New Management Plan coming in 2024!
The Conservators’ goal is to manage the Commons for the benefit of local people whilst creating and maintaining a wide variety of habitats to sustain and encourage wildlife of all types, both common and rare.
Since 1992 we have been following the recommendations of a series of long-term Management Plans, drawn up with the help of experts from Kent Wildlife Trust and Kent High Weald Partnership, to preserve and enhance a mosaic of habitats including woodland, grassland and heath, ponds and damp areas, and exposed rock outcrops. We have also been increasing the number and width of informal tracks, paths, glades and clearings. This approach is helping to increase species diversity and open up new areas for users of the Commons to enjoy.
The latest ten-year management plan for the Commons was adopted by the Conservators in 2017, but with our new Ranger now in position, it was clear that we needed to revisit our plans and ideas to take the Commons forward.
In late 2022, we enlisted the help of a fantastic consultant ecologist to help us with a new Plan. She started by researching and investigating all of the existing literature, records and information about the Commons. All of her findings can be found in her Data Review document, along with vital recommendations for prioritising survey work for the remainder of 2023, to assist in the development of the next Management Plan.
More about the 2017 Management Plan (while we await the latest Management Plan!)
- Kent High Weald Partnership (grass, heathland and woodland habitats)
- The Living Forest(trees)
- Freehold Tenants with guidance from Natural England (rocks)
- Calumma Ecological Services (ponds)
The plan focuses on habitat and biodiversity goals, in keeping with the Conservators’ vision, balancing these with public amenity and safety requirements. It is based on the premise that grazing livestock on the Commons is not viable in our busy urban environment and the expectation that budget constraints are likely to tighten over the period.
A key objective is to grow our team of volunteers and look for external sources of funding.
Other recommendations adopted by the Conservators include:
- Develop a rolling multi-year schedule for maintaining significant rocks, with the following prescriptions:
- Remove shrubs and smaller trees and treat to prevent regrowth where necessary. Mature trees growing out of rocks should remain where they are significant features of the rocks
- Remove grass growing on cracks in designated rocks; remove grass growing on the surface of such rocks depending on the circumstances (in line with advice received from Natural England);
- Create and maintain sight lines around some rock formations and enhance views of rocks.
- Undertake a photographic ‘audit’ of significant rock formations every two to three years to monitor their status and any deterioration in their condition.
- Conduct an annual audit of the condition of ponds. Include photographs. Evaluate previous work, and list and cost any maintenance requirements. Maintenance work likely to be included is clearing marginal vegetation and overhanging trees, removing invasive plant species, selectively removing or thinning of other plants and clearing blocked ditches and pipes.
- Check all ponds quarterly for rubbish and remove all litter. Check the edges and drainage ditches for damage or silting. Add required actions to the most recent audit report.
- In the event of leakage, take early remedial action to restore the integrity of the pond.
- Desilt about one third of the surface area at a time. Pile the spoil adjacent to the pond to allow as much wildlife as possible to make its way back to the water. Note the date of the action taken on the most recent audit report for the pond. Note on the audit report scheduled dates for the second and third phases of desilting.
- Regularly identify and remove invasive and alien species.
- Take the opportunity, when clearance work is being carried out in and around the ponds, to provide habitats for reptiles by creating partially covered log piles in the vicinity.
- Continue cutting annually (late summer, after seeds have set) on all grassland sites, removing all arisings as soon as possible (ideally within a week to avoid nutrient enrichment). For structural diversity leave unmown patches or strips randomly and rotationally, and around the edges of the site. On areas of acid grassland and thin soil, take care in cutting with heavy machinery, as it can be damaging, especially where there are anthills.
- Consider introducing a spring cut in addition to the late summer cut on sites where fertility needs reducing (grass-dominated sites). Remove all arisings as soon as possible.
- Maintain patches of bare ground where possible, as these are valuable to invertebrates, especially on south-facing slopes. There should not be much need to sow seeds, as most of the grassland areas show signs that there is an existing seed bank. This is particularly important in the sandpit area near Wellington Rocks as this is a very important site for the mining bee.
- Manage scrub encroachment where bramble and bracken are becoming dominant in grassland areas. Do not completely eradicate as it has some value and makes up part of the mosaic, particularly in edge habitat. Dominant species such as creeping thistle also require control. The bracken may be best managed by spraying with Asulox. Bracken will diminish with annual cutting. Creeping thistle and tree saplings are best pulled or dug out using specialist tools, such as Lazy Dogs.
- Consider cutting into the secondary woodland to expand areas of acid grassland in the longer term.
- Manage the areas of wood pasture similarly to grassland, with annual and rotational cut and clear. Carry out cutting annually (late summer, after seeds have set) and remove all arisings as soon as possible to avoid nutrient enrichment. Rotationally leave unmown patches, or strips around the edges of the site, for structural diversity. On sites where fertility needs to be reduced (grass dominated sites), consider carrying out a spring cut (removing cuttings) in addition to the late summer cut.
- Carry out some selective thinning of standards, and pollarding, to favour floristic diversity in some areas, subject to veteran-tree expert guidance on trees of value. Retain any standing or fallen deadwood (unless it presents a safety issue).
- Mimic grazing when cutting, as closely as possible; adopt rotational cutting at differing levels to create a mosaic of structure and heather age. Cut no more than 25% of the heather at any one time, and as late as possible (autumn/winter) to allow seed to set. Eventually remove arisings (i.e. accumulation of cuttings) but consider using them to help spread seed to other areas. Clear by hand any dominant brambles and bracken from relict-heathland area to avoid cutting the heather.
- Control scrub on heathland sites, with bracken accounting for no more than 5% of the site. Spray bracken as necessary and cut or pull other dominant species such as birch and bramble. Use hand tools to avoid negative impact on heather and other heathland flora.
- Maintain patches of bare ground.
- Monitor key heathland sites annually, recording percentage cover and age categories.
- Consider grazing a couple of the key sites, using temporary fencing in contained areas, where logistical and risk-management challenges can be met.
Woodland edges, glades and rides
- Rides: zonally manage main tracks and paths to provide graduating tiers of vegetation from the ground up to the woodland. Focus on south-facing rides, cut and coppice on a rotational basis with rotationally scalloped sections. Give priority to east-west over north-south rides, as this provides greatest value for wildlife.
- Glades: maintain open spaces and glades throughout the woodlands with rotational cut and clear.
- Thinning/coppicing: explore any opportunities to carry out coppicing or thinning dense areas of woodland, as this can enhance the biodiversity value of the woods.
- Deadwood: encourage the presence of standing and fallen deadwood, as key elements of a woodland habitat.
- Apply a 25+ year vision when planning the overall management of trees.
- Apply one-to-five years for detailed planning of activities, with attention to recently planted trees, and trees prioritised for attention from an annual survey.
Public amenity (access and leisure activities)
- Maintain a register of the highest priority improvements for implementation as funding becomes available (including planning gain funding). Review and update priorities annually.
- All work on the Commons should be consistent with the habitat and biodiversity principles in the Management Plan.
- Longer-term maintenance (and risk) implications should be assessed and quantified for each project. Standard specifications should be applied to minimise future maintenance costs.
Dealing with problems (including litter, damage, encroachment and risks to public safety)
- Use the risk register to facilitate regular updates of policies and planned responses.
- Apply standard specifications for installations (posts, etc) that minimise subsequent maintenance and maximise life expectancy. Investigate costs/benefits of anti-rot treatment, also whether bunds and ditches might be more cost-effective than posts in certain areas.
- Engage the public.
- Selective thinning and pollarding in some areas of dense shade.
- Seeking to expand acid grassland by cutting into the secondary woodland, particularly areas where a single species like holly is dominant.
- Creating additional refuges to support reptile hibernation.
- Creating additional ponds and wetland areas.
- Clearing additional rock outcrops.
Download a detailed plan of Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall Commons Management Plan.