Welcome

This site has been created in order to promote and protect the wildlife and countryside around the village of Bridge in the Nailbourne Valley in East Kent, England. Much of this locality lies within Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We hope you find site informative and that it inspires you to campaign for the protection of this precious landscape for future generations.

LOCAL VIEWS
free, fair and independent

free, fair and independent

In answer to a number of enquiries about the status and funding of this site, BridgeNature.org is an independently organised and funded entity, and this website is run solely for the purposes of campaigning for wildlife protection and conservation. It has no connections to Bridge Parish Council or Bishopsbourne Parish Council and does not receive funding or policy direction from any other bodies, including private companies, local authorities or charities. All content, including photographs, is owned under copyright by BridgeNature.org and use of such in any manner by anyone else, for any purpose, is prohibited.
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the new site access issue

the new site access issue

Amongst other controversial elements of development proposals in Bridge, concern has been raised in recent weeks about access roads to any new housing sites. While one proposed site near Conyngham Lane would not require access through the village because it is in the Green Gap (which should rule it out anyway), others, like Brickfields and the site near the Doctors’ Surgery, would increase traffic flow in our country lanes and at difficult junctions onto the High Street. Possible solutions include widening lanes by destroying trees and hedgerows and using farmland to build new roads into the village. We believe any such suggestions should be strongly opposed. (Picture Copyright © BridgeNature.org 2017)
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good and bad fruit harvest

good and bad fruit harvest

Severe frosts in late spring are being blamed for what may turn out to be a reduced fruit crop for some fruit farmers in East Kent. Previous reports of a ‘disastrous’ crop may have been overstated. We believe unprotected low bush crops like blackcurrants and gooseberries may be the worst affected. However the Bekesbourne cherries have been superb again this year, and Kent farmers are predicting a fabulous crop of apricots. Ironically the threat of late frosts meant apricots could not be grown in this country at all until very recently when frost tolerant varieties were developed.(Picture Copyright © BridgeNature.org 2017)
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Has Mr Gove gone green?

Has Mr Gove gone green?

In his first major speech as Environment Secretary, Michael Gove has surprised sceptics by standing up against climate change and informing British farmers that, once we leave the EU, subsidies will no longer be paid according to how much land they farm, as was the previous practice, which was biased towards wealthy farmers. Instead subsidies will be used to reward those farmers who care for the environment with good practices like woodland creation, wildlife habitat protection, high animal welfare standards and the protection of treasured landscapes. All good to hear! (Picture Copyright © BridgeNature.org 2017)
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Grass darts and summer holidays

A field of False Barley, Patrixbourne Road. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

And so the great school summer holiday begins. Those who venture out into the fields this month can encounter a plant which, for many older ramblers, will bring back fond memories of dallying childhood walks and endless summer holidays spent playing in the countryside. The plant is a particular form of grass which somebody (we suspect a long, long time ago) once discovered could be thrown like a dart and it would stick to clothing, particularly woolen jumpers and cardigans, which were the popular children’s fashions for those of us of a certain generation. Popular too were the outdoor adventure stories of ‘The Famous Five’ and ‘The Swallows and Amazons’: summer holiday inspiration in those days before computer games, iPhones and a general 21st century disdain for fresh air and the countryside.

False Barley: otherwise known as Dart Grass. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

The grass in question was False Barley or Wall Barley (Hordeum murinum or variant subspecies) though no one knew it at the time. To the youngsters of those days it was just ‘Dart Grass’ and it was as familiar as brambles, stinging nettles and sticking catchweed (cleavers) which would also cling to clothing. While remembered fondly, Dart Grass is generally regarded by adults as just another weed, but it has a valid place in the wild countryside and can be a significant plant in grazing pasture, although, if left to go to seed, it can be injurious to sheep and sheepdogs. Variants of this grass are often grown as forage for animals in different regions around the world, and in China a similar subspecies is cultivated for human consumption. One wonders if generations of Chinese children have also played grass darts on the walk home from school.

The Common Oat, too base for Rome

Oats growing in the Bridge area, 2017. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

This year several of the arable fields around Bridge, Bishopsbourne and Pett Bottom have been planted with Oats, which have grown rapidly over the last month or so and are now turning colour from green to the golden hue of the harvest.

While barley, wheat and rye can sometimes be difficult to differentiate in the field, the Oat plant has a very distinctive shape known as a ‘panicle’, it presents as an array of flower heads hanging on delicate branches coming from a single stem. The flower heads or ‘spikelets’ hanging from it may number fifty or so and are formed of a husk, shaped like an upturned V, with two or three seeds or ‘groats’ held underneath.

Oat spikelet showing the V shaped floret husk and groats within. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

The outer casings of these groats (without the V shaped husk) are known as ‘oat bran’: they are removed, ground up and used as a valued food ingredient. What remains of the groats is crushed or rolled, and referred to as ‘oatmeal’. While this is well known as the main ingredient of porridge (a dish first described by the Ancient Greeks), only about 5% of oats are grown for human consumption. Most are grown as an animal feed and feed additive, particularly for chickens, cattle and horses, and it was as animal fodder that Oats were first introduced to Britain by the conquering Romans who, apparently, regarded the plant as unfit for human consumption. This, much to the amusement of the Scots, who adopted the Oat for their porridge and, even today, like to remind us that those Roman fussy eaters never successfully invaded Scotland.

The oat panicle. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Unlike barley, which demands hot weather, Oats prefer a cooler, wetter climate. In long periods of hot sun the plants will go dormant, so early planting and milder summers with spells of rain are beneficial. This is one reason why Oats became a traditional and popular crop in Scotland and the rest of Northern Europe, but they have been less commonly grown in Africa and India, although new Oat varieties are now being developed to grow in these regions.

 

 

On Lady’s Bedstraw

Lady’s Bedstraw, The Butts, Bridge. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

In the last few weeks, that bright and breezy stretch of the Kent Downs up beside the old railway known locally as ‘The Butts’ has been a colourful place, as yellow Lady’s Bedstraw lies across the hillside under a perfect blue of English summer sky.

The plant is so named because it retains a soft springiness after drying, which made it an ideal filling for mattresses, and it was used traditionally for that purpose before modern manufacturing. One might even argue that it was better suited than some of the materials that replaced it, because the pleasant honeyed scent of the flowers aids sleep and eradicates fleas.

Lady’s Bedstraw is a common plant of heathland and meadow across Europe, and it is perfect for the chalk grasslands of the Kent Downs. A wonderful plant for pollinators, it attracts bees, butterflies, caterpillars and all those who have an appreciation for the downs in their finest summer glory.

The lure of the Bee Orchid

Humble Bee Orchid, secret location, Bridge. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Currently flowering in a secret location up on the downs are a few specimens of the astonishingly exotic and oddly named Humble Bee Orchid: ‘Humble’ being an alternative for ‘Bumble’, although this has now generally been dropped in favour of the more simple name Bee Orchid. Humble Bee Orchid is a more apt name though, because it gives us a clue about what this flower is, and isn’t, for all is not quite what it seems.

This is a flower which pretends to be a bee visiting another far less showy bloom. From the perspective of certain male bees, it looks like a female bee, it smells like a female bee and, if they snuggle up close, it even feels furry like a female bee; but of course it isn’t, it’s just a clever imposter flower tricking male bees into close contact so that its pollen will get attached to the visitor and passed on to other orchids of the same variety.

This is Nature and evolutionary adaptation being very clever, in fact so ingenious that it’s immensely disappointing to learn that the great deception is totally wasted in Britain because we don’t have the right kind of bees living here to make the pollination work, so British Bee Orchids have further adapted to be self-pollinating.

Nevertheless, the little wild Humble Bee Orchid is an intriguing and beautiful sight to see up on the downs, but, just like a bee, you need to get up close and personal in order to appreciate its finer details.

Humble Bee Orchid, secret location, Bridge. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

For a life less cruel

Fox. East Kent. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017

The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.
Genesis, ix 2-3. King James Bible.

Prime Minister Theresa May recently stated “personally I’ve always been in favour of fox hunting” (1) and, in an effort to repeal the current ban on hunting, her 2017 Conservative manifesto promised a free vote on the issue. We can today confirm that, following Mrs May’s disastrous election campaign, the plan to revive fox hunting has now been dropped, but why was it proposed in the first place?

The fact that an intelligent, well educated vicar’s daughter, now Prime Minister, admires the repulsive and barbaric ‘sport’ of fox hunting should come as a shock to all decent Britons living in the 21st century, but it doesn’t. Such has been the ambivalence of the Christian church towards cruelty to animals over centuries, and the political dominance of the landed gentry over generation after generation, that in fact the opposite is true: this wanton cruelty to wild animals is considered by the higher echelons of the British establishment to be a wholesome tradition within our national culture, one to be glorified and nurtured, not a vile and despicable wildlife crime which must be eradicated.

That foxes can do damage to livestock is not in dispute, although that nuisance is often exaggerated beyond the hard facts and what could be prevented by responsible measures of livestock protection. Nevertheless, there are valid reasons why the fox and other nuisance creatures may need to be controlled, but why should this control take the form of an amusement, a country ‘sport’?

The truth is, that killing wild animals has always been a sport, with roots embedded in the male bonding exercise of hunting for food; but the advent and dominance of farming, even well before Roman times, created a stable and readily available food supply without the need for hunting wild animals in Britain. Hunting increasingly became a practice for the would-be warrior, or a sporting pastime for the rich, sometimes with a prize of luxury meats like boar and venison (deer were often carefully fenced in so as to be easy to hunt). But often the sport of hunting needed an excuse to justify itself, and animals which threatened farming, or offered particular challenges in the chase, became the obvious ‘game’: targets for well fed people in search of amusement. Instead of supplying food, hunters envisioned themselves as the protectors of the farm, and, in heroically going out to slay the local ‘vermin’, they reasserted themselves as masters of the wild landscape and all that dwell therein.

No real animal threats to human or farm safety remain now in the British countryside, just a few wild boar, some deer, rabbits, hares and foxes; but many would kill them for the fun of it. For those of a vulgar, bullying mind, killing is the very affirmation of superiority, the irrefutable statement of that absolute supremacy of man over beast proclaimed in the Old Testament. Take that notion from our minds and human kind has some very different moral dilemmas to consider. It speaks volumes that the King James Bible has no answers to issues of animal cruelty: its much praised prose doesn’t even manage to ask the questions, perhaps because the issues can’t be resolved by sacrificing a goat. The Britain of the future needs scientific understanding and compassionate thinking, not obedience to discredited, outdated religious dogma sponsored by a king with a passion for torturing women.

With her failure to gain a majority in the general election and the subsequent collapse of her political authority, Prime Minister May’s support for blood sports now looks sickly ironic: she is the huntress become prey, while her former colleagues circle round her taking tactical positions like predators on the prowl. Clearly some of them are enjoying the sport. In her struggle to survive she has appointed Michael Gove as her new Environment Minister but, astonishingly, the appointment has only induced more contempt. Mr Gove is a man, according to Caroline Lucas MP of the Green Party “who is uniquely unqualified for the job” (2). iNews reports that he has previously voted against emissions targets, voted in favour of selling off our forests, voted in favour of fracking, and voted in favour of reducing building restrictions near environmentally sensitive areas (3). He supports badger culls (3) and fox hunting (4). However, in his role as Education Secretary, he sent thousands of copies of the King James Bible to schools across Britain. What can his message be?

We don’t know how long Mrs May will survive as Prime Minister, but in her preference for cruelty to wildlife over reasoned compassion, and her apparent support for archaic faith over scientific fact she represents an outdated vision of our environment which has no place in modern Britain. When her once trusted colleagues finally dispatch her from her post, we wish her a long and healthy retirement with time to contemplate and perhaps begin the search for a different set of values in a life less cruel.

(1) Interviewed by The Independent, Tues 9 May 2017
(2) Interviewed by Sky News, Mon 12 June 2017
(3)
https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/politics/environment-secretary-michael-goves-voting-record-on-green-issues/
(4) http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/surrey-news/fox-hunting-surreys-mps-stand-9661746

 

 

In the meadow of the Moon Daisy

Oxeye Daisies, Bridge area, June 2017. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Walkers who venture along the farm track extending from Mill Terrace in Bridge will, once again, see a swathe of flowers growing in a field near the old Elham Valley Railway. Currently in bloom are thousands of Oxeye Daisies (alternative spelling Ox-eye) planted by our local farmer a couple of years ago. We believe more have flowered this month than this time last summer. Sometimes these are called Moon Daisies, either because of the bright yellow disc of florets at their centre, or perhaps because the flowers seem to glow in the moonlight.

While, in the past, some formal gardeners and indeed farmers too, may have considered the Oxeye Daisy to be a weed, in these more enlightened times it is recognised as a true grassland flower to be valued for the biodiversity it brings to the Kentish chalk downlands. The yellow florets at the centre of the flower will provide nectar for a whole range of pollinating insects, particularly bees, butterflies and hoverflies. Farms need to be growing food, but it is now well understood that biodiversity assists in that cause and one of the ‘beauties’ of our Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is that it can, and should, be retained and enhanced as a preserve of biodiversity for the benefit of our entire countryside.

Also growing in the same area, though blooming at different times are chicory, cornflower, yarrow, wild carrot, buttercup, common mallow, herb robert, black horehound, herb bennet, knapweed, ragwort, selfheal, birdsfoot trefoil, field marigold, dandelion and scarlet pimpernel.

 

How green is my rally?

Green party logo, courtesy of the Green Party.

Four of our major political parties use symbols from the natural world for their logos: the Green Party use a globe, Labour a rose, the Liberal Democrats a flying bird and, rather bizarrely, the Conservative logo is a flag draped tree. All very evocative of environmental empathies, but how do environmental policies fare in the election manifestos of these parties?

The highly respected environmental group Friends of the Earth has published a league table of four of the major parties’ approaches to environmental issues in the forthcoming general election. They considered 16 environmental issues of major national concern and scored the parties a maximum of 3 points for each issue, based on their manifesto commitments and statements from their leaders. These are the results:

Green Party 46
Labour 34
Liberal Democrats 32
Conservatives 11

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Green Party, with its strong emphasis on environmental policies, comes out on top with 46 points. Labour comes second with 34, matching the Green Party’s strong commitment to maintaining the environmental laws established during our EU membership, but Labour are judged poor on dealing with waste.

The Liberal Democrats come third with 32 points. Along with the Greens, they intend to be hot on the current problem of air pollution over Britain and also state an intention to redirect farming subsidies towards flood prevention and countryside protection, so that environmentally responsible farmers will be rewarded as a priority rather than those owning most land.

The Green Party, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are all strong on supporting renewable energy, and all stand firmly against fracking.

Despite a previous manifesto promise to “leave the environment in a better state than we found it”, the Conservative Party trail far behind in the scores with just 11 points. They seem to believe that our air pollution problems can simply be solved by planting more trees, while still building new roads, and they were judged to have a very weak policy on litter and plastic waste pollution. According to Friends of the Earth, the Conservatives’ attitude to fracking is an “undemocratic and desperate set of policies to over-rule local communities and rig the planning system in favour of this dirty fossil fuel.” Furthermore, the Conservative Party still offers only vague concessions to maintain environmental protections established during our term in the EU. They plan a new ‘Agri-environment system’ (as yet unexplained) to be introduced in a following parliament (if they get in). While committing now to keeping our national forests in public ownership (after their previous attempt to sell them off), the Conservative manifesto also promises a free vote on repealing the hunting ban.

To read Friends of the Earth’s detailed report on the parties’ manifestos click on the link below:

https://www.foe.co.uk/general-election/election-manifestos-scores-are

Sustainable Development: a dream betrayed?

What makes development sustainable? Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

In recent years anyone reading a local authority Local Plan or perusing a property developer’s brochure will have come across the term ‘sustainable development’. It’s a popular term at all levels of government and it is ubiquitous in modern planning documents, but what exactly does it mean?

Back in 1970, while Simon & Garfunkle were singing ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, a group of MIT scientists working for a think tank called ‘The Club of Rome’ were studying a computer simulation which predicted that our world was developing too fast and our natural resources could not support the current rate of industrial production and growth beyond the later 21st century. They concluded that we needed a new global economic system which provided for the needs of everyone while remaining sustainable into the future. They called their report ‘The Limits to Growth’: it was seminal and it influenced minds across the world.

Two years later in 1972, Stockholm hosted the ‘United Nations Conference on the Human Environment’ which declared 26 principles for a sustainable global future. These are the first 10:

1. Human rights must be asserted, apartheid and colonialism condemned
2. Natural resources must be safeguarded
3. The Earth’s capacity to produce renewable resources must be maintained
4. Wildlife must be safeguarded
5. Non-renewable resources must be shared and not exhausted
6. Pollution must not exceed the environment’s capacity to clean itself
7. Damaging oceanic pollution must be prevented
8. Development is needed to improve the environment
9. Developing countries therefore need assistance
10. Developing countries need reasonable prices for exports to carry out environmental management

A new concept ‘Environmentalism’ hit the headlines, but, as anyone who lived through the 1970s and 80s will know, in those decades environmentalism was not taken very seriously in the developed west. Nevertheless, by 1987 the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development had released a report called ‘Our Common Future’, or ‘The Brundtland Report’, which brought into clear focus the idea that development and environmental conservation must work together if the world community was to have a sustainable future. To that end it introduced the concept of ‘sustainable development’.

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:
The concept of ‘needs’, in particular, the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
The idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs”
(1).

The idea drew support, and in 1992 the United Nations held a Conference on Environment and Development, known as the ‘Earth Summit’, in Rio de Janeiro. At this conference 128 participating countries, including the United Kingdom, agreed on a new global plan for sustainable development into the 21st century, it was called ‘Agenda 21’.

“Agenda 21 addresses the development of societies and economies by focusing on the conservation and preservation of our environments and natural resources”(2).

Agenda 21 is ambitious: it is a revolutionary new concept in global politics: a world of united nations working together with a plan to end poverty and improve health (particularly in poor countries), to enhance the lives of women and children, to control population expansion, to change consumption patterns, to conserve natural resources, to clean up pollution, to limit deforestation and to conserve biodiversity right across the world. All this within a framework which encourages economic growth for all the nations involved and financial prosperity and social inclusion for all of their inhabitants. A noble initiative indeed, but its critics say it’s not so much a plan as an unachievable fantasy.

In Britain in June 2000, The Sustainable Development Commission was set up to “hold government to account to ensure the needs of society, the economy and the environment were properly balanced in the decisions it made and the way it ran itself”(3). It was shut down by the coalition government in 2011.

The new National Planning Policy Framework, which dictates the planning rules for Britain, was published in 2012 with its much quoted mantra:

“At the heart of the National Planning Policy Framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-taking” (4).

It is a policy for building development. Yet each time we see this golden thread twisted into the context of a new planning proposal on our diminishing British farmland, we need to follow it back to its origin and ask ourselves: is the term ‘sustainable development’ really being used to describe a proposal which will help to end world poverty, to conserve natural resources, to preserve biodiversity, to change consumer consumption patterns? Or is it just being misused as a meaningless catch-phrase to justify a new housing proposal here in the affluent west?

(1) United Nations: www.un-documents.net/ocf-02.htm
(2) www.sustainable-environment.org.uk/Action/Agenda_21.php
(3) www.sd-commission.org.uk/pages/what-is-sustainable-development.html
(4) NPPF 2012, Para 14.

Summer and the Salsify

Salsify growing wild along Western Avenue. Summer 2017. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

As the summer of 2017 arrives, residents of Western Avenue and the closes leading off may have noticed a number of tall purple flowers blooming in the communal gardens and verges right along the road. These are Purple Salsify. The flowers themselves closely resemble Goatsbeard, but its flowers are yellow: hence Salsify is sometimes referred to as Purple Goatsbeard. Here on BridgeNature.org, we prefer to use these common English or colloquial names rather than formal scientific classifications, but we can’t resist mentioning Salisfy’s distinctive Latin name, Tragopogon porrifolius, which means ‘Goat’s beard with the leaves of a leek’.

The plants along Western Avenue appear to be growing wild and may be naturalised, but Salsify is of European mainland origin and was brought here, probably in the 16th century, for its blooms, which make an attractive garden feature en masse. After flowering, the heads transform into rough fluff balls of seeds which are something like the familiar seed head of the dandelion, but less spherical and somewhat larger.

Salsify seed head, Western Avenue, June. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Historically Salsify has also been cultivated across Europe as a root vegetable. It is in the same family as the parsnip, but the Salsify root is much thinner and apparently tastes a little of oysters. Although this may sound tempting, we urge those who fancy trying to cook some not to attempt to pull them up: the roots are extremely difficult to retrieve from the ground and you will simply end up snapping the stem and spoiling the display for the rest of us. Let us all just enjoy this attractive and intriguing new feature of our avenue.

 

A journey on the Mayflower

Common Hawthorns in bloom, Bridge Meadows, May. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

The Hawthorn tree is one of our more familiar hedgerow trees, but we also see it growing locally alone in a field or on a riverbank, and when we do we can recognise it by its rugged, stunted shape and resilient attitude, its thorns, its bright red autumn berries and its white, or sometimes pink, spring blossom.

Common Hawthorn in flower, Bridge, May. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Those we see in the fields around Bridge are more generally the Common Hawthorn, but there is another less ubiquitous variety, the Midland Hawthorn, which is the true English species of this tree. I have been on a quest to find an example of it in our local area for about five years now, but, throughout that time, my search has been hampered by one small technical problem: I didn’t really know what made it discernibly different. Tree guides waffle on confusingly about leaf shape: the Midland’s leaves are less deeply cut than the Common, the Midland’s lobes are more forward pointing; but try looking at the leaves on just one Common Hawthorn and they are so variable throughout the tree that one could be looking at either species.

However, armed with a new differentiation strategy I have now identified one Midland Hawthorn(1) in a local meadow. From a distance of about three feet the tree is virtually impossible to tell apart from the Common Hawthorns in the same hedgerow, but get up close, examine a flower and the difference becomes apparent. Common Hawthorn has just one green style amidst the stamens in its flower, while Midland Hawthorn has two, or possibly three. On examination the leaf shape of this tree is as described in the tree guides, but it would be very difficult to identify the tree on that basis alone.

Midland Hawthorn flowers, Bridge Meadows, on an evening in May. Note the two green styles at the centre of the flower. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

So, to my great delight, after years searching, I have found my Midland Hawthorn, right here in a meadow behind my home. Why does it matter? Those who have to ask may never understand, but for the amateur naturalist such quests are the learning journeys which make life and the natural world that little bit more interesting. Furthermore, the Midland Hawthorn is hugely significant in our history: its flower is the Mayflower, for centuries the very emblem of May in rural England. It symbolises hope and new beginning. In the superstitious times of the 17th century, many ships were called Mayflower, but it turned out to be a wonderfully apt name for a little ship sailing out into the New World in 1620 with a group of pilgrims on their own journey of hope, personal development and new beginning.

(1) As with many trees, Midland and Common Hawthorns do hybridise, so this may not strictly be a genetically pure example of the Midland species.