Cowden Pound Pastures

Annual Report - 1999

By Terry Mullender

Weather-wise it has been an unexceptional year with no extended periods of high temperatures, drought, or rainfall. By mid June the reserve was in a sorry state with marsh thistle, ragwort, and bracken beginning to seriously dominate the landscape. Orchid and adders-tongue numbers were dramatically down on last year, although ’98 was an exceptionally good year, and three species were altogether absent, namely; milkwort, lousewort, and sneezewort. Perhaps they were simply overwhelmed by the rank sward? And may subsequently reappear. In the case of sneezewort simply pushing back the bramble at the bottom north boundary in NG3, may do the trick. The only plant which seemed to be in the ascendance this year was centaury, which appeared in some profusion on the upper slopes of both NG1 and 2.

In early July the cavalry arrived in the shape of Norman London and his band of happy volunteers. They soon transformed the site with a major assault on the invasive pest species, and with the introduction of grazing in the form of four Dexter cattle, in mid-August, courtesy of Mr and Mrs Stakemire, things were soon looking altogether more hopeful.

The reintroduction of a grazing regime, although it is of course early days, already seems to have greatly benefited the grassland areas (Is the worming method known? Do we need to be concerned? i.e. ivermectin and its impact on dung living invertebrates etc.), with little or no poaching in evidence. One surprise has been the effect on bracken in the reserve which never really re-established after Normans clearance, presumably due to trampling. Twayblade numbers remained stable, but the devils-bit scabious population appeared a little, although not alarmingly, reduced, at least as regards flowering specimens. Probably due to grazing.

Overall I feel that the cattle have been greatly beneficial. It will be interesting to see whether disturbance of the litter layer by their trampling and feeding activities will improve the overall flora. I will carefully monitor the devils-bit in the coming year, and, although it is, perhaps, a little too soon to draw any firm conclusions, I fancy that a regime of intermittent grazing, when the eye dictates, may be the way forward. Certainly I should welcome their return in 2000.

Butterfly numbers, especially vanessids, were depressingly low this year although my recording card, for the season, does not, on examination, appear to adequately reflect my overall impression. Although no systematic study was made, other insect populations appeared stable with the air fairly humming on warm days. Our water crickets continue to thrive on the bottom stream, happily passing the warmer months sprinting in circles on the surface film.

Visiting deer were sighted on several occasions and positively identified as being of the fallow persuasion. Rabbit numbers rallied somewhat, although nothing like back to the level encountered in the first year of my association with the site. Other mammal populations as far as may be assessed by casual observation are fairly stable. I regularly come across bank voles, wood mice, pigmy and common shrews, while surveying for reptiles beneath the tins on the eastern valley side.

While the ground within the hazel coppice areas is strewn with abundant evidence of their presence, a positive sighting of our resident dormice continues to elude me. With coppicing of W1 on the cards in the near future I moved the existing ten nest boxes, In January of this year, together with an additional ten, to W2. Results were identical to last years with an abundance of tits and wood mice but no dormice availing themselves of the accommodation provided. I remain optimistic for the future but feel that we must, eventually, look at embarking on a programme of sensitive coppicing in order to maintain the status quo. Their is a difficulty, in that the bulk of this habitat lies "off reserve" and we may, in the future, need to enter into negotiations with our adjoining neighbours, in order to maintain its integrity.

Reptile numbers remain static, as represented by our sole species, the grass snake. Indeed observations exactly reflected those of 98 week by week, tin by tin. No sign, still, of slow worms, yet they are present everywhere else in the vicinity. Common frogs were again evident in small numbers on damp summers evenings around the stream.

We had two official visits this year. Hever Bullen WI at last managed to put in an appearance, fielding three members on 16th June, after previously failing to appear on two occasions, and St Andrews Convent School on 9th July. I, as warden, managed 26 trips to the site averaging around two hours in duration, with outside working parties visiting on at least seven dates through the year.

Norman has muted the possibility of a little spot weeding, particularly ragwort, in the spring. I welcome the idea and would like it extended, if possible, to cover a percentage of the marsh thistle.

In general I feel that this year has been something of a milestone, with the return of cattle not only benefiting the site in practical terms but adding, by their presence, to the whole ambience of the area. I look forward to the new year/millennium, with renewed optimism...