Cowden Pound Pastures

Annual Report - 1998

By Terry Mullender

Norman London and his team completed fencing of the northern compartment by late spring having been delayed by a family of Great Tits nesting in the hollow top of our official access gate post.

A wet year with record breaking rainfall in several months meant a greatly improved flora (although I was unable to find any Adders Tongue Ferns this year) on my previous eighteen months as warden. I would estimate Orchid numbers, this spring, to be at least double those of the previous year with a magnificent flush of Devil‘s Bit Scabious following, in the late summer. Butterflies fared less well, as you might expect, with far fewer in evidence than ’97. Grass Snake numbers were also down(although still numerous beneath the sheets of corrugated iron atop the valley side in the middle compartment) again I fancy this was due to the poor weather. I suspect that we must, somewhere on the site, have a population of Slow-Worms as they are everywhere else in the area but I have yet to see one here. I shall move the southern most sheet down to the valley floor before spring to see what we may find there.

The ten dormouse nest boxes erected in the small copse, designated W1, during winter ’97-’98 proved a disappointment, perhaps due to my misinterpreting the plans and offsetting the entry holes (since rectified). The regions Tits loved them but the Dormice stayed away in droves the nearest approximation being a solitary Wood Mouse discovered in occupation during the October inspection. I have since removed these boxes, as the area is due for coppicing, and will re-erect them (together with a further ten) probably in the top (or eastern) shaw which contains a good amount of the right quality and age of hazel with easy access whereas the other area I considered i.e. the wooded strip at the western bottom extremity would be difficult to inspect or indeed to work safely alone because of its steep and treacherous nature.

Nesting successes this year include the afore mentioned Tits, several pairs of Blackcaps using the isolated clumps of bushes in the northern compartment and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers utilising a dead Birch on the western side of the stream.

Highslide JS
I have however manufactured eight standard open front boxes and fifteen bat boxes to be sited this winter...
Bat Boxes...

My owl box sited some thirty yards south of this was quickly occupied by Grey Squirrels and makes me wonder at the wisdom of erecting further LARGE boxes. I have however manufactured eight standard open front boxes and fifteen Bat boxes to be sited this winter. Five Tit boxes were erected too late for use last year but should be operational this spring, I personally feel that such structures are invaluable as focal points when showing parties round the reserve. Also the public in general view them very positively whereas activities such as scrub clearance and tree felling, however necessary, are viewed with suspicion and mistrust (ask our neighbours at the reserve).

Numerous specialist recorders visited the site throughout the summer notably Laurence Clemmons on May 4th and June 20th, and Brian Bullen, on several occasions, making a valuable contribution to our knowledge of Diptera and Lepidoptera in the area. Others have been less forthcoming with their results unless they have bypassed me and made their submissions to the office, in which case I would be grateful to receive copies please, or perhaps they simply haven‘t yet found time to collate their results. Thanks are also due to previous contributors whose tick sheets I have now deciphered(in many cases with their patient and understanding assistance)and printed out together with my own observations.

Other visitors included the Edenbridge Residents Association for whom the clouds parted just long enough on 6th June and whose kind donation of twenty pounds went some of the way towards funding this autumns frenetic box construction. On 26th June John Tyler from Sevenoaks Wildfowl Trust payed a visit in the morning and discovered our Water Crickets on the stream, he was also able to confirm that many of our ant hills are still active and was fairly certain that given the terrain Glow-worms should be present. Sadly I must confess that idleness and poor weather prevented me from any late night observations this year. In the afternoon I took a party of school children from St Andrews Convent around the reserve. They were very taken with the Grass Snakes and when informed of the antiquity of the ant hills they kicked several apart and then leapt into the stream before I could render them senseless.

During the course of my thirty two trips to Cowden Pound Pastures in 1998 I made a video, a copy of which, together with an earlier one of Bough Beech, I shall in due course give to the office. Make of it what you will. I have also given copies together with species lists to our direct neighbours at the reserve which I hope will help foster good relations.

Particularly given this years weather and an inexplicable but nevertheless substantial reduction in Rabbit numbers, the site now begins to look in need of sensitive grazing by cattle. I fancy that sheep would prove more trouble than they‘re worth.

Highslide JS
Work parties have begun the work of opening up the wet area north of the stream to allow in the light...
Work parties have begun...

At time of writing five local Dexters appear to be on offer and will hopefully be installed after the main spring flush, given of course that any reputed problems with water quality in the stream have been resolved. Work parties have begun the work of opening up the wet area north of the stream to allow in the light. I should like to see the isolated pillows of Bramble which are encroaching, notably at the top of the northern end of the middle compartment removed before they become a problem and at some time I feel we must embark on a more extensive, if cautious, programme of coppicing if this habitat is to be sustained. Bracken is still a problem as is Ragwort but I feel it is beginning to weaken thanks mainly to the efforts of Norman and his happy band.

Generally I am happy with the progress made this year and look forward to more of the same in the next twelve months...