Presentation from Head Ranger & Senior Ranger of West Wickham Commons.
The Head Ranger introduced a presentation on Key Projects and the Annual Work Programme during 2013/14. He summarised achievements under the City Commons management priorities as follows:
Ashtead Common had received top marks in the Green Flag inspection, and the Green Flag judges had taken the opportunity to meet with volunteers during the course of their inspection.
New arrangements for the Ashtead Common Consultative Committee had been introduced during 2013 and a format of a Winter meeting and Summer site visit had been established.
A Grazing Business Plan was being developed.
Trees had continued to be monitored for tree disease, both by rangers and Volunteer Tree Wardens.
Kenley Revival Project
The application for the first round of Heritage Lottery Funding had been successful and a project officer appointed to develop the application for the second round appointed.
In response to a question from Councillor Townsend over whether concerns over cattle safely grazing on the Common had been dealt with, the Senior Ranger replied that the cause of the cattle deaths was still unexplained and consequently we will need to think carefully before developing any plans to graze the affected area again.
The Senior Ranger then updated members on key projects for 2014/15, noting:
Veteran Tree Survey
It was year 4 of the programme and officers were developing a condition assessment to establish how effective the work conducted to date had been. Rangers were currently up to date with their halo relief programme. Overall the veteran tree programme was absorbing a significant amount of the Ashtead Common grounds maintenance budget.
Five cattle currently overwintering with Pippa Woodall would be returned to the Common once ground conditions improved.
In response to concerns from Professor Hawksworth over whether cattle dung had a negative ecological impact upon the Common, the Senior Ranger replied that a baseline ecological survey of Phoenix Field had been undertaken to assess its impact. Moreover, rangers were not particularly concerned given they tended to undergraze areas across the Common in accordance with the Environmental Stewardship Scheme agreement – for example, the City was required to allow a six week flowering period each year uninterrupted by grazing.
Two volunteers had carried out an audit of the entrances to the Common and their findings had contributed to the development of a programme of signage improvements and reorganisation of access points. Phase 2 of works would continue in 2014 and would include replacement of more signage.
As per the Veteran Tree Survey, halo release works would continue this year. Once completed, the works carried out would require ongoing grounds maintenance.
This was a particular problem at Ashtead Common and presented a fire risk. As of Summer 2013 bracken clearance was up to date and rangers hoped to maintain progress into 2014. The bracken was cut and collected with the piles of cuttings provided good shelter for grass snakes.
Work would continue to maintain scrub/grassland mix to encourage breeding birds. Material cleared during maintenance work would be burnt on altar fires to avoid permanent damage to soils. Wood and ash arising from these works was allocated to local volunteers and allotments.
Barbara Newman left at this point of the meeting.
Excavations had now been completed and it remained for Surrey Archaeological Society to publish their findings academically, as well as providing the City of London with material that could be used for education and interpretation purposes.
In response to a question from the Chairman, the Senior Ranger replied that further excavation would only be carried out if the Surrey Archaeological Society identified specific interpretative issues arising from their earlier excavations.
Contractor strimming, sign maintenance and work to maintain boundaries would continue during 2014 to ensure amenity areas remained suitable. In response to a question from the Chairman, the Senior Ranger replied that horse chestnut trees were not an issue for Ashtead Common.
In response to a question from Councillor Northcott, the Head Ranger replied that a water supply to the north of the Common had not yet been established.
Bob Eberhard commented that access to the north of the Common had affected the path and caused compaction, and he expressed concern this would affect future Green Flag inspections.
In response to a question from Professor Hawksworth regarding whether wider surveys in addition to birds and butterflies were being carried out, the Senior Ranger replied that each Autumn a ‘Fungi Foray’ was conducted and that the Common had been given a National Vegetation Classification assessment recently. Moreover, the Woodfield area of the Common had arguably improved towards achieving SSSI-quality. He concluded by noting that a report on the newt population was also available.
Wyn James added that a beetle survey had been conducted.
Bob Eberhard expressed his thanks for the resurfacing of Bridleway 38.
Councillor Northcott thanked Bob Warnock for his work in implementing the river restoration project which had arguably contributed to prevented flooding downstream of the Common.
The Senior Ranger added that he had been approached by persons from Broadhurst expressing thanks for the flow control structure on the Common and its contribution to preventing more serious flooding following recent weather.