Warden's report September 2018
The sudden change to hot, dry weather in mid June brought relief from trying to keep up with the clearance of sight lines etc, as the grass came to a sudden halt in growth. In fact, it was only necessary to cut the amenity grass areas once between late June and early August. Although the normal mowing regime has now been resumed, we should have sufficient cuts to continue well into autumn.
There has, of course, also been a downside to this situation. Because of our sandy, free draining soils the effects of hot dry weather are exaggerated, with our acid-grass areas being particularly susceptible. The route that we planned for the Britain in Bloom judges looked great in June, with a mass of heath bedstraw starting to flower in the grassland between Wellington Rocks and Royal Victoria Grove. By the time of their visits in July, the whole area was just brown and desiccated. I am sure the judges understood the situation and will make appropriate allowance. The judging for the Conservation award took place without me this year, so many thanks must go to John Barber, who deputised and probably did a much better job than I would have.
Rather more seriously, the downpours that broke the drought washed a huge amount of loose soil and debris into our drainage ditches, blocking a number of them completely. A machine was brought in to dig out the blockages and we are making sure that all the culverts are clear before the rains resume in earnest.
The first visit from the collector flail has taken place, cutting a number of main path edges and roadside verges. It will be returning at the beginning of October to clear our meadows and areas of long grass. We will again be leaving some areas uncut to increase diversity of habitats. The compact flail will be continuing with the cutting back and clearing of smaller areas, woodland tracks and sites with restricted access.
The steep slope between St Helena and Gibraltar Cottage has been cleared of bramble, long grass and scrub. This year we used a remote-controlled flail to clear the area. Previously it has been done by hand with strimmers and rakes and, although this produces a better finish, it is an expensive operation. The flailbot cleared the area for around half of the normal price. I think that a combination of the two methods may prove a sensible regime for the future.
Some experimentation took place to find a way to treat invading scrub in our heather regeneration sites with herbicide, without damaging the heather itself. We had some success with our first attempts, but they proved to be too labour intensive and time consuming. The heatwave also caused problems, with the herbicide evaporating before it had time to take effect, but we hope to have the revised prototype ready for next season. Herbicide treatment was also carried out on Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed, as well as selected bracken sites.
All the Freehold Tenant projects for 2018 are due to be completed over the next few weeks. At the time of writing this report we are in the process of installing the surfaced paths on the Racecourse on either side of Major York's Road that were postponed from last winter. They will provide much improved access to these areas, which are notoriously muddy during most winters.
The machines to carry out the Freeholders clearance tasks at the St Paul’s end of Happy Valley, also delayed by the wet spring, are scheduled to be on site at the end of September. They will clear the rest of the cherry laurel and remove the adjacent scrub to extend the area of wood pasture.
The final projects will also be completed in the next few weeks: the clearance of scrub adjacent to Cabbage Stalk Lane to expose a young holm oak and reduce shading of the important orchid site; and the clearance of holly scrub to the south of Fir Tree pond, to prevent shading of the pond and to create a far more diverse habitat there.
We will also be removing more of the old hedge near Hungershall Park to further open up the additional area there.
We have experienced our usual summer problems over the period. The hot weather made the Common a very popular site for the occupants of the flats in York and Dudley Roads. We removed countless disposable barbeques from the Lower Cricket Ground and levels of rubbish removed from across the Commons have generally been very high throughout the period. Although not at anything like the levels we suffered some years ago, Wellington Rocks are still the venue for regular drinking sessions and fires on weekend nights and it is routine for us to have to remove large amounts of broken glass, with our contractor coming in soon after daybreak on Sunday mornings to clear the site before parents with young children arrive to play on the rocks.
We have recently had problems in the same area with the development of a camp in the woodland that was being used by groups of youths as a drinking den and for the taking of drugs. The camp was in the same general area as the Epic Bench, were we had similar problems last year before we removed it. The encampment, which also had two tents and a sofa, has now been cleared and the area is being monitored to prevent any return.
As we move into the next work period, clearance of meadows and tracks will continue and, as the leaves start to fall, we will move towards tree work with several trees in need of remedial works or removal already identified. The next phase of our roadside tree survey will be completed, which will identify further remedial works to be undertaken.
In the latter part of the work period we will be carrying out our usual clearance at Happy Valley. This will again involve the use of the flailbot and I will advise all members in advance for those who wish to see it in action. In the same area, we will also be experimenting with a water jet to try and remove soil build up on rock surfaces.