily aimed at reducing our insurance liability and improving safety but it also is very useful to wildlife as it increases woodland edge and the woodland/grassland boundary.

1st February 2013

February already; we often have frogs back in Fir Tree Pond by Valentines Day, I wonder what will happen this year.
At the moment it does not feel very likely but things change so quickly; I can remember hearing a woodpecker drumming for a mate on January 2nd, so we will see what happens.

At Harmony St, the contractors have put down the first layer of protective mesh and installed the posts along the edge of the Common to prevent further damage, but cannot do much more until the weather improves. There is still a second layer of mesh to go down behind these posts to form a pedestrian footpath but until the soil dries out a bit,  it is simply impossible to work it.  We will install this second layer and grade the soil back over all the plastic mesh as soon as we can but at least everybody can park down there again whilst we are waiting.

We will be starting on our annual clearance of roadside trees in the next few weeks, we are gradually pushing back and scalloping the woodland edge on the Commons roads to reduce our potential liabilities and to improve the wildlife value of these areas. The scalloping of the woodland and the subsequent of increase of woodland/grassland boundaries can significantly increase diversity in these areas.

The volunteers will be out tomorrow, planting groups of native trees around the edges of some of the clearances we have carried out in recent years. There will probably only be one more volunteer session after this one before the birds start nesting and we stop until next autumn. It's practically spring!

25th January 2013

In spite of the snowy conditions, we have been able to get on with some work this week. We have been removing scrub from the edges of the road that used to serve Rusthall Elms, as well as some medium sized oaks and a couple of damaged ash trees near Pigeon Wood. These oaks were involved in a subsidence claim and we were instructed to remove them by our insurers. This seems to be an ever increasing problem and one in which the insurers tend to act defensively, ordering trees to be removed even when there seems little likelihood of them being implicated. The problem is that if we did not remove the trees and we were taken to court, we could potentially be liable for all the costs of repairing the property, which would bankrupt us.

We have also started work nearby, clearing the trees that were illegally felled in the summer near Common View. We will also be removing a few other damaged trees to create a new woodland glade, with a path connecting through into the Common from the new estate there. Over on Tunbridge Wells, we have been working just below the cricket pitch, clearing and burning the scrub left from the last task carried out by the volunteers.

Over at Harmony Street, work was completely halted by the snow. Fortunately, this did not cause too much extra disruption in the area as most people park up on Rusthall Road in these conditions. The contractors will be back on Monday if the weather relents as forecast; they think the work will be completed by the middle of the week. 

18th January 2013

We have been busy this week, finally starting on two projects that have been waiting for some time. On Rusthall Common, work has been going on at Harmony St to solve the parking problems there. We are installing plastic mesh under the soil at the edge of the road to stop damage from cars parking there. We are also installing wooden posts to stop vehicles getting any further onto the Common and then behind them, another section of sub-soil mesh to form a new footway; currently, pedestrians are being forced to walk down the middle of the road. The mesh is designed so that grass can grow through it, so the edge of the Common will remain green. This work is being jointly financed by KCC and the Common's owners Targetfollow.

The second project is on Tunbridge Wells, where we are opening up the next section of the second Terrace Walk above Brighton Lake. We opened up the first section, that heads diagonally through the woodland from very close to the garden centre some years ago, so it is nice to open this second section that continues on to the top of the footpath leading up from the back of the lake. Both of these tasks are now being hampered by the snow but I don't think it will delay us too long.

4th January 2013

Happy New Year to you all; I hope you had a very pleasant Christmas and that you are enjoying the change in the weather that seems to have come with the change of year. I am hoping that the drier weather will continue and we can get on with all the work that has been on hold because of the sodden ground.

Before Christmas, I reported the rumours of dog deaths on Rusthall Common through poisoning. The reports suggested that someone was deliberately putting out poison to target pets. Since then, I have heard these rumours several times, with reports of up to six deaths due to rat poison and I have been contacted by the BBC, the Sunday Mirror and a London press agency following the stories up. 

However, stories and rumour are all they seem to be. Talking to the Courier, I discovered a very sad story of one dog dying after walking on the Common back in September; it was believed that the dog had picked up something whilst on the walk. This is the only confirmed case I can find, and whilst this was very distressing for the owners this is very different to a deliberate campaign.  My own dog became dangerously ill a couple of years ago after eating something on TW Common, so clearly we should all be vigilant when walking our dogs but that applies anywhere. I have spoken to the local vets in Rusthall and whilst they too have heard the rumours, they had no knowledge of any other deaths or incidents. I hope this reassures people to some degree, I have heard that a number of people have been avoiding the Commons and whilst I understand the concern, it would be a shame if those dogs missed their walks for no reason.


Page last updated: 14/01/2014