2015 was our first full year at Walmermeadows.
In some ways it was a frustrating year because other things going on in our lives kept us away – at first due to child commitments and then, two weeks after our youngest child went off to University in October, my mother was taken into hospital where she remains to this day.
However, that has not stopped us becoming completely enthralled by the land and its ability to be slightly different every time we see it. We have tried to notice, photograph and subsequently research these changes in order to learn – and indeed we have learnt a lot although there is still much work to be done.
The first job in January was to refence in order to retain our nightmare dog. The new fencing was trenched down to discourage tunnelling foxes.
Where the fence was good enough to remain such as the one at the far end of the second meadow, shown above, a trench was dug just in front of the fence and a skirt attached half way up the fence and the bottom of the skirt was buried in the trench.
The second job, in February, was to dig a large wildlife pond at the lowest point of the meadows, to include lots of shallows and boggy bits.
And then in March, April and May the meadows just started to come alive with new plants and flowers. Each time we walked around, a different plant seemed to be having its day.
Along with the plants came the butterflies, about which we knew so little and which just don’t stay obligingly still to be photographed and identified. And so, we still know so little! Thats something we will hopefully focus on more in 2016 – especially since we now have a butterfly net.
Three plants in particular stay in our minds. Firstly and secondly, the Early Spider Orchid and the Autumn Ladies Tresses, simply because its extremely exciting to have rare orchids growing on your land:
And, thirdly, Jonny-Bed-By-Noon – or Goat’s beard. This plant looks initially like an ordinary dandelion type flower but has dramatic points making a beautiful star and it is completely closed up by noon each day and I have no idea why it would want to do that.
About this sort of time, we got into contact with Kent Wildlife Trust and they come and did a plant survey and drew up a management plan which gave us a focus and gave us confidence. They brought with them a most welcome burst of enthusiasm, interest and excitement about what a lovely and precious thing the meadows were. They also introduced us to moths and mothing, a subject about which I immediately became obsessed and now eagerly await the Spring and the recommencement of Moth Nights.
It was also Neil from Kent Wildlife who, when we showed him the hole the naughty foxes had made in the new fencing despite our attempts to stop them, queried the whole fox thing and suggested we place a trap camera on the hole with the result shown below:
As the year rolled on, we started to worry about getting the meadows cut and all the hay taken away as it must be if we want to work towards getting the nutrients out of the ground to discourage grasses and encourage chalk grassland plants. Various solutions were investigated and found to be non-viable. The off cuttings could not go for hay to feed animals because of the chance of Ragwort. In the end, we cobbled together a solution that sort of worked but we need to revisit the whole issue in 2016.
In September, we were allowed to borrow some cutting equipment from Kent Wildlife and some lovely members of that organisation and some co-opted family members spent an extremely energetic weekend harvesting the first meadow and heaving the cut grasses up the hill into the little paddock. The second meadow was not cut and is still not cut. The family members have let it be known that, enjoy it as they did, they were not interested in participating in same the next year!
Several weeks later, the piles of decomposing hay was taken off to a green composting site
There was then the most wonderful Autumn. Glorious day after glorious day, flocks of birds eating the seeds left uncut in the second meadow and the hedgerows dripping in berries.
We had some of the hedgerows trimmed up by a local farmer but left other bits so that these berries remained for the birds.
Eventually Autumn became Winter, although it was really mild and there were surprising things appearing in December such as this blackberry which has berries and blossom on the same bush:
It has been a marvellous first year. Some things have gone well, some things have not but we have lots of plans for 2016 and are looking forward to it very much indeed.