Hidden Gems

Hidden Gems

Ashford Meadows

Our Ashford Meadows Project Officer Camilla Blackburn shares how small sites can really make a difference to wildlife.

The current theory about protecting wildlife suggests that we should be thinking at a landscape-scale, hence The Wildlife Trusts’ Living Landscapes movement.

Small sites tend to be isolated and many of the species present are unlikely to maintain viable populations, as well as having nowhere to disperse, unless they are particularly mobile e.g. birds or large mammals.

However, small is better than a big fat zero of arable or rye grass.

There’s often a chance that the land adjacent to a small site might become more wildlife-friendly in time, and then any species which have held on in that hidden gem of a nature reserve will have somewhere to go.

Broad-leaved helleborine

Broad-leaved helleborine

Last week, I was working with Lesley, a landowner living near Shadoxhurst.

A little over a year ago, her husband and she bought a smallholding which hadn’t been managed for twenty years and was almost impenetrable.

Luckily, she is a keen naturalist and discovered, to her delight, that species such as broad-leaved helleborine and glaucous sedge were present.

When she contacted me about the Ashford Meadows Project, I agreed that we could do some scrub clearance and grassland management as part of the project.

Noel (one of the Trust’s lovely West Kent Green Team volunteers, who had agreed to come and work with me), Lesley and I made a first attempt at scrub clearance and a hay cut in early September.

We spent the day in 28oC heat brushcutting around the anthills, stumbling over anthills, extricating the metal rakes from aforementioned anthills, all in between bouts of drinking gallons of water, searching for bottles of suntan lotion, cursing at the wretched bramble jungle and loading the fire.

When we were admiring our efforts at the end of the day, I remember being a bit discouraged and thinking that, had I been visiting the site to give advice, I would be suggesting that ‘what it really needs is a jolly good cut’! I forget how much effort it takes to get an area of neglected grassland back into management.

Glaucous sedge

Glaucous sedge

Last week’s task was easier as the weather was much cooler and the rain was interrupted with occasional bursts of sunshine.

There were five of us: Lesley; Alison, on a day out from an office-based job (and who now has an even greater admiration for our Wardens’ regular site management efforts!); Lynne, who managed to snatch a couple of hours in between being a full-time carer to her mother; Ian, who manages an area of Local Wildlife Site woodland in the Weald; and me.

We moved onto the northernmost stretch of the site and cleared more bramble, some thick, matted grassland, and innumerable ash and oak saplings.

The difference at the end of the day was very satisfying. We chose to leave some islands of scrub, because broad-leaved helleborines prefer slightly shady scrubland edge.

Lesley had made a lovely apple cake and Alison had bought fruit scones, clotted cream and jam, so we enjoyed a well-earned, five star cream tea!

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, you can find out more about managing your grassland for wildlife here.