"Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall Commons, Grazing Feasibility Report"
Kent Wildlife Trust TUNBRIDGE WELLS AND RUSTHALL COMMONS: GRAZING FEASIBILITY REPORT INTRODUCTION “To our modern taste its natural and wild condition renders it far more attractive than the artificial parks which it is the fashion to provide for the healthful recreation of the dwellers in large cities. The furze bushes and the brake are the most noticeable ornaments; but the whole expanse abounds with other plants and blossoms — ling and heath, chamomile and thyme, milkwort and wild violets, being among the most abundant. In April and May the golden bloom of the furze, which is unusually profuse in this spot, delights the eye, and its rich perfume scents the breeze”. Pelton 1871 This report, concerning the practicalities of re-establishinging grazing on Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall Commons has been written at the request of the Conservators by Neil Coombs, the Wildlife Sites Officer, Kent Wildlife Trust. It supports, and was originally suggested as a result of, the management review completed by Kent Wildlife Trust Consultancy. Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall -1- January 2005 Commons. Grazing Feasibility Report. DRAFT for Conservators meeting 27 January 05 Kent Wildlife Trust BACKGROUND In 2003 Kent Wildlife Trust Consultancy were commissioned by the Conservators of Tunbridge Wells Common to complete a review of the existing management plan written by Kent Trust for Nature Conservation (now Kent Wildlife Trust) in 1992. The original management plan made references to the desirability of grazing as the most effective option for maintaining the important natural and semi-natural habitats of the Commons. At that time the grazing option was not considered to be feasible, principally for two reasons - firstly, because a number of roads criss-cross the Commons, and secondly because both Commons are extensively used by local people. At the time of these discussions it was recognised, or at least felt likely, that grazing would necessitate perimeter fencing the entire of both Commons, an event that would serious diminish open access. There was also some reluctance to introduce livestock into a public open space. The re-establishment of grazing onto what are, to all intents and purposes, urban Commons would have been very much an innovative exercise. In the early 1990s grazing had all but ceased on most Commons in the Ukand, whilst ecologically its significance in maintaining habitats was appreciated, it had yet to reach the stage where its re-implementation was thought imperative. In reviewing the habitat management of both Commons, it was felt necessary to recommend a thorough evaluation of the possibilities of grazing. This recommendation is made largely in the knowledge that grazing is becoming far more widespread as a nature conservation tool. It was considered that a management review that failed to seriously consider this option would lack sufficient credibility as an exercise designed to assist the Conservators in planning the future management of the Commons. THE ROLE OF GRAZING Grazing is the most effective management currently available for maintaining important habitats found on the commons such as lowland heath, acid grassland and wood pasture. Grazing is directly beneficial in the management of areas of wildlife value because it limits the ability of highly competitive species to achieve dominance. This produces greater species richness in the area and contributes directly to overall biodiversity. Grazing involves three distinct activities. These are defoliation, trampling and manuring. Each of these activities is looked at separately below: Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall -2- January 2005 Commons. Grazing Feasibility Report. DRAFT for Conservators meeting 27 January 05 Kent Wildlife Trust The benefits of Defoliation At normal and low (i.e. conservation) stocking rates, grazing is a more gradual process than cutting. This gives invertebrates the opportunity to move to other areas within the grassland. Grazing is more selective than cutting as the grazing animals tend to select newer and fresher growth in preference to the older growth and find some species more palatable than others. This process can lead to change within the sward community and tends to reduce the dominance of the more aggressive species by removing a greater proportion of its biomass (defined as the total amount of living material). Where it is desirable to restore a neglected habitat increasing the stocking rate can have the effect of forcing the animals to eat the older and less palatable growth. This can be effective in changing the overall species composition of the area and in reducing the dominance of certain species. The benefits of Trampling Grazing animals can have a beneficial effect on sward composition through the effects of trampling. Small open areas are created by their hooves which are of benefit in the germination of seeds and their subsequent establishment. Cutting does not provide this opportunity as it maintains a virtually closed sward. This has the effect of causing a decline in species composition. Where scrub is present trampling, caused by animals opening up new access routes, can have a direct effect in controlling and restricting the amount of scrub that is present within the grazed area. A further beneficial effect of trampling neglected grassland areas is that it can break up the litter layer, so helping to promote the germination and growth of young seedling plants. The benefits of Manuring Manuring provides for a recyclying of nutrients through the ecosystem, an enhanced availability of nutrients (especially nitrogen for plant growth) and a net loss of nutrients in the form of biomass when animals are removed from the site. The overall effect of manuring is likely to be that a greater amount of the overall nutrient availability is either incorporated into the biomass of the grazing animal, or is likely to be in younger plant material which is likely to be more readily grazed. The net effect is that a grazed ecosystem is likely to have a lower nutrient budget than an ungrazed one. The combined effects of these three activities are likely to create/re-create /maintain an open grassy/heath sward with occasional trees and patches of scrub. Specifically, the re-establishment of grazing on Tunbridge wells and Rusthall Commons would re-introduce the management techniques that originally created and Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall -3- January 2005 Commons. Grazing Feasibility Report. DRAFT for Conservators meeting 27 January 05 Kent Wildlife Trust maintained the Commons. Open, diverse grass and heath areas would be maintained, bracken would be controlled and scrub and, to some extent, existing secondary woodland would be contained and prevented from encroaching on more valuable habitats. In addition, the continued encroachment of new secondary woodland would be curtailed. THE NEED TO CONTROL SECONDARY WOODLAND Trees have a very important role in our landscape and are generally valued by most visitors to our open spaces. However what is often not realised is that, without constant management, most of our open habitats will end up being colonised – first by scrub, and then by trees, causing the loss of the species and habitats that were originally present. On both Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall Commons, a comparison between early photographs and maps and the contemporary scene shows that secondary woodland has encroached extensively on the original acid grassland and heathy areas. These are both important and declining habitats in Kent. Without specific management, secondary woodland is likely to expand further into grassland and heath areas of the Commons. As the woodland becomes increasingly established, costs to control it and open up areas are likely to escalate. It also becomes more difficult to justify tree clearance to a public that has become used to the area being woodland and have been “educated” that trees are the most important habitat and that any control of encroaching woodland amounts to bad habitat management. As has been well documented by Ian Bevis (www.twcommons.org), the Conservators have been trying to deal with the problems of encroaching tree cover on the Commons for over two hundred years i.e. from the period when grazing started to decline. On a historic note, “In 1931, C H Strange gave a lecture to the Tunbridge Wells Natural History Society, in which he related the history of commemorative tree planting on the Commons, including the most recent examples (near Highbury and leading up to Rusthall Church) to mark the accession and coronation of George V. But he concluded by warning that the number of trees was becoming excessive. "If there is to be any further tree-planting on the Common", he said, "it is hoped that it will be done with circumspection and foresight. I am inclined to think we have almost enough forest trees. It is a fact that the view from Mount Ephraim, an ever lovely panorama of moorland, field and forest, is becoming more and more intercepted by growing trees.” HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL VALUES Tunbridge Wells was clearly shaped by its role as a spa resort. This again is a function of its geology and geography. These same factors, together with a land Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall -4- January 2005 Commons. Grazing Feasibility Report. DRAFT for Conservators meeting 27 January 05 Kent Wildlife Trust management system that dates back to the Normans and then again back to the Neolithic hunter gatherers, created the open common with its much appreciated vistas and open, natural aspects. Relevant quotes below have been taken from the Tunbridge Wells Commons website: The earliest known inhabitants of what are now the Commons were the Mesolithic hunter gatherers of c.4500 BC who led a nomadic lifestyle and employed the various rock outcrops in the Tunbridge Wells area as regular encampment sites. The rocks were prominent landmarks in the vast Wealden forest, and their sandstone cliffs had convenient overhangs which could be used to provide shelter and protection. These people probably encouraged the development of heathland in the vicinity of the rocks by maintaining open areas through burning in order to attract grazing deer. The characteristic flint implements of the Mesolithic period have been found on Rusthall Common, near the rocks at Happy Valley and Denny Bottom. By the mediaeval period, Rusthall had become a manor, with a Lord, Freeholders, and Wastes. The Freeholders or Freehold Tenants were inhabitants who had been granted portions of land within the Manor boundaries by the Lord in perpetuity, although still owing certain feudal dues. The Wastes of the Manor, which we know today as the two Commons, were available to the Freeholders for grazing their animals and as a source of what was later described as ‘marl, stone, sand, loam, mould, gravel or clay’ as well as ‘furze, gorse or litter’. Later clearings were established for the grazing of domesticated animals and by Saxon times clearings were made for pannage - the feeding of pigs on acorns. From this period onwards grazing would seem be the main environmental management on the Commons. Again Mr Beavis’s work helps to inform the discussion of how the area was” managed”: th Swine pastures were carved out of the Wealden forest in considerable numbers from the 5 century onwards and were known as ‘dens’. Bishop’s Down, the ancient name of Tunbridge Wells Common may originally have been ‘Bishop’s Den’. Such pastures were in use for about seven weeks in the autumn when pigs were driven onto them from the settled areas north of the forest to be fattened for slaughter by feeding on acorns and beech mast. By the mediaeval period, Rusthall had become a manor, with a Lord, Freeholders, and Wastes. The Freeholders or Freehold Tenants were inhabitants who had been granted portions of land within the Manor boundaries by the Lord in perpetuity, although still owing certain feudal dues. The Wastes of the Manor, which we know today as the two Commons, were available to the Freeholders for grazing their animals and as a source of what was later described as ‘marl, stone, sand, loam, mould, gravel or clay’ as well as ‘furze, gorse or litter’. Over the years these forest pastures gradually began to attract a permanent population, and many developed into the Wealden towns and villages of today. But although there was some settlement at Rusthall it never grew into anything large enough to be dignified with the name of a village. Until the development of Tunbridge Wells as a spa resort, it remained no more than a scattering of dwellings in an outlying corner of Speldhurst parish. With settlement would have come more extensive clearance of tree cover and the spread of heathland vegetation over a much wider area. Before the development of the Pantiles in the late seventeenth century, the Common was continuous with the heathland of Waterdown Forest, the landscape of the future town being described in 1656 as ‘a valley compassed about with stony hills, so barren, that there growth nothing but heath upon the same’ Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall -5- January 2005 Commons. Grazing Feasibility Report. DRAFT for Conservators meeting 27 January 05 Kent Wildlife Trust Arguably, this open pastoral aspect to the town is as culturally important as its fine buildings and just as worthy of conserving. Apart from the historical aspects the value of open spaces and contact with nature in terms of a community’s health and well-being is becoming increasingly established. ADDITIONAL FUNDING At the time of writing this report, the Commons are not benefiting from the government’s agri-environmental schemes. These are soon to be re-launched as Environmental Stewardship with payments to support land-owners in maintaining important habitats and encouraging public recreation. Access to these schemes depend on good conservation management practice which is likely to require grazing. Such a scheme could provide valuable additional funding that could be spent on managing the Commons. Additionally, the Heritage Lottery Fund has a number of competitive grant schemes that could be applied for to support a project that both enhanced biodiversity as well as linking with historical and cultural links. CONCLUSION In conclusion, the benefits of reintroducing grazing on Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall Commons would be: Increased conservation management of important habitats ensuring a mosaic of habitats, spatial and age structures. Decrease in the need for mowing by contractors. Increase in important habitats by increasing areas for colonisation. Decrease in colonisation by scrub. A wider and ecologically richer range of edge habitats through browsing. A more open habitat, helping to restore a ‘historic’ Common. Enhanced historical / cultural links. Enhanced visitor experiences through a more pastoral landscape. Possibilities of increased funding. Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall -6- January 2005 Commons. Grazing Feasibility Report. DRAFT for Conservators meeting 27 January 05 Kent Wildlife Trust GRAZING FACTORS Given that the benefits of grazing on the Commons is agreed as a worthwhile objective, the next stage is to discuss its possible implementation. This involves reviewing a number of factors which are described in the following table: Grazing factors For Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall Commons Physical Tunbridge Wells Common Undulating and generally south sloping land. Rusthall Common, undulating but generally a broad flat plateau. Low productivity acidic soils. Climate Typical of eastern lowland England. Drought. Due to shallow soils and the overall lack of standing water climatic change and periods of dryness could pose problems with insufficient forage and water being available for livestock. Water Supply There are a few ponds which are probably not suitably situated. Mains water is likely to be available but expensive to access and use. A Bowser is likely to be the principle source of water supporting a network of troughs. Boundaries The Commons are bounded by some dwellings which may have rights/needs for access across the Commons. The Commons are bisected by a number of public highways which carry a considerable amount of traffic. Currently there are few boundary structures in place to contain livestock. The need to install suitable livestock fencing is likely to be the most difficult part of the project. There are likely to be an extensive number of easements in effect over both Commons. Accessibility Generally very good. Problem Plants Bracken management constant issue Ragwort is not significant. Vegetation Acid grassland not floristically species-rich. Neutral grassland currently enriched and species-poor due to current management. Heathland has significantly declined in terms of area, currently the Warden is taking an opportunistic approach to creating new areas of heathland. Productivity Likely to be low. Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall -7- January 2005 Commons. Grazing Feasibility Report. DRAFT for Conservators meeting 27 January 05 Kent Wildlife Trust Non-livestock grazing Some rabbit grazing. Deer grazing not quantified. Local agricultural systems None immediately adjacent (check with Warden). Management history Grazing over many centuries, now absent. Livestock requirements for habitat Sheep. Are least likely to be effective. management. Although they may maintain a close sward they are likely to be of little benefit to managing the scrub and heathland components and could be detrimental to establishing heathland. Their main use is likely to be episodic to reduce overall biomass from grassland units, and to graze grass that is competing with heath species. Current estimates which needs revising in summer suggest that lowland breeds would only do well if used for limited periods. Hill/rare breeds might be suitable for free ranging but might be very difficult to manage in a scrub environment. Lowland sheep are unlikely to find sufficient browse throughout the year. Ponies. Are likely to be a preferred grazier in this type of habitat. Because of their digestive system they are likely to be less selective about available plant material and are also likely to consume having a higher through put than ruminants. They are also more likely to continue grazing throughout the year and not lose condition during the winter months. A number of hardy to semi-feral breeds are available and use of these can reduce staff input. Because of their habit of seeking shade they are less likely to disturb visitors and more likely to feed and forage around woodland edges at night. Cattle. Are likely to have some effect on the grassland sward but might not find sufficient browse throughout the year. They may have some effect on scrub vegetation by browsing and are traditional on wood-pasture. They may help manage some scrub by creating glades and paths. They could create some ground poaching which if subsequent managed could be used for heath land establishment, providing it is suitability fenced. Cattle would be likely to have the most significant effect on the bracken through the trampling process Goats. Feral or semi -wild goats could have a significant effect on the vegetation. Goats are essentially browse feeding and would have a role in controlling scrub and Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall -8- January 2005 Commons. Grazing Feasibility Report. DRAFT for Conservators meeting 27 January 05 Kent Wildlife Trust secondary woodland. Availability of suitable livestock Suitability numbers of conservation livestock are not readily available. A number of grazing projects are in progress such as The Weald Local Grazing Network, Kent Wildlife Trust Grazing Projects, together with potential support from, for example, Kent County Council Lifescapes Project. Availability/expertise of staff and volunteers The Commons employ a well-established warden who could manage the grazing system, but would require training. The Warden already maintains a network of volunteers who could be trained and increased in numbers Additional funding for grazing project staff could be sought from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Availability of Similar Projects from which to Ashdown Forest acquire experience Hothfield Common Epping Forest (copy leaflet attached) Headley Common In conclusion, when considering the grazing factors on these Commons, the following comments are relevant: The most likely livestock to be used would be semi-feral goats and ponies with low levels of maintenance. Cattle might have some occasional use on heath and acid grassland areas. Goats are likely to be used to browse scrub vegetation and open up areas for heathland and acid grassland. Ponies are likely to maintain heathland and acid grassland and have less need for high levels of nutrients. Cattle might be best in wood pasture areas The Conservators have an existing level of good staff abilities and a network of volunteers There are good levels of support and expertise readily available. The major problem remains as to fencing to contain livestock. Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall -9- January 2005 Commons. Grazing Feasibility Report. DRAFT for Conservators meeting 27 January 05 Kent Wildlife Trust FENCING AND INFRASTRUCTURE As already discussed, fencing is likely to be the most difficult of all the possible project areas. However it should be realised that this has been the major problem for every open space grazing project. It also needs to be emphasised that, whilst nearly every one of these projects has had to deal with considerable opposition to fencing, once livestock is on site and adding to the overall enjoyment for visitors the opposition has all but evaporated. When considering fencing there are a number of points to consider some of which can positively assist the visitor. 1. Fencing is to keep livestock in 2. Modern fencing comes in a variety of styles, which can blend in with and enhance the landscape 3. Fencing can help to subtly guide visitors towards popular and enjoyable walks and areas to visit 4. Fencing allows visitors to approach grazing animals closely whilst still maintaining a barrier 5. Access structure such as Kissing Gates signpost points of access and give indicators of which directions paths lead in 6. Fencing can assist in preventing incursions onto common land such as fly tipping and help control activities such as motorcycle riding Temporary or Permanent? Various styles and methods of fencing can be used in different locations. Permanent fencing is the most cost effective. Because of the general presumption against fencing areas of open access it is suggested that, if possible, permanent fencing is only used at roadside edges and follows a route through the scrub areas making it hardly noticeable. It is suggested that internal fencing should be temporary i.e. it is taken down and removed when not being used. It must be realised that this is suggested to provide a solution to the general disagreement to fencing. Temporary fencing does bring its own problems and has additional cost implications. Whilst completely temporary fencing such as electric fencing is not considered to be suitable in this situation (problems with members of the public / dogs receiving electric shocks, the constant need to check that the battery is present and is working), other temporary compartment fencing can vary in type and structure. The most Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall -10- January 2005 Commons. Grazing Feasibility Report. DRAFT for Conservators meeting 27 January 05 Kent Wildlife Trust practical suggestion would be to install strainer posts permanently and then install intermediate posts and mesh fencing as required. In conclusion: For an open busy Common, fencing, especially along roadsides, has a number of advantages for both Managers and visitors. High quality fencing and gates can enhance an area and add to its overall value. If a compartmental grazing approach is taken, rather than free range grazing then some fences could be of a temporary nature. Whilst considerably more expensive to run, this could help to ensure successful establishment of the project. PROJECT IMPLEMENTATION If the Conservators decide to adopt the recommendation to re-establish grazing, the following stages are recommended. Evaluate suitable areas for grazing (outline feasibility proposals attached). Decide on initial area (Area 1 or 2 are recommended (see attached maps)). Consider a bid for entry level Environmental Stewardship. Consider a bid for Heritage Lottery Funding to implement a grazing project. Inform public through leaflets and guided walks. Install first phase of fencing. Introduce livestock to first area. Start work on fencing subsequent areas. Consider a bid for higher level Environmental Stewardship. CONCLUSION Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall Commons should ideally have a managed programme of conservation grazing over areas of important habitat and areas where important habitat has been colonised by secondary woodland. Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall -11- January 2005 Commons. Grazing Feasibility Report. DRAFT for Conservators meeting 27 January 05 Kent Wildlife Trust The Commons are likely to benefit from a greater diversity of habitats, a more open aspect and increased interest for visitors. The town of Tunbridge Wells is likely to benefit by adding towards its already existing appeal for both residents and visitors. Sufficient funding streams are available to assist the project. There is a good infrastructure of Conservators, interested organisations, staff and volunteers to work on a project such as this. There are good levels of professional and technical support available. There are locally similar projects from which to draw advise, expertise and knowledge from The time-line and impetus are entirely within the Conservators control. This means that a pro-active rather than reactive project can be established with the objective of encouraging public support for this new initiative rather than public disenfranchisement from the project, the commons and the Conservators and staff. REFERENCES English Nature. Undated. Revealing the Value of Nature. English Nature, Peterborough. Crofts, A. & Jefferson, R.G. (Eds). 1999. The Lowland Grassland Management Handbook. English Nature & The Wildlife Trusts. Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall -12- January 2005 Commons. Grazing Feasibility Report. DRAFT for Conservators meeting 27 January 05