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CONSERVATION and ENVIRONMENT of the Meadows by Vic Green

September 22, 2013

At the recent AGM Vic Green who sits on the board of the Bishop’s Meadow Trust and is responsible for the management of the Meadow gave a talk on the management plans that the board is currently discussing and what we have been doing over the last year. For those who didn’t make it details of his talk are below:

Some months back, the Trustees decided that there would be no further major events held in the meadows.

The Trustees would only support low-key events such as a sponsored fun run. This will could be organised by a local scout group. Any activity will have to be compatible with the Trust’s primary objective which is to create and protect a semi-natural wild space for the people of Farnham to enjoy and experience an array of British wildlife in our town I am sure that this will come as a relief to some of you; I know it did to me. Perhaps this philosophy needs to be embodied in The Trust’s Articles of Association?

We have continued to work towards our main objective of restoring and revitalising the hay meadows.

IMPROVEMENTS: One of the first steps towards this is to cut back the nettle beds and bramble patches, and also deal with the docks, thistles and ragwort that are spreading over the meadows. There is also a need to remove the blackthorn, hawthorn and immature Elms. We have started on this work, but there is much more to do. Recently we were fortunate enough to receive a grant from the Farnham Institute which enabled us to buy a brush-cutter, which will make the work much easier and this has already been put to good use.

We have planted 100s of switches (young trees) in the hedgerows and boundaries of the meadows, mainly hawthorn and hazel, in addition some of the poplars that form the boundary with BCA were pollarded. This was at the expense of the BCA. We are attempting to get funds to complete the work. We also pollarded the ancient willows alongside the Tudor Ditch. This was long over due! Pollarding helps to prevent weaknesses in the trees which would otherwise lead to splitting if they are allowed to grow unchecked. This is what has happened to two of the willows alongside the footpath. As a result these will be removed, as their roots are breaking up the footpath and causing trip hazards. The Surrey County Council advise us that restoration of the footpath will take place next year.

We recently cleaned out the ditch (known as Tudor Ditch) of an accumulation of rubbish (mainly bottles, cans and plastic of various kinds), and have conducted regular litter picks.

We have continued to monitor the development and well-being of species (flora and fauna) in the meadows and watercourses. There has been a gradual welcome increase in the number and spread of wild flowers (meadow sweet, ox-eye daisies, comfrey, meadow buttercup, goats beard, meadow vetchling etc.), but also an increase in the less welcome nettles, docks, thistles, brambles, Himalayan Balsam, hawthorn and blackthorn.

There have been sightings of deer and foxes. We have had no reports of our badger or the hedgehogs this year so far and there have been the usual sightings of water birds such as herons, egrets, kingfishers, ducks, and moorhens. Other Birds include a pair of kestrels, plenty of magpies, crows, pigeons, woodpeckers, robins, blackbirds, thrushes, doves, sparrows etc. We even had a flock of waxwings along the river, and a pair of white-throats nesting in the ivy on cemetery wall. The pheasants have been seen less frequently, but there have been sightings of red kites, and a buzzard especially during the recent hay cut. I have also been told that the peregrines are back but have not seen them.

Surveying of the fish, invertebrates and reptiles is on-going. This survey is being undertaken by Surrey Wildlife Trust. Low Water levels continue to be of concern, and this is undoubtedly adversely affecting fish stocks. Butterflies have been much better this year, with marbled white and small skipper sighted, as well as the usual  meadow browns, gatekeepers, ringlets, red admiral, comma etcWe have had two moth surveys undertaken, and over 40 species of moth have been identified so far.

We would like to Thank again Farnham Town Council, for donating bat boxes (and an owl box) installed in trees in and around the Meadow.  We also have two bat detectors which can pick up the ultrasonic sounds used by bats to locate their insect prey.

ORGANISATIONAL LINKS: We continue to play our part in the Wey Landscape Partnership (hosted by Surrey Wildlife Trust) and its local offshoot the Farnham Rivers Group (hosted by Farnham Town Council). We are developing links with local schools. We started with Potters Gate and St Andrews, these being the nearest. We have received a grant from Farnham Town Council which will enable us to plant a small orchard. The trees will be planted by children from the two schools, in the autumn. The grant will also be used to produce literature and fact sheets regarding the flora and fauna in the meadows, for use by children, to encourage their interest in the meadows.

We have also deepened the links with the local Scouts Group, and they have already contributed to the meadow by constructing a loggery specifically to encourage stag beetles. A picture of the wood pile can be found in our most recent  “Meadowlark”.

We need to generate dependable long term income and have registered the land as agricultural land with the Rural Payments Agency, and Natural England. As such we are planning to apply to receive various agricultural subsidies for managing the land in an environmentally sensitive manor that is sympathetic to wildlife. It has been estimated that this could amount to approximately £1000 – 1500 each year, and this together with the money from the hay cut will go a long way to meeting the Trust’s administrative and running costs.

We are preparing submissions to SITA and BIFFA (waste disposal) for grants to maintain the land. However, success with these bodies is a bit of hit and miss. During the year we had an initial land survey undertaken by the Environment Agency and they have submitted to us their draft suggestions for enhancements. Also, a discussion paper has been received from the Wild Trout Trust, with suggestions on changes to the waterflows etc to improve the free passage of fish. These two reports are only suggestions, and the Trust is currently discussing which (if any) options we will proceed with.

We were asked by The Waverley Borough Council if the Trust would consider the use of the meadows as SANG land. The Board of trustees replied unanimously that it would not.

Finally, we rely on the efforts of members of the Trust to keep the meadows tidy and in good heart. There is always work needing to be done, from litter picking to tree planting, from weed control to tree-felling. We have a group of volunteers who turn out as and when they can, but often the physical work falls (heavily) on the shoulders of just two or three Directors. The Trust is your Trust, and you should play your part in caring for the meadows. Put your name forward as a Volunteer, and come out when you can, helping in any way that you can. You will receive much more that you give. An hour or twos exercise in the fresh air; excellent company, and a chance to discover what the meadow has to offer. All this while contributing to the well-being of the meadow and the community at large.

THE FUTURE: We need to try to ensure that the meadows are used and maintained in good heart long into the future. Firstly there is the financial burden, in that we need to generate funds to meet running costs and cover for essential maintenance. I would emphasise that the Trustees do not take any expenses from the Trust, and our running costs are fairly low. The Trust however has expenses. For example, Insurance costs £800 per annum. Fortunately we receive no charge for the preparation of our Accounts. Much of the preparatory work is undertaken by Graham Aston (our Treasurer), with the formal accounts produced by Branston Adams who make no charge for their time.

Secondly we must meet the loan repayments (a further £4000 per annum), for nearly 20 years into the future, unless we pay it back sooner.

Next, there is a need to organise the operation of the meadow so that it is as self-sufficient as possible, in a way that doesn’t need a constant physical effort on the part of the Trustees and volunteers. One of the solutions we are considering is the re-introduction of grazing on the meadows. grazing cowsThis will not only help with weed and scrub control, but also provide the Trust with some additional income. Grazing is a traditional management of a grassland such as this. We have been talking to the Surrey Wildlife Trust about the possibility of introducing cattle onto the meadows. They are very experienced in this activity, and run nearly 300 head of cattle at various sites, including for the RSPB and National Trust. The Meadows could possibly have approximately 6 to 8 animals on the meadow at any one time, but they would not be present all year round. From our discussions with SWT it would seem that SWT would prefer to have the cattle with us for the late autumn and winter months only. This is called ‘aftermath’ grazing and is a traditional management practice following a hay cut. I emphasise that we are in the very early stages of discussion. Nothing has been decided. This possibility of re-introducing cattle was also recommended in the Environment Agency report.

Vic Green

If you would like to make a comment or get in touch about anything above then please do not hesitate to let us know your opinion or if you have other ideas. And remember we always need more funds and more volunteers!

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