The Park Diary. A short account of the activities of the Friends of Meadow Park.
On 12th June 16 volunteers worked in small groups on a range of projects. They fitted ground grab tiles under seats and benches, harvested willow from the trees in the corner of Gibson’s field (for Forest School), walked the paths to cut back overhanging brambles and branches and fitted some drainage pipes to the path adjacent to Bateman Road and the railway embankment. Much was achieved on that morning.
The Arboretum and our larger trees have been checked and unfortunately we have lost quite a few trees over the last 18 months - the sweet plum, the sweet chestnut and some of the large cherry trees in the copses adjacent to, and near the Bateman Road, entrance have all died. The downey birch, alder and a replacement beech are all struggling. As regards the downey birch and alder these are already replacement trees so obviously they do not like the arboretum area. One committee member planted a downey birch in his garden at the same time the tree in the arboretum was put in. His tree is now 18 ft tall and flourishing.
In mid-June a small group of committee members took a walk round the park to compile a list of jobs for the autumn and beyond. A group effort was called for so that everyone has a better idea of what is being done where and by whom and so that we follow the approved management plan as best as possible in the circumstances. Here are some of the observations and plans:
ARBORETUM: The meadow flora here is looking particularly impressive this year – we are not sure that we should put any more trees in here as in the long term they will shade out the plants underneath (unless kept pruned back/pollarded - the Arboretum sponsorship fund may well be needed to pay for this sort of maintenance in the future). We have serious doubts about the provenance of the three lime trees - small-leaved and large-leaved are usually quite distinct - but these three specimens actually all look like the same sort so we may well have three of the same type of lime tree.
We would like to maintain and develop the arboretum in a better way, but we need more resources. You may be interested in supporting our arboretum sponsorship scheme. If you would like to help then you could give a donation, in multiples of £10, and the money would be used specifically in the area near the Bateman Road entrance. Your gift would be written up in our book of donations and you would get a card thanking you for your sponsorship. It is a novel way of giving a present or commemorating a life or a family event.
OAK MEADOW FLOWER STRIP: This appears to have badly degraded in terms of species diversity over the last few years, probably due to lack of cutting and the fertilisation effects of flood water. It still has a good range of flowers but it may be best to include it in the general hay cut.
HALL FIELD - NEW SPECIES & ORCHIDS: At the time of writing this we found no trace of any orchids in Hall Field, not even any leaves - things are a bit late this year due to the unusual weather of the past few months, so they might (hopefully) appear over the next few weeks and by the time you read this.
However, another species associated with old meadows and grassland was found, namely adders-tongue fern. We are not sure how it might has got here but it is another indicator of how ecologically rich this part of the park has become.
Work has continued in the park on an ad hoc basis, with a group of 16 (by invitation and split into smaller groups) working on Saturday May 15th. Dogwood was cleared, rank weeks pulled, the trees in the arboretum checked and the shrubbery weeded.
Individuals have continued to work on general maintenance doing such jobs as picking litter, cutting back shrubs and branches overhanging pathways. A brash hedge has been created in Stonebridge Field. It is sturdy and neat and should deter dogs from rooting around too much in that area. Volunteers have planted some single snowdrops and native bluebells (the dainty, bowed head variety) in Stonebridge Field. A kingfisher was spotted in early January just outside the park near the firestation.
A lot of rain fell in January and the park was partially flooded from time to time. This, of course, is what is meant to happen as it is a flood plain. With the higher footfall in the park it has resulted in more than usual wear and tear on the grass but grass quickly recovers so this is not a problem. The Kingston Brook overflowed onto the park after the sleet/rain of 14th January. Though all the brooks in the village were brimming by the end of the 14th the water got away very quickly and more normal water levels returned.
The path from Stonebridge Drive has been the focus of some work by volunteers. If you walk along there now you will see a dead hedge has been laid in order that clear pathways into the undergrowth are designated. The idea is to guide feet away from areas where wood anemone rhizomes have been planted. Another swath of these rhizomes was planted near Heron Bridge near the entrance to Hall Field. Hundreds of wood anemone rhizomes were planted and they should flower in early spring this year. Native bluebells and single snowdrops are also planned for Stonebridge Field.
The trees in the Arboretum have been checked, birds have been observed using the nest boxes and some bramble/scrub has been cut back. The limestone pathways in the park will need a little attention when everything dries out as there is a certain amount of pooling/unevenness that can be rectified with the extra limestone mix we have in store near the millstone sculpture.
Oak Meadow has been the focus of some serious hedge laying, dead hedging, coppicing and tree pruning. If you are walking in the park go and have a look. You will see a big difference. The native/English dogwood in Oak Meadow had layered too far into the meadow and was dug out on 16th March. There is still some work to do there, but we are well on the way to improving the habitat and general appearance of the area. We hope to be able to work in socially distanced groups in the near future and will dig up the American dogwood (which was planted in error and has much redder stems) that is growing around the edges of Hall Field, near Bateman Road and in Lagoon Field.
Volunteers also organised a litter pick on two days in March and the park is much better for their efforts. Many bags of litter were collected. Litter picked up included bottles, cans, a piece of lino, garden pots, all sorts of things wrapped around the branches from where the brook had flooded, a garden spade, a hammer and a seat cushion from a sofa/chair.
One volunteer has made it her task to remove the old plastic tree supports from the wooded area to the north of Play Field. So far she has collected eight big bags of them. Unfortunately the plastic cannot be recycled and her work continues.
We have ordered 500 wild daffodil bulbs for autumn planting. These will go along the river bank again at Heron Bridge. A new seat in Gibson Field may be in place by the time you read this. It is a generous donation from a local business. The cowslips will be in bloom in April – always good displays in the park, so try to find time to see them.
The only species of narcissus native to Britain is the rather demur Lent Lily, more at home in orchards and pastures than in the flower vase.
Events & Activity Days 2020
The move to Tier 3 in December allowed us to carry out some work. The work party on 12th December split into two groups. One planted hazel and crab apple in two different areas of the park, the main site being near Bateman Road. The second group coppiced dogwood and wild rose and cut back blackthorn and hawthorn along the pathway from the sculpture to the Arboretum letting more daylight in which in turn will create an area of regrowth to give different heights of trees/dogwood etc. As we do not have bonfires, the branches cut down were used create a 'dead' hedge.
Richard Jenks did the annual yearly field margin cut on 2nd December 2020. The margins are cut to control the spread of rampant species such as bramble. However, he cuts the margins on a three yearly rotation basis, which ensures that there are areas of long grass left each year which are important for overwintering mammals and invertebrates.
Individuals have continued to work on general maintenance doing such jobs as picking litter, cutting back shrubs and branches overhanging pathways. A brash hedge has been created in Stonebridge Field. It is sturdy and neat and should deter dogs from rooting around too much in that area. We plan to plant some single snowdrops and native bluebells (the dainty, bowed head variety) in Stonebridge Field.
As you know, work in the park has been undertaken in an ad hoc way in small groups of by individuals. Much has been achieved and things are ticking over quite nicely. We were able to get a large red cutting machine on caterpillar tracks which was radio controlled to cut back the brambles, particularly on the northern boundary of the park. This was in September and it made short work of the brash.
Our October work party was split into three groups with two groups of five working on Hall Field and clearing brash, two volunteers worked on cutting back bushes in the shrubbery. Hawthorn self-seeded in Hall Field and needed to be cleared, along with blackthorn and brambles. All the guidelines and social distancing protocols were observed, volunteers brought their own tools and leather gloves and a lot of good work was done. They made a real difference to Hall Field. The shrubbery also looks neater.
Lockdown in November meant no working groups. Individuals continued to work in the park.
Meadow Park September/October 2020
As you are all aware our work party sessions were stopped after the one in March due to Covid 19. During the following months, individuals carried out tasks such as pruning path edges etc. on their own or in household groups. One of our committee volunteers for Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust and they have created a set of guidelines to enable small work parties to meet. We have been able to use these to begin our work again. Basically only six people can work at a time (12 if there are two team leaders i.e. five volunteers + one team leader per group). The two metre distancing rule is applied. Volunteers have brought their own equipment/tools and a significant amount of work has been done. Andy contacts our volunteers individually so that there are no mix ups regarding who may or may not be included on a team. The work parties have been on any day of the week to suit those willing and able to come along. A Covid 19 Risk Assessment form provided by RBC via Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust has been applied and our Parish Council provides insurance so long as we adhere to these guidelines. Obviously if things change our work parties will change or stop as recommended.
One of the most important jobs the work parties have done is repair the log circle for Forest School which re-started mid-September. The wire fixings had been prised apart and the logs displaced, also the posts that carry the tarpaulins in wet weather had been dislodged. Volunteers mended everything and re-set the posts in time for the first time the children met.
Update on Himalayan balsam:
Himalayan balsam can flower up to October and the explosive seed pods can jettison seeds up to ten metres from the parent plant. The rivers and streams can carry the seed for miles. When the problem was assessed in the Park it was obvious that Hb was well established. Tony, a Friend of Meadow Park who lives in Costock emailed to tell us it was growing in the brook at the back of his house. It can be found miles away along Kingston Brook. Initially Conrad Oatey (Chairman of EL Parish Council) thought a small group could get to grips with the problem, but increasingly it became clear just how much Hb there is. He has contacted Trent Valley Internal Drainage Board and it is hoped they will soon be able to tackle it. Meanwhile our intention is to deal with the Hb in the Park. We will not uproot it (as that damages the river banks) but will take off all the flowers and cut it back where possible.
The extent of the Himalayan balsam problem
Colonising rail and river banks, wastelands and woodlands, Himalayan balsam was introduced to the British Isles in 1839 by Victorian plant hunters who were keen on its beautiful pink flowers and exploding seed pods. The plant has had plenty of time to establish in the UK and, over the last 50 years, has spread rapidly.
But Himalayan balsam is a problematic plant. It competes with native plants for light, nutrients, pollinators and space, excluding other plants and reducing biodiversity. It dies back in the winter, leaving river banks bare and open to erosion. Dead leaves and plant debris from the weed block waterways and lead to flooding.
Traditional ways of controlling the plant, either by pulling it up or spraying it with chemicals, don’t or can’t always work, because the plant often grows in difficult to reach places and delicate river sites. And it spreads quickly. Like most non-native plant species, Himalayan balsam arrived in the UK without any of the natural enemies that keep it in check in its native range – in this case, the foothills of the Himalayas in Pakistan and India, and western Nepal. Without these natural enemies, the plant has an advantage over native species and grows more aggressively than it normally would.
It’s also expensive to manage. In 2003, the Environment Agency estimated it would cost £300 million to eradicate Himalayan balsam from the UK entirely.
We have had a particularly good year for the number and variety of wild flowers in the meadows this year. The hay cut was timed to ensure the flowers had set their seed. The Arboretum was left uncut (it is cut every other year) to allow a bit of a ‘wild’ area for small mammals.
Although we have not been able to meet for the regular work parties since early March, individuals have worked on their own to do some of the on-going jobs that are always needed. The butterfly bank in Play Field has been weeded, with seed and plug plants being scattered and planted. Trees have been inspected and watered wherever possible. Sadly the very hot spells of weather we have experienced this year has killed off some of the whips/saplings we planted in the first three months of the year.
Some of us thought we had found a ‘new’ plant to the park. Red bartsia was spotted in Play Field, not far from the butterfly bank and caused some interest. However Neil was able to clarify that it has been present here for some years in the top north-west corner of Play Field and also possibly in Hall Field. It does not grow in profusion, but is obviously well established.
Red bartsia is a common plant in low-fertility soils, where it lives partially as a parasite on the roots of grasses. The red bartsia has pinkish and red flowers from June to September. It prefers dry conditions and full sun light exposure and is pollinated by bees and wasps.
Although over the last 70 years, the red bartsia has disappeared from many woodland locations in Dorset it is still a common plant of roadside verges, railway cuttings, waste ground and other disturbed ground in the UK.
Himalayan balsam has appeared along the Kingston Brook edges, on both sides of Kingfisher Bridge. It is a pernicious invader, despite looking very beautiful when in flower. It is an annual plant and the main method of control is to remove flowers/seed heads. Neil thinks it may be coming downstream as small amounts have been found in previous years all the way up the brook to Willoughby-on-the-Wolds. It can spread quite quickly (it’s become a real problem along many streams and riversides across the UK). Kevin G went down and beheaded the Himalayan balsam (as well as uprooting it). There was quite a lot and he took out 19 plants in all (some quite big). He wryly noted that although he was attacked by the nettles he managed not to fall in the brook.
Andy put on waders and attacked the plant from the brook. All plants and seed heads have been responsibly disposed of. Himalayan balsam’s aggressive seed dispersal, coupled with high nectar production which attracts pollinators, often allow it to outcompete native plants. It also promotes river bank erosion due to the plant dying back over winter, leaving the bank unprotected from flooding. Himalayan balsam can also adversely affect indigenous species by attracting pollinators at the expense of indigenous species. The plant was first introduced to the UK in 1839, at the same time as giant hogweed and Japanese knotweed. They were sold as fast spreading plants of ‘herculean proportions’ which meant that ordinary people could buy them to rival the expensive orchids grown in the greenhouses of the rich. It soon escaped gardens and grew profusely in the wild. It has now spread across most of the UK and some local wildlife trusts organise ‘balsam bashing’ events to help control it.
Work continued in the park in an ad hoc way due to lockdown. Some weeding and watering was done and the committee is thinking of ways to work in small groups to cut back overhanging branches, pull rank weeds etc.. In due course working parties will recommence.
The importance of meadows and grassland
Grassland stores more carbon than forests because they are impacted less by drought and wildfires. Unlike forests, grassland sequesters most of their carbon underground while forests store it mostly in woody biomass and leaves. When wildfires cause trees to go up in flames the buried carbon they formerly stored in released back into the atmosphere. When fire burns grasslands, however, the carbon fixed underground tends to stay in the roots and soil, making them more adaptive to climate change. Professor Benjamin Houlton and Pawlok Dass at University of California, Davis: ‘In a stable climate, trees store more carbon than grasslands. But in a vulnerable, warming, drought-like future, we could lose some of the post productive carbon sinks on the planet.’
With this in mind we will plant any additional trees at the edges of fields or in headland areas. This will not only keep the soil untilled but will make mowing easier.
We are delighted to tell you that a small heath butterfly has been spotted in the park for the first time. It was found in Bateman Field, near Kingston Brook. However, it is unlikely to be anything more than a visitor as the caterpillar hibernates over winter, pupates around the end of April and hatches in May. Eggs are laid in late May and the new caterpillars hatch, feed and pupate in July just when our grass is cut, sweeping up the eggs and/or pupa.
Generally the butterfly population has been good this year with numbers of orange tip, tortoiseshell, red admiral, meadow brown, ringlet and common blue in the meadows.
One interesting observation is that lots of peacock butterfly caterpillars have been seen feeding on nettles (and wandering across paths looking for places to pupate). Look out for these in the summer.
The Big Butterfly Count this year will be between Friday 17th July and Sunday 9th August. Go online to find out more details. Results from short observations are collated and help to give a better idea of how climate and changes in habitat are affecting out butterfly population.
We were not able to cut back the growth in Hall Field this year due to the wet weather followed by lockdown. As a result some of the lower growing plants may have suffered but should recover if we manage to get on with cutting and clearing again over the autumn and winter. We will leave some areas uncut to provide winter habitat for small creatures.
Recent flooding in the village revealed the problem of sewage disposal as the water across Gotham Road, the children’s playing field and Meadow Park was tested and found to be contaminated. The Environment Agency was contacted and a report made. Glen Yeomans (RBC) visited the pumping station and we asked about putting up signage warning residents about the pollution at times of flooding. Alan Barlow asked how the pollution could be stopped and was told that separating the pipes between sewage and runoff is the only answer, but this would cost millions of pounds. However, putting in a new 10 inch pipe to the sewage farm from the pumping station would help the situation.
The Environment Agency has the power to fine STW and demand that the act appropriately. Alan had a follow up meeting with the Trent Valley Drainage Board at the end of February and working in conjunction with Parish Clerk Neil Lambert they contacted RBC, NCC Flood team and even the Highway Agency to no immediate avail. Action was finally taken when Andy Brown (Rushcliffe Councillor) stepped in and involved Kay Cutts (the CEO of the County Council), who held an emergency meeting and asked those involved to provide appropriate wording for signage at times of flooding and sewage egress. The Environment Agency and STW have now been told to provide appropriate signage to warn of pollution when it floods. Discussions continue to get Severn Trent to deal with the problem.
April saw many people walking in the park as playgrounds were closed and residents took advantage of the lockdown and visited the park in greater numbers. Someone put up pictures of Easter eggs and rabbits for the younger children to have a ‘treasure’ hunt’ and this was very enjoyable.
March 2020 (and lockdown from March 23rd)
Forest School met in early March for the last time before lockdown. The log circle, moved by the floods and further damaged as some lumps have been carved out of them, needs to be repaired when volunteers are cleared to work on the area safely.
The March work party planted alders in Gibson Field alongside the railway embankment. All came into leaf but the later hot, dry weather has killed some of them. Wild cherry was planted along Bateman Road boundary.
In the headland area of Play Field a limestone bank has been made with the old surface scraped off the paths and some extra chippings (several tons) bought in. The aim is to create a quarry floor type habitat. An environmentally friendly membrane was put down in front of the limestone mound to prevent rank weeds growing through. More limestone chippings were put on top of the membrane. During lockdown the bank became overgrown with hemlock and nettles. Kevin Gibbons weeded it and planted six bird’s foot trefoil plants and some kidney vetch. A small amount of wildflower seed from Naturescape was scattered which, hopefully, will show next year. The mound is located in a sheltered, sunny spot. Limestone loving plants like kidney vetch, bird’s foot trefoil, wild strawberry and marjoram will thrive and attract butterflies.
The meadows have seen wonderful displays of flowers this year, despite the flooding in the winter period caused by three subtropical storms: Brendan, January 13th-14th, Ciara February 8th-9th and Dennis February 15th-16th. A hot May inhibited the growth of long grass and the lower growing plants were more prominent. These include pepper saxifrage, lesser/marsh stitchwort, red clover, great burnet, common knapweed, ladies bedstraw, common sorrel, amphibious/common bistort, meadow buttercup, hay rattle and dropwort. We also had fantastic displays of cowslips. It was noticeable however, that we have seen fewer purple orchids this year.
Play Field: A new bench was donated and placed in Play Field. It has been cemented in.The drainage in one part of Play Field has been improved as volunteers dug out one corner and put drainage pipes in. On July 4th the outdoor gym could once again be used.
Earlier in the year the wet soil in the arboretum was having an adverse effect upon some of the trees. The larch is struggling and the sweet chestnut has died. The trees are being monitored. Grass cutting in the arboretum is very difficult and time consuming and the committee is looking at ways of doing the in a less mechanised way – either with a small mower or even by hand. Cutting the grass in the arboretum every other year would help small invertebrates, flowers etc.
Two strimmers donated
Two petrol strimmers have been donated to FMP. These will go through the Parish Council’s maintenance process and put to good use in the park. Two of our volunteers have the required approved training in their use. It may be that the arboretum area is strimmed in future rather than mow
Path reinstatement in SW Corner of Gibson Field
You may have noticed how wet and churned up the ground was in the top south-west corner of Gibson Field (near the railway embankment). Over the winter the pathway had virtually disappeared. Co-incidentally a tree in St Mary’s church yard was pushing a wall down and had to be removed before it did more serious damage. The tree was felled and shredded. The chippings were used to re-create the path in the SW corner of Gibson Field. Tree Smart, a local firm took the chippings to the Bateman Road entrance and volunteers distributed them along the unsurfaced footpaths in that area.
The wet soil in the arboretum is having an adverse effect upon some of the trees. The larch and sweet chestnut look particularly sad and could develop problems in April. Grass cutting in the arboretum area is a very difficult and time consuming task and the committee have decided to investigate the possibility of doing this in a less mechanised way – either with a smaller mower or even by hand. Also mowing the arboretum area every other year would help small invertebrates, flowers etc..
You may remember that the trees along the boundary of Bateman Road, towards the railway embankment, were cut down in error by Street Wise. There is a requirement that Meadow Park has a defined boundary, so we decided to erect a fence. The fence has 40 posts and 400 metres of wire. Squeeze gaps for pedestrians have been carefully sited. The cost of the fence was very modest (under £500) and has been met out of our funds and your donations. We are always very grateful to our members and others who contribute via the boxes in village shops. The fence looks really good and we attacked the Russia Vine which was growing with enthusiasm.
Russian Vine is a pernicious invasive plant which was planted by an unknown resident and over-run the Bateman Road boundary. When the fence was erected large swathes of Russian Vine were dug up and disposed of. We had hoped to burn it, but the copious amounts of rain made this impossible. We had the stems and leaves shredded and disposed of the roots separately so that it could not re-grow. We know that this is only the first stage of tackling the problem and have seen some re-growth. It is virtually impossible to stop this shrub in the short term. Over time we will keep attacking it and hope in the not too distant future we will eradicate it completely.
Little egrets have been seen in the park in the autumn and winter as they migrate from the continent. It is one of our success stories as it is still classified as ‘uncommon’ in the UK.
We always try to quantify how many birds pass through the park in the winter months of each year. This winter we have seen very few migrants. No siskins were spotted, and only a few field fare and red wing. This is probably because it has been relatively mild and the birds have been able to ‘stay put’ so to speak and not journey far for food.
We think nearly all the bird boxes were used by small birds like great tits both this year and last year, but cannot quantify the actual number as last year it was too wet to place ladders at the base of trees and this year no checks will be done until early autumn. We have three bird boxes to put up ready for the next nesting season. They could not be put up in February as the land was too muddy/unstable
Arboretum Information Board
Thanks to a grant from the East Midlands Airport Community Fund, we were recently able to install a board which explains to park visitors what an arboretum is all about, and gives details about ours in particular. It is sited next to the footpath beside the Arboretum in Bateman Field.