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Warden's Updates 2005
30th December 2005
The Commons have looked wonderfully seasonal over the past few days and it has been lovely to see so many people enjoying it. Not so many today of course as the rapid thaw sets in. An interesting example of how strange our weather has become this week as well. On Thursday morning I was watching fieldfares on the grassland near the rocks and then as the temperature rose rapidly on Friday I started hearing Great Tits calling for a mate!

It has been another enjoyable and interesting year, with probably the most significant event for the long term being the arrival of our next 10 year plan drawn up by the Kent Wildlife Trust. This looked at the achievements of the previous plan and gives guidance for inproving the wildlife value of the areas that we have re-opened. We are still studying the implications of the plan; not least the financial ones of some of the more radical changes proposed .

This year has also seen the retirement of my colleague Sylvia Luckhurst, who has been associated with the Commons far longer than I have. Happily, we will not be completely losing Sylvia as she is taking her duties as Secretary of the Friends of the Common with her and so we will still, I hope, have access to her immense store of information and contacts. In Sylvia's place we will be welcoming our new Support Officer, Julia Woodgate, whose appointment starts in January. Amongst her many other duties, Julia will be helping me manage this web site and with luck she may even be able to explain to my Luddite brain how to load pictures into my weekly report. Watch this space!

Happy New Year to you all and I hope I will bump into many of you on the Commons next year.

23rd December 2005
We have now completed the removal of the trees mentioned last week and our contractors have closed down till New Year. On their return, we will again be looking at roadside trees.

May I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas.

16th December 2005
Work on dangerous or potentially dangerous trees has now commenced with the removal of one ash and the pollarding of several others at Common View. These trees are overhanging houses there and have been the cause of some concern to the residents. Following this, we shall be moving to Tunbridge Wells to work on trees on London Rd.

The volunteers have been out again. This time removing invading oak scrub from the grassland below the Wellington Rocks. This is a job we have to carry out every year and even whilst we are doing it, the sqirrels and jays can be seen burying fresh acorns that will produce next years task. These are the moments that make us wish we still had grazing animals on the commons.

9th December 2005.
It is nice to be back! Apologies for no report last week but we have been off-line with a U/S phone line. Apologies also to anyone who had to wait for a reply to an e-mail. You don't realise how much you rely on these things until they are not there anymore.

It is the time of year when large, often mixed groups of tits and finches can be seen working through the tree tops. They are very much in evidence on the Commons at present and this year ther seem to be an unusual number of goldfinches among them. As the leaves vanish it is also becoming easier to spot the occasional sparrowhawk stalking these groups. Keep your ears open for a sudden commotion in the treetops and if you are quick you may get a glimpse of this impressive predator. There are also a lot of green woodpeckers in evidence looking spectacular in the winter sunshine that we have been blessed with recently. Look for them particularly on open grassland such as below the Wellington Rocks. They can be regognised from a ditance by there characteristic flight pattern of a few wing beats followed by a short glide, often refered to in field guides as "the typical bounding flight of the woodpecker"

25th November 2005
The final cuts of the areas treated earlier in the year with Asulox have now been carried out and with it we have reached the end of Autumn work and will now turn our attention to trees. The volunteers will be out next weekend removing invading scrub from the grassland below Wellington Rocks and I will be meeting with contractors to get them underway with removing or pollarding roadside trees as required. One area I do wish to concentrate on is opposite the old post office at Vale Rd, where scrub and fallen trees are enroaching on the road and shading out the nice. south facing grass bank that used to be there.

18th November 2005
It is now five weeks to midwinters day, yet the grass is still growing! We will be having a final cut of the formal areas this weekend. This may seem over the top as the grass is not especially long but I have learnt over the years that a late cut can be important. If we have a wet spring, unlikely as that may seem given current trends, and cannot start cutting for a few weeks into the growing season the grass not only looks awful but leaves a thatch that inhibits the growth of new shoots..

We did some more seeding with heather from the Cinder Hill reserve at Matfield last week. For the past few years we have been working with the Kent High Weald Project taking the heather that they have coppiced on their reserves and spreading it on areas of our Common to allow the seeds to drop out and germinate. This has proved to be a very successful technique and has been mutually beneficial.

Finally, it is very nice to see that work is going ahead on the installation of the new zebra crossing on the A264. This crossing, from the South of France (Bishops Down) to the Wellington Rocks will, I hope, prove a real boon to those who currently struggle to cross safely. It would be geat to see many more crossing points to improve access as well as slowing the traffic on the roads that cross the Common.

11th November 2005
Lots of dull but necessary work was carried out this week. As many of you will have noticed, we repaired the entrance to Fir Tree car park again. One and a half tons of tarmac dissapeared into those holes! It is also the time of year for removing the rubbish left by the summer's rough sleepers, of whom we have had quite a few. This is never a pleasant job but this year it was made worse by the large number of used needles that were found a couple of the sites. This is not usual on the Commons, so please don't think that there are needles all over the place but if you do find the remains of a camp up there, do not investigate it and keep your dog away just in case. The best course of action is to phone or e-mail me and I will have it dealt with safely.

4th November 2005
So, the clocks have gone back and winter is here. Horses cannot now use the Common until next April amd given the weather this week, it is probably just as well. The first big storm of the season came through this week but caused remarkably little damage. I have walked most of the main paths now to check for dangerous trees but if you know of any that I have missed, an e-mail is always appreciated.

The volunteers will be back down at Brighton Lake this weekend clearing scrub and bramble from the rear of the pond. We have opened up the area quite considerably and certainly the view from the new bench installed there has improved.

We completed interwiews for our new support officer this week. Considering that the post is only for nine hours a week, we had an amazing response. Not just in the number of applicants but in their quality. It was not easy getting to a short list, let alone a final winner; so thank you to all those that applied and commiserations to those who were unsuccessful. To judge from this experience, Tunbridge Wells must be a difficult place to be competing for jobs.

28th October 2005
No report last week as I was away. Spent an interesring day at Bedgebury Pinetum last week viewing thier new collector flail in operation. A very impressive piece of kit and I think just what we need on our Commons to help implement the new management plan.

I hope some of you braved the weather last friday to watch the re-enactment of the battle of Trafalgar on the Lower Cricket Pitch. Don't say we fail to entertain our visitors; bread and circuses, thats the stuff to keep the public happy!

One Group of youngsters have been making their own entertainment on Rusthall Common recently, with the construction of a giant rope swing on an oak tree at Happy Valley. However, following a very serious incident last weekend, we have had to remove the rope and pollard the tree to make sure the swing cannot be re-instated. One of the youngsters came off the swing and ended up in intensive care and was extremely lucky to end up without a pemanent disability.

14th October 2005
We are almost complete on the main cut at last. Next week should see it finished. This will be a relief and we can then turn our attention to tree work. An interesting encounter on TW Common this week. Some of you may have noticed a couple of young men apparently raking up leaves under the trees on the grass between London Road and Inner London Road. When I spoke to them it emerged that they were in fact out collecting acorns for their fathers company in Shropshire, where they are sorted , heat treated against pests and diseases and then supplied to the large nurseries as seed stock . I was happy to let them continue as I think it important that native English oak is planted here rather than the now ubiquitous Dutch and Belgian imports that are regularly sold as English oak at most of our garden centres. I also directed them to Dunorlan where my friend the head gardener agrres with me on this issue. It is nice to think of honest Tunbridge Wellian oaks re-colonising the country in years to come!

6th October 2005
Whilst the main cut continues accross Tunbridge Wells Common, we have also had an opportunity to try out one of the new collector flails this week. We are looking at re-equiping with one of these machines as part of the new management regime suggested by the Kent Wildlife Trust. By removing far more of the cuttings, we can imitate part of the action of the grazing animals that would have kept the Common under control historically. By removing the cuttings we reduce the fertility of the soil and hopefully start to bring back more of the wild flowers and finer grasses. Although the machine that we tried this week was not robust enough to cope with much of the terrain on the Commons, it still worked well within its limits. Have a look at the surrounds of Fir Tree Pond if you want to see the results. We have some bigger machines coming along in the next few weeks.

30th September 2005
The volunteers will be back down at Brighton Lake this weekend clearing encroaching scrub from the rear of the site as well as clearing the sandstone wall behind the pond. Contractors will be in on Monday to chip the cut wood and tidy the site.

The Conservators long serving and much valued support officer will be retiring at the end of January next year and we are seeking a replacement. It is a part time post for nine hours per week and basically involves organising the Conservators meetings and taking minutes, as well as routine office management and assisting in running this web site. The new support officer will also have the task of researching further funding opportuities and grants. Clearly an interest in environmental issues would be useful. If anyone is interested, please to us at the Town Hall, Tunbridge Wells, giving details of relevant experience and skills.

23rd September 2005

Work has now commenced on Tunbridge Wells Common and the clearance will continue for the next two or three weeks. As the work progresses it will become apparent that some areas are not being cut as they normally would. These are the areas that were treated with Asulox earlier in the season and these will not be cleared till late October to allow the chemical to take full effect.

16th September 2005

We have now pretty much finished the cut on Rusthall Common and will be starting on Tun Wells next week.

A new commemorative bench was installed this week at Brighton Lake. iIn order to enhance the view in the area the volunteers spent a morning at the lake acouple of weeks ago removing scrub from the wall at the back of the pond. This proved to be both popular and satisfying for those who took part so we have decided to keep the volunteers working down there for the next couple of sessions to complete the clearance.

9th September 2005

A very busy week with one of the quarterly meetings of the Conservators taking place whilst the main clearance of the year continues. Also this week saw the largest of the trade shows for grounds maintenance equipment and as we are looking to alter our mowing regimes there was a good excuse to go. The new management plan recently adopted by the Conservators seeks to mimic some of the effect of grazing by removing much more of the cuttings produced when we flail the main paths, rides and clearings such as at present. This is one of the main thrusts of the new plan drawn up by the Kent Wildlife Trust and I can forsee a busy winter trying to cost these proposals. Several of the large manufacturers have promised to bring some of the machines down to demonstrate their capabilities so look out for us on the Common!

2nd September 2005

No report for last week as I was on leave yet again! It has suddenly started to feel quite autumnal now with the evenings starting to close in and the trees starting to look a little tired. I must admit, I rather like it when the seasons start to turn. Last weeks rain was of course very welcome but it was a shame it had to arrive during the week of the annual childrens cricket festival which is held on the Lower Cricket Pitch. Although only two days play could be held, we still had 42 children attending.

Whilst for me the last week has been taken up with writing reports and preparing for the next meeting of the Coservators, the main cut of the commons has been continuing. We have started over on Rusthall thhis year and will probably reach Tunbridge \Wells in another week to ten days; weather permitting.

19th August 2005

We have now finished our hay-meadow cuts and have resumed the main cut that was interupted last week. A start was made in the Denny Bottom area of Rusrhall Common and the process will continue for the next three to four weeks.

Our volunteer days get underway at the beginning of next month on September 3rd. We will be starting this years programme with scrub clearance at Brighton Lake. You would be very welcome if you wished to join us, tools gloves and guidance will be provided. We meet at 10am in Fir Tree Rd car park on the first Saturday of the winter months. If you are intending to come along, please contact me first so that I know how many tools etc. are required.

12th August 2005

A week of frustration. The reciprocating cutter that we use to cut our hay-meadows has broken on the penultimate days cutting, leaving us still with a small amount to clear near the Upper Cricket Pitch as well as the area in front of Edgcumbe Rocks. It seems to have been going on forever but next week should finally finish the job.

We also started on our main cut of the year on Friday. This is a cut of all paths and rides, pushing them back to their full extent and lifting all the overhanging branches. Having unloaded the tractor unit at Apsley Street, where I had pronised the residents that I would start cutting, on the first pass a peice of metal pierced one of the tyres and we had to pack the whole thing away and take it off for repair. Normal service will hopefully be resumed next week!

5th August 2005

The weather is still delaying the last of the hay cuts but we have been able to get on with spraying various areas of bracken with Asulox. This non-toxic herbicide targets only bracken and docks and has proved to be an invaluable tool on many conservation areas where bracken has taken over after the loss of traditional grazing management.

it was very nice yesterday to see a pair of bullfinches bathing in the margins of Fir Tree pond. Allthough they are not especilly rare, these strikingly coloured birds are extremely shy of humans and such a clear and prolonged sighting is quite unusual.

29th July 2005

Our plans to finish tne cutting of our hay-meadows have been delayed by this weeks rain. As everyone knows, you have to make hay when the sun shines! The rain has however been most welcome and has at least put an inch or two of water into the dried out pond near Cabbage Stalk Lane. A slightly less obvious benefit of the weather has been a reduction in the problems that we always face at the start of the school holidays. Anyone who saw the appalling mess of bottles, cans, fast food wrappers etc that was strewn across the grass near the Forum last weekend will understand what I am talking about.

Last week I mentioned that we would be removing ragwort from the edges of the Common, and I see that the annual ragwort scare stories are now appearing in the media as usual. If eaten by cattle or horses, ragwort can be very toxic and can lead to a very painful and unpleasant death. For this reason, horses and cattle do not eat it; the danger comes when it is cut and mixed in with hay. The plant has therefore always been controlled by landowners who have grazing animals, but the policy of putting a great deal of land into set aside over recent years has led to a dramatic increase in plant numbers and consequently a campaign to eradicate it has been promoted, particularly by equestrian societies. However, things are not as simple as they might at first appear. Ragwort is a native plant that has been with us for centuries and is a vital foodsource for many invertebrates and is the main foodsource for the beautiful, dayflying Cinnabar moth. On a site such as the Common, which is not currently grazed and is run as far as possible for the benefit of wildlife, eradication would be quite inappropriate. DEFRA understand this and so the legal requirement to control ragwort only applies on high risk sites and not on areas such as our Commons.

22nd July 2005

No report last week as I was away in Scotland. Work continued on cutting our areas of long grass. The grass below Edgcumbe Rocks and adjacent to the Upper Cricket Pitch are the only areas left to be cut on this current round.

We will be removing ragwort around the margins of the Commons in the next week and will then be moving on to bracken control at various sites on both Commons.

8th July 2005

The current round of flailing the paths and rides is now complete and we are right in the middle of cutting our hay meadow areas. We had a number of sites this year with coomon spotted orchids appearing; the best as ever being the triangle of land outside St Pauls Church on Rusthall Common.

1st July 2005

Cutting continues on our paths and rides. We have now finished on Rusthall Common and will be done on Tunbridge Wells by the middle of next week. We have also now started cutting our wildflower areas such as Bretland Rd, St Pauls Church and Brighton Lake. This will continue for the next couple of weeks. We will also be carrying out the removal of the epicormic growth on the lime trees on Eridge Rd and at the Victoria Grove.

27th June 2005

Apologies for the late posting of this report; I could not get on line last friday.

Our first major cut of paths is now well underway after a delay last week caused by a machinery breakdown. We have almost finished on Rusthall Common and will be moving our attention ton the paths and verges on Tunbridge Wells. As soon as this is finished, we will start on the hay meadow areas such as opposite Bretland Rd and adjacent to St Pauls church.

The hot weather continues and we have now lost all the water from Cabbage Stalk Lane pond. This is not the disaster that it may appear as our ponds aren mostly used by amphibians which will have already completed their spawning cycle. I know it is tempting to remove the accumulation of old bits of wood etc that are now exposed but please resist the impulse as many invertebrates will be sheltering under tham. The time for a tidy up will come when the pond starts to fill in the autumn.

17th June 2005

The new bench has gone in at Edgcumbe Rocks; I think it will prove to be a popular site. We will be cutting the grass in the area next week to inprove access. We have also installed a number of new signs this week giving details of the bylaws. I think that this is a good idea in itself but we have also had discussions with the police who have indicated that they would find it easier to prosecute under the bylaws if they are clearly displayed.

Clearance of the main paths and cutting of long grass has now commenced and will continue next week.

10th June 2005

A very quiet week with all peaceful on the commons. My time has been spent preparing reports for the forthcoming Conservators meeting.

Next week will see the start of our first cut of all main paths and rides so if you were thinking of contacting me to ask when the grass in your area would be cut, hang on for a few days! I also hope to be installing a new commemorative bench which will be sited on the grassland below Edgcumbe Rocks.

3rd June 2005

It is remarkable how quickly things are growing, after only a week away there is a very perceptible difference with the bracken shooting up. And the difference between us and Wales was very pronounced with the bluebells just coming into bloom over there and the oaks just breaking into leaf.

Whilst I was away work still continued on the commons with the first cuts starting on the major paths such as the racecourse. It is easy to see that we will need two full cuts on the paths this year with the growth rates that are taking place. The first of these cuts will take place during June.

20th May 2005

This weeks rain has been very welcome alrhough it will have done nothing to fill our resevoirs. Water levels in the commons ponds have been very low throughout the winter and we lose something around 18inches of water through evaporation even in an average summer. This is not as serious as it sounds for our ponds; we are trying to encourage amphibians rather than fish and the occasional drying out of a pond removes any fish that would otherwise predate on our efts and tadpoles (an eft is the young of a newt). We also have good numbers of dragonflies and damselflies in our ponds but these can survive temporary drying out by burying themselves in the mud. Whilst on the subject of ponds, I reported the presence of a pair of greylag geese on Brighton Lake a couple of weeks ago. I am delighted to report a happy event and we now have a clutch of goslings running after their parents.

There will not be a report next week as I am off to Wales for a short break.

13th May 2005

As many of you will know, we have had a return of unwelcome guests this week. A group of around half a dozen travellers vehicles invaded the Common at Rusthall Cricket Pitch on Tuesday, having cut the padlocks on the barrier. Thank you very much to all those who took the trouble to phone either mysef or the police and warn us of their arrival. The police arrived very swiftly and in numbers, and the travellers were persuaded to move on almost at once. Our thanks go to the police for their prompt action. One other result of the invasion was to make me look at our defences in other areas and so some of you may have noticed that some of the large tree trunks positioned around the Lower Cricket Pitch have been renewed.

I know this web site is designed to promote the Commons but this week I want to urge you all to visit other areas! We are now right at the height of the bluebell seson and within another week they will be diminishing. Sadly, we have very few bluebells on the Commons as they are a plant of ancient woodland rather than heathland. I visited Nap Wood this week and it was a truly magnificent sight. Nap Wood, for those of you that don't know it, is a National Trust site between Frant and Mark Cross and is about the best bluebell wood I know in the area. Get out and enjoy it this weekend before the spectacle is over for another year.

6th May 2005

We are due for a cut of the grass again this weekend. It is already the 4th cut of the season and we normally only contract for twelve cuts in a year, although we keep a reserve to fund any extra that are needed. It would appear that having had a quarter of the scheduled cuts by the first week in May that we have severely underestimated our requirements. However we find that as the summer progresses our sandy soils dry out so much that by mid June we are able to increase the gap between cuts from the current two weeks to four weeks.

I heard my first cuckoo of the year this week on the Ciommon, and also spotted a couple of swallows skimming the grass below Wellington Rocks. Judging by the volume of insects on the wing they should not go hungry. It is also the time of year when bats become very active. We have little information about bats on our Commons so I would be grateful for details of any sightings.

29th April

A quiet week on the Common, I have spent most of my time filling in forms trying to register the Commons for the new single payment scheme administered by DEFRA. My heart goes out to all the farmers out there who have to deal with this level of bureaucracy on a routine basis.

Very nice to see a slow worm this week; it crossed the path right in front of me coming from the grassland at the rear of the fairground car park at the bottom of Major Yorks Rd.

22nd April 2005

I notice that the oak trees are coming out prior to the ash trees this year. As weather lore has it ; "oak before ash means a splash, ash before oak means a soak". So it looks like the hosepipe ban is definitely on the way.

Having seen lots of brimstone butterflies over the past couple of weeks, I see that the orange tips are now appearing in numbers. These butterflies rely on garlic mustard as their main food source. The ladies smock is now well into flowering and the dogs mercury is about to flower, so we should start to see many more butterfly species appearing over the next few weeks.

With bird nesting in full swing, we are unable to carry out any tree or scrub clearance at present, so the emphasis is on maintaining our seats and bins. Many of you will have noticed how badly damaged some of the bins have become by being eaten away by dogs marking their territory on them. Two of the worst damaged have been removed this week and replaced with new bins. when repaired, these will be used to replace two more and so on.

15th April 2005

A relatively quiet and peaceful week on the common with the kids back at school. Our only real excitement being a minor skirmish with some motorcyclists on Rusthall Common which was resolved peacefully and satisfactorily. Motorcycles, especially the small scooters, seem to be very popular at the moment and I suspect that we will have these problems again. If this starts to happen in your area of the common I would be grateful for a call or an e-mail so that I can try and stop these problems in their early stages.

I see that we have a pair of Greylag geese on Brighton Lake at the moment. There seem to be a lot of Greylags around this year, I am aware of a number of lakes in the area that have these birds nesting on them. It is probably too much to expect this pair to nest on Brighton Lake but you never know, we did have a pair of the much commoner Canada geese raise a clutch on it last year.

8th April 2005

The second cut of our grass will be taking place this weekend. As far as I am aware, all areas except those left to flower until July were picked up on the first cut two weeks ago but if you are aware of any areas that have been missed, let me know and I will get them attended to.

The return of winter this weekend must be making life difficult for nesting birds to get their timing right this year. Many of them, especially the tits, rely on timing the arrival of their broods to coincide with the emergence of the first caterpillars.

I was fortunate enough to see a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker this week, feeding on an oak tree at the side of the racecourse, Quite an unusual sight. It is also pleasing to see that a pair of Mallard have taken up residense on Fir Tree Pond. I hope that the inevitable disturbance in the area will not put them off breeding there. If your dog is one of those that loves to jump in the ponds, it would be a good idea to restrain them for the next few weeks as if they do breed the female will be sitting on the small island in the middle of the pond.

Page last updated: 22/01/07