Horton Country Park

 Horton railway buffer stops
Former railway route
Horton CP covers 100 ha and was once part of the Horton Manor Estate. It is a rural landscape of 4 ancient woodlands, fields, hedgerows and ponds, that has changed little since medieval times. 



During yesterday's walk Stewart Cocker from Epsom and Ewell Council,  indicated the historic and natural features that make the place so special. Five psychiatric hospitals situated around the district, were served with their own railway, to distribute coal and goods to these self contained units. Artefacts of the  Horton Light railway are still visible throughout. 12,000 people were employed within the system, making them an important part of the Victorian economy. Now these sites are largely developed for housing: St. Ebbas is now Park View; West Park is Noble Park (with the best water tower), Long Grove is now Clarendon Park etc.

Stewart and the elm hedge
Hedge-laying


Stewart discussed boundary management, including an old elm hedge, which is unusual due to the problems of disease. Different styles of laying hedges exist throughout the park, demonstrating country crafts as well as sustainable use of materials.


The new upright growth in the hedge to be laid is cut 2/3 across at ground level, leaving 1/3 to continue the growth cycle. New shoots will grow from the base and stakes and binders (heathers) will secure the top of the hedge, thereby ensuring a neat finish. In the old days the arisings had multiple uses including firewood for bread ovens.

Iron fence along county boundary
Additional features included bank and ditches, which would have had standard trees linked by dead hedges on top, used to protect coppice from the deer (now plastic Tenax fencing is used); the old iron boundary fence which would have delineated the hospital site at great expense. The green field in the far distance is land in Chessington Kingston that belongs to Merton College, Oxford and leased to tenant farmers.  



Medieval  dignitaries  would have ensured that there was no encroachment either way by the tradition of 'Beating the Bounds'. Beating the bounds had a religious aspect where the accompanying clergy beseech a blessing  upon the parish lands for the ensuing harvest. This feature originated in the 5th century and continued through the centuries. It has been reinstated by local folk in many parishes.



Hazel coppice in flower
Alder stool of 5 stems
Stewart has spent many years reinstating  a coppice rotation of 7-8 years within the woodlands. In Pond Wood there is a alder coppice of five stems which could be one coppice stool. This would make it extremely old and potentially an archaeological feature. Alders were usually associated with human settlement.


 The original wildwood >4,000 ago, would have been naturally dominated  by small-leaved lime before human intervention changed the planting mix. Stewart suggested that a small leaved lime on a wood bank in Pond Wood may be have a  provenance to ancient relatives. Not just hazel is coppiced in the park but in Butchers Grove where there are stands of hornbeam (wood used for  butchers blocks); there is also Wych elm coppice.

Bomb crater Pond wood
WW2 left its mark on the site due to its ease of identification from the air. As planes used it for navigation the Horton Light Railway was used for anti-aircraft gun placement ensuring bombing raids. This has ramifications when new digging is carried out on the site due to the potential for unexploded ordinance. Pond wood was also partially cleared for growing food. This is apparent when viewing a remnant of Pond Wood - known as Stones copse - through a line of Lombardy Poplars.



Lamberts orchard Pear
Lamberts wood
Lamberts orchard is very old and the 120 year old trees still bear fruit. Their hollowing trunks are recognised as being important for biodiversity. April is the best time to see the blossom. Adjacent Lamberts wood is largely ash and willow coppice, although the ash is diseased with ash die back disease. For this reason the coppice will be left for biomass (for a longer period). The brash has been left on the paths as in wet woodland the arisings are eventually returned to woodland soils.



Hedgerow Survey Workshop
A well attended ancient hedgerow survey workshop was run by the Lower Moles on the 18th October 2014 at Horton Country Park, in the Lower Mole Projects building. After completion of the workshop, participants went into the park to survey some of the hedgerows and it wasn't as easy as anticipated .

We now intend to  complete hedgerow surveys in Kingston starting with Tolworth Court Farm 2.11.14, which will be supported by a resource pack provided during the course. The data collected will then be used by the Kingston Biodiversity Network, to help assess the state of the borough’s ancient hedgerows.


Hibernation check at Farmstead School.
The bat roost at the remaining portion of the old Farmstead school is still home to small numbers of Brown Long-eared bats. One was found in the usual place during this years hibernation check 22.1.14. In addition, a cave spider was located as well as an interesting mammal nest.




Mammal Boxes
mammal box
For the last fifteen years we have participated in a mammal monitoring scheme at Horton C.P. Some of the original 50 boxes were made by young adults with learning difficulties as part of a day release scheme. During 2018, most of  the boxes were replaced with new ones as they were beginning to fail (from 2010). The boxes are situated within 4 woodlots  and one open field to capture as wide a range of information as possible. 80% of the boxes are occupied most of the year.


This begins around February when blue tits begin plucking their downy breast feathers to start a soft nest cup which they continue to add nest material until it is sufficiently mild to lay eggs. This is usually synchronised across all the boxes and once one bird begins sitting on eggs, it is likely that all the boxes will be at the same stage, signalling an end to Spring box checking until all the young have fledged.
Once the tits have left a number of possibilities occur: some of the boxes are occupied by wood mice or shrews; wrens often use the boxes as a night roost, sometimes in family groups; weasels may enter to predate the occupants; bees, hornets and moths may nest within( beware) and sometimes bats spend the occasional night.

Over the years on  occasion, woven honeysuckle nests have occurred, characteristic of  dormouse (2008, 2009, 2012). Sometimes old tit nests have been modified and lined with honeysuckle and topped with leaves. Harvest mice were recorded weaving their small grass nest in between the new suckers of blackthorn (2004). For a good example of dormouse chewed nuts




Table: Species recorded during box check Horton CP 12.3.12
Scientific name
English name
Quantity
Parus caeruleus
Blue Tit
18 nests in boxes
Apodemus sylvaticus
Wood Mouse
5 winter nests
Turdus philomelos
Song Thrush
Singing male
Parus palustris
Marsh Tit
2
Columba oenas
Stock dove
4
Certhia familiaris
Treecreeper
2 locations
Dendrocopos major
Great Spotted Woodpecker
drumming
Sitta europaea
 Nuthatch
3 locations
Ardea cinerea
Grey Heron
8
Rana temporaria
 Frog spawn
GC pond
Meles meles
Badger
Unknown lepidoptera
Unknown lepidoptera species
1















n.b weasel predation of chicks at Badgers Copse

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