Warden's report June 2018
With the wet weather of early spring giving way to warmer conditions, growth on the Common has been very luxuriant. At the time of writing in early June, we are already a third of the way through our scheduled twelve cuts of the amenity grass. We have never had to pay for additional cuts, although provision for this is included in the contract, so I am hoping that the usual draining of our sandy soil as the summer proceeds will enable us to increase the intervals between cuts for the second half of the season.
The lush vegetation growth has also meant an early start to cutting some of the path edges, as well as clearance of sight lines at road junctions. The big hedging flail has also been in and carried out a full cut of road verges.
We have completed the renovation of fifteen benches, and the improvement of the track at the top of Castle Road should be completed by the time of our meeting, as should the installation of a new, lockable bollard to prevent unauthorised access.
Repairs were carried out to the surface of the car park at Fir Tree Road and the footpath that runs behind the pavilion had three sections re-surfaced. The ground has still not really dried out, so the new surfaced paths on the Racecourse will not be put in until the end of the summer.
The weather has proved equally beneficial to our wildflowers. There is a wonderful display of foxgloves in the area of Happy Valley that was opened up two years ago, and the heath bedstraw is doing very well in the grassland below the Wellington Rocks. Our heather areas are showing excellent growth and spread although, unfortunately, the birch scrub and bramble that is invading the areas is doing equally well.
The most dramatic results, however, have been in the number and spread of our common spotted orchids and of our rarest plant, coralroot bittercress. The coralroot has flowered very well outside The Cottage at the end of the Terrace Walk on Tunbridge Wells Common, and at Rusthall numbers are rising in the small valley next to the Tarry Path while a new colony of plants are showing along the path itself.
Our orchids have appeared in greater numbers at St Paul's Church and appear to be spreading across the meadow area there. A new colony has appeared on one of the small triangles at the junction of Fir Tree Road and Major York's Road and the main colony near Cabbage Stalk Lane rose to over two hundred and fifty plants and has spread considerably across the meadow area.
As we move into the next work period, we will be getting fully underway with the cutting and flailing of our paths and tracks. This will also include the first visit from the collector flail, which will be cutting main path areas and verges.
Herbicide treatment of bracken, as well as Himalayan balsam will take place at various locations across both commons and I hope to be carrying out an experiment to control invading birch and bramble within our heather regeneration areas.
We will be felling and removing a large, dead horse chestnut from the edge of the Lower Cricket Pitch and starting a programme to dig out and restore the drainage ditches, initially alongside the Racecourse in section T6.
The damage caused by Morrison Utilities along the edge of Rusthall Road will be rectified by our contractors at Morrison’s expense. When work at Churchside, next to St Paul's Church is completed, we will also restore the damaged areas of Common outside the property. This work will be funded by the owner of Churchside.
The two paths on the Racecourse postponed from the current work period will be installed and the other Freehold Tenant funded projects will also be carried out: the clearance around the holm oak on Cabbage Stalk Lane, the clearance of remaining cherry laurel at the Happy Valley site and the clearance of holly adjacent to Fir Tree pond.
During the final work period of the year, I hope to run two further experimental days, both at Happy Valley. The annual clearance of this area is an expensive and very labour-intensive operation due to the steepness of the site. I have found a local contractor with a remote control flail that is capable of operating safely in these conditions and should prove a more cost-effective way of controlling vegetation on the worst of the slopes. I am organising a day’s hire to judge its effectiveness.
Secondly, we have been making attempts in the last two years to further open up our rock outcrops. One of our main targets has become the removal of the soil that has built up in crevices and hollows and allows the proliferation of invasive scrub. Again, this is labour intensive and potentially expensive work and I wish to see if a water jet would be a more effective method of removal, probably after an initial application of herbicide to weaken the roots. I am arranging a day to test the effectiveness, which will target some of the recently exposed rocks near the Cheesewring.
Once we finish the clearance of our meadows with the second visit of the collector flail, the main focus of our winter work will, as ever, be on trees. We will be having the third phase of our roadside tree survey carried out, and I hope to again be able to carry out all the remedial work identified.
However, I am noticing possible signs of ash chalara on a number of trees, particularly on Rusthall Common. I will be monitoring the situation over the next few months and will take advice from the Tree Officer but clearly this could have an impact on our budget in the coming years.
We will again be participating in Britain in Bloom, with judging taking place in July; hopefully our new interpretive panels will impress.
Illustrated talks to local groups and organisation are still popular and I will also be conducting walks for St John's cubs and the U3A as well as our annual Heritage Day walk for the general public.