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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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.

The two summers of the Hirondelle

Common Swallow, Lower Hardres, August 2015. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017

The arrival of Swallows in Britain has long been associated with the coming of summer: one Swallow my not a summer make, but when we see a small flock darting through the air, we know the warmer weather is coming. This week, commencing 24 April 2017, Swallows have been spotted along the Valley Road in Barham.

We may be pleased to see them, but their appearance is all the more delightful when we consider the extraordinary journey that Swallows make to get here. Most of those that visit Britain for the summer have passed the previous few months in sunny South Africa. Every year, having judged when the time is right, they set off in flight up to the northern hemisphere, flying either on an eastern route over the pyramids of the Nile Valley, or up a western route, skirting the Sahara and crossing the Mediterranean into Spain, and on upwards into Britain: a journey of nearly 6,000 miles. They travel in daylight at speeds of up to 35mph, covering some 200 miles a day, feeding on the wing on a diet of flies, aphids and beetles and adjusting their height according to which of those creatures they see in the air around them. The route is long, stormy and hazardous, and many birds die of exhaustion or starvation on the way.

Those Swallows that make it here to Britain spend a few idyllic months in temperate climes and safety, delighting us with rapid, darting flight through azure skies. Then, at the first signs of autumn’s fading light, they head off south again to seek perpetual sun.

Back in South Africa, Swallows receive a cheery welcome. Just as we regard them as a sign of warmer weather coming to the northern hemisphere, so do the people of South Africa down in the southern hemisphere. Every year, flying from south to north and back again, the Swallow brings two summers.

*In parts of Africa the Swallow is known by its French name L’Hirondelle.

In homage to a Dandy Lion

Dandelions, Bridge area. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Take a little stroll into the countryside or past any stretch of roadside verge this month and the chances are you will see at least one Dandelion, perhaps many, glowing like little fiery suns amongst the grass stems and the decaying detritus of winter. The social conditioning of a muddled western world tells us to dismiss these blooms as common weeds, but cast away that prejudice, take another look and the brilliant yellow Dandelion is surely as delightful as any native flower this country has to offer.

However, the name Dandelion, comes, not as our title might suggest, from the splendid appearance of the flower, but from the leaf, the serrated edge of which was thought to resemble the teeth of a lion: hence the French ‘Dente-de-Lion’. We prefer our English corruption of the name.

Although Dandelions can be seen in flower during many months of the year, the most prolific blooms occur between March and May, just when many bees and pollinating insects are emerging from hibernation and looking for a good spring feed. How fortunate then that this ubiquitous little flower is laden with pollen and nectar just at the right time.

For humans too the plant is entirely edible and offers copious quantities of vitamins and minerals and it has been used to make wine, salads and medicines. The stem contains a milky latex fluid which has very similar properties to natural rubber, offering great potential for farming and industrial processing.

Dandelion seeds, Bridge area. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

After the Dandelion has bloomed, the petals dry and fall from the flower head and the bracts beneath pull backwards miraculously revealing a perfect fluffy sphere of seeds, which are a favourite food of goldfinches. If not eaten first, these seeds detach and sail in the slightest breeze, dispersing across the countryside to propagate the plants elsewhere, so that a next generation of bees will have food to feast on in spring.

Once we know all this, calling a Dandelion a weed is something of an insult to one of our most beautiful and ecologically valuable wild flowers.

The early purple of an Orchid

Early Purple Orchids in Whitehill Wood. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017

This week in one small area of Whitehill Wood, Early Purple Orchids can be seen in bloom. The Early Purple is the earliest of our Orchids to flower, beginning in April (often alongside the spring bluebells) and continuing until the end of June. Inhabiting non-acidic grassland and ancient woodland in many parts of Britain, it is the most common of our native Orchids, though not the ubiquitous sight it once was.

The plant stands as a single, flower-bearing stem, perhaps a foot high, rising above the anemones and bluebells on the woodland floor. This Orchid can be difficult to distinguish by flower colour alone, because it varies considerably in hue from purple through to pink and can even appear white. Identification is made easier by some particular features of its growth: the arrival of its flowers much earlier than any other Orchid; a rosette of dark spotted glossy leaves around its base; and sometimes a faint, somewhat unpleasant odour.

Early Purple Orchids in Whitehill Wood. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017

From time immemorial the tuberous root of the Early Purple Orchid (and related species) has been processed into ‘Salep’, a starchy flour used in preparations or medicinal drinks for soothing ailments and irritations of the intestines, particularly in children. Before the widespread use of coffee, Orchid root, often imported from the Middle East, was sold on the streets of London for preparing a very popular nutritious beverage called ‘Saloop’ made from this same Salep starch. ‘Salhab’ is a version of this drink which is still popular in Turkey and the Levant today.

We remind readers that today Orchids and other wild flowers are protected and it is an offence to pick them or dig up their roots.

 

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.

Continuing an ugly tradition

Young Fox, Bekesbourne. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Last weekend a local hunt group continued at least some semblance of the tradition of fox-hunting with a meet in Bishopsbourne. In olden times the hunt was often regarded as an elegant, jolly affair, but from the distance of a different moral perspective, in the cold light of a grey February morning in 2017, this tradition just evokes feelings of sadness.

Hunting with hounds is an ugly relic of our barbaric past and it has no place in modern countryside management: it has little to do with controlling fox numbers in the Britain of today. Historically it was a sport of the landowning elite who, rather than actually trying to exterminate foxes, retained coverts of trees and shrubs across their land for foxes to inhabit so that they could be hunted for fun. The sport became so popular that during the 19th century foxes were imported from Europe and openly sold at London’s Leadenhall Market in order to stock the English countryside where hunting took place.

For many years, foxes were effectively protected specifically for the hunt, despite the pleas of tenant farmers, shepherds and pheasant farmers who wanted them efficiently eradicated, not preserved for the amusement of their landlords. Sometimes farmers secretly killed foxes, but bizarrely this so called ‘Vulpicide’ was regarded as immoral by the landowning gentry because it diminished the number of foxes left for hunting. Controversy raged until, eventually, a compromise was achieved and farmers were paid compensation for any birds and lambs lost to the fox. Of course the reports of damage done would have been grossly exaggerated in order to claim more compensation from the wealthy landowners.

Today foxes account for about 1% of all poultry (1) and 1-2% of lambs (2) lost in open fields. Annual (pre-slaughter) lamb mortality from all causes, including disease and hypothermia is “thought to be 15-20%” (3), a vastly higher figure, although precise data is not collected.

For our previous article on foxes search for ‘fox’ in our search box

(1) Game Conservancy Trust figure
(2) 1% Game Conservancy Trust; 2% The Burns Report. See:
http://www.ifaw.org/sites/default/files/is%20the%20fox%20a%20pest.pdf
(3) Sheep Health and Welfare Report 2016/17