Bridge

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 fluffy spheres of seeds which are similar to the familiar seed head of the dandelion, but somewhat larger.

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.

 

Biodiversity on the bund

Spring 2017 and the bund along the Nailbourne has been strimmed; but is it necessary at this time of year? Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Those who regularly stroll in Bridge Meadows will have noticed that, in the last days of April, the flood prevention bund which runs along the bank of the Nailbourne between the ford on Mill Lane and Bridge Place was strimmed to bring the long grass and wild plants down to ground level. This was maintenance work done by the Environment Agency in what was set to become an annual spring cutting programme to prevent the growth on the bund becoming too high and too permanent. Access for regular inspection of the bund is important and it therefore needs to be kept in manageable condition.

However, BridgeNature.org has been in contact with the EA to see if the annual cutting of the wild plants on the bund can be rescheduled for autumn. This would preserve an important wild habitat for many riverside plants and creatures through the spring and summer, while there is minimal risk of flooding.

We are pleased to report that experts at the EA have been most open to the idea of rescheduling the maintenance to improve wildlife biodiversity through the summer. Strimming will now cease in the spring and become an annual event each September. The work will include a ‘preamble’ along the bund to inspect the area for wildlife and trigger escapes before the area is strimmed. The inspection will also provide an important pre-winter check for the bund itself.

As a further consequence of the initiative, BridgeNature.org has been invited to assist the EA by monitoring wildlife along the Nailbourne and the bund so that measures can be put in place to safeguard specific animals or rare plants should it be deemed necessary. If members of the public become aware of any particular issues of concern we would be grateful to hear about them.

 

Three Willows and a bridge

Willows near Bridge Tennis Club, Bridge. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Canterbury City Council have recently granted permission for the pollarding of three Willow trees on the banks of the Nailbourne at the southern edge of Bridge Recreation Ground where it meets Patrixbourne Road.

BridgeNature.org is not generally keen on the pollarding of ‘amenity’ trees: amenity in this sense means trees which are planted to enhance the appearance of a particular public space rather than for timber producing purposes. Pollarding is an ancient procedure which strips a tree entirely of its branches, thereby leaving just the trunk standing as a stump, which, if the work has been done correctly on the right type of tree and at the right time of year, will grow new branches over the next few years. In olden times whole stretches of woodland were pollarded to provide a regular supply of young branches for fuel or fencing. Riverbank Willows were often pollarded for flexible ‘withies’ for basket making, furniture and other products.

It is sometimes argued that pollarding rejuvenates a tree by encouraging new growth, but the suggestion remains controversial. Another more certain consequence of this method, if practiced regularly, is that the subject tree is restricted in height and span so that it takes up less space. For this reason the procedure is often adopted as a method of controlling trees in urban landscapes where space is limited; but the results can look brutal and unnatural to those who love trees.

All this begs the question, why pollard Willows on the banks of the Nailbourne in Bridge in 2017? We think this may be more to do with tradition rather than anything else, but there is a technical argument in favour too. Left to their own devices Willows will grow into very large trees which cast a lot of shade. They grow thick upper limbs, but the wood is weak and liable to crack and fall, particularly on the Crack Willow, which is how that tree gets its name. This is obviously potentially dangerous and unsightly on an amenity tree. As a measure to reduce such risks, Willows are often pollarded and these trees tend to accept the procedure better than most.

Some may feel the Recreation Ground’s Willows are too big and cast too much shade. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.2017.

We have great faith in local tree surgeon Paul Davies, who will be supervising the work this year, as he did the same work to the same trees some 30 years ago. We understand the pollarding will be staggered so that all three Willows are not stripped at the same time. In his role as Parish Councilor, Paul Davies will also be overseeing shrub pruning and maintenance around Bridge Tennis Club, and he has  already stated that he is keen to ensure work does not progress while wild birds’ nests are in use in the area. We thank him for this considered and responsible approach.

In the same location, beside today’s dry Nailbourne, the old bridge to the Recreation Ground is under consideration for replacement. We don’t know what sort of bridge will be installed, but in olden times a new bridge would have been constructed from local timber or stone, and some ancient peoples created bridges out of saplings which would be trained to form a living tree across the water. Ironically the best tree for this kind of project is… Willow.

Casting light on the Bank Vole

Bank Vole, Ford Close, Bridge. April 2017. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

It is not often that we see a Vole enjoying the garden in broad daylight, but this week a Bank Vole (pictured above) was spotted pottering around in the mid-morning on a lawn in Ford Close, Bridge. The Bank Vole is one of the most common creatures in our countryside, yet, for the most part, it is a discreet and secretive little animal.

There are three Voles native to Britain: the Bank Vole, the Field Vole and the Water Vole. As its name implies, the Water Vole is generally found in or very near water and, being substantially larger than the other two, it has often been confused with the brown rat, which has invited persecution for generations. Although Water Voles are known to the Stour Valley, they are now very rare and we have never observed them here in the Nailbourne Valley.

The Field Vole and the Bank Vole are both somewhat similar in size to a common house mouse, but with a more rounded face, squat body shape and less prominent eyes. The most obvious difference between them is that the Field Vole tends to have greyish fur while that of the Bank Vole is more brown. The names in this case are also helpful in identification: the Field Vole tends to be found in grassy fields, while the Bank Vole can be found in hedgerows, woodland banks and domestic gardens. Both Voles can be active day and night, but they tend to remain under cover in daylight, which is why they are not more frequently observed.

While sitting on the lawn in spring sunlight, the Bank Vole pictured was very vulnerable to predators including weasels, birds of prey and domestic cats. As if suddenly realising that fact, this little character soon scampered off to hide in the safety of nearby shrubbery.

In praise of olden Alder

Alder, Bridge Pond, spring 2016. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2016

Stand for a moment in the spring sunlight at the edge of our pond off Brewery Lane in Bridge and your attention may be drawn to a beautiful golden catkin laden tree leaning slightly over the water from the garden of Little Bridge Place. This is a Common (Black) Alder tree; perhaps one of the more forgotten native trees of our western heritage. Besides the Common Alder there are about 30 other species in the family including the Grey Alder, Green Alder and Italian Alder; some of which can often be seen in woodland today.

In olden times the Alder was valued not for its beauty, but because of a unique property in its timber: it remains immensely strong and rot free if placed in water or wet mud. This made it the primary choice for building wooden jetties, bridges and river bank supports and pilings when building on marshy ground. In fact much of Venice was built on Alder posts set into the mud beneath the Venetian lagoon. We don’t build with wooden supports so much these days, but Alders are still a popular choice for riverside conservation projects. Where riverbank stabilisation is required, Alders are ideal because they flourish in damp ground; in areas of land reclamation they can help to fix nitrogen into the soil; in farm hedgerows they provide good wildlife habitat.

With catkins and the hardened remains of last year’s cone-like fruits hanging from its branches, this can only be an Alder. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2016

Like the hazel the Alder bears male flowers on dangling yellow catkins which pollinate by the action of the wind. The two trees can appear similar, but they differ in that the female flower on the hazel is like a little flowering bud which produces a hazelnut, while the female flower on the Alder is like a tiny catkin which produces a fruit closely resembling a small fir cone.

The yellow male catkins of the Alder and the smaller pinkish female flowers which turn into a cone-like fruit. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2016

Later in the year seeds will fall from these fruits, often into water, and spread to other areas, leaving the empty fruits drying and hardening on the tree right through until the next spring.

Some small tragedy

Common Frog, Western Avenue, Bridge. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Some small tragedy on Western Avenue
Walking home one night recently, I was turning the corner on Western Avenue when I spotted a frog sitting on the pavement opposite Saxon Lodge. Having my camera with me, I took a few pictures to record the event, then wondered if I should leave the frog where it was, or try to help it to a place of safety.

On a cold winter night a Common Frog would not be venturing out onto our streets, it would be hibernating in a found burrow, or under leaves; but as spring approaches and the night-time temperature rises above five degrees or so, frogs begin to come out foraging, or wandering in search of a lake or pond in which to meet a mate for a midnight rendezvous. There are one or two ponds in the back gardens along Western Avenue, but the road was not a good place for the frog to loiter.

Having made a decision to rescue it, I went home to get a bucket in which to transport the frog to somewhere more suitable: perhaps a spot down by the Nailbourne. But on my return it was no longer visible on the pavement, so I looked around for a while with a torch, only to find, to my horror, the body of a frog, dead and grotesquely flattened onto Western Avenue.

In the daylight of the morning, some children heading for school may have studied the squashed frog in the road with ghoulish curiosity; a hungry magpie may have eyed the corpse from a perch on a garden tree. For my part I felt a certain guilt: perhaps I could have done more. Some readers may feel the same; but in truth there are few in our busy modern world who would pause to mourn the passing of a Common Frog. Every year, on warm nights in spring, thousands of such deaths occur to frogs and toads on roads all over England, yet these sad tragedies, each the extinguishing of a little striving life, are considered of no consequence in our distracted and disinterested human realm.

 

Spring activities on the land

A modern cultivator at work near Flint Cottages this spring. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Soil preparation and spring planting
Last summer, much of the wheat we saw in our local fields had been planted the previous autumn. The wheat grows a little, lies dormant over winter, then begins growing in earnest in the spring. We understand the same practice was followed this year on fields between Bridge and Patrixbourne, but not in the fields between the Nailbourne and the Butts. In the last couple of weeks, those fields which still had stubble remaining in them, were tilled with a modern cultivator and prepared for a spring seeding of oats.

Seeding was completed in a few hours using a modern seed drill which simultaneously plants numerous rows of seeds at exactly the right depth so that the crop grows uniformly across the entire field. This would be impossible to achieve when scattering or ‘broadcasting’ seed by hand.

For our previous article on sowing search for ‘seed drill’ in our search box to the right.

A modern seed drill in operation, Bridge area. Seeds are contained in the red hopper at the top and distributed through tubes down into the earth. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Fallow land
This year we can expect to see more sections and strips of fallow land in the fields around the village. Leaving some land uncultivated as an Ecological Focus Area (EFA) for the benefit of wildlife is now a general requirement on the modern European farm, but we understand that a particular issue with the EU’s so called ‘greening’ regulations this growing season has meant that more local land will be left fallow than usual. Calculating greening requirements is a complex business for farmers, but it can provide a bonus for our wildlife.

Stringing the hop poles, Bishopsbourne, February 2017. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Stringing the hop poles
Over the winter there were fears that Bishopsbourne might lose its last remaining hop farm, but it has apparently been reprieved, and the stringing of the hop poles began in late February in the field near Flint Cottages. This is a long, laborious process which can take many days. It must be done by hand with the aid of a long pole, enormous lengths of twine, and quite a degree of skill. Looking at the number of poles now strung, it seems we may even see more hops growing this season than we have in recent years.

For our previous articles on hops and stringing search for ‘hops’ in our search box to the right.

Best wishes
We wish our local farmers a good growing season, and let us all remember, as we face the possibility of losing more fields around Bridge to building, that farming is still, unquestionably, the most important industry in Britain.

What’s up with our Reed Buntings?

Reed Bunting (male), Bridge Meadows, February 2017. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

This week we report BridgeNature.org’s first recorded sighting of a Reed Bunting. It was a solitary bird observed in the meadows down by the trickle that remains of the Nailbourne. Those who are not familiar with this bird may find it difficult to distinguish at a distance from a house sparrow, it being of similar size and having similar colours; yet on closer inspection we see the Reed Bunting’s characteristic features, particularly the white collar and white moustache on the male.

As the name would suggest, Reed Buntings are most associated with wetlands, reedy marshes and riversides, but they are now often seen in fields and gardens too, possibly as a result of declining wetland habitats. In summer they may nest amongst oilseed rape, also eating the seeds, and in winter they can be found in fields of stubble looking for the small seeds of wild plants that grow between the crops. When the fields are ploughed in early spring ready for crop planting, the food source is gone and the birds may turn to garden feeders for emergency supplies. This is one example of where uncultivated field margins can be of great benefit to wildlife.

Following a 50% decline in numbers after the 1970s, Reed Buntings appeared on the RSPB’s Red List of endangered British species, but their numbers are now rising again nationally and they have been moved onto the Amber List of birds at less risk. However more localised counts by the British Trust for Ornithology reveal something odd going on: Reed Buntings are disappearing from the southern coastal counties of England, yet increasing in numbers in the north, East Anglia and more dramatically in Ireland. Why are they leaving the south to move up country? No one seems to know.

In parts of East Anglia observers report seeing hundreds of Reed Buntings gathering in winter evenings: here in Bridge we are delighted to see even one.

A village speaks

An impression of a display at the BNPC Information Event. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Following the Bridge Neighbourhood Plan Group’s information event on Saturday 21 January we present a number of the comments made on the ‘Panoramic Views’ board. We believe these give a good flavour of the opinions expressed when residents were asked which views they want protected.

The views on display were: 1. Station Rd to Bridge (not Mill Lane as stated); 2. The Butts to Mill Terrace; 3. Bishopsbourne Hop Garden to Flint Cottages and beyond (not where indicated); 4. From Star Hill over Bridge; 5. Highland Farm to Bifrons Estate; 6. Town Hill to Bridge. Some significant views of Bridge were absent from the display.

Comments

All views should be protected

No. 6, Preserve the gap between Canterbury and Bridge. Is paramount {sic}.

Keep Bridge a rural village protect all views

{Pic 6} Do not build of the green gap {sic} between Bridge/Renville/Canterbury

Keep Bridge a village do not allow Canterbury to encroach. Save all these views

No. 6 It is essential to keep a clear green gap between Bridge and South Canterbury

We need to preserve all our areas of outstanding natural beauty

{Pic 6} The green gap must be preserved for Bridge residents now and for the future

{Pic 4} The view from ‘Star Hill’ is very special and has a fantastic history. DO NOT CHANGE IT!

All views should be protected – our village is special and so are our landscapes

Surely we must preserve all our green spaces and open views. It’s a bit ironic and sad that the major threat to Bridge — Mountfield Park — is outside the scope of this otherwise informative and useful exhibition

All views should be kept our village should remain a village

1 2 3 4 5 are outside the village envelope

No 6 will mean no green gap and no space between Canterbury and Bridge

Please ensure Bridge retains it’s identity & do NOT build on the green gap {sic}

4 A frequently used footpath with lovely views of bridge over the top

{Pic 6} Please do not build in this “Green Gap”

No 6 We must preserve the Green Gap between the village and south Canterbury where they are building 4000 new homes. This is an area of outstanding natural beauty

4 The footpath here is very well used. The views are fantastic. No building here

All views should be preserved and protected — they form part of the quality of the area and contribute to the A.O.N.B. in which Bridge is situated

The key aspects of the rural setting of Bridge lies to the south and west views (1-4) The “green gap” is on high ground affecting the views from the village centre. The topography is such that access is likely to be from Bekesbourne Lane – it can therefore be argued that these houses are C/B overspill rather than part of Bridge so it too should be avoid but detriment is less {sic}

4 This should remain as beautiful as it is Do not build on this land.

So much development is going on in Canterbury, namely Barton and behind Park-n-Ride N/Dover Rd. Why must we sacrifice Bridge. Legal advice should be taken to preserve us! And our spaces.

6 Must retain green gap! This is national policy. We do not want to be connected to Mountfield Park

No. 2 and all others. This (No 2) should be preserved it is an area that all villagers enjoy. Wildlife in abundance and it makes our village special. Please keep Bridge rural.

6 It is imperative to keep the Green gap between Bridge and Canterbury so we are not part of large complex of houses

Surely we must preserve all our green spaces and open views. It’s a bit ironic and sad that the major current threat to Bridge — “Mountfiled Park” — is outside the scope of this otherwise instructive and useful exhibition.

{Pic 1} Please leave this This is a preserved area

6 {first part hidden} before the extent of Mountfield Park was known. Building here will join Bridge to Canterbury. KEEP THE GREEN GAP

Please leave all of it alone!

6 This view must be kept preserved It is the green gap

All views to be protected Don’t spoil the very thing that most of us want to live here for

{Pic 6} We need to preserve the green spaces around Bridge — and especially between us and Canterbury — if we’re to maintain the character of the village

Bridge is in an A.O.B. we should not be building in any green sites and definitly not build on the gap between bridge, Canterbury {sic}

{Pic 6} Please do not build in this “GREEN GAP”

1. Quintessential view for protection

It is vital to maintain the identity of the village and not allow the defined gap to canterbury to be filled. 6 must be maintained if we are not to become an suburb of Canterbury {sic}

All areas in Bridge need to be preserved and protected, I have watched wildlife throughout seasons in all of these locations and it is not acceptable to take away any habitat. It is an A.O.N.B.

We thank all those who left comments: clearly our countryside is much valued by the people of Bridge. Having previously expressed BridgeNature.org’s position that we want all our local countryside to be protected, we are delighted with the response of Bridge residents. We do hope that this strength of public opinion will, in future, be reflected in the policies of the Bridge Neighbourhood Plan.

*Note: Public comments made at a Parish Council event are a matter of public record. All comments here can be verified as having been made at the event. Comments were written on small ‘Post It Notes’ so line changes sometimes replaced punctuation which might otherwise have been used. We have tried to record comments accurately as they were made. To this end spellings, grammar and punctuation have not been corrected. {Pic X} indicates near which picture the comment was posted, although the nature of the display did not always make this clear. This list does not include comments made by BridgeNature.org.