About twenty GNS members and other interested participants took part in a GNS field meeting, held today, 15 February, at Brockeridge Common, north of Twyning, which is situated in the extreme north of Gloucestershire alongside the A38 between Tewkesbury and Worcester; the county boundary in fact runs along the north side of the site. The site is on higher ground in the strange little tongue of land between the Severn and the Avon that pokes up into Worcestershire. GNS has previously organised field meetings at Upham Meadow, Twyning, a well known SSSI along the Avon, important for hay meadow vegetation and breeding hay meadow birds, but Brockeridge Common was a new venue for the Society. While not recognised as an SSSI, it is listed among Key Wildlife Sites in the county, which gives it some status under the planning system, since it is one of the largest areas of unimproved neutral grassland in the county (outside the SSSI network), together with some woodland and scrub. Staff members from Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust who run the Key Wildlife Sites database, and the Gloucestershire Centre for Environmental Records, also joined the group.
Those taking part were very grateful to Mr Graham Halling of Brockeridge Farm and Mr Derek Roberts, who jointly hold the grazing rights over both Brockeridge Common and Upham Meadow, and who presented some revealing comments on recent land use. Traditionally, sheep and cattle would graze in winter on the higher ground at Brockeridge; when water levels dropped on the riverside along the Avon and the hay had been cut there in late summer, animals would be moved down through Twyning village to Upham Meadow. (It should be noted that, although registered under the CROW (Right to Roam) Act, Brockeridge Common is not in fact typical common land, but has a freehold owner, while others hold the grazing rights; there has been much discussion in recent years over proposals to quarry stone on site, and to develop wind turbines: as a result members of the Twyning Parish Council also joined GNS members to explain these issues). This traditional grazing has been quite severely disturbed in recent years, partly because of the decrease in the numbers of farmers with grazing animals, partly because of the tendency to keep animal indoors in barns in winter, and even more so because of the effect of the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001, which led to many animals being slaughtered in the neighbourhood, and a general decrease in grazing. As a result, the Common has not been as intensely grazed over the last ten to fifteen years (though some ponies and a number of sheep were present today), and the grassland has become much rougher and ranker, and an invasion of scrub, notably hawthorn, has occurred. It is hoped to remove some of this hawthorn growth in the coming summer
Mid-February is clearly not the best time of year to undertake botanical studies, so this field meeting was by way of a first recce. Even so, the County Botanical Recorders found some plants of interest (some associated with the many anthills), enough for them to question the site’s listing under the National Vegetation Classification as Mesotrophic Grassland 5, and given the presence of some plants of calcareous soils; the site also has potential for amphibians such as Great Crested Newts and for Dragonflies, neither of which have been explored in detail. On the other hand, a number of wintering birds were noted, among them a dozen Teal on the ponds, a couple of Snipe, an obliging Barn Owl in a blackthorn thicket (the site holds much suitable habitat for small mammals), a small flock of 16 wintering Meadow Pipits and two male Stonechats; it was obvious that the site holds much habitat suitable for insect-eating summer migrants.
So it is planned to organise further field visits in spring and early summer, to check on all these issues, to provide information for the Key Wildlife Sites database, and support for the Parish Council which is aiming to conserve sites of high conservation interest within the Parish of Twyning.