Cowden Pound Pastures

Annual Report - 2004

By Terry Mullender

The only enduring impression of this years weather is one of greyness, neither very hot, nor very cold at any time. We had only a few days with a smattering of snow on the ground, at the end of January, and a cold snap in early March followed by a lovely spring which lasted until the start of June when things settled back to a generally overcast, but fairly dry, summer and autumn (exceptionally dry during November, with only half the annual rainfall norm).

Apart from a terrific storm, starting late in the afternoon of 7th July and lasting well into the following day, bringing down several trees and power lines locally, we were spared the storms and torrential rainfall which afflicted the rest of the nation throughout the latter half of the summer. Here rainfall was at worst average but sunshine was hard to find throughout, with temperatures struggling to reach the seasonal average after last years record-breaking highs.

Highslide JS
By mid summer it became apparent that grazing would be necessary and a small herd of six dexters (courtesy of Michelle Hunter, The Rising Sun, Kemsing) duly arrived on the 24th September...
A small herd of six dexters...

By mid summer it became apparent that grazing would be necessary and a small herd of six dexters (courtesy of Michelle Hunter, The Rising Sun, Kemsing) duly arrived on the 24th September. This was, sadly, after a brief delay while the cattle recovered form an assault by some deranged individual(’s?) during the week previous. These did sterling work on the reserve, through to the end of the year, as they happily munched the areas of coarse, rank, grass and reduced it back to a fine sward. Dexters not only seem to provide the ideal graze, at low density, but also look aesthetically right in this setting. It occurred to me, as the reserve began to look grazed down, whether a cattle graze from around early September to late October followed by sheep to the end of the year might provide the best graze of all? I know I have been vociferously opposed to sheep "alone" in the past, as I felt they had little effect on the coarse areas and have a propensity to spontaneous death, but perhaps once the cattle have cleared the coarse growth they may be beneficial in producing a finer sword, if this is desirable, on an intermittent basis, as and when necessary.

During the early part of the year I undertook to re-coat all the bird and dormouse boxes on the site with "environmentally friendly" preservative. Three tit-boxes were beyond repair and these I replaced with new ones from Sainsbury’s Homebase, which seemed satisfactory and at only £4.99 each were as cheap as I could have made them for (no I don’t have shares in the company). I also purchased five dormouse-boxes as reserves for our current stock. One blind spot was the owl box in NG2, which I forgot, and which fell down during the summer. Martyn and I will endeavour to replace this over the winter period.

Parts of the stock fencing and some stiles were noted to be deteriorating (some stiles are dangerous!) and fairly urgent restoration will need to be undertaken in the new year.

The pond at the lower northern edge of NG2 was looking sorry for itself this year and could do with some therapy if it is to remain of any value. Reduced expectations on the hoped for funding, for this and several new ponds, from The British Airports Authority do not promote optimism on this front.

It was a bad year for dormice, on the reserve and nationally, with none to be found at all at this location. I fancy last years exceptional summer may be to blame and feel that the situation will recover in the coming season. It must be remembered, also, that our population of this species was always low and anything which can be done to reinforce arboreal corridors to the large areas of hazel and chestnut coppice bordering Stick Hill will surely be beneficial. Our own attempts at coppicing have been less than successful and, although not immediately urgent, we must find a way to overcome problems of deer browsing off resurgent shoots if this animal is to continue to thrive long term. One obvious idea is to cut the stools higher up as a kind of pollard. Apparently the "old timers" never used to cut at ground level anyway as hip height was easier.

I have seen more deer this year than ever before at Cowden Pound Pastures and generally in the vicinity. Both roe and fallow were to be seen on almost every visit. On 8th October a particularly aggressive fallow stag confronted me at the gateway from NG1 to NG2. For a moment I thought it would charge before it turned and ambled away. A friend, out walking, had a similar experience less than a mile away. I find this a somewhat worrying development as a beast of this size could do real damage if it should attack, especially if one is alone in a fairly remote place as I was.

With deer numbers increasing both here and nationally I wonder if we need to be concerned with Lyme disease, I know there have been problems in Essex which is not a million miles away.

On 4th July Martyn discovered the corpse of what appeared to be a roe fawn just over the stream in the wet patch. It was soon broken up by foxes and had all but disappeared when I had a look a couple of days later.

Speaking of foxes, as I was doing my rounds on 4th July I came upon an almost fully grown cub sitting on the path down from the southern gate in NG3. I approached quietly from the rear as it sat enjoying the warm sunshine and was able to pat it on the head, whence it shot off, at a pace of knots, downhill.

Rabbits enjoyed a spring boom until early June when numbers again crashed to almost zero, while grey squirrels seem to be increasing in number year on year.

More dormouse boxes than ever before where taken by wood mice this year with up to fourteen in residence and I wonder if this could have anything to do with low dormouse numbers? Obviously competition for nest sites must have some impact.

Birds, as ever, are a little under observed at Cowden as most of our time is spent with heads bowed looking at reptiles, invertebrates, and plants. There was no repetition, this year, of last years "Buzzard mewing", however, six positive sightings of the species in the direct vicinity of the reserve (including one directly over my house in June) go a long way towards confirming last years suspicions. Green woodpeckers continue to thrive with several to be seen on almost every visit.

Reptile numbers were again well down in 2004 although a little better than those of the previous summer. It was also notable that individuals were present at later dates than in 2003 when the terrific heat forced them into aestivation/early hibernation. We must continue to monitor the situation closely.

A single recorded specimen confirmed the return of the grizzled skipper following last years individual. They have never been common here and at this level it seems probable that they are always about, in low numbers, but generally evade observation. More startling was the sighting of a marbled white on 27th July which confirms Brian Bullen’s previous recording. Small heath numbers were up this year and ringlets were exceptional, even outnumbering meadow browns early in the season, but perhaps the most remarkable record was of a solitary clouded yellow enjoying the autumn sunshine on 30th October (third brood perhaps?).

Hornets enjoyed a bumper year in this locality both on the reserve and nesting in a number of porches close by my house, much to the consternation of the residents who, happily, warmed to the invasion once I had explained that they were fairly docile and would not sting unless provoked.

Some new beetles for the reserve were discovered in and around the pond during a dipping session on 5th June. Walking water beetles were a pleasing discovery which I haven’t encountered since the early days of my own garden pond. Apart from peltadities caesus, ilybius fenestratus and agabus bipustulatus, were found to be present.

Every year I try to survey at least one new order at Cowden. This year I made an attempt at molluscs and mayflies. I only discovered one species of mayfly, in the stream, but was more successful with the molluscs which at least don’t run, or fly, away and allow plenty of time for identification. One pleasant bonus was the discovery of numerous glow-worm larvae beneath the carpet squares placed about to attract slugs and snails.

Our lists for both spiders and lepidoptera where greatly swollen by visits from The Kent Lepidoptera Group and The Arachnid Recording Society.

The flora of the reserve recovered well this year after last summers scorching, apart from opposite leaved golden-saxifrage which was very poor, being difficult to find even in its previously best sites along the more open parts of the stream bank. Devils-bit scabious, black knapweed, betony, ragged-robin, centaury, twayblade, agrimony, sneezewort, pignut, etc, were all back around their usual levels while single specimens of lousewort and milkwort were observed on 31st May and 5th June respectively (these last species are always scarce with only single examples to be found). Orchids were again up and seem to be spreading well, as is yellow rattle along the footpath at the bottom of NG2. Adders-tongue was better than last year but not up to its peak, although another patch is developing a little to the north of the existing. Cowslips were at their best ever and seem to be propagating well. Flower heads remained intact this year and were not, as usual, grazed off by rabbits.

Perhaps the big news flora wise was the identification of the daffodils, which have long been regarded with suspicion, as being genuine Lent lilies and quite probably native to the site. This was the result of my sending a few pressed examples to Joyce Pitt who has said that she will visit in the spring for a closer look at the beasts in situe.

Pest species responded well to the attentions of the now departed, but not forgotten, Norman who got to grips with creeping thistle (much reduced on last year), bracken, ragwort, and bramble. Bracken remains a bit of a conundrum in that we need to preserve some of the thicker banks while eliminating the encroachment into the grassland. The large bank at top north of NG2 is still trying to roll down hill by dying at the back and rooting at the front. We have made efforts to cut the front edge and to peg back runners uphill, with limited success, and I can only suggest that we persist with this.

As previously mentioned The Kent Field Clubs, Lepidoptera Group, visited on 23rd October and greatly increased our knowledge of micro-lepidoptera with The Arachnid Recording Society arriving on 30th October to swell our list for this order immensely. Messrs Heal and Clemons called in early September to take another look at our beetle and fly populations, and a very pleasant evening on the 24th September was spent in the company of Mike and Julie Reed and Martyn in pursuit of bats.

At the suggestion of Norman London we turned the visit by The Kent Reptile and Amphibian Group on 5th June into a kind of open day in conjunction with the convent fete. This turned out to be a very enjoyable affair as a small group of us blithered around looking at whatever caught our eye, coupled with a little dipping of the stream and pond, with no pressure to chop anything down or take things too seriously. In the afternoon I took a party of around twenty on a guided walk around the reserve, with the greatest interest, as ever, being in the snakes under the tins.

The big news of the year, apart from Normans retirement of course, must be the potential incorporation into the reserve of the fields laying to the south and west. If negotiations, which are now in progress, are successful this will increase the area by a factor of around seven, to in excess of ninety acres. Much of the land is of SNCI quality and our whole philosophy of management will need to change in order to accommodate it.

This has been a happier year at Cowden Pound Pastures during which Martyn and I have visited the reserve, either together or separately, on exactly one hundred occasions...