St John’s URC Nature Reserve

The St John’s URC Nature Reserve is an L shaped plot of about 0.13 ha, located behind the former Marsh Green URC Primary School, which is now a private house. It was used as a play area by the school and thus kept mown, possibly with fertiliser and selective weed killer applied.

The reserve includes a range of trees, hedging and mainly grassy meadow which when we began to try to manage it as a nature reserve (in 2010) included a very limited range of wild flowers. The reserve was then dominated by invasive rye grass, other grasses and thistles, which was indicative of relatively high fertility. These combined to limit the chances of successful introduction and colonisation by wildflower species (either by planting plug plants or sowing seeds).

Aim

The nature reserve should be managed to promote a wide diversity of native flora and fauna, to demonstrate our Christian commitment to care for God’s creation / our planet.

Progress To Date

In autumn 2010, the fence on the north side of the reserve was mended by a working party, who “tidied”  the boundaries, established a log pile to which fallen branches are continually being added to provide cover for various mammals and insects. A bird and a bug box have been attached to two trees in the reserve.

In spring, pre-school children really help by taking the heads off dandelions before they set seed, to reduce the seeds blowing into our neighbour’s garden and competition for other wildflowers, Later in the season, thistles are removed manually (some only the plant, not the root, as the ground is often too hard for digging) to reduce the seeds blowing into our neighbour’s garden and competition for other wildflowers. By summer 2017, there are hardly any thistles to be seen.

Lyndsay Rule of Kent Wildlife Trust visited in the summer of 2011, meeting with the nature reserve manager and provided encouragement / advice on management. She identified vetch, birdsfoot trefoil, red clover and knapweed in the grass sward – and advised we should sow yellow rattle as soon as possible, as this semi-parasitic plant would reduce the vigour of the rye grass. She also recommended that we need to minimise use of the reserve as a car park – and certainly not use it when the ground is at all wet or we will any germinating / growing wild flowers – and also open up areas to invasion by more thistles.

In selected areas across the reserve, in October 2012 patches of grass were cut by hand and to reduce the vigour of the grasses in the meadow, we sowed yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) which is semi-parasitic on grasses. Some other wildflower seeds were also sown (LandLife Wildflowers’ “Wildflower Meadow Mix” including common knapweed, meadow buttercup, ribwort plantain, St John’s wort, meadowsweet, red campion yarrow, white campion, selfheal and teasel).

Mowing is recognised as one way which can be used to manipulate the range of wild flowers that grown in wildflower areas (the church cannot afford to clear the site, remove topsoil and completely re-seed).  Peter Marrero of the church family had kindly been cutting the reserve twice each year, fitting it in with his other farm work.  To effectively reduce the fertility of the meadow and promote the widlflowers, from 2011 we began to remove the cut grass, stacking it at the edge of the reserve. Later that year we arranged for Edenbridge Town Council to mow the reserve more regularly (March / April, then again in late summer after any wild flowers have set seed – then if necessary in late autumn  –  but at a financial cost to the church). This was done in late 2011 then twice in 2012 (summer and autumn), 2013 and 2014. This has then ceased as it became unaffordable and an alternative became possible …

More wildflower seeds were sown in April / May 2013, 2014, 2015 – and in 2016 wildflower seeds from Kew Gardens’ “Grow Wild” project were obtained free and sown.

From spring 2013, volunteers have been maintaining a list of wildflowers spotted on the reserve and noticing the total number of species has been progressively increasing (at least 14 in 2013; 33 including orchids in 2017).

Bats spotted in the reserve during early evenings from summer 2014.

Through membership of Friends of Eden Meadows (from 2014), we got more advice on managing the reserve from Sam Thomas of KWT. He identified the meadow grassland community as “common knapweed – created dogs tail grassland” which “is best served by a late hay cut in July / August – also an earlier cut to prevent knapweed taking over”.  He also recommended other management methods to encourage more wildflowers in the sward.

Also through membership of Friends of Eden Meadows, a link was established with Polly Dunbreck of Hoopers Farm, who from spring 2015 and to the delight of pre-school children and the wider church family has put lambs / sheep in the reserve to graze several times each year to help manage the meadow – and avoid the costly mowing by the town council. This will reduce the vigour of the grass to thus the competition for the wildflowers.

The fencing around the reserve was mended by volunteer Dads of preschool children in early 2015, before the sheep arrived.

In summer 2015, a KWT working party led by Sam Thomas cut the reserve after the main wildflowers had finished flowering and set seed. Church members raked up the “arisings”.

In summer 2016, church members worked on several days to cut the reserve in early August (the KWT project which helped in 2016 had ended and Sam left KWT employment) but found it very challenging.

During winter 2016 / 17 Anne investigated how to get the reserve cut more easily – and made a link to North West Kent Countryside Partnership – who offered to cut the reserve in July 2017 at no cost – and also help us apply for a grant to repeat this in future and also buy other items / equipment (benches, bird / bat / hedgehog boxes etc.).

From spring 2017, a windy path has been made to encourage people to walk through and appreciate the wildflowers. This has been very successful.

Medium to Long-Term Plan

The Eco Group are interested in placing a bee hive in the reserve, to support the local bee population and provide pollinators for local flora. A local bee-keeper hoped to place a hive in the reserve in 2017, but due to loss of colonies over the last winter has not been able to do this. He hopes to help us in 2018.