Cowden Pound Pastures

Annual Report - 2000

By Terry Mullender

Inevitably, the weather must feature heavily in this report. For around three weeks in March things looked optimistic with cold nights and bright days. From here on we settled into the routine that was to mark this summer, of one, perhaps two, sunny days followed by grey drizzle for weeks. Things rallied, briefly, in June with a hot steamy spell, but not until late July did anything approaching a settled period of decent weather establish itself across the country, lasting until late September. From this date to the time of writing (mid December) I doubt that we have managed two dry days together, with extensive flooding and damaging gales, almost weekly, across the nation.

Ragwort was, thankfully, all but extinct on the site this year, due to the efforts of Norman and co, with marsh thistle well under control. Bracken still tries to reassert itself, in season, but is nothing like as vigorous as in the early years. Sneezewort and milkwort reappeared after an absence in ‘99. In the case of the sneezewort I feel this was wholly due to pushing back the bramble, during winter tasks, to open up its previous stronghold at the bottom north corner of NG3. Lousewort once again failed to show but will, hopefully, make a comeback in 2001 after some discreet re-seeding by myself from stock populating the adjacent field, south of the reserve. Orchid and cowslips (this species also benefited greatly from winter bramble bashing at the top north corner of NG2) were present in good numbers, but bloom was disappointing, with rabbits (back in large numbers this year) eating virtually all the flowering heads.

Extensive dipping of the stream, at the bottom of the valley, proved quite interesting and revealed, not only the expected freshwater shrimp, caddis, stonefly and damselfly nymphs but several mayfly species, and something I had never previously encountered, a new record for the reserve, in the form of the strange, slightly arthritic looking, horses hair worm. I feel this area to be worthy of more extensive "expert" investigation in the future.

Other firsts this year included, common toad, slow worm and clouded yellow, while the twayblade and grizzled skipper failed to show. Early in the year I discovered, what appeared to be, a couple of roe deer lecs’ at opposite ends of the reserve. Is this likely? Or do fallow deer exhibit similar behaviour?

With the cool damp, and often, windy early summer, butterfly numbers were way down but, as things warmed up through August and into September, the late nectaries provided by our substantial stocks of betony, thistle and devils’ bit scabious seemed to focus every flying insects for miles into the reserve. The sheer numbers of butterflies were often staggering, and seemed to peak on 23rd of August with thirteen species showing en mass, including five clouded yellow’s which, of course, showed well everywhere this year.

Following the erection of ten further dormouse boxes, during last winter, we can at last claim a positive siting this year, with one bolting straight up a tree, in June, before I could examine it. Other boxes also contained definite evidence of their presence, including nuts and nests. In early October I spent a day at Brenchley with Alan Ford and am hopeful that I shall be better able to wrestle the critters next year!

Reptiles continued to show well this year although not on April 8th when members of KRAG visited and drew a complete blank. They were particularly surprised that we have, as yet, found no common lizards on the site. At this time neither had we located any slow worms, but, a little suspiciously, they began to crop up from this time on. Admittedly the majority were found in NG3 where two tins were sited for the first time this year, with only one or two discovered under the northernmost tin in NG2.

With records for herps’ having been submitted for several years now we have achieved the status of a "key site" for Kent. In order to continue along this happy route I feel it is imperative that the integrity of the bramble banks (in particular at the top of NG2) must be maintained, with management seeking to restrict further encroachment, but without pushing back the scalloped edge too far.

KRAG, on their visit, suggested the creation of a few small ponds, to encourage breeding amphibians. An aim shared by myself and the West Kent Reserves Officer, Dave Hutton. In early October good old Norman, assisted by a digger, made the dream a reality with the construction of two bunds and a scrape at the bottom of NG2 close by its boundary with NG3, the idea being to create a small pond and hold back a head of water in the spring, which runs down there, thus increasing the wetness of the adjacent valley floor.

All went well with work finished by October 6th. Heavy rain filled the new structure overnight, and everything looked good until some of the heaviest rain in history on 29th into the 30th eroded out the top bund, cutting a great gorge through it to drain its’ head. Successive attempts to restore it manually, with flow still high, have failed and I fancy the only lasting answer is to board the down hill side, at least of the top bund, although Norman has another cunning plan to create a second spillway. Once some stability is achieved, by whatever means, progressive vegetation should help stop the situation reoccurring.

Other works at the site, aside of the previously mentioned extra boxes and moving a few tins, have focussed on the day to day management of the reserve i.e. scrub bashing, bracken control etc. The exception has been the major works required to install a fully plumbed cattle trough in each compartment so that the grazing regime, which worked such miracles in ’98 and absent this year, may be restored. This has meant the cutting of a slot (by mechanical digger at the same time as the pond construction) along the top edge of the reserve to take a pipe which should, in the near future, connect up with a supply of fresh water at the convent sewage works.

The extreme gales at the end of the year have, together with woodpeckers, caused a fair bit of damage to both dormouse and bird boxes, which I hope to get around to repairing in the winter months.

Aside of KRAG we had only one other outside visit this year, by local friends and members of The Cowden Conservation Society who have expressed a desire for further involvement with the reserve and even turned out on our last task day of the year.

The evening of the visit, on July 27th, turned out fine for a change, with obliging grass snakes posing under tins and the flora of the site presenting well.

Earlier in the year, on 9th June, Dave Hutton and I took a long stroll around the fields bordering the reserve in order to assess their quality, with a view to incorporating them into the reserve if they proved to be of value. I think we were both surprised at how well they had recovered after a single ploughing around the time that "Cowden Pound Pastures" was established, and had survived as "set aside". The sward was quite varied with a fair amount of knapweed and, perhaps more notably, a considerable volume of lousewort showing. In my view we should make every effort to ensure that this area is taken under our management, if at all possible!

I have visited the reserve on forty seven occasions this year, despite the extremes of the weather, and feel that it has enjoyed its most productive year so far. Hopefully things can only get better...