Management of Norton Green Common
Knebworth Parish Council would like to hear from you on how best it can manage the common to ensure that its environmental condition improves and reduce the incidents and impact of anti-social behaviour in this area.
Norton Green Common is a strip of land which straddles the Stevenage Borough and Knebworth Parish boundary. The area of Norton Green Common within Knebworth parish is 1.7ha in area and is located south of the hamlet of Norton Green, Stevenage. It is a Site of Scientific Special Interest (SSSI) which has been neglected for many years and as a result it has deteriorated and is in an unfavourable condition. The common is subject to an 1899 Scheme of Regulations and Management.
The Common also suffers from anti-social behaviour from vehicles driving over it and excessive incidents of fly tipping. As a result, the surface has become extremely rutted in places. The lack of management and surface damage have created safety issues with regard to walking on the common.
Knebworth Parish Council, as occupier of the land, and the land owners, Stevenage Borough Council, have decided to be proactive in the management of the area. Natural England, as the authoritative body responsible for overseeing management of SSSI, has been consulted and consequently the Parish Council has entered into an Entry Level and Higher Level Stewardship Agreement with it, to manage and improve the common within the parish for ten years.
Natural England have highlighted the following areas as a programme of works to improve the common:
Grassland - Restoration of Species Rich Semi-Natural Grassland
Part of the common contains significant areas of important botanically diverse grassland. This could be enhanced by the following methods.
From year 1, the sward should be managed by grazing with sheep or cutting to achieve a sward height of between 5-10cm in October to November each year.
By grazing for at least eight weeks between the 1st April and the 1st October the grassland sward height of between 5cm and 10 cm could be achieved. To allow sheep to graze would require an enclosed area made secure with standard temporary stock fencing.
The meadow has become overgrown and the surface has been severely damaged by vehicles driving over the area. The deep, wide ruts caused by the vehicles can be found across the meadow making it difficult to cut the grassland using mechanical methods. Also because it is a SSSI all arisings from a mechanical cut must be removed from the surface of the meadow. The ground cannot be levelled because rolling would damage the subsoil and filling the ruts would introduce foreign soil into a SSSI.
The management of the grassland therefore lends itself to grazing and would be improved if included in a grazing compartment, please see attached map. A temporary stock proof fence would be required with gates and stiles to allow access to those wishing to enjoy the common in the grazing area. The surfaced BOAT, Knebworth 41, would still run uninterrupted along one side of the grassland area. ?
Woodland - Tree Surgery Minor To Include Minor Pollarding
Part of the grassland area has been lost to sapling and scrub regeneration, due to the cessation of grazing. The aim is to restore the grassland by removing timber, leaving certain trees to add to the landscape. Fallen trees would be left to encourage wildlife.
To achieve this there would have to be a reintroduction of pollarding and coppicing where this practice has lapsed. This must be undertaken between October and March, with all cut wood removed from site or tidied into habitat piles. Great care would have to be taken in order to ensure that ecological and archaeological features would not be damaged.
The major part of the common has a continuous historic medieval ditch along its boundary, which has become filled over time resulting in the common becoming waterlogged with heavy rainfall. To improve drainage, the common would benefit from ditch restoration by gently scraping away the material whilst taking great care to avoid damaging the original profile of the historic ditch. This work would be undertaken over the period of the ten year management plan.