Birch in a bog…or how to spend a warm, sunny October day

Birch in a bog…or how to spend a warm, sunny October day

Kier volunteers at work at Hothfield Heathlands

Our Ashford Meadows Project Officer, Camilla Blackburn writes about a corporate volunteering day at Hothfield Heathlands.

If you volunteer with our Reserves team, then you will know the simple rule: we always need new volunteers. Not because our current teams don’t work extremely hard, but because there is always more to do! We have over 1,000 regular volunteers who help with practical work on our reserves, but we are also fortunate to have corporate groups who come out and volunteer as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes.

Last week, Kier came out to Hothfield Heathlands to help with our birch removal work. Silver birch undoubtedly has a part to play in our local biodiversity: it provides habitat for hole-nesting species such as woodpeckers and seed for redpolls and linnets; it supports over 300 species of invertebrate, such as buff-tip moth caterpillars.

In addition, it can add interest to many a bleak, wintery landscape. However, it loves colonising open spaces of land, and what better an open space than one of the last remaining bogs in Kent? At Hothfield, the birch just seems to appear from nowhere and it adds to the already significant bracken problem! This prevents other, less competitive species from growing, such as ling, lousewort, harebells and wavy-hair grass, all acid grassland and heathland species.

Fifteen Kier staff spent the day cutting birch with hand tools and burning it.

They also got the opportunity to try out the site warden Ian Rickards’ brand new gadget, just bought that week: the marvellous Tree Popper, a tool developed in South Africa and which enables one to pull out saplings up to about 1.5 inches diameter by their roots – a much more effective way of getting rid of birch, even if more time consuming in the short-term.

As an incentive to get rid of as much birch as possible, we provided baked potatoes cooked on the bonfire, with the standard baked beans and cheese toppings (chef’s tip: don’t forget, as I did, to bring along a tin opener if you buy a tin of beans that doesn’t have a ring pull).

Unfortunately, Ian’s long-suffering kettle finally died, the handle falling off as he wrestled it out of the bonfire. If anyone knows where he can get hold of a new (second-hand) one, please get in touch.

The Kier team did a great job – a real transformation from the morning at 10am to 4pm that evening, when we could actually see the grassland. As Ian said, they are welcome back anytime!

The day was part of the wider Ashford Meadows Project, a project which is funded by Biffa Award and which aims to enhance and restore species-rich grasslands in and around Ashford.

If you a farmer or landowner, or even own a smallholding (yes, even smallholdings can be wildlife havens!), you can find out more about managing your grassland for wildlife here.