We’re back and able to update the blog after a long overdue IT upgrade.
The main project this autumn has been the clearance of scrub in the compartment known as ‘Golden Nob’ at Wrotham Water Farm, part of the Halling to Trottiscliffe Escarpment SSSI set on the North Downs above the historic Pilgrims Way. As a steep south-east facing slope many rare species have been recorded in this chalk grassland habitat. It is the intention that upon completing this work, planned in conjunction with Natural England, the comparment can regain much of its previous conservation value.
Unfortunately the site has not been grazed since 2003 due to lack of a viable water supply. A recent arrangement with the tenant farmer who keeps grazing animals on the lower fields has meant that improving the site is once again worthwhile. To this end we have begun major clearance work on the site and should be finished after the Christmas break.
The compartment’s very steep slope has meant that tractor access is impossible so the clearance has been very labour intensive. A member of the ranger team smashing scrub with harness mounted brushcutters and clearance saws with volunteers dragging the brash off site or to a fire has been the preferred method so far. Working on such a steep slope riddled with rabbit holes has been testing but the volunteer team especially have coped admirably
Large areas of grassland have persisted since grazing ended 11 years ago and with grass still surviving under most of the scrub that is being cleared it is expected that the site will recover quickly. The local and even national importance of unimproved chalk grassland should not be underestimated. Previous surveys have found nationally scarce ‘man orchid’ at the site alongside the more common fragrant and pyramidal orchids as well as the typical chalk grassland flora found along most of the unimproved upper slopes of the Wrotham Water site.
Scarce invertebrates previously found on Golden Nob include the belladonna flea beetle which is sustained by a small patch of deadly nightshade. The mining bee which nectars on blackthorn flowers and two coloured mason bee which nests in empty snail shells are also nationally scarce species. The aforementioned are just a handful of species that would benefit from improvement work to this fascinating habitat. Evidently the mixture of scrub, grassland and woodland margin is important and for this reason islands of scrub and a copse of trees are being maintained. We’ve avoided using herbicide in the hope that spring grazing will limit the return of scrub from stumps.
While this has been the main project of the autumn we have also completed tree inspections at Petts Wood and Hawkwood and played host to another successful Petts Wood 10k organised by Petts Wood Runners. New interpretation panels and a leaflet have been drafted which will be appearing in the new year. Hazel coppicing has been carried out by the Sunday team on the Hawkwood side of the estate and log sales have been strong, providing us with additional income for conservation work.