Kent's Green And Pleasant Land
With more and more land here in the Garden of England being commissioned for much-needed homes, we look at the plight of our local – and much loved – green spaces and how they have adapted to suit today’s busy lifestyles and needs…and the work of the much valued volunteers who help preserve these gems.
Kent’s green pastures may be under threat by the ever-growing need for more housing, but if you stop and look around, our beautiful Garden of England is alive with fields of fragrant lavender, bluebell woods, rich vineyards, farming pastures and colourful wildflower meadows. Not only do these verdant spaces give us opportunities to walk, cycle, hike, explore and relax away from the hustle and bustle of urban life, they are highly valuable wildlife habitats for insects, birds, reptiles and other animals. Whether it’s cycling in one of the county’s large country parks, picnicking in a hidden urban oasis, pond dipping or parkruns, there are green spaces on your doorstep waiting to be enjoyed.
Feel good factor
The positive effects of nature and green spaces are well documented. Providing tranquillity from the daily grind, spending time in nature has been shown to reduce stress and sadness, lift our mood and generally make us feel happier. It is even known to have positive effects on blood pressure. Ecotherapy, or Nature therapy, includes a broad group of techniques specifically within nature or outdoor surroundings, which can help improve an individual’s mental or physical health and in Japan ‘forest bathing’ – or shinrin yoku – is now considered one of the cornerstones of Japanese healthcare.
Closer to home, volunteers across the county are working to conserve the Kent countryside, to maintain our most iconic landscapes and protect and restore key habitats and species. Even the smallest areas can benefit from a helping hand – Sevenoaks Town Council is encouraging the local community to don their gardening gloves and pick up their trowels and hoes on 3rd May and get involved in preserving Upper High Street Garden in the town centre by joining the council in planting, weeding, litter picking and graffiti removal to enhance the small, historic site.
Despite the peaceful location of Woodbury Park Cemetery, tucked away as it is, within a densely built-up area just off the main A26 artery through Tunbridge Wells, it is nevertheless a significant refuge for plants and animals. Carved out of unimproved grassland, it has retained a wide variety of flowering plants including red clover, pignut, wild strawberry and lady’s smock. As a result of agricultural ‘improvement’, natural flower-rich grassland like this is increasingly scarce in the wider countryside, often surviving best in enclaves like churchyards and cemeteries.
A band of enthusiastic volunteers, The Friends of Woodbury Park Cemetery (FWPC), have successfully cleared away intrusive brambles and saplings from more than 100 old memorials and gravestones and continue to tend to the magnificent trees and wild flowers. In 2009, the cemetery won the first of its national Green Flags. South and South East in Bloom awards have followed annually and in 2017 and 2018, FWPC won Gold awards from Kent Wildlife Trust.
• Visit fwpc.org.uk
The Grosvenor Recreation Ground was Tunbridge Wells’ first public park, engineered by William Hilbert and opened in 1889 on the site of the former Calverley Water Works. The park has a wide range of habitats – ducks, moorhens, black headed gulls, even kingfisher – on the formal Upper Lake, through to the wetlands area into the woods where there is an abundance of bird and insect life, across the expanse of the King George’s Field to the allotments where the occasional deer is seen.
Monday 6th May is the park’s annual free family fun day with live music and entertainment, bouncy castles, donkeys, food and drink. The fete opens at 12noon with Tunbridge Wells Mayor Councillor Len Horwood and TS Brilliant Sea Cadet Band.
• Visit fogh.org.uk
A stone’s throw from the town centre, Dunorlan Park is a haven of peace and tranquillity, widely considered the jewel in Tunbridge Wells’ crown. The park comes to life at this time of year as families picnic on its grassy banks, children splash on the picturesque boating lake and dogs chase the resident ducks. Although bought by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council in the late 1950s, the Friends of Dunorlan Park was officially launched as a charity in April 1997 and, through the hard work and dedication of many volunteers, the park continues to thrive. Council-run events include summer picnics, bat walks, fungal forays, Race for Life, Crazy Jean’s Kart Race and Pub in the Park. And now in its fifth year – with more than 200,000 kilometres recorded – Royal Tunbridge Wells Parkrun attracts runners of all ages and abilities every Saturday morning to run, walk or jog the – sometimes brutal – hills and trails of Dunorlan Park.
• Visit friendsofdunorlanpark.org.uk
Flying the Flag
Dragonflies, damselflies, bitterns, nightingale and water vole are among the varied wildlife enjoying the lakes, flower-rich grasslands, shallow wetlands, scrub, woodland and newly-conceived wildflower meadow of Leybourne Lakes Country Park. With 93 hectares of parkland, the country park, which was opened in 2004 and created from disused gravel pits, is an ideal place to explore for any budding (or experienced) nature lover, as well as offering a children’s play area, schools activity programme, bird and bat walks, angling, walking and cycling. There’s even a 1.5-mile ‘Ocean Circular Walk’, for more creative-minded visitors, who can use the interpretive posts to create their own poem and re-create pictures of the Park’s wildlife.
The site is designated as a Local Wildlife Site and an Area of Local Landscape Importance. It is also a Green Flag Award-winning park and Natural England accredited ‘Country Park’. Also a Green Flag award-winner and an accredited ‘Country Park’ under the Natural England scheme is Haysden Country Park, situated west of Tonbridge, which offers 65 hectares of beautiful countryside and a relaxing setting for a variety of leisure activities.
With two lakes, and a stretch of the River Medway running through the park, it is a popular venue for water activities and a great location for a family day out. More than 500 people took part in events held at the park last year, including building bug houses, mini beast hunts, pond dipping, fishing events and Healthy Walks, while several local clubs use the park for sports such as sailing, fishing and triathlon training.
Fifty years since the 153 miles of the Kent Downs were awarded an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), its stunning and diverse landscapes continue to make it perfect for a family day out, a short walk, cycle ride, an ice cream or a long-distance charity walk. The protected landscape of The North Downs Way stretches across Kent from the London/Surrey border to the iconic White Cliffs of Dover and is one of only 15 designated National Trails in England and Wales.
We’re never too young to appreciate the great outdoors. The trend towards open-air education continues to grow and Forest Schools are opening up all over the county. With the belief that early exposure to the great outdoors has a positive impact on children’s development at primary school, and beyond, forest schools began in Scandinavia. By the 1980s the approach was widely adopted in Danish nurseries run on Scandinavian friluftsliv (‘open air life’) principles as a solution to the lack of indoor facilities for pre-school children – the same ideals that lay behind opening the UK’s first forest school in Somerset in 1993.
Do your bit
If you love being outdoors and want to help preserve our much-loved open spaces, then why not volunteer with a Countryside Management Partnership, which help manage habitat and landscapes and link communities to those areas? They provide a safe working environment, friendly faces, the opportunity to undertake training and, of course, plenty of tea and coffee! Opportunities include planting trees, putting up fences, keeping footpaths clear, habitat management, wardens for wildlife reserve, and biological recording such as pond surveys or looking for reptiles.
Image: © Kate Russell