At last the weather showed a few hints of Spring with glimpses of sunshine as a large group of Friends and others assembled outside the Country Park Visitor Centre to meet our guide for the morning, newly appointed Country Parks Ranger, Julie Apps.
We began our walk with a visit to the bird ringing ride close to the park entrance. This is an area not normally open to the public so we were privileged to view the ride where Julie told us about some of the birds caught in the mist nets and ringed and how the information collected is disseminated and used for research.
The walk back towards the visitor centre was across a grassy area known as Kay’s Meadow, named after Kay Gobbett who used to single-handedly look after the visitor centre. This meadow is bright with wild flowers in the summer and is a great insect attractant. It is managed sympathetically with an annual cut when all the cuttings are raked off to prevent enrichment of the soil – keeping nutrient levels low ensures the greatest variety of wild flowers.
We had a brief stop opposite the visitor centre to admire Julie’s magnificent new Land Rover with its impressive winching system – already put into good use in the recent muddy conditions. This vehicle is a vital work-horse in the management of the Country Park being used for a wide variety of maintenance tasks. We heard at this stage also about the important work of the conservation volunteers who do so much to keep the site to a standard which would otherwise be impossible.
On our way along the access-for-all trail to view the highland cattle we made a brief stop to view the log piles (hibernacula) on the grassy area behind the Coastguards’ Cottages. These rotting piles provide the perfect home for creatures such as lizards, slow-worms and snakes as well as a large variety of insects.
The highland cattle, which come from Sevenoaks, have done sterling work in keeping down the invasive bracken in this part of the Country Park. Sadly, due to a recent change in TB vaccination requirements for this area, they may not be with us for much longer. We all hoped that suitable replacements could be found!
As the chilly sea mists began to roll in we had a quick look at the bright yellow gorse bushes and Julie explained how important is to manage the gorse by creating fire-breaks because of its readiness to catch fire. It also tends to outcompete heather and periodically areas are cut back to allow the heather to thrive.
After a quick look at Warren Cottage, reputedly haunted, we returned to our starting point via the quarry where sandstone was quarried until c.1970 for use in the glass industry. All agreed that this had been a really enjoyable and informative walk, even though somewhat muddy in the finishing stages, and Julie received a well-deserved round of applause!