An Exotic Visitor to the Pond

A drake Mandarin Duck has been on the Stonebridge Pond for the last few days.

The Mandarin Duck is a native of Eastern Asia where it is found mainly in China and Japan. It was introduced to Britain in the 1800s, with later introduction of free flying individuals at the beginning of the twentieth century and is now established as a breeding species in the wild. It nests in tree holes or nest boxes in woodland next to rivers and lakes. It first bred in Kent in 1935 and there are now 100 – 150 pairs nesting in the county.

It is perhaps the most beautiful duck species in the world. I photographed it today near to the duck feeding area.

Stream Clear

On Sunday 29th August four plotholders assisted the many volunteers from The Friends of Westbrook and Stonebridge clear encroaching vegetation from the channel between the allotments and Morrisons Green in Flood Lane. Sedges and Yellow Flag that had grown out from the allotment side and were partially blocking the stream were cut back to increase the width of clear water. A narrow fringe of vegetation was left to provide habitat for aquatic invertebrates, food for ducklings and other water birds and provide a refuge for young chicks. The Friends pulled out the cut vegetation for collection by SBC. Good work by all.

An unwanted Alien

Last year we discovered a few plants of the alien Indian or Himalayan Balsam, Impatiens glandulifera, also known as Policeman’s helmet after the shape of the flowers, growing in one of the water courses and on the adjacent allotment. The origin of these plants is not known.

Himalayan balsam is listed under schedule 9 of the Wildlife Act. Himalayan Balsam is regarded as an invasive weed by the Environment Agency of the UK Government. It is legislated under The Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2012 under section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981nd Countryside Act 1981. It is an offence to plant this species or to cause it to grow in the wild. It was introduced to the UK in 1839 and is now a naturalised plant found mainly on riverbanks.

As an occupier of land –

We must not plant in the wild, or cause to grow in the wild, listed plants which are either non-native, or invasive non-native. This can include moving contaminated soil or plant cuttings. If we do, we can be fined or sent to prison for up to 2 years.

We must not do any of the following with them:

grow, cultivate or permit to reproduce.

The invasive weed can tolerate low light levels and can ‘shade out’ other plants so that it will gradually kill them off due to a lack of light.

Whilst Himalayan Balsam is an annual plant, its high level of seed production and vigorous seed dispersal means that it is highly invasive. Each plant produces at least 500 seeds, which can be propelled up to 7 metres from the parent plant by seed pods that are explosive to touch. Seeds remain viable in the soil for two to three years.

Hand pulling can be a very effective strategy where an infestation is relatively low. To attempt to fully eradicate Himalayan Balsam from a site, a key objective is to exhaust the plant’s seed bank. This is done by repeatedly removing adult plants before they set seed. Last year we managed to pull up and dispose of the plants before they set seed. So far, we have not recorded it again at the original location.

If you see this plant growing anywhere on the allotment, please pull it up and inform the committee of its presence. This should be done carefully to avoid stimulating the explosive release of any seed present. As a responsible Allotment Society, we have an obligation to control Himalayan Balsam populations on our land and help prevent the spread of the non-native invasive species. The photographs below by Bob Gomes illustrate the plant.

Recent cold weather arrivals

During the recent cold spell we were lucky enough to be visited by a Great White Egret. This large all white heron is about the size of the Grey Heron but more elegant with a longer neck and legs. It is almost twice the size of the more familiar Little Egret. In most years the Great White Egret has started to become a regular visitor to the UK. Its numbers have increased in the recent twenty years and it has now started to nest in a few sites in GB. The snow and freezing conditions appear to have forced the egrets off frozen inland wetlands or perhaps triggered an influx from the continent; up to 9 were seen on the coastal marshes in the Faversham area. One of these visited the allotments on Sun 14th Feb. when I was lucky to obtain some photographs. It was, however, seen off by our local Grey Heron that appeared not to want to share its favourite fishing spot!

Cormorants also moved onto Stonebridge Pond during the freeze. Normally we see just one or two occasionally, but there were up to 14 on the pond during the cold spell.

Great White Egret
Great White Egret and Grey Heron
Cormorants on platform
Cormorant

Allotments receive an award

The Stonebridge Allotments (as well as Louise and Andrew Lees, who entered their plot for Wild About Gardens and received a gold award) have been awarded a plaque “Neighbourhood with the best buzz”, as our site is full of pollinators and is managed with wildlife in mind.

Well done to all plotholders!

Award Plaque

At a soggy mini presentation at the Abbey Physic Community Garden last week the organisers said: “Kent Wildlife Trust has been in a partnership with Bumblebee Conservation Trust & other organisations running a project called Making a Buzz for the Coast.

“This project is drawing to a close . One of the targets within the project was to find the “Neighbourhood with the best buzz” over the three year project & we are delighted to announce that whichever way you look at the maths, the town of Faversham has come out as the winner by a high margin.”

Hedgehogs on the Allotments

Louise Lees, one of our plotholders, has written this excellent article on how we can help hedgehogs

Helping Hedgehogs on the Allotments.

Calling all allotment holders! Have you seen a hedgehog on the allotments? If so, I would love to hear from you! Even if there have been no actual sightings of hogs on the allotments, there is a good chance that they are present and it would be great to hear about your sightings.
As a Hedgehog Champion for Hedgehog Street, a scheme run by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and People’s Trust for Endangered Species, I am passionate about trying to improve the lot of hedgehogs in my neighbourhood and it is in this capacity that I have written this small piece for the Allotment Society website.
Since the 1950s the UK hedgehog population has been declining and surveys by several leading wildlife organisations indicate that we appear to have lost over half our hedgehogs from our countryside since the millennium alone and have lost a third from our towns and cities.

Hedgehog

Image from the hedgehog street website: https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/about-hedgehogs
Whether as allotment plot holders, or as gardeners, we can all play a part in aiding the recovery of these wonderful creatures and here’s how:-

• Avoid garden chemicals where possible. Slug pellets are not to be used unless the container states that they are safe for hedgehogs. Pellets base on metaldehyde can prove fatal to hedgehogs that consume poisoned slugs and also reduce the insects and molluscs that form the bulk of the hedgehog’s diet.
• Always check areas of long grass and vegetation before strimming. Strimmers can seriously maim or kill hedgehogs and other creatures such as Slowworms.
• Be careful when turning your compost heap in case a hedgehog or slowworm is in residence!
• Always check piles of wood and brash before lighting bonfires. If the pile has been there for a while, you may have a resident hedgehog.
• Tie down fruit and vegetable netting securely and make sure it is taut. Hedgehogs and birds can get tangled in netting and may injure themselves or starve before they are discovered.
• Avoid leaving rubbish around your plot. Pieces of wire, plastic or glass can injure hedgehogs and other wildlife.I have rescued a starving hedgehog with its head jammed in an empty yoghurt pot (Bob Gomes)
• Provide a small, shallow bowl of clean water from which animals can drink.
• If you can, provide a small area of long grass and wildflowers within the boundaries of your plot or strim less around the plot to attract invertebrates that provide food for hedgehogs and birds. You will be rewarded as these creatures will consume common pests and a natural order will be established.

• Above all, enjoy your allotment and its wildlife!

There is also a link to the Hedgehog Street website:-  http://www.hedgehogstreet.org where you can find all manner of helpful resources on how to help hedgehogs and you can also report your hedgehog sightings on this interactive map:- https://bighedgehogmap.org/map-your-hedgehog-sighting

Thank you, Louise Lees lmlees@gmail.com

The most picturesque allotments in south-east England. A haven not just for gardeners but also for bees, butterflies and birds, particularly waterfowl.