Thursday, 31 August 2017

A brief history of Chapel Green, Rocklands, a community-managed wildlife meadow

Chapel Green in Rockland St. Peter has been a public watering hole since 1814 and there is a long history of active protection and management of the area for the use and enjoyment of the community. The green itself has been a meadow as far back as living memory can recall. Up until recent times, livestock have used the site for grazing. After a period of relative neglect—during which time rubble from neighbouring house developments was dumped, the green was used for car parking, sewage from an adjacent house drained directly onto the land, and the area was judged to be "in a rather parlous state"—towards the turn of the millennium, a dedicated Rockland Chapel Green Restoration Group acting on behalf of Rocklands Parish Council (RPC) sought recuperate the area. Millennium Meadow funding was obtained from Norfolk County Council (NCC), Norfolk Rural Community Council and RPC, and with advice from Norfolk Wildlife Trust and the NCC Countryside Officer, the community was able to clean the pond and restore the meadow.

As a result, for the past decade or two, the small (c. 0·015 ha) grassland has been managed as a wild-flower meadow by a succession of stewards appointed by the Parish Council, of which—since 2011—I am the incumbent. Management consists of an annual cut of hay in August–September, carried out by the Parish Council, followed by regular mowing during late summer through to early spring, effected by the steward or volunteers. During the spring and early summer, the meadow is left to flower and seed, ensuring the perpetuation of a rich diverse community of native flowers which support an impressive array of insect pollinators.

Up until 2012, the annual cut was carried out by the Bacon family on behalf of Parish Council, sometimes with help from various neighbours. The Bacons owned appropriate cutting apparatus and a lorry to remove the cuttings, which made light work of the operation. Since they left the village, it has proved more difficult to arrange the cut, and the task has fallen to a group of neighbours, who have struggled to arrange it. Harold Neale was particularly helpful in 2014 and 2015, sourcing a rotary scythe and performing the cut. In 2016, after not inconsiderable effort, and two promises of machinery, we failed to harvest the hay. This meant that the green looked lank and untidy for the best part of a year. Although the plants did flower as usual, the show was somewhat obscured by long grass. Fortunately, in 2017 our local Walnut Tree Garden Nursery offered us their brand new wheeled strimmer and we were able to effect the cut on 13 August as usual. The remaining stubble was mown to a short sward and the aftermath was cut by petrol mower during the last week of August. It is to be expected that the green will return to its usual state. We are also assured that the strimmer will be available in future. The group of neighbours that participated in this year’s cut is happy to continue to maintain the area in future if we can secure the appropriate equipment for the annual cut.

We have recently been made aware that several residents have been unhappy with the management of the green and would prefer to replace it with a frequently-mown short grass lawn. At the same time, one neighbour has asked that the green simply be cut once a year and the hay left to decompose, thus allowing the area to become a high-fertility meadow with a flora typical of our roadside verges. It is proposed that these ideas be discussed at the forthcoming Parish Council meeting.

If there is a proposal to change the management of the green, it would seem sensible that the community be made aware of its history, the considerable effort that the Parish Council has invested in turning it into a wild-flower meadow and its current ecological and social value to the village, so that we can make an informed democratic decision.

November 2017 update

RPC organised a community-wide vote on the future of Chapel Green with options being the continuation of the traditional management regime or conversion to a close-cropped lawn. The former option was overwhelmingly supported. RPC has created a Chapel Green Management Committee in order to carry out future management in accordance with the wishes of the Rocklands community.

No comments:

Post a comment