Kingston University Biodiversity Action Group

30-11-2013 : Ditch restoration at Tolworth Court scores highly for habitat.

A new venue, and a new task, but the same old gutsy determination from our volunteers was evident on Saturday as the ditches at Tolworth Court sportsground were given a new lease of life.

George puts his back into it, digging down to find the watercourse

A legacy of past use as farmland - the ditches at Tolworth Court are traditional drainage channels. Over the years they have become silted up, overgrown and full of leaves. Frequent management of the hedgerows (often growing beside the ditches) with a flail kept this in check to some extent, but in order to improve provision for wildlife, hedge cutting is being scaled back at the site. This will allow hedgerow fruits and berries to develop and remain available to birds and mammals for longer, but it also means the ditches will not function so well. This is where our volunteers step in!

Overgrown, silted up and full of leaves - volunteers had a big task on their hands
In addition to helping drain the sports pitches at the site, the ditches offer a valuable habitat corridor for watery wildlife, eventually joining up with the Hogsmill river. The plants which grow in and around ditches also provide a diversity of habitat structure which is beneficial shelter and forage to a variety of wildlife such as birds, invertebrates and small mammals.

Common reed standing tall in the winter sun
A patch of Common Reed (Phragmites australis) was growing in one section of ditch. This is frequently found in ditches all over the country and its presence indicates that the ditch is wet for much of the year, otherwise the highly competitive grasses would have take over.

So with excellent leadership and instruction from TCV, plus the moral-boosting sun on our backs we got stuck in. On first inspection, the ditch appeared very dry, but once we got our spades in there we soon found the water underneath.
Digging a ditch in the sunshine - not a bad way to spend a Saturday
Roger cut away overgrown brambles and scrub

Becca cut the silt out in sections revealing a pool of water beneath
We scraped back the leaves and dug out the silt in sections. The noises the mud made were a source of much amusement - squelching, sucking, sploshing and puffing - all added up to a sound we could only liken to breaching whales! Just like a whale, it was surprisingly heavy to lift out, but the water soon filled the channel once it had gone so we persevered to connect up the worked sections.

Wellies proved a good choice as we discovered quite a depth of water once the ditch was clear

Barrowfulls of leaves removed from the ditch
The removed material was tucked away in the scrub and woodland near the ditches - this will allow any creatures in it to venture back to the water easily and will also add valuable nutrients to the soil. A scattering of the fallen leaves on top will encourage worms to the surface to help the breakdown and conversion to new soil.

Lunch with a view

Lunch was an entertaining affair, sat on the pavillion terrace overlooking the football pitches. A match had just begun so we cheered on the whites and stripes as we tucked into our hot paninis.

Lunchtime entertainment
After lunch, volunteers returned to a not so sunny ditch but determinedly pressed on with the task at hand. By 3:30pm our little group of five had cleared a section of approximately 25m - a tremendous achievement. Well done to Simon, Roger, Becca and George - thanks for all your hard work!

The ditch is revealed!
After celebratory homemade cakes, we turned our attention to something less mucky and more colourful - spring bulb planting! A total of 150 crocus bulbs found a new home around the entrance to the sports ground. In spring these will provide a welcome splash of colour and much needed source of nectar for pollinators.
Spring bulbs will make a colourful welcome to the site in Spring
Volunteers squirrelled away the crocus bulbs under the oak trees
Our work today will have helped countless creatures - frogs will enjoy the newly revealed watercourse, owls will benefit from these and other small mammals using the corridor, worms will appreciate the newly turned out soil and leaves, birds will take advantage of the worms and the bees will lap up the crocus nectar and help pollinate all the plants on site. Every little helps when it comes to biodiversity!

Of course there are plenty of ditches still to be cleared at the site and we'll be returning on January 11th to continue our good work - why not join us, discover the sportsground, watch some footie and help our local wildlife thrive?!

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