Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall Commons, Grazing Feasibility Report by 0KpwNI7y

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									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.




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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:



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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

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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
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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’



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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.
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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.




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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

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                                                   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.




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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


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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.



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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.




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