Spike & Tamara's Wood
Spike & Tamara's Wood is the field in which our two horses, Spike and Tamara, lived and grazed for most of the nineteen years we had them.
The decision to turn it into a nature reserve was made following Tamara's death and was planted up with nearly a thousand trees. These include 20 donated by the Kent Stour Countryside Project. All the trees are native English species, predominately oaks, and include ash, beech, birch, horse chestnut, sweet chestnut, holm oak, walnut, holly, hornbeam, whitebeam, crab apple, pear and wild cherry.
The wooded area covers just over three-quarters of the five-acre site. The rest has been retained partly as grassland with a sprinkling of more exotic trees, including a cedar of Lebanon..
Leaving most of the field semi-wild for over 20 years has had its effect. There have been at least two badger colonies on the western edge as well as foxes. Although there were no rabbits they finally manged to fund the field and as a consequence some of the trees have been badly damaged by having the bark nibbled off., but, as yet, no rabbits
The greatest difference has been in the butterfly population. Originally the field only supported a few species and not in any great numbers but this changed dramatically and by the summer of 2000 it was teeming with Small Skippers, and at least three other species. In 1998 the first Marbled White butterflies were seen, just three but a welcome sight. Although their appearance is part of a general penetration by this species inland from the coast, which has been a feature of the last decade, it was still a surprise that they had taken up residence so quickly. The numbers have since declined from a high of 63 in 2003
Butterfly species seen to date:
Bird life is less easy to quantify. A Sparrowhawk regularly patrols the field, Green Woodpeckers visit in search of food and there are such threatened species such as Skylarks, which seem to be nesting. Mostly they are familiar garden species.
In the first year only 40 trees were planted, mostly about five - six feet tall. These were set out in three major groves, one of silver birch, one with a mixture of birch and alder, and the rest, which included the oaks, beech and sweet chestnut, in a much looser formation. A few other trees, horse chestnut, ash and a solitary whitebeam were spread over the rest of the field. The weather was particularly fortunate, warm and wet throughout the summer, which meant that all but one tree survived its transplanting and nearly all put on a spectacular amount of growth, some eighteen inches or more. By 2005 these trees were well over head height, mostly between eight and ten feet tall.
In the late summer, we held the first of barbecue for all the family who are participating in the project. Four generations were present, plus other friends who assisted in the planting.
During the autumn over 400 trees were planted, thanks to a grant from the Forestry Commission. Most of these trees were fairly small, around 2 feet tall, and, consequently, it will be several years before they reach any height. Because of this, and so that the woodland effect is achieved earlier, a sprinkling of slightly larger trees were included, mostly planted in a clump at the southern edge. Unfortunately, of the three casualties that winter, two were large oaks among this group. Planting took place, appropriately, in National Tree Planting Week.
In order to develop the field area as a wild-flower meadow it needs to be either grazed or cut every spring and autumn. To this end a small tractor mower was purchased and used to cut a series of paths through the long grass in the woodland area as well as mowing the meadow area.
A series of sharp frosts in mid April badly affected the sweet chestnuts, practically all the ash trees and the two walnut trees, but they recovered well and put on lots of new growth. In the summer several of the newly planted trees started to show signs of distress when there was a prolonged dry spell and an emergency watering system had to be introduced which lasted over three weeks. Luckily not a tree was lost as a result.
The second celebratory barbecue was held earlier in the year, just after the trees emerged into leaf. It was a hot, peaceful day which everyone enjoyed, the more so because the following day it poured with rain almost non-stop.
The autumn work was devoted to planting a mixed hedge along the western edge next to the bridle path and on the north side. Another 80 trees, including a dozen copper beech were added, less than intended as we were let down at the last minute in the delivery of a further 60 oak trees.
When it was time to give the field its spring cut the mower refused to start. By the time it had been repaired, the weather had turned and throughout April there was heavy rain, in fact it was the wettest April since records began in 1766. May, too, had 50% more rain than normal and as a consequence it was only possible to mow a small area of the field. Since then only the paths and glades have been kept clear.
Tree losses over the winter were slightly higher than previous years, about half a dozen of the new plantings failing to make it. Although higher than we might wish, this has to be set against the 10% or more losses in the first year that we were warned to expect.
The third barbecue, later than last year because of the intervention of a family wedding, took place the first weekend in July. Although it was a last minute arrangement we were again particularly favoured by the weather, despite the rain in the morning that cleared just at the point when we were going to cancel.
The intention in the autumn was to plant more oak trees, which should have been done the previous year, thereby completing the first phase, but the incessant rain necessitated a change of plan and only a small number of fruit and cob nut trees were added.
Due to the heavy rainfall throughout the autumn and winter, the Nailbourne started to flow for the first time in several years and there was severe flooding throughout the Elham Valley from Barham, through Kingston and beyond, to Bishopsbourne, Bridge, Patrixbourne and Littlebourne. The bridle path alongside the field was cut by a wide lake which developed and became a home to large numbers of optimistic ducks and moorhens. To add to the wildlife miscellany, a white stork took up residence in the area, almost certainly an escapee from a zoo. These are natives of North Africa and Asia Minor that migrate into eastern Europe, northern Germany and Holland during the summer.
At the time of writing this diary entry the floods had only slightly abated and the Nailbourne looked set to flow for a couple of months at least. Meanwhile, the trees started to bud and there did not seem to have been any losses, though at one time we feared for some of the birches which began to heel over in the waterlogged ground and had to be staked.
In spring we noticed the damage done to the trees during the floods the previous year, with the highest mortality rate yet among the trees that had been planted, with around 80 lost altogether, ten times that of any previous year. The family barbecue in June went ahead as scheduled and it was a great success, with really good weather.
In the autumn we managed to add two dozen oak trees and a few copper beeches, including one donated by our next door neighbour, Rita Curtis, in memory of her husband who died in November 2001. The father of a family friend donated a small number of trees that were used to infill where there were odd spaces, mostly the result of trees that had died.
After much discussion a decision was made to plant a variety of fruit trees in the remaining part of the field. This was done in the early spring, concentrating in the main on Kent varieties of apples, pears, plums and cherries. A small selection of Kent cobnuts were added in the bottom corner.
The field was opened to the public for the first time when we took part in the Kingston Open garden event in June. Over 150 visitors looked round and most seemed impressed by what they saw and supported the aims of the project. The family barbecue was graced this year by visiting relatives from Australia who came over in the summer, culminating in an exciting game of rounders on the village playing field. In the long hot summer it was necessary to water a large number of the newer trees that were ailing badly. Despite appearances at the time, none were actually lost, in fact the only casualty all winter was one of the two yew trees in the field, and that was one that had never taken successfully from the start.
The orchard area was mowed and the intention is that in future this grass will be kept short. A couple of the trees were lost but nothing too serious and most seem to be thriving.
Just for fun, a tree circle has been planted, with an avenue leading into it lined with hawthorns orientated along a north/south axis. Trees round the circumference of the circle include pairs planted slightly closer together which denote the sunrise and sunset on 21st June and 21st December as well as the cardinal points of the compass.
For the first time other family friends joined the annual barbecue, camping out in the field overnight. Less welcome was the damage done to the trees and shrubs along the bottom edge of the field by a party of Kent County Council workers clearing the bridle path alongside. Although they trespassed by reaching over the fence and cut branches off in quite an arbitrary way (including the tops), the KCC has refused to pay compensation, stating that they did it "as a goodwill gesture". Subsequently, two of the trees, which had reached a height of 12 feet, died back completely, though most of the damage simply affected the appearance. Such is the power of Local Government that they can do this kind of thing and get away with it.
Success at last in our attempts to plant an aea of the field with wildflowers. During the winter the area inside the tree circle was cleared from as many weeds as possible and in March was dug over and sown with a wildflower seed mixture. It worked and in the summer was a riot of colour, much admired by visitors during the Open Garden weekend.
The bushes in the field this autumn were for the first time laden down with berries, possibly the outcome of the exceptionally hot weather in June and July.
Another feature, especially at this time of year, is the many large spiders that build their webs among the trees. Some of these are quite spectacular, though I do not expect arachnophobes to share my delight in seeing them.
The intervening years since this was last updated have seen many changes in the field, some good, some very bad. One pleasing outcome was when the electricity people wanted to clear a path next to their power line that ran diagonally through the field, which would have mean cutting down many of the trees. To my delight they agreed instead to put the line underground. This work was carried out fairly promptly and while the trench was being dug a number of Roman pottery sherds were found, although there were no sign of any building or other artefacts.
The copse of trees are now quite tall but quite a few have been lost during the past decade due to storm damage and, sadly, ash die-back. Not every ash tree has been affected, which leaves some room for hope but we have had to face up to the possibility that we might lose all of them eventually. The other downside is that there has been an invasion of brambles, particularly around the apple trees, annoyingly and all large areas of nettles. Currently we have taken steps to have these cleared.
Meanwhile the tractor mower gave up working some years ago and had to be scrapped. This means that we are no longer able to mow the grassy areas and also some of the less-used footpaths are now grown over. However, the canopy is such that it is now possible to walk freely in most of the tree area except where the nettles grow.
Updated 4 September 2020