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Saturday 28 July 2007

Clear local paths

The High Weald Landscape Trail passes through Cuckfield. And after New England Wood, heading west, it was hopelessly overgrown with bracken and brambles. This is a disgrace! One should complain to someone... or sharpen a sickle, grab some tree loppers and sort it out.

Blooded by brambles and bitten by horse flies, I hacked my way through this bracken forest over a couple of days.

If one could clear a 2 meter strip, would the local (and longer distance) walkers then keep it clear of bracken?
Who knows?
I returned the following week with shears to tidy up anything missed; further widen the 2m. strip; and cut back brambles that grow like mad.
I was encouraged to meet various walkers, on the trail that I had just cleared. Again bloodied by brambles and stung by nettles, which I cleared on this third attack, I was happy to keep this lovely path open for local people and long distance walkers to enjoy. It used to be horrible to walk through if the bracken was drenched with rain, You just got soaked. Now I have even developed a technique of pushing hedge shears through the wire fence to cut bracken outside of the path. It will be interesting to see if such actions reduce the bracken growth next year.

After a couple of "bracken free" months and several follow up visits to admire my handiwork and further expand the path, it is looking quite different. Grass is growing well and there are two wild flowers in bloom, one a ragged robin.

A fun pull on a Saturday morning

Ragwort destroys the liver of herbivores and hay containing it is toxic to livestock. So it must be removed from hay meadows if the hay is to be of use for fodder.

The Friends of Blunts Woods and Paiges Meadows were on the pull on Saturday 21st July in a conservation party of just four volunteers. There were hundreds of plants to remove by tugging them out -- roots and all. Although the torrential rains the previous day had soaked the ground thoroughly, it was hard but satisfying work.

Here is the happy author smiling in front of the cleared meadow after more than 3 hours of tugging.

The work would have been easier with more volunteers. Budding conservationists are urged to join us for the next Ragwort clearing day on Saturday 25th August 2007. Meet us in the car park in Blunts Wood Crescent, Haywards Heath at 9.00am, or you could join us later if you wished.

Your assistance would be most welcomed!

Saturday 7 July 2007

Aliens and a good lay

Blunts Wood is a green paradise separating the towns of Cuckfield and bustling Haywards Heath. I recently joined the Friends of Blunts Wood to lay a path for wheelchair access to this oasis of calm. Just five of us turned up at 9am one Saturday for path laying.

There is nothing like a good lay on a Saturday morning. And the earth moved for us, as you can see – all 3 tons of it!

On Tuesday 3rd July, with marbled white butterflies flying around, I walked the North Downs up the steep slopes of Box Hill and Juniper Hill north of Dorking and then down, over the river Mole and around the other side of the valley.

The wild garlic leaves are dying now in the woods by the river, yet still deliver a pungent smell if trodden on.

Box Hill is named after the Box trees growing there and Juniper Hill for the same reason.

But are these plants really native?

According to Natural England there are 2,721 non-native species and hybrids in the wild in England, most of which have escaped from gardens.The vast majority of non-native species don’t cause any environmental or economic problems but some species can cause considerable damage. Japanese knotweed, for example, can grow through concrete, damage property and destroy habitats by swamping the other plants.

It is expected to cost tens of millions of pounds to deal with knotweed and other invasive plants on land destined to host infrastructure for the 2012 London Olympics. And it is not just the UK that suffers. €2.4 million was spent to treat Japanese Knotweed on 1% of Germany’s railways. The West of Ireland is heavily infested with it too.

So imagine my horror, when is such idyllic surroundings, I came face to face with this Japanese invader, shown above, which had been cut back, somewhat in vain!

This is a historic area. Admiral Lord Nelson allegedly met with Lady Hamilton at the Burford Bridge Hotel 1 mile upstream from here. Nelson may have attested to her innocence. “If she is not a virgin, you can tear off my arm and poke out my eye!” he might have said!

Another invading species is Himalayan balsam, picture below. It is growing on both sides of the river between a quite splendid, presumably
Victorian, sewer pipe suspended on cables and the footbridge tacked onto the side of the railway bridge. Isn’t it the prettiest sewer pipe you ever did see?

According to The UK Environment Agency, Himalayan or Indian balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) was introduced to Britain in 1839, but escaped from gardens and rapidly colonised riverbanks and areas of damp ground. Himalayan balsam grows in dense stands that suppress the growth of native grasses and other flora. Since cattle and sheep can graze it, control is somewhat easier than the dreaded Japanese Knotweed, which has no predators in the UK.

But the sheep could not reach these plants and they were thriving.

Another alien here is the parakeet. It is strange to see these parrot-like birds flying around, which now breed in much of South East England. Fruit growers in Kent may be right to be nervous of them.

The National Trust land on and around Box Hill is a lovely area to walk, with access by train, in case you are tempted.


5 July 2007

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