Chasing a misshapen ball

The current cricket facilities at Highland Court Farm are historic, on a small scale, and have old world charm; few would consider them obtrusive. The proposed new sports complexes would be on a significantly larger scale. Image © Copyright 2018.

In recent months a huge new building development scheme has been proposed for Highland Court Farm on the Bekesbourne Downs in our local AONB. Within it there is a very substantial element of sports complex development included. Indeed, the developer indicates that a new home for Canterbury Rugby Club is a fundamental part of the plan, along with club and pitch facilities for other ball sports. While building development in an AONB is always controversial, traditional sports pitches may appear less so, on the grassy surface at least. The original terms of Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty designation do indicate some conditional support for recreation; so does that mean modern sports pitches and clubhouse complexes comply as an appropriate use of land within an AONB?

From the outset AONBs were envisioned as working conservation areas, the work being farming and forestry, and something close to the original description of the designation is set out in the Countryside Agency’s 1991 Policy Statement on AONBs:

“The primary purpose of the designation is to conserve and enhance natural beauty.

In pursuing the primary purpose of the designation, account should be taken of the needs of agriculture, forestry and other rural industries and of the economic and social needs of local communities. Particular regard should be paid to promoting sustainable forms of social and economic development that in themselves conserve and enhance the environment.

Recreation is not an objective of the designation, but the demand for recreation should be met insofar as this is consistent with the conservation of natural beauty and the needs of agriculture, forestry and other uses.”

While this policy discusses meeting a requirement for recreation, it means something rather different from pitch activities such as football, hockey, tennis and rugby: the policy was clearly intended to provide for activities such as hiking, cycling, horse riding and fishing, all for the benefit of enjoying the beautiful rural scenery of the AONB. Quite obviously it was not condoning the building of sports pitches, stands, stadiums, membership clubs and car parks, all of which would, by their very nature, interfere with the needs of agriculture and forestry while despoiling the rural scenery of the AONB.

Bridge village has a recreation ground which is underused for traditional ball sports. Image © Copyright 2018.

Those local people who wish to spend their leisure time chasing balls, already have plenty of facilities in which to do so, but our local village recreation grounds are underused by local people for traditional amateur sports, suggesting there is limited demand. Those who have most to gain from the new facilities proposed, would be commercial sports clubs wishing to expand, and they would draw supporters and participants from all over Kent, possibly to be joined by sporting opponents from far beyond. This would not be appropriate or welcome here: valuable farmland in our AONB is not the place in which to create showpiece sports facilities for everyone in Kent, either for the sake of those few who are unsatisfied with what they already have, or to enrich those who would exploit the land for their own commercial interests.

Bekesbourne village recreation ground is also much underused for traditional sports. Image © Copyright 2018.

Confusion on a national scale

Land at Highland Court Farm, Bekesbourne. Image © copyright 2017

Environmentally conscientious residents of the Nailbourne Valley, and the villages on the downs above, must surely be aware by now that much of our local landscape lies within a protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which generally should not be built on other than for the purposes of carrying out agriculture, forestry and, in exceptional circumstances, for affordable housing for local people engaged in those industries. However, in recent weeks, as various concerned parties have considered the proposal to build on Highland Court Farm within our AONB, one particular aspect of the scheme’s status has been the subject of confusion.

We understand from the official notes of a meeting between members of Bridge Parish Council’s Planning Committee and representatives of the developer (26 Sept. 2017), that it was indicated by one party…

“…permission for the development to take place would require a “nationally significant” element to the development.”

Simon Cook (Conservative), leader of Canterbury City Council, subsequently stated at a meeting of Bridge Parish Council (12 Oct. 2017) that, in his own personal view, he was “not convinced the proposed development was on a national scale” that would justify planning approval. So, where has this idea of national scale or national significance come from? What does it mean, and why is it relevant to this proposal?

Having discussed this with a local authority planning officer, the only source we can find for any such reference is in one particular paragraph of current planning law (1). Paragraph 116 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF 2012) says this in reference to Areas of Outstanding Beauty and National Parks:

116. Planning permission should be refused for major developments in these designated areas except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated they are in the public interest. Consideration of such applications should include an assessment of:

the need for the development, including in terms of any national considerations, and the impact of permitting it, or refusing it, upon the local economy

the cost of, and scope for, developing elsewhere outside the designated area, or meeting the need for it in some other way

any detrimental effect on the environment, the landscape and recreational opportunities, and the extent to which that could be moderated. ”

So, to be clear, the issue of national considerations is not about scale in terms of the size of the building plot, it’s about the development’s potential effect on, or benefits for, the United Kingdom as a whole. The protection offered by the AONB designation is intended to be so strict it may only be overridden if the development is of overwhelming importance to our nation.

In the current Highland Court Farm proposal we see a scheme for some holiday and retirement homes along with a restaurant, some retail units and a couple of sports clubs next to a rural industrial estate. It may therefore be appropriate to consider its potential contribution to the local economy: but when that is assessed, how many of the businesses would be brand new enterprises creating additional revenue, and how many would just be moving from elsewhere, or taking trade from other local businesses, with no real net gain to the economy?

In terms of national considerations the scheme does not appear to include anything of any particular significance or with any specific need to be in that location: for instance nationally beneficial industrial development like a hydro-electric dam, or strategic commercial development such as a new airport for London, or the HS2 railway, all of which might be judged to have a critical need to be in a certain location and to provide value for our nation as a whole. The absence in the proposal of any such potential national assets is glaring.

We believe the only element of this proposal that might be deemed to be of any real national significance is that of detriment to a nationally designated AONB which should, according to British law, be zealously protected from inappropriate development.

(1) This article represents a theoretical argument in the study of considerations of Para. 116 of NPPF 2012, including its sub-clauses. Should quotations referenced herein relate to other chapters and terms of planning law which are not discussed, this argument may not apply and its conclusions may therefore be deemed invalid.


The myth of ‘The Balance of Nature’

Nature does not stand balanced like some perfectly poised dancer pirouetting on a bar. Little Egret, Bridge. 2016. Image © copyright 2016

“The idea of a balance of nature has been a dominant part of Western philosophy since before Aristotle, and it persists in the public imagination and even among some ecologists today. In fact Nature is not in balance, nor has it ever been at any stage in Earth’s history.”
John Kricher. ‘The Balance of Nature; ecology’s enduring myth.’

On 7 February 2017 we finally had to concede that the Nailbourne had dried up. Not a trickle ran in constant flow through Bridge. Since it is a bourne, an occasional stream, which leaks from fissures in the chalk beneath East Kent, this is not to be unexpected; but it spells disaster for our local wildlife and the precious ecosystem of a rare chalk stream. A rich and varied biodiversity nurtured by the cool springwater will be lost: a delicate, heirarchical food chain which was gradually establishing itself in the heart of our valley will break and fail. Many species will either die or move elsewhere.

It is a populist notion that such events are all part of what some people call the ‘Balance of Nature’. They are not. Balance implies a system of self-correction, a sustained position of equilibrium. This is not what happens in Nature. The natural world does not stand balanced like some perfectly poised dancer pirouetting on a bar; it reels and lurches from one disaster to another, like a confused boxer losing badly in a fight.

“Nature is not a balance, it is just one catastrophe after another!”
Professor Richard Dawkins

When a natural catastrophe occurs on a large scale in a meteor strike, a flood, a volcanic eruption, or, on a smaller scale, perhaps the drying up of a village pond or a local spring, there is destruction and there is death. This creates a vacuum in the natural world and Nature abhors a vacuum. Something, in a quest for survival, will fill it; this invariably will be some species of plant or creature which is more suited to the new environment. An opportunity arises, something seizes it, but this opportunism must not be confused with ‘balance’, for the state of things will now be different, the equilibrium has not somehow been restored. Things have changed and in consequence there may now be a new order in the food chain, a new king ruling the jungle. He will rule as long as the new conditions remain or until the next catastrophe arrives to topple him from his place. It’s a continuing struggle for survival in which each individual in each species fights for itself in the face of ever looming death. In the 3.5 billion year history of life on Earth, over 99% of all the species that ever lived here are thought to have become extinct, either because they just couldn’t live in the environment in which they found themselves, or because a new, more advanced or adapted species was able to out compete them. This is a process called ‘speciation’ and we modern humans may face it one day as did Neanderthal man who failed to compete with us.

Mother Nature is not of gentle mind, she is a violent and ruthless ruler in her empire of the sun. Her flowers bloom sublime, but don’t be confused by her apparent charm and her fondness for the young: she has no compassion. Her disasters appear random, but they are all a consequence of her brutal rule. There is an order in the chaos, but it is heartless, inequitable and cruel. Life on Earth staggers on, trying to navigate through constant adversity and change: ‘carpe diem’, seize the day and do your best to survive, but be assured your death will come and you won’t be calling it a balance when the reaper swings his scythe.

Sometimes we think we see Mother Nature as a beauty, dancing elegantly to illuminate our lives in the darkness of her universe. Her beauty, her dancing and even the colours of her dress are mere mirage; but the miracle, the sublime, spectacular miracle, is that she ever manages to stand at all. We must hope we never live long enough to know when she finally collapses and her empire turns to dust.



Campaigns for conservation

Valued countryside: fields at Brickfield Farm, Bridge. The historic Bridge Place can be seen in the background. Image © copyright 2016. was conceived in 2012 with the objective of encouraging the appreciation of the wildlife and countryside in our local area. We began with a monthly newsletter, but later moved on to a website with regular articles, environmental information and picture galleries.

This is all very well meaning and, we hope, informative, but it has little value if we are not prepared to stand up and be counted when the very countryside and wildlife which we write about is under threat. So, from the outset, has campaigned zealously to protect our countryside with lobbying letters to local bodies like The Kent Downs AONB Management Unit, Kent Wildlife Trust and Natural England, as well as our own Parish Council and Canterbury City Council. We have also spoken on behalf of our countryside, hedgerows, trees and wildlife at public meetings and planning consultations.

So far, the success rate of campaigns which we have initiated or with which we have been associated has been astonishing, but it has been a team effort involving members of public bodies, action groups and of course the support of the public.

1. In 2014 we reported on an application to build a large equestrian arena and accommodation block in a field next to the hop farm in Bourne Park. This would have had a dramatic impact on the local scenery and would have brought heavy traffic into the area. In combination with Bishopsbourne Parish Council and local residents we campaigned to stop the progress of the application. The proposal was refused. Success

2. In 2015 we supported a resident in Union Road, Bridge, who was campaigning to save some of the oldest trees in the village from being felled by a local property developer. Together, and with immense public support, we achieved our aim. Only one tree (a dead one) was cut down. Success

3. In 2015 and 2016 we joined the campaign led by some residents of Lower Hardres and Nackington to stop the development of a huge solar farm between Nackington and Bridge on some of the best agricultural land in Britain. Bridge Parish Council Planning Committee voted to take a neutral stance on the issue, but, as a result of the combined protests of other local authorities, concerned environmental groups and the public, the proposal was twice withdrawn and now appears to have disappeared. Success

Sparrows in a devastated nesting site, Mill Lane, Bridge, 17 July, 2015. The result of inappropriate hedge cutting practices by Canterbury City Council. Image © copyright 2016.

4. In late Summer 2014, 2015 and again in 2016, we made formal complaints to Canterbury City Council and Natural England regarding CCC’s regular policy of cutting the hedge on Mill Lane, Bridge, during the nesting season while a number of birds were clearly nesting there. This has led to the annual devastation of active nesting sites. To date CCC have not changed their policy, claiming that the hedge cutting is to make the road safe! This is nonsense. will continue to campaign to prevent this vandalism in our parish and we are now in contact with CCC Councilor Simon Cook who is kindly working with us to resolve this issue. Pending
On 5 Jan 2017 we were informed that this issue has now been resolved and the hedge will be cut after 31 August each year in compliance with modern environmental guidelines. We thank Councilor Simon Cook for his efforts in bringing about this change. Success

5. In Spring 2016 we campaigned to save two trees on Bridge Recreation Ground from being hacked back to their stumps in the potentially terminal exercise of pollarding. Two beautiful, healthy mature trees were to be vandalised simply because they were considered to be taking up too much room and causing moss on the tennis courts which were built in a damp location long after the trees were planted. Bridge Parish Council initially approved the pollarding, but, with a campaign involving local residents, letters to the Parish Council and the rigorous lobbying of Canterbury City Council Planning Department the Parish Council were persuaded to change their policy. The trees remain under threat, but we are ever vigilant. Success

6. Since conception has campaigned to protect the green fields around Bridge from housing development. They lie within our designated Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so housing development on them is generally restricted, but that has not stopped a long list of city councilors, parish councilors, prospective MPs, landowners, confused residents and aspiring property tycoons from trying to build there in order to satisfy their own wants. has spoken out vociferously on this issue, and just this month our views were endorsed by a government inspector who ruled that a city council proposal for a housing development of 40 houses cannot go ahead on Brickfield Farm, Bridge, because it would breach planning law and damage our AONB. We thank all those who joined us in this campaign. Success

These successes in protecting our wildlife and countryside have not necessarily been brought about by some innate ability or powerful political authority, they have been achieved by the combined actions of ‘people who care’ standing up to make their voices heard, or, more practically, sitting down to write, sometimes in defiance of local political authority.

The countryside of our AONB and the trees within our Conservation Areas have been protected by law for the good of us all and the future generations who follow because they are rare assets in an increasingly urbanised national landscape. Who would seek to destroy such treasures? Only the ignorant, the arrogant and the selfish; but we have all within our midst! Whatever the ambitions, lack of awareness or political powers of such people, we must make it clear to them that we will not allow them to destroy the things that we hold dear, and the more people who join in that call the louder it will be heard.

As 2016 draws to a close thanks all those residents who have supported our campaigns to date and we hope that you will support us in the future.

The unfamiliar Mipit

Meadow Pipit, Sheep Dip lane, Bishopsbourne, October 2016. Image © copyright 2016.

Meadow Pipit, Sheep Dip lane, Bishopsbourne, October 2016. Image © copyright 2016.

Silhouetted against the bright sky and a low winter sun, birds sitting on power lines and telephone wires can be virtually impossible to identify with the naked eye, so many visiting species simply go unnoticed. But modern technology can sometimes help, as in the case of the picture above. This bird was photographed this Autumn while perched on a power line near the Nailbourne when the bird was far too far away to be distinguished with the naked eye, and even through a zoom lens; but it was later identified on the computer screen as a Meadow Pipit.

Residents of Bridge may be surprised to know that the Meadow Pipit, which some experts abbreviate to ‘Mipit’, is a resident British bird and numerically one of our most common, but they are an upland species and their distribution is to the north and west of the country, so they are by no means a regular sight in this area. In Winter British numbers are supplemented by migrants from the north: many from Greenland and Iceland find their way to Ireland and the west of England but birds in our area are more likely to be visitors from Scandinavia. They tend to be lowland ground feeders with a preference for marshy or waterside locations where they eat beetles, spiders and a range of flies, particularly the cranefly (daddy long-legs).

Bird-watchers often have difficulty distinguishing the Meadow Pipit from the skylark, but the skylark’s head crest is generally the giveaway. Yet another bird, which looks very similar at a distance, was recorded on the same power line at exactly the same time as the Mipit. This bird sported similar colouring to the Mipit, but the beak was short and stubby while the Mipit’s beak is markedly narrow and pointed. These features were impossible to distinguish on location under a bright winter sun, but having examined the picture of the second bird, we believe it is a corn bunting. Corn buntings and skylarks are both regularly observed in our local meadows and they were featured in our article ‘Somewhere over the railway…’ which can be found here:

Corn Bunting?, Sheep Dip lane, Bishopsbourne, October 2016. Image © copyright 2016.

Corn Bunting? Sheep Dip lane, Bishopsbourne, October 2016. Image © copyright 2016.

Of brilliance and tragedy

Kingfisher at the Old Sheep Dip, Bishopsbourne, 1 Nov 2016. Image © copyright 2016.

Kingfisher at the Old Sheep Dip, Bishopsbourne, 1 Nov 2016. Image © copyright 2016.

Why is the Kingfisher so called? You may wonder how this diminutive bird earned his regal title. He does not have the majestic posture of the heron, or the fearsome aura of the osprey, but stand quietly on the bridge on Sheep Dip Lane for a few moments, watch a Kingfisher exercising his skills in the Old Sheep Dip, and you too may agree that this extraordinary little bird really is the sovereign of his craft.

This year, once again, we have at least one pair of Kingfishers living on our bourne and delighting all those who get a glimpse of them. They are mesmerising birds to watch: their colours in flight are brilliant and their skill is incredible, even though everything they do appears to be done at great speed. They arrive in a flash of electric blue darting low across the water, then perch on a prominent rock or branch overlooking a stretch of slow moving water watching for fish and small swimming creatures. When prey is sighted, they will plunge in a curving dive to enter the water, sometimes several feet away from their vantage point, and rarely seem to fail to make a catch. This is in part because of their the ability to switch instantly between two forms of vision: in the air their vision is monocular, but under water it is binocular, meaning they can instantly correct for the refraction of light in water to retain sight of their prey.

When a fish is caught the Kingfisher will return it to the perch, ensure it is dead, clasp it more aerodynamically in the beak, then, with great urgency it will fly off to feed the young in the nest. This will be a burrow two to three feet long, somewhere along the riverbank. There may be up to six chicks waiting eagerly for food, and with each of them needing perhaps a dozen small fish a day, the parent birds have a busy time keeping them fed.

As a species the Kingfisher is a master predator whose future seems secure; as individuals, from day one their lives are full of hazards. If they survive in the nest, free of predators and fluctuating river levels long enough to start fishing for themselves, they may drown at the first attempt, or they may be driven from their home before they learn sufficient survival skills. Many youngsters die within the first couple of weeks of leaving the nest. Then, with the onset of winter and freezing temperatures, ponds ice over and fish hide deeper, food is harder to find and many Kingfishers simply die of starvation or exposure. Only a quarter of all our Kingfishers, including the young, are thought to live from one breeding season into the next (1). That proportion appears to be enough to keep the species in continuity, for now, but we must treasure these crown jewels of the riverbank and do what we can to ensure our lives do not restrict theirs.

In Britain the appalling children’s ‘sport’ of throwing stones at Kingfishers thrived, with official encouragement, for centuries, but today these iconic little birds are specifically listed for special protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and extra penalties apply to anyone who harms them or disturbs a nest.

(1) RSPB figure.

A visit from the Shovelers

Male Shoveler duck, Bourne Park, 31 Oct 2016. Image © Copyright 2016.

Male Shoveler duck, Bourne Park, 31 Oct 2016. Image © Copyright 2016.

This week we have seen the arrival of some Shoveler ducks (at least two males, possibly two pairs) on the lake at Bourne Park. The Shoveler is about the same size as the mallard, and while the male is quite different in appearance from the male mallard, with large areas of white, patches of brown and a very dark green head, the female is a less spectacular mottled brown, which makes it harder to distinguish at distance from a female mallard. However, the most distinctive feature of both male and female Shovelers, if you can get close enough to observe it, is the large wide bill which it sweeps from side to side on the surface of the water or wet marsh mud looking for food. The edge of the bill has comb-like structures on it which allow the bird to effectively filter water and mud for the small edible creatures which it lives on.

Female Shoveler duck, Bourne Park, 17 Nov 2016. Image © Copyright 2016.

Female Shoveler duck, Bourne Park, 17 Nov 2016. Image © Copyright 2016.

During the Summer the Shoveler is a fairly common water bird in the South East of England and up the North Sea coast to the Humber Estuary, but it is rare in other parts of the country. In Winter many other Shovelers fly south from Scandinavia to substantially boost the numbers here.

We have not recorded Shovelers on the lake at Bourne Park before. Those that we did see were very shy of humanity and kept their distance.

The Sussex in Kent

Sussex cattle, Bourne Park, Bishopsbourne, October 2016. Their 'mahogany red' colour glows in the evening sunlight. Image © copyright 2016.

Sussex cattle, Bourne Park, Bishopsbourne, October 2016. Their ‘mahogany red’ colour glows in the evening sunlight. Image © copyright 2016.

If, in the last six months or more, you have taken a stroll along Bourne Park Road heading from Bridge towards Bishopsbourne, you may have noticed some reddish coloured cattle in a field off to the right between the road and the Nailbourne. These are Sussex cattle, one of the most famous and reputable breeds of cattle in the world: their colour is described historically as mahogany red.

The Sussex originated on the Weald of Sussex, Surrey and Kent and it is directly descended from a breed of cattle which roamed in Anderida, the huge forest which stretched over those counties before and at the time of the Norman conquest in 1066. These cattle were of course a source of food, but through the centuries as they were farmed and bred they became notable also as a draught breed for ploughing and pulling carts and they were used extensively for that purpose. Today we may think of the horse as the primary working animal of our ancient past, but this is not so, for centuries it was the ox, and the ox of choice would, without doubt, have been a Sussex. On the Weald, the steep terrain meant that the use of oxen as the main draught animal continued much longer than in some other parts of the country. In his travelogue ‘A Tour of Great Britain’ written in 1724, Daniel Defoe tells us of an old lady on the Weald being driven to church in a carriage hauled by six Sussex oxen.

Sussex cattle, showing characteristic colour and shape with higher rear end than shoulders and a white switch to the tail. Image © copyright 2016.

Sussex cattle, showing characteristic colour and shape with higher rear end than shoulders and a white switch to the tail. Image © copyright 2016.

We do not think of the Kent and Sussex Weald as a forest area today because the woodland was felled in the early 18th century to provide timber for iron manufacturing during the industrial revolution. Sussex oxen were used as draught animals working in the forest and, to give an idea of the numbers of animals involved, Defoe, who was travelling through the area at the time, records teams of 22 Sussex oxen pulling each lumber cart.

The escarpments of the Weald meant that, once the forest had gone, large tracts of the land were not suitable for ploughing, so much of it was left as pasture. The Sussex continued to be prominent, primarily for beef production, although records show that in some parts of the Weald they were still used to haul ploughs right into the early 20th century.

In the last few days the Sussex cattle have been moved out of the field off Bourne Park Road; we do not know where they have gone to, although being beef cattle, we do know their ultimate fate.

Come Winter come Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe on the Nailbourne, Bishopsbourne. October 2016. Image © copyright 2016.

Jack Snipe on the Nailbourne, Bishopsbourne. October 2016. Image © copyright 2016.

Late October, Winter is on his way and temperatures have dropped along with the sun’s intensity. But, no matter how cold we may think our county is over the next few months, East Kent will not descend into the intense freeze of Scandinavia. Knowing this, as have his ancestors for generations, Jack Snipe has flown south to pass a more temperate Winter season here in southern England.

This happens every year, yet Jack Snipe and his sisters remain mysterious birds and no one really knows how many arrive to Winter here, although observers say that numbers may be diminishing. The birds paddle secretively, often alone at the water’s edge foraging for insects, snails and worms, and if they sense danger or the approach of a predator their tactic is to sit still, immobile as a pebble and almost impossible to see with the naked eye, so difficult are they to distinguish from the muddy stones and river debris around them. Yet, once an intruder breaches their imagined circle of safety, they take off into rapid flight, reaching for the sanctuary of the sky. In flight the birds assume a much more dynamic persona, ascending rapidly with beating wings curved like scythes arcing through the air and the white patches on the underside and tail more prominent.

Jack Snipe is the smallest member of the Snipe family, distinguished from the Common Snipe by its diminutive size and a shorter bill. It may have acquired its name because people thought it was the male Common Snipe, but in olden times the name Jack was also often used colloquially to indicate something or someone of a distinctive character or smaller size than the rest of the group. Its Latin name Lymnocryptes Minimus means ‘The smallest one hidden on the marsh’, which sums up this charming little bird rather well.

NB. Jack Snipes have not been seen along the Nailbourne since this article was written a few days ago, so it may be that those previously observed were just passing through.

A harvest of Hops

Bringing in the hop harvest, Bishopsbourne 2016. Image © copyright 2016.

Bringing in the hop harvest, Bishopsbourne 2016. Image © copyright 2016.

This week was harvesting week at the Hop farm near Flint Cottages. While in the past this was an event which would have seen hundreds of people employed in many of the fields around the area, today there just remains this one Hop farm of about 10 acres in our locality. It is recorded that Hop growing in Kent began in the area between Canterbury, Bishopsbourne and Lower Hardres so this is possibly one of the oldest Hop fields in the county. The harvesting was achieved by the hard work of a small group of people working by hand from the back of a tractor and trailer.

Gathering the hop harvest, Bishopsbourne 2016. Image © copyright 2016.

Gathering the hop harvest, Bishopsbourne 2016. Image © copyright 2016.

Hops were introduced to Britain by the Romans, not as an ingredient of beer, but as a supply of Hop shoots which were, and still are, considered a culinary delicacy. Hop farming for beer making began in earnest in Kent in the 1520s to provide the ingredients (only the Hop flowers are used) for a burgeoning beer industry and, as it turned out, the ‘terroir’ (conditions of land and climate) of the area proved perfect for the crop. By the late 1600s Hop growing had become a major agricultural activity in this county and the industry continued to grow until it reached its peak in the late 1800s. Thus, for over 300 years, vast numbers of tall stands of Hops growing on wired poles gave much of Kent’s agricultural landscape a unique and distinctive appearance. However, since its peak, changes in drinking habits, global free trade and taxes on alcohol have caused Hop growing in Kent and the rest of Britain to dwindle to a fraction of its former size.

Hop flowers, Bishopsbourne, Sept. 2016. Image © copyright 2016.

Hop flowers, Bishopsbourne, Sept. 2016. Image © copyright 2016.

Although some of the shoots from our Bishopsbourne Hops are served in London’s up-market restaurants, most of the flowers are exported to America for specialist beer brewing. Varieties to be seen growing on the farm include ‘Challenger’ and the world famous ‘East Kent Goldings’ variety which was developed from the Canterbury Whitebine Hop in the late 1700s. We understand the farm won first prize for their own crop of East Kent Goldings at the English National Hop Competition in 2011 and we wish them continued success!