Haysden Country Park March 2019

haydens country park

I was so pleased to be able to introduce this nature reserve and country park to the group. Barbara recommended it to me - so a big thank you to her. The park covers an area of 161 acres in the Medway Valley to the West of Tonbridge. As you drive towards Tunbridge Wells on the A21 you may well have seen the lakes and footpaths either side of the road as it bridges the reserve. The park was created in 1988 from former agricultural land on the Medway flood plain which in between times had also been a sand and gravel extraction area. The London to Dover railway line still passes through the park with the original line being laid in 1842. The Medway flowed through the area and was frequently encouraged to change course via various man-made canals. It is now a very big presence running through the heart of the park. As a result the area is littered with crumbling Victorian railway bridges, abandoned stone locks, slow moving meandering streams, WW2 pill boxes and the looming Leigh Flood Barrier which was erected in 1981. Tonbridge was last badly flooded in 1968 - Janet remembers it and has some tales to tell - ask her! So part of our walk included looking at all the industrial and social history in evidence alongside the first rustle of spring.

And it was all there - but we had to look hard! First signs were the fluffy mittens of pussywillow - coincidentally alongside the "lost glove tree". Sharp eyes spotted the faintest blue of flowering ground ivy - then another - oh yes and more over there. Once you really start "looking" eh. As we say in the birding group "the more you see, the more you see". The weather was dull but calm and the air full of that sharp, clean scent of anticipation you get in early spring - so unlike the damp and relaxing aroma of woods in autumn. Most noticeable was the birdsong - at full throttle this morning declaring territory and chatting up mates. We immediately heard the insistent call of a chiffchaff in the car park and Rog spotted a kingfisher zooming up and down the river.


At first there seemed very little colour, but again, as we really started to look we found lesser celandine - its yellow petals gleaming like so many fallen stars; then a squint through the trees revealed blobs of white wood anemone; and, just missed by our mud covered boots - the tiniest of purple violets bravely pushing up through the litter. Stephanie spotted our first cuckoo flower or ladysmock - such a pretty, delicate mauve - a spring flower of damp places that is very attractive to orange tip butterflies. The hawthorn and elder bushes were smudged with green. All around us were spiky blackthorn bushes and trees smothered in clouds of creamy white blossom - at its very best in March. Remember - the blackthorn blossom comes first, before the leaves; the hawthorn blossoms once the leaves are out. You could almost plug into the energy growing up alongside the path - a seemingly indifferent mass of green weeds about to miraculously morph into much more - numerous wild arum (cuckoo pint, lords and ladies - seeds like an orange lollipop in the autumn - you must know it), cleavers were crawling everywhere - presumably they "stick" to one place in the end; dog mercury embarking on its woodland invasion, and fresh sprouts of green alkanet which will bloom into wild forget me not type flowers in a week or so. We spotted hart's tongue ferns in the old stone lock and the remains of buddleia flower heads soon to be overtaken by this year's growth.

Up and over sturdy new bridges and through the 30 year old Heusenstamm Friendship Wood we stood ankle deep in mud to admire the Leigh Flood Barrier then retraced our steps to pass by a large meadow, seeded with wild flowers which will be a picture in the summer and came to Barden Lake. Here it was impossible not to "spot" the water birds - swans, tufted ducks, Canada and greylag geese, a pair of Egyptian geese with young, great crested grebe, coot etc. etc . all up to no good by the look of it! As we walked around the lake following a diversion to peep at a pill box and admire the ironwork of the Lucifer bridge spanning the Medway, we heard a skylark high above and found a huge clump of violets (see pic). Spring has sprung and we can prove it!