(updated Nov 2020)
Most of Medway was once an ancient forest that cloaked the sides of the North Downland hills and the banks of the River Medway. Only a few relic patches of this ancient, indigenous forest remain.
Tucked away among the thousands of houses, the industrial estates and nestled between the shopping centres and along the road verges we have some beautiful areas of old chalk grassland, ancient woodland and riverside marshes.
Despite the rapid growth of Medway over the last 70 years we still have an amazing variety of wildlife. Rare orchids and bees, bluebells and red kites, and even the occasional dolphin in the river are now all part of our Urban Forest. The smallest areas of woodland and trees are homes for birds and insects and even the mown grasslands of our parks and gardens are a favourite place for Fieldfares and Starlings searching for insect larvae living in the soil. The greenspaces we care about so much are just part of the mosaic of habitats that make up the Medway Urban Forest.
In the past forests were the preserves of kings, used for hunting deer and wild boar. Despite its name the New Forest, in southern England, was proclaimed a royal forest by William the Conqueror and is mentioned in the Domesday Book. The habitats of the New Forest include grazed pasture, heathland, ponds and streams, and woodland, not that dissimilar to Medway!
Nowadays, as Medway grows, the Urban Forest has taken on a huge importance not just for biodiversity but our own health and wellbeing.
Over the last year our Friends groups, Medway Council and Norse have been working hard to improve the care of our Urban Forest and improve its biodiversity.
- The Medway Tree Strategy will guide us with what species of tree we should be planting, and where.
- We have been successful in our bid for funding from the Forestry Commission and the thousands of trees this pays for will be planted once the lockdown is lifted.
- We have been creating mini-meadows in a number of our greenspaces and plans are now underway for more next year.
- Working with Norse to stop the use of herbicides in Medway is already leading to biodiversity benefits.
There is a phrase used by the experts – ecosystem services. These are the contributions that the natural world makes to our lives; we hardly notice them but yet they are so important:
- The contribution that the trees make to the quality of our air
- The value that the green spaces of all types have for our biodiversity and for the storing of carbon from the atmosphere.
- Helping to keep our towns and cities cooler as the global average temperatures rise
- Bringing economic value to our communities
- Our health, both mental and physical, is improved by our greenspaces.
Those of us who are volunteers in our parks and greenspaces make a huge contribution to the quality of these “ecosystem services.”