Wednesday morning saw a group of ten keen Heath Handers wielding scythes and mattocks alongside the ‘ride’ which runs across Sandy Heath from the Spaniards to North End.
The ‘ride’ would have been much more open 50-100 years ago – much more ‘heath-y’ with bare ground, gorse and grassland. However, the wide scale sand digging to which this part of the heath was subjected in the latter half of the 19th century produced a pretty barren landscape which gradually developed into scrub and then into woodland, interspersed with a number of mature trees. Some of these appear to form the beginnings of a largely pine avenue planted in the late 18th century possibly by a local landowner, John Turner, who had built the original roadway now known as Sandy ride – a public road until 1924.
(For more on the ride see the City of London’s Sandy Heath Ride Management Work Plan. And thanks to them for the image of the ride in spring.)
A ‘ride’ (and the Sandy Heath ride as we now know it) is an open track or path within woodland which is wide enough (usually 1-2 metres) for a gap in the canopy. This allows sunlight to reach the ground and wild flowers to flourish. Anyone who has walked along the path in spring will have seen forget-me-nots, red campion, garlic mustard and, in some places, foxgloves.
However, the flowers will only continue to flourish if the all-powerful bramble and bracken, which would be only too happy to take over the area, are kept under control. Hence the scythes and the mattocks.
The area bordering the ride which slopes down quite steeply on the heath extension side, has been divided into ten nominal sections, which, over period of five years, will get cleared. This will open up the space and not only control the brambles and bracken, but prevent the establishment of too many saplings which would otherwise take over and eventually grow into dense woodland.
As you can see from the video above, it was pretty thick stuff but it is amazing what some energetic scything can do. This is that same area only an hour later when we stopped for that oh-so-welcome cuppa (and biscuits!).
However, that was not the end of the job. The debris had to be raked up and carted to the perimeter of the site where we used it to make dead hedges to discourage entry – especially of bikers and dogs.
And then the brambles had to be, where possible, dug out by the roots. Thanks to the recent rain, the deep leaf mold and the trusty mattocks this was a much easier job than might have been expected. Although, swinging that mattock for an hour or two discovers a whole load of muscles you didn’t even know you had!
None the less, we were pleased with our efforts – and got the thumbs up from Ranger Tom, so all good.