Tunbridge Wells Commons Conservators Header

28th December 2007
The Common has been a popular place on the nicer days over the Christmas break. Lots of kids and dogs were running around the Wellington Rocks on Boxing Day, very different to the dark days of all our problems in the Summer and very nice to see.
May I wish everyone a Happy New Year, and Jade and I look forward to meeting some of you out on the Common in 2008.
21st December 2007
It is, of course, the shortest day today. Always a cause for celebration, after all it is only thirteen weeks until the Spring Equinox and the clocks going forward again.
The frosty weather this week has been perfect for carrying out the clearance behind Brighton Lake. We are hoping to have everything finished and tidy for the Christmas break. I have to say that the lads doing the work have really put some effort in to achieve so much in just three days.  We will be looking to carry out some planting in front of the remaining holly to soften and graduate the new woodland edge.
I am never really sure if anyone reads this blog, but if there is anyone out there may I wish you a happy and peaceful Christmas and, if you fancy fresh air over the break, come and see us and have a pleasant walk. I would love to hear what you think of the Commons and any ideas you may have; we are trying to manage it for your benefit, so have your say. Just click on "contact us".
14th December 2007
Well, we didn't start on the Wellington Rocks clearance this week. The contractors had been delayed on their previous job by the recent bad weather and so could not start. I have therefore put the work back til the new year. I did not want this work to be left unfinished over the Christmas holiday.
We did manage to carry  out more work clearing the wall behind Brighton Lake and next week will see a clearance of scrub and fallen trees to extend the area to the rear of the site.
7th December 2007
The dreadful weather put paid to most of the work that we should have started this week. Fortunately, the volunteers were out last Saturday carrying out clearance of scrub and bramble from the wall behind Brighton Lake, so we managed to achieve something.  We will strim out the front of the wall next week.
Also next week, I hope to start the tree clearance around Wellington Rocks and the toilet building.  The first part of the scheme will involve the removal of the line of dead Elm trees by the closed section of Fir Tree Rd.
1st December 2007
Sorry for the slightly late appearance this week; I had a day's leave on Friday.
Work at the cricket club pavillion continues apace. Some of you will have seen the huge crane up there last week; it was moving all the concrete floor beams into position. Sorry if anyone was inconvenienced by the road closure whilst this was carried out.  I am told that there should not be any more closures needed.  Now that the work has reached ground level, we should see an acceleration in the building's progress.
We have replaced around 20 posts at Fir Tree car park.  The picture above shows you what I meant when I said last week that the replacements will be more substantial!
In the same area, we rotavated the recently cleared site by the bat refuge last week and sowed it with heather seed.  All the seed came from our own heather this year but our plan to try and harvest it by vacuuming it off the plants didn't realy work. However we found that stripping the seed heads from the plants by hand worked well and it was quite a quick way to harvest considerable amounts.
23rd November 2007
Well, it has been a week since the bids for the Common were due, so presumbably we are on our way to having a new owner.  As I have mentioned, theoretically we should not notice any difference as the Common is protected by the County of Kent Act, but any change is unsettling.  As far as I am aware, it will be around the end of the month before any announcment is made.
We will be carrying out repair work in Fir Tree Rd car park next week to replace around a dozen damaged barrier posts.  We will be replacing them with more substantial pieces of timber, so it will look rather unbalanced for a while. My aim is to relace the rest of the posts as soon as I can find the money.  The existing posts have lasted about ten to twelve years and given the treatment they get from some drivers, who use them as reversing sensors, I think they have done well to stay the course.  We will also be carrying out crown-lifting on trees in our open areas to allow the grass cutting machines to get under them next year.
16th November 2007
When we started to implement our management plan, drawn up by the Kent Wildlife Trust 15 years ago, there was only one remaining patch of heather left on our two Commons.  One of the main objectives of the plan has been to increase the amount of heather habitat before we lost our key heathland species such as Common Lizards and Adders.  We have used a number of techniques to restore areas of heather but the most successful has been to introduce cut heather harvested from local sites such as Ashdown Forest and Cinder Hill Wood at Matfield.  When put onto a prepared site and left for the seeds to drop out this works well and has proved to be an excellent way of bringing back sites that have been burnt.  We now have around a dozen heather areas and our heathland species are doing well enough for the Commons to have been scheduled as a Site of Nature Conservation Interest.
This year for the first time, we will be harvesring our own heather seed, which is a satisfying position to be in.  We will also be trying a new method of collection which could be very useful in the future if it works.  I am sure you have all seen the leaf-blowers that contractors use to clear paths after grass cutting.  Aparently, these can be reversed and used as vacuum cleaners, so we are going to see if we can hoover the seeds off the standing plants.  It should work; we shall see!
9th November 2007
The work at the cricket pavillion is well underway now. Unfortunately however, the very first act, putting in the foundations, has already hit a snag with the builder having to excavate down over three metres before he hit solid enough ground, instead of the 1.5 metres expected. The pile of sand that has resulted looks like a small volcano has formed on the site.
I hope you all got out and enjoyed the last week of autumn colour. I think this weekend's wind will finish it off, but it was good while it lasted.
2nd November 2007
Sorry about last week. I must remember not to take things so personally.   It is amazing what a week of good weather and no burnt cars can do to lift the spirits.  The Common has been looking wonderful as well, with one of the best dislays of autumn colours I can recall.
We finally finished the major clearance of the year this week.  And although it feels as though we could just start over again like the Forth Bridge, that will have to do.  I am also delighted to say that work has finally started on the re-building of the Cricket Club pavillion.  However, a word of warning. There are some major deliveries of concrete due next week, probably on Wednesday, and the road will be blocked for about twenty minutes each time.
It is now time for us to turn our attention to tree work. and I will be preparing for a major clearance around Wellington Rocks that will take place in the next month.  We will also be removing several dead elms on the edge of the car park.  It is a shame really, the elms are covered in ivy that is still attracting good numbers of insects.  There were at least six Red Admiral butterflies on it this morning enjoying both the nectar and the warmth.
26th October 2007
What a week!  Monday saw a, presumably stolen, car burnt out in Fir Tree car park with
considerable damage to some trees as well as our wooden barrier posts. Tuesday in the same area, two posts were dug out and an, again presumably stolen, car was driven onto the Common and smashed into the cricket pitch fence demolishing a concrete post and a section of steel rail. Then this morning, Friday, another burnt out car in the same area, more posts burnt and, as a final insult, the stone work on our new bat refuge smashed. At the same time, the cricket pitch was littered with debris from fireworks. Oh how I love half term.
19th October 2007
We are, sadly, having serious problems with motor bikes at The Bumps on Rusthall Common at present.  Youngsters are turning up in the evening with trials bikes and are destroying the perimeter of the site where all the harebells grow. The police caught a group last week, which I hoped had solved the problem, but I had a call this morning to say there were a group back last night.
We have been continuing with the flail cutting this week and are now starting to get towards the end of the task.  Another couple of days should do it. Annoyingly, however, the contractor in question is on holiday next week, so it will have to wait until the week after to finish. Whilst we are waiting for his return we shall be cleaning excessive weed growth from Fir Tree Pond and Bracken Cottage Pond. We will also be treating the stonework at the bat refuge with something to encourage the moss and lichen, so if you notice an odd smell in the area, you know what it is!
12 October 2007
As you can see from the photo, the volunteers managed to expose quite a bit of the rock outcrop that the bat refuge is built into. the trouble is that the front of the refuge looks horribly bright now. I think
a bucket of slurry needs to painted onto it  to encourage the moss and lichens to fade it down.
The flail has made good progress this week, apart from Tuesday when the rain drove everyone off site. We have now moved onto Rusthall Common and have started in the Happy Valley section.ther will be a weeks break in the flail work after today as the machine has to move briefly onto another site but it will be back the week after and should hopefully  finish the job.
5th October 2007
I am pleased to say that we managed to coax a last day out of the collector flail and we have finished its tour of the Commons for this year, the machine will go back to the yard and be re-built for next season. The smaller flail will be back in next week to continue clearance of the smaller paths and to neaten the edges of where the big flail has worked.
The volunteers are out for the first session of the year this weekend. We will be carrying out further clearance around the new bat refuge near Fir Tree Rd car park
28th September 2007
So near, yet so far! We had moved onto the last day of cutting with the big flail collector unit, clearing the site that hosts the annual firework display at Common View, when the hydraulic system failed yet again. As I have said before, this machine may indeed be the toughest, heavy duty cutter that one can buy but it is no match for the Commons. I guess that these things are really designed to maintain nice smooth golf courses and the constant flexing over our uneven ground is simply too much. We will repair it again and finish the job as soon as we can. Fortunately, it is still about three weeks before the big night so we should be ok.
The smaller flail is still continuing its work following the big machine and tidying the edges as well as clearing all the paths that are too small for the main cutter. With luck we will finish clearance on Tunbridge Wells Common next week and then move on to Rusthall.
21st September 2007
So, it is the equinox today. Autumn is now officially underway and it is starting to show on the trees. Our work continues to reflect the season as all the cutting proceeds. We have had a good week, achieving quite a bit on both Commons. The cutting and clearance will continue next week with the big collector flail continuing its work at Edgcumbe Rocks and the area around the junction of London Rd and Church Rd.
We seem to have had our e-mail address hijacked, to judge from the many hundreds of returned e-mails we are having to delete every day having been rejected by peoples spam filters. So if you do get a strange e-mail purporting to be from us, can I assure you that we do not have any frozen bank accounts in Nigeria, our office is not staffed by bored Russian girls and we do not stock medicines of any kind; whatever your personal problem!
14th September 2007
The path clearance continues; we will be back next week to Denny Bottom and then over to the section of Tun Wells to the west of Major Yorks Rd, where we have carried out extensive clearance with the collector flail this week.  The big flail will be carrying on clearing the long grass areas on Tun Wells Common next week.
With lots of elbow grease and buckets of water, we have managed to remove most of the grafitti from the rocks.  Getting rid of the white paint wasn't too bad but the blue and black were much harder.  There is still a small amount of this paint left as you can see from the picture; the trouble is that we have to strike a compromise between removing the paint and trying to avoid too much damage to the rocks themselves. Our sandstone is very soft once you break through the outer weathered surface.
7th September 2007
We have had a good start to our clearance of the paths.   We had the flail in for two and a half days and we have completed cutting in the section of Tunbridge Wells Common between Wellington Rocks and the station, including the minor paths.  We will be moving over to Rusthall next week and will be clearing in the Denny Bottom area.
I am also pleased that we have finally re-surfaced the All Ability paths across the grass next to the Wellington Rocks. It looks a little over the top at the moment because we have cut back the paths to their full width prior to putting the tamac down. As a consequence, they look very wide and very black. Give it a couple of months though and the colour will have faded and by next year the edges will have softened.  Given the state the surface had reached, I am simply glad to have a safe path again before anyone tripped.
The poor old rocks have had their problems this summer with all the fires and litter and broken glass.  Now, just as we thought the problem time was coming to the end with the return of the schools, both Wellington Rocks and Edgcumbe Rocks have been badly defaced by some particularly mindless graffiti.  We are currently investigating ways of removing it but the soft , easily eroding nature of the sandstone makes it extremely difficult to remove without causing serious damage.
31st August 2007
We will be continuing with the clearance of our paths next week.  We will be concentrating on the area between Wellington Rocks and the station, which is probably the most heavily used part of either Common.  We will be cutting back all overhanging branches and scrub as well as cutting the grass on all paths.  This is obviously a considerable undertaking, we have a lot of paths, so the work will continue throughout September.  The cutting and clearing of the open areas and long grass will commence in the next few weeks.
Whilst we do have problems with people parking on the Common, I cannot recall anything as blatant as the occurrence this week when an articulated lorry carrying advertising hoardings for a Croudace development was parked on the grass next to the London Rd/Church Rd traffic lights. When I arrived on the scene, there was no sign of the driver, who had just left it there whilst he went into the town.  After a few phone calls to Croudace's marketing office, the driver reappeared.  He clearly thought I was being totally unreasonable and pointed out that it was in fact my fault because of my failure to provide adequate signage telling innocent drivers not to park on the Common.  A frank exchange of views followed as did the departure of the lorry.  To add insult to injury, the homes being advertised were not even in Tunbridge Wells!
24th August 2007
Well, I cannot remember a gloomier week in August.  Sadly, it has been the week of the junior schools cricket festival on the Lower Cricket Pitch.  Never mind, it may not have been what was really wanted for cricket but I think that they managed to play most days.
The weather has again delayed the re-surfacing of the two All Ability paths on the Commons but I hope that if the forecasters have got it right (!), we will be able to start next week.
We will also be starting the cut of all the paths with the small flail unit next week and as soon as the Indian summer that we all hope for commences and the Common dries, we will be bringing back the big tractor and flail to cut and clear the main open areas
This photo shows some of the extensive bike jumps built by local kids at Bulls Hollow, and one of the excavated holes that they seem to have turned into a heffalump trap.  Jade was too smart to fall for it, though!  We have since flattened them (see August 10 below).
17th August 2007
Having now had a week to think about the proposed sale of the Commons, I am feeling quite positive.  Everyone seems to be focusing on the idea of the Council buying the Common but I am not sure that this is the way forward.  The Council already control four of the twelve seats on the Conservators' board and I would worry about any constituent group having a dominant share.  I feel sure that a trust can be formed in the way that has been done for other sensitive sites that would allow local people to be elected onto the board.  Apart from anything else, I doubt that the Council could afford to simply buy the Commons given the cash strapped nature of local government.
We have completed this year's bracken treatment with Asulox. The two largest areas tackled this year are the slope above Happy Valley between St Pauls Church and the 101 Steps and the grassland between Church Road and Gibralter Cottage. I hope that the treatment is as successful as in previous applications.
I am still trying to get the All Ability paths re-surfaced; once again I am promised that it will be done next week.  We still seem to be without our bottle smashers at the weekend, which is a mercy.  We also think we have found someone to take over litter picking duties full time, so perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel and overflowing bins will soon just be a memory.
10th August 2007
Well; what a week to return from holiday!  The first letter that I opened upon my return announced that the Manor have decided to sell the freehold to both Commons, as well as the title of Lord of the Manor (see News).  In theory, this should not affect the running of the Commons as they are controlled under the County of Kent Act which places management of the Commons in the hands of the Conservators and ensures the use of the Commons for the people of the town.  However an agressive or unsympathetic owner could make life difficult.  There is much talk of the Borough purchasing the freehold and in many ways this would be the obvious solution.  However, I would be slightly concerned at any one of the groups who form the Conservators having an overwhelming  representation, and such a purchase would give the Borough eight of the twelve places on the board.  I am hoping for a nice billionaire who fancies the title and might have the odd spare million lying about which he doesn't know what to do with! 
On top of all this, we also have threat of Foot and Mouth hanging over us.  I remember the last time that public footpaths were closed; the Commons remained open and I think every dog walker in Kent came to us.  It made me realise that in fact our regular walkers are very good at clearing up after their animals and that the same could not be said of the majority of the new users.  We are all praying that this outbreak is kept under control but if it isn't and the restrictions return, my advice is to make sure your dog is regularly wormed.
We have started treating the bracken with Asulox over the past week and more is planned for the next two weeks on Rusthall Common.  We have again flattened the bike jumps at Bulls Hollow and are carrying out some path flailing on both Commons.  The two footpaths that were meant to have been re-surfaced whilst I was on leave have not been, so I will be chasing the Contractor and they should be done very soon.
The broken glass problems at Wellington Rocks seems to have eased over the past few weeks. Sadly though, it has all proved too much for our long time litter picker Doug, who has retired.  Sad news: I know he was very highly regarded by many of the regulars on the Commons.  It does mean that we are looking for a replacement so if anyone out there is looking for a (usually pleasant) job, send me an e-mail.  It also means that at present we are struggling to get the bins emptied and the rubbish cleared but hopefully we will be back on track very soon.
 20th July 2007
We have finally managed to get the big flail collector out onto the two areas of long grass that we have been trying to cut for weeks, and what an improvement it makes.  That is the end of the current cutting session with this machine but it will hopefully be back at the end of August for the full cut of the long grass.  I suppose I should add, weather permitting.
The next item on the work schedule is bracken treatment. We will be spraying further areas with Asulox, the same herbicide that we have used for the past few years. This summer we are targeting the area around Gibraltar Cottage on Tunbridge Wells Common, and the slope below the rocks at Happy Valley and some areas at Common View and Denny Bottom on Rusthall Common.
I am off on leave for a couple of weeks so there will be no report for a while.
13th July 2007
It is quite remarkable how many grasshoppers and crickets there are in the areas of long grass at the moment. The bizarre weather patterns of this year don't seem to have affected them at all although I have not seen many Common Lizards hunting them this year.  I suppose that is not too surprising given the lack of suitable sun-bathing weather which is when one usually sees them.  I am seeing numbers of Green Woodpeckers out feeding on the grassland, but still almost no Swallows or Martins, which in previous years have been so active hawking for insects above the grassland adjacent to Wellington Rocks.  I am also aware that I have hardly heard that classic summer sound of Swifts screaming high overhead.
The weather is still causing problems with getting heavy equipment onto the Common so our collector flail has been on hold again as has the re-surfacing of the paths.  Even the cutters on the short grass struggled last week as it was so slippery.  We ended up having to go back to rotary cutters instead of the cylinder cutters we normally use and which produce a tighter cut.
I have had my first complaints of the year about Ragwort not being cleared from the Common. Because this issue is always controversial, I have put a piece on our News and Future Events page about the reasons we do not clear this plant as many expect us to.
I am sick of talking about the problems at Wellington Rocks but it seems unavoidable.  The bottle smashing goes on, although it has not been quite so bad over the last two weekends.  Having said that, no amount of broken glass is acceptable when young children will be turning up to play on the Rocks the next morning. We continue to collect information to send to the Home Office to justify our application for an Alcohol Control Zone and I will be out patrolling with the Police again this evening.
6th July 2007
I would like to thank the members of the Chuch of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who very kindly spent last Saturday morning helping me clear all the glass from the top surfaces of Wellington Rocks.  We removed several bags of broken glass although the deeper gullies still have glass in them. The almost continuous rain since then has kept the problem from recurring; unfortunately it has also kept most visitors away.  However, we seem to have sunshine for this weekend coming, so I am expecting the worst again.
We have had to make a start on cutting the long grass this week, even though it is too wet really.  Not only does the tractor tend to slide and cause ruts but the wet grass is not picked up anything like as well.  The final 2 areas I was hoping to cut are still too wet and we will have to wait.  These are the recently cleared area next to Cabbage Stalk Lane on T Wells Common and the area between the Tarry Path and Rusthall Road.
Also being delayed by the weather is the re-surfacing of the All Ability paths between Wellington Rocks and the Victoria Grove.  Next week does not look quite so bad at the moment so we will try again.  It is also only a couple of weeks now before the effective window for using Asulox to control the bracken and we definitely need dry weather for that.   Having said all that, at least we are not living in Hull or Sheffield at the moment.  I must keep our problems in perspective.   
29th June 2007
The rain did indeed help last week with not as much broken glass as the previous weekends, although still far too much.  I spent some time observing proceedings (from a safe distance) last Friday evening and a clear pattern emerged.  There were probably about 70 or 80 youngsters there by 8pm, with more arriving all the time.  Most of them were running in and out of the woodland around the rocks, making loads of noise but not causing much of a problem.  However, there was also a separate group of about 20 young men standing on the rocks drinking steadily and then throwing the bottles quite deliberately against the Castle Rock.  As usual, it seems that a small group are ruining things for everyone. 
Clearly things develop as the evening wears on because by Saturday morning there were the remains of a large bonfire on top of the rocks, with a stack of timber left there for the next gathering. Needless to say, we have removed the stack.  As a result of the fire, large pieces of sandstone have broken away from the Castle Rock. 
As well as the damage to the rocks, my worry is that someone will get injured.  When heated, sandstone rocks can shatter and shower anyone nearby with stone chips.  It could be very serious if one of these chips hits someone in the eye.  The Courier were at the Conservators meeting last week and have reported the situation on the front page this week; my hope is that this will not attract more youngsters to the place!
The weather relented enough for us to make a start on cutting our long grass week.  We are currently working in the area around Fir Tree car park and have cut some of the racecourse.  I hope we will be able to complete cutting on Tunbridge Wells Common next week but the main area on Rusthall Common, adjacent to the Tarry Path, will have to dry out much more before the tractor can get on it. 
22nd June 2007
I am sorry to say that last week's troubles were repeated over the weekend, with our litter clearer spending six hours with his two sons last Saturday on clearing the glass from the rocks.  He then had to go back and do the same thing on Sunday morning.  The area is starting to look like it does near the Forum, with broken glass and bottle tops ground into the sand making it extremely difficult to clear.  We are standing by to deal with this weekend's activity but I am hoping that the severe weather forcast for this evening is correct and that they will stay away.
Whilst I would welcome some heavy rain to ease our problems on the rocks, the generally damp weather is playing havoc with our plans to get the big collector flail on site.  I am keen to cut areas like the racecourse, the paths behind Fir Tree car park and the grass verge opposite the Wellington Hotel but we need dry conditions for a few days before we can put the big tractor over the ground. We had planned to try again next week, but the latest forecast is not promising. 
15th June 2007
I have mentioned in recent weeks that we have been having problems with broken glass on Wellington Rocks, but last Friday night surpassed anything we have experienced before.  I was conducting a guided walk on Rusthall Common for the Friends of Dunorlan Park last Saturday and just dropped in to check the rocks on my way over there.  I was utterly appalled by the vast quantity of broken glass and general rubbish on and around the the rocks.  I phoned our excellent support officer Julia to ask if she could come and take a few photos (see News page).  When Julia turned up. she was equally appalled and turned straight round and collected bags and brushes from home and got stuck in clearing it all up.  She was joined by two or three members of the public and my thanks and gratitude go to all of them.  I have since become aware of some of the web sites promoting the rocks as a Friday night venue (just type "wellington rocks tunbridge wells" into google) so I fear that this may be a regular occurence during the summer.  We are talking to other agencies in the town to try and get help with this problem but I don't suppose anything will happen as quickly as I would like.
On a more positive note, it has been nice to see quite a number of Common Spotted Orchids on the Commons over the past weeks and I see that as a result of  our bracken clearance last year, we have a new site for them in the grassland opposite Bracken Cottage Pond
The clearance of the epicormic growth on the lime trees opposite Brighton Lake did not happen as promised this week but the contractor assures me he will be in to do it on Monday.
8th June 2007
We seem to be suffering at the hands of Highways contractors at the moment. Many of you will have noticed the piles of cones, signs and lamps left on the grass between London Rd and Inner London Rd, these were from the overnight roadworks that have been taking place on St Johns Rd. Obviously, they didn't bother getting permission and we were due to cut the grass. Eventually, with the help of a friendly Highways Officer we were able to get them removed but no sooner had we accomplished that when I went over to Rusthall Common to find two cars dumped on the grass at the top of Lower Green Rd. It turned out that Highways contractors had arrived to re-surface the road, found these cars still parked there and so had physically lifted them off the road and onto the Common. These were removed by Thursday evening but then it poured with rain that night and stopped us carrying out the cutting on Rusthall anyway. Ho Hum.
As well, hopefully, as completing the fifth cut of the grass next week, we will be starting the first cut of major path edges  and clearing the low growth from the bases of the row of Lime trees outside the houses opposite Brighton Lake. We hope also to carry out a sweep of roadside verges with a hedging flail and will be cutting the long grass in the Denny Bottom area.
1st June 2007
You know that global warming is a reality when you come back from a week in Wales with a sun tan.  It was lovely, the River Wye was crystal clear and looked fabulous in the sunshine.  Hopeless for fishing, though we did manage a few in the evening on blue winged olives.
The Common seem to have gone mad whilst I was away, with fantastic growth on the path edges. We will be carrying out our first cut of the main paths in the next couple of weeks.  I was delighted to find on my return that the Borough Council has agreed to help fund the renovation of the two All-Ability paths near Wellington Rocks (see News page) and I will now be organising this as soon as possible.
Before I  went on holiday, I went on patrol on Tunbridge Wells Common with the local Police.  It is easy to see why the litter and particularly the glass around Wellington Rocks is so bad most mornings.  By 7.45 on that evening, there must have been well over a hundred youngsters on the rocks, drinking and generally partying.  I am pretty sure that it gets worse later on.  Any of you who pass the Forum early in the morning will also be aware of the vast quantities of bottles and general litter that are left there on a weekend night by the youngsters who gather outside the club.  Our budget is simply not able to cope with these extra demands and I am getting very concerned that we will not be able to maintain many of the clearances and improvements that we have carried out over the past fifteen years unless we can get some extra income.
18th May 2007
We will be carrying out some routine clearance of sight lines next week as well as crown lifting the trees on the amenity grass area to allow access for the grass cutters.  There will also be some clearance of path edges on some of the more heavily used routes.
I have been noticing unusual numbers of Goldfinches on the Common this year and this week I was rewarded with a great view of a party of Bullfinchs near Fir Tree car park.  Whilst not very rare, the Bullfinch is a very shy bird having been persecuted for so many years by fruit growers for whom they are a serious pest.  As I am not a fruit farmer I was able to enjoy the sight of the males in their very striking breeding plumage.  They look far too exotic to be a native although they are, rather like the Jay.
I am off to Wales to enjoy the lovely River Wye next week, so there will be no entry in this report till the week after.
11th May 2007
Thank goodness for some rain.  It has not been enough to make any difference to our ponds, which are still appallingly low, but it has certainly greened up the grass and refreshed our trees. The rain has not dampened the ground enough to delay the grass cutters, who have been out again.
It seems that the kids have started excavating jumps for their bikes at Bulls Hollow again.  Sadly, they will probably take things too far as ever and I will have to demolish it again.
Weather permitting, we will be replacing the seat under the boundary Oaks on the path from Hungershall Park to the Spa next week, as well as putting up some "no motorcycling" signs on the paths leading up from the Showfields area.  We will also be swapping over a couple of restored litter bins for the next two in need of attention.
One wecome effect of this week's raiin has been to encourage the heather that is appearing on the sites we seeded last autumn.  It is coming up very strongly on most areas but particularly so on the recently created glade quite near the new bat refuge.  We will seed the area right outside the refuge this coming autumn.
4th May 2007
The new bat refuge/ reptile hibernaculum is complete and open for residents.  The wren that was nesting in there already didn't turn a hair as we started to block up the windows and just carried entering and leaving through the gaps left for the bats.  Actually, the latin name for the wren is Troglodytes troglodytes, which means cave dweller, so i guess we should not be surprised.
We have re-positioned two of our litter bins this week as well, moving one to the junction of the two paths that leave Fir Tree car park for the Spa and the other to the edge of the woodland opposite Common View.  My hope is that dog walkers will put their bags of dog fouling in these rather than simply throw them in the bushes as they do now.
It is with relief that I see a fairly positive forecast of rain next week.  Most of our ponds are pretty much at the lowest levels that I have seen in the past fifteen years.  A whole month with virtually no rain, bright sunshine and drying easterly winds has removed at least a foot of water just in evaporation.  This is also peak fire risk time on heathlands, with last year's dead bracken and grass tinder dry, so if you are planning to use the Common over the bank holiday, have fun but please take care.
27th April 2007
Those of you who know the Common will be aware of the old toilets that used to be adjacent to Fir Tree car park in a cave quarried out of the sandstone outcrop there.  They have not been in use for many years, having been replaced by the new building near Wellington Rocks. Over time, the kids have broken in and ended up ripping the door off its hinges and it has become the venue for various unsavoury activities.  
It is with pleasure, therefore, that I can announce that, with financial assistance from the Friends of the Common, the entrances to the building are due to be closed up with sandstone. Our plan is to leave small gaps at the top of the old window to allow access for bats and a pipe at the bottom of the door to allow access to reptiles, thus creating a hibernaculum. We will, of course, have to put a plaster skim over the ceiling of the cave before we close it, otherwise the bats will not be able to get a grip on the currently tiled interior.  I hope the work will be completed before the end of next week and that this will also halt the fly-tipping that is starting to occur in the area.
The repairs to the entrance to the car park have been carried out this week, as has the third cut of the grass.  It is a bit worrying to have completed the third of our scheduled twelve cuts before the end of April but hopefully it will start to slow down soon.
20th April 2007
It seems that the whole Common turned green last weekend.  It really was a transformation as most of the major trees came into leaf.  I notice that whilst the oaks are now in leaf, the ash trees are still just breaking bud, proving that some old weather sayings work.  We seem to be approaching drought conditions already this spring, in spite of the wet winter.  Our ponds are suffering badly from evaporation and have dropped about a foot.  Never mind; we may be on the brink of the apocalypse but at least we have nice weather for it! 
 Whilst I am on the subject of trees, the cherry tree avenue on Mount Edgcumbe Road is in full blossom and looking great.  This avenue was planted for the coronation of George VI and the trees are reaching the end of their lives. We have taken cuttings from the original trees and these are being grown on at the moment so that we can replace the avenue in a few years time.
I mentioned last week that work would be starting soon on the cricket pavillion.  This has not yet happened but is imminent.  The work is bound to cause disruption in the car park during the summer.  However, before this starts we have another bit of disruption in the same area to cope with next week as we carry out repairs to the entrance to the car park
13th April 2007
The second cut of the grass is now complete and the Commons are starting to look much better. It is pleasing that the new contractors seem to be settling in well.
We have started a programme to renew our benches with a clean up and re-painting of five of the benches around the cricket pitch on Tunbridge Wells Common.  The picture on the left shows the start of the process; the wood has been stained but the metalwork still needs repainting.  I hope to be able to afford to do five more later in the summer and then ten per year after that.
With regard to the cricket club, it is exactly a year since vandals torched the pavillion and destroyed a much loved feature of the Common. You will have all seen the demolition of the remains over the intervening year but I am delighted to say that the start of rebuilding is imminent. The latest date I have been told for the start of work is April 18th. When this work commences, there is bound to be a fair amount of disruption, so be prepared.
5th April 2007
Well we have failed to get the grass cut due to a slight technical hitch. The edges have been strimmed but we will not be able complete the task until next week. Fortunately, it is not very long and the delay should not be a problem.  We have, however, managed to carry  out the clearance of the paths.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that many of our solitary, mining bees had started to appear and could be seen looking for nest sites. I have since had a chance to talk to Dr Beavis, the Curator of Tunbridge Wells Museum, who is an expert on these invertebrates. For those of you who are fans of Acculeate hymenoptera, (and I know many of you are!), the species I was watching were Andrena clarkella, which though interesting are not especially unusual. Whereas apparently, on the same day Dr Beavis was watching an estimated 600 plus specimens of the nationally notable Andrena bimaculata near Toad Rock.
It was pleasant to see horses out on the Commons again this week after their winter ban. It is deninitely Spring when they return. I hope you all have a pleasant Easter break and if you are tempted into an early barbecue, please remember to put something under it. Little burnt squares all over the grass is not a good look. Thanks.
30th March 2007
As some of you will no doubt have noticed, we have been restoring the railings around the Queen Anne Oak on the edge of the Common near the station. This is reputed to be the oldest tree on the Commons having been planted in 1700 to comemmorate the visit of the then Princess Anne shortly before her Coronation. This work has very kindly been financed by the Friends of the Commons who also recently paid for the railings around the Toad Rock and the Cold Bath to be similarly renovated.
I hope to have the second cut of the grass carried out next week, weather permitting. This should start to get everything under control. We will also be undertaking a clear up of the path edges to remove much of the fallen timber and branches left after the winters storms. Hopefully the Commons will all be looking good in time for the Easter holidays.
It seems that I was just in time with my clearance of the bike jumps at Bulls Hollow a couple of weeks ago. I have come across a couple of groups of youngsters this week who were searching for the wonderful bike jumps and courses that they had seen featured on various sites on the web. One group had even come up from Hastings for the day!
23rd March 2007
 In spite of some horrible conditions, our new contractor has managed to complete the first cut of our amenity grass areas for the year.  Sadly, it looks pretty scruffy at present because of the amount of cuttings left.behind.  This is not the contractor's fault but simply the consequence of us not having been able to carry out our last cut of 2006 due to the excessively damp conditions.  On top of that, we have just had the warmest winter on record and so the grass carried on growing, albeit slowly. However, within the next two cuts I am sure we will get back to the standard we are used to.
In spite of this week's snow and sleet, spring has continued its inexorable march. I see that a pair of Greylag Geese are currently inspecting Brighton Lake as a potential breeding site, They are likely to be the same pair that reared a clutch on this pond last year.
16th March 2007
Spring is in full flood with the tadpoles now hatched in a couple of our ponds and the level of bird song is rising daily. The last few days have seen many of our solitary bees and wasps seeking out mates and nest sites over the quickly warming areas of bare ground.  However, all this will quickly end now as I have instructed our new contractor to commence grasscutting next week.  Expect therefore, a descent back into winter!
The clearance at Denny Bottom mentioned last week is complete but we will be back for a few hours when we can to neaten the remaining aftermath of bramble stems.
9th March 2007
Following receipt of a modest grant from Natural England, we have been at Denny Bottom this week clearing scrub, bramble and bracken from the Toad Rock and the other formations in the area.  We still have some finishing off in the area to carry out next week.
We have also been removing various tree trunks that resulted from the recent highway clearance we have carried out.  Some of you will notice that one particularly large butt has been placed adjacent to the drive near Tea Garden Lane to stop the refuse lorries constantly over-riding the kerb and destroying the Common edge.  We did the same thing two years ago but amazingly the roughly two ton tree trunk disappeared one night!  If the culprit is reading this, be aware that the new butt has loads of metal in it and it will wreck any saw!
2nd March 2007
We have been back to Bulls Hollow this week to flatten the network of jumps and pits that have been created by the local kids. As ever, we have been amazed by the levels of excavation achieved but somewhat concerned to see that they have moved into a new area and started cutting down trees.
Well it seems on the evidence so far that the frogs are spot on with their weather forecast. They have now turned up in Cabbage Stalk Lane pond and will be in the others within the next week or so.  It is lovely to see all the ponds absolutely brimming full at the moment, especially the previously mentioned Cabbage Stalk Lane pond, which is full for the first time since it was dug out about four years ago.
23rd February 2007
We have at last finished off the work that has been going on for the last few weeks.  We have completed the first section of roadside clearance on the A264 at it's junction with Tea Garden Lane. At some time over this year I will have the tree stumps ground out so that we can maintain the verge easily, then next winter we will carry out some re-planting with appropriate native shrubs such as hazel and elder, to start to form the graded edge.
We also managed to complete the work on the glade next to Fir Tree car park and it will be interesting to see what appears there this year.  We may end up spreading some heather seed on it in the autumn.
After my comments last week. it was nice to see loads of frogs back in Fir Tree Pond this week. They are having a great time and it is interesting to note that they are laying the spawn tight to the edge of the pond which according to country lore indicates that we are infor a wet spring.  We shall see.
16th February 2007
Although the variable weather is still frustrating our work schedule, on the days when the weather has been ok you can really feel things waking up. Valentines Day is past without the frogs re-appearing in our ponds but they will definitely be with us soon. I know they appeared in some sheltered garden ponds before the recent snow. At least when they do arrive back on the Common this year they will find plenty of water. There are a few fox cubs in evidence too, so things are stirring underground as well.
9th February 2007
Sadly, due to contractors being called away on emergencies and then the snow, we failed to make any progress with our clearance work last week. We did, however, manage to get on with stump-grinding on the new glade next to Fir Tree car park. The snow disrupted that too, so that we are not quite finished but one more day will see it done. With luck, things will be back to normal next week and we will make some progress.
Having reported last week about the excavations at Bulls Hollow, I am now becoming aware that some mtorcycles have started using the area. Mountain bikes are one thing but I am afraid that motorbikes are completely unacceptable.  I will put up a sign as soon as possible (I don't suppose that will make much difference) and will be looking at ways to nip this in the bud. I suppose the obvious first step is to flatten the area again to remove some of the attraction. Sorry mountain bikers.
2nd February 2007
We have completed the remedial work on roadside trees specified in last years highways inspection and will be moving on next week to the scalloping programme for our roadside woodland edge mentioned last week.
I see that the unauthorised bike jumps at Bulls Hollow that we flattened before Christmas are being reconstructed. Obviously, boys will be boys, and I must admit it does look like fun, but I will have to flatten it all again if it gets out of hand.  I suspect that this will turn out to be a regular task!
26th January 2007
Hopefully that is the end of the snow and wind for a while and we can get back to planned works.
We will be starting our programme of roadside tree work this week.  The aim is to clear back roadside trees to lessen our potential insurance liability and to create a graded, scalloped woodland edge in line with the recommendations of the County Wildlife Trust.  Our initial target will be trees at the junction of the A264 and Tea Garden Lane and trees opposite the junction of Bretland Road and Rusthall Road.  This is obviously a long term programme that is likely to run for the next ten years or so.
We also hope to be grinding the stumps of the trees recently removed by the volunteers to extend the new glade to the west of Fir Tree car park.
19th January 2007
As you might expect, there has been considerable damage caused by Thursday's gales.  Most of it has been just branches and bits of deadwood but there have been a few large trees down as well. Probably the most dramatic came down on the path between Gorse Cottage and Neville Park, completely blocking the path and bringing down the phone lines for the properties there. I hope that all the paths will at least be back open for the weekend.  We will have to wait until next week to complete the clearances as all my contractors are tied up dealing with emergencies elswhere.
12th January 2007
As you may have guessed, we have had some major problems and have been unable to update the web-site for the past few weeks. Apologies to you all, especially those of you who have e-mailed during the period. I hope to have responded to you all by the end of today.
I hope you all had a great Christmas and New Year and that like me, you are enjoying the already increasing day length.
We have had a fair number of branches down in the recent winds as well as one or two trees. I think I have got all the paths open again now. If you are aware of anything I have missed please call me or mail.
We will be starting work on roadside trees in the next few weeks. There are a number of trees identified by Highway Services last year on Major Yorks Rd and the A264 that need some attention and then we will be moving on to clear some of the overgrown hawthorns adjacent to Langton Rd at its junction with Tea Garden Lane. If finances permit, I will then move on to some of the over-mature trees adjacent to Rusthall Rd.
Hopefully, we are back permanently now, and I will be able to bring you all fully up to date over the next few weeks.

Page last updated: 27/02/2008