Warden's Report September 2017
The Commons suffered another traveller incursion within a couple of weeks of our last meeting. They gained access to the cricket pitch on Rusthall Common by cutting through the barrier posts with a chainsaw and then drove on with about twenty vehicles and caravans. They arrived on Friday afternoon as usual and the notice to quit letters were served on them within ninety minutes of their occupation of the site. The Police arrived on site very quickly and were extremely proactive throughout the whole episode and managed in fact to clear the travellers from the site around midday on Saturday.
Although they were there for a very limited period, there was of course a fair amount of clearing up to be done after they left. However, I am delighted to report that after a superhuman effort by the club, the cricket match that had been scheduled for Saturday afternoon went ahead as planned. The travellers also felled an oak tree across the Tarry Path and caused some damage to the pavilion but, because of the very limited time they were there, this incursion caused less damage than some we have suffered in recent years. I was extremely grateful for the prompt action of the Police, as were the cricket club and, I imagine, the residents of Rusthall.
The proposed new flight of steps leading to Fir Tree pond has now been installed and I hope the second flight will have gone in on Rusthall Common by the time of our meeting.
The path leading from the Marlpit pond to Common View has had its hard surface extended to assist access in the Winter and we have replaced a number of our anti-parking posts that have rotted.
We are now up to cut nine of our twelve scheduled cuts of the amenity grass areas and we are well underway with clearing tracks and paths.
In accordance with our new management plan, we are now starting to change the cutting regime on our glades and clearances. In order to create a variety of age ranges of vegetation and greater diversity of habitat, we will be leaving areas within our new clearances uncut for one or two years on a rotational basis. The exact extent of these areas will be determined by experiment over the next few years but this alteration will reduce the annual cost of cutting these areas. This enabled me to bring more of our major path edges into the cutting regime this year, starting the process of nutrient removal from these areas.
Heathland regeneration has always been a management plan priority and we now have some promising sites which we will be concentrating our efforts on. The Kent High Weald Project, who gave a great deal of assistance with the management plan, will be spending two days on these sites this Autumn with their volunteers, clearing invasive birch and bramble.
Our volunteers will be focusing on another aspect of the plan: the clearance of our rock outcrops. Last year, the volunteers re-exposed sections of Edgcumbe Rocks that were becoming lost under vegetation, this year we plan to clear Wellington Rocks. This key outcrop has a significant amount of gorse and birch growing in the fissures, as well as grass starting to spread over some surfaces. In line with the recommendations of the new plan, we will be killing this with herbicide and then trying to clear the roots and as much of the built-up soil as possible. This experiment will, I hope, help enable us to assess the cost and difficulty of this type of project in future.
Our ponds make a vital contribution to the diversity of the Commons and they too require active management. As with all stillwaters, the natural process of succession will cause our ponds to silt up and disappear unless we take action to reverse it. To that end, we will be partially de-silting Fir Tree pond this Autumn, removing the silt from about a third of the pond, leaving plenty behind to re-colonise the cleared area. In accordance with the new plan, we will need to establish a programme to carry this work forward across the pond network.
Alternative sources of funding and labour are being investigated but the new management plan will inevitably have implications for our budget that will have to be considered very carefully. Clearly, the implementation of the plan is going to be a gradual process, not least because at the same time we seem to have greater need to physically protect the Commons from erosion by traffic and parking, as well as from more frequent illegal incursions by travellers.