A change in the weather..

Tuesday 16th December 2014

Hothfield HeathlandsHothfield Heathlands

The change of weather in October took quite a bit of adjustment. Our gang of volunteers quickly changed from tee-shirts and shorts to waterproofs and wellies. None-the-less our dedicated gang continued to come out in all weathers.

We have been making some big impacts on the reserve, particularly the bog nearest to Lakeside village. The slowly encroaching scrub has been gradually taking over, and the numbers of sun loving flowers, butterflies and dragonflies has massively decreased.

The biggest problem is a wetland tree called alder. Alder is an interesting plant, it particularly likes wet, open conditions, and distributes thousands of seeds from small cones. The seed spreads liberally in the wind, and alights on the surrounding peaty soil.

The cattle do a great job of munching most of our woody growth – they love sycamore and chestnut, go great guns on willow, and even munch the birch (if asked nicely). But they seem to ignore the alder like the plague. A freshly cut alder stool will almost immediately turn from white to bright orange. The tannin that produces this effect would have been used in dyes, but it also makes the tree very unpalatable to livestock.

The result of this is that our volunteer team have been wading through the bogs removing these invasive plants. Our Sunday team were delighted to have broken through to the other side of the bog, with a clear view across the bottom of the bog.

Next year, I hope to see the return of southern marsh orchid, ragged robin and water mint, as well as snipe, woodcock and lots of dragonflies! One other nice surprise was large numbers of harvest mouse nests. These were in the long grass that had survived between the scrub. Another season of shade would probably meant losing them altogether!!

The gang have also been improving some of the paths. We are limited to material we can get from the site, so repairs tend to be somewhat temporary. We had a great group of youngsters building up one of the paths, and creating some bare sand habitat at the same time – great job, well done guys!

We are out Tuesdays and some Sundays, if you would like to join us on one of our task days to get wet and muddy (and save some wildlife at the same time) send me an email on ian.rickards@kentwildlife.org.uk or call me on 07889 737839.