Most Ashford residents will know that the River Great Stour flows through the town, but running through the woodland and grassland of Aylesford Green is the Aylesford Stream. This lovely little waterway has many meanders and characteristic natural vegetation that supports a range of wildlife including damselflies , dragonflies and many birds. Green sandpiper and grey heron have been recorded here.
Bowens Field is an informal recreation area, adjacent to the Great Stour. It is thought that this site was one of the last areas to be farmed in Ashford; it belonged to a local livestock trader called Sid Bowen, and he is commemorated on a plaque at the entrance to the site from Victoria Park. This area was also adjacent to the town’s lido (outdoor swimming pool) which was built in 1867 and was at the time the largest in Britain. The site is now a flood storage area consisting of damp grassland, with a large pond where banded demoiselle, blue tailed damselfly, azure damselfly, smooth newt, and common frog have been recorded.
This 17th century manor house, with its characteristic gable sand tall chimneys, was built by Thomas Boys and is now a venue for weddings and other special occasions. the house was built using material from the old 13th century manor house that once occupied Boys Hall Moat.
Boys Hall Moat
This 13th century moat is one of the most important heritage sites in the AGC and is a protected Scheduled Ancient Monument. It is the site of a house that was demolished prior to 1632, the moat being the most obvious historic feature, which is well preserved and holds water all the year round.
The surrounding area is also protected , and the long narrow pond and ditched , and terraces visible to the west of the moat are the remains of a garden that was created next to the house.
Buxford Meadow is adjacent to the Great Stour, with a millstream for Buxford Mill flowing through it.
This small area of wet grassland constitutes a “wildlife hotspot”,- home to 12 different dragonflies (25% of all UK species), 59 moth species including the nationally notable Webbs Wainscot, whose caterpillars develop in reedmace, plus 100 different plants and a great variety of birds.
The site consists of a wet meadow with white willow, crack willow and goat willow. In the middle of the meadow there is a pond whose margins consist predominantly of reedmace. The pond supports a diverse array of wildlife including common frogs, toads and smooth newts.
The site is also ideal for small mammals – field vole and pygmy shrew have been recorded in the grassland and woodmouse and bank vole in the woodland. There is an area of wet woodland, now seldom found in the Stour Valley,- incorporating ash, alder, english oak and grey willow. The wet glades support large areas of water mint.
A relatively new watercourse now cascades downstream from the Great Stour River, through part of the woods, where it joins the mill stream. This allows fish to swim upstream to spawn.
There is much historical interest here, being once part of a medieval estate belonging to nearby Buxford Manor, first recorded in 1728. The name Buxford is very old and refers to the presence of bucks ( male deer) at a ford ( = crossing point on the river ) suggesting that the estate once had a deer park. Also attached to the manor is a mill- the mill weir can be seen from Buxford Lane.
The Stour Valley Walk passes through the wood leading to Great Chart and beyond.
This is a pleasant spot, with many mature trees and a plantation of memorial trees called ‘Cherry Garden Wood’.
Civic Centre Parks
Next to Ashford Borough Council offices, the site is surrounded by river corridor habitat , with the East and Great Stour on either side. You will see delightful wildlife inspired seats and picnic tables dotted throughout North Park, created by local artist Steve Portchmouth. Alongside the East Stour River you can see some pollarded willows. These magnificent trees have probably survived from when this area was open farmland. they have been cut in the traditional way, where the whole crown is cut to a height of about two metres. The crown grows back many thin stems which would once have provided a good supply of wood for locals. The South Park Meadow created in 2014, will provide more valuable and beautiful wildlife habitat.
This green space, is bordered by meadow planting with a wildlife friendly ditch. Patches of rough vegetation that are scrapes ( shallow wet areas ) have been created as habitats for wetland lovers eg dragonflies. At one time much of this area would probably have resembled nearby Willesborough Dykes -large open marshy fields with wildlife rich drainage ditches in between.
Gas House Fields
These are so called because originally there was a gas works here apparently built by the South Eastern Railway. The area is good for wildlife, particularly beside Aylesford Stream and in The Spinney; a section of scrubby woodland which is one of the habitat areas that is managed by local wildlife volunteer group South Willesborough and Newtown Environment Group ( SWANEG)
Old maps of this area show open pasture where the factory now stands – a rural setting close to Conningbrook Manor. The construction of the factory in the early 1960s marked this spot as the urban fringe of an expanding Ashford. Although the well kept factory grounds offered little in the way of wildlife habitat, – the close proximity of the river Great Stour gave this location great promise as a wildlife haven.
Enhancements began with a programme of tree and meadow planting, and followed by a pond creation just north of the car park. An adjoining large field ( leased to a farmer) was used to establish the Great Stour Meadow. A second stage of hedge planting , the provision of artificial homes for wildlife ( e.g. hibernaculum) and a second pond resulted in an award winning wildlife haven.
The Great Stour Meadow makes the last link of a chain of riverside wildlife sites , stretching right through urban Ashford, linking the town to the countryside.
The park is situated at the eastern end of the Ashford Green Corridor- where Ashford meets the countryside. Little Burton was one of the last areas that underwent the change from rural to urban. It was once owned by the Earl of Thanet. The area was last farmed in 1992 when it was covered with orchards, pasture fields and livestock; – where houses now stand was originally a large orchard.
Happily a large part of the farm area was not developed but retained to form this park which includes a small man-made lake, woodland planted near the estate and now maturing, meadows , recreation space and the Great Stour River. There is also an interesting wetland area near the railway. It all supports a range of wildlife including wildfowl, dragonflies, birds and butterflies.
Access is good, via a network of paths alongside the river and into an open space next to the Little Burton housing estate. River habitats are good and the many mature trees include the species of willow used for making cricket bats, which is called…you guessed it – cricket bat willow!
Queen Mother’s Park
This is an informal town park – once known as Henwood Nature Park ( a name deriving from the small settlement of Henwood that once stood nearby). It is a useful link for both pedestrians and cyclists from Bybrook and Kennington to the town centre and also beyond to the rest of the Green Corridor.
The banks of the Great Stour here have wide margins of riverside vegetation plus wildflower meadows and in places blocks of mature native trees. There is a small woodland garden at the northern end, where Green woodpeckers can be heard. It continues to provide a valuable corridor for nature within the heart of urban Ashford.
In the past this land was probably sheep pasture – an 1876 Ordnance Survey map shows sheepfolds on the site. A darker side to the site’s history is illustrated at its entrance off the Hythe Road where a plaque commemorates the Martyrs of the 16th century that were persecuted for their religious beliefs. A series of sculptures by local artists Mark Brockman and Mark Sidders celebrate the park’s rural past.
The name Singleton , is a corruption of the Old English shingle tone, meaning a farmstead with a shingled roof.
Singleton Lake is a man–made fishing lake, constructed as a pleasant environment for residents of the nearby housing estate. The areas of willow and alder around its perimeter as well as small areas of reedbed have matured, making it a haven for wildlife, providing habitats for many animals and plants. It’s deep waters are ideal for many diving birds such as great crested grebe, whilst the trees on the banks and islands attract the nightingale, the singing star of the bird world. Kingfishers may be seen flying up and down the Great Stour River which runs nearby. Two damselfly species have been recorded at the site, common blue damsel fly and blue tailed damsel fly. At night Daubentons bats can be seen flying over the water.
The estate and lake derive their name from a much older settlement- the manor of Singleton. The moated farm house, which is not far from the lake, near the Singleton Barn pub ( an old tithe barn dating back to 1631) probably dates from the 16th century, but the moat is a lot older and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
There are 2 sculptures by Anthony Gormely (creator of the Angel of the North sculpture) and a stretch of boardwalk. Singleton Lake has parking, picnic areas and good links to the rest of the Green Corridor and wider countryside in the Great Chart area.
South Willesborough Dykes
This is a large area of open, marshy pastures near the Ashford – Rye railway line.
The South Willesborough Dykes have limited access to the public but are none-the-less important in terms of the geology of the area, being in the river floodplain and in supporting neutral, wet grassland species. Grazing by sheep and horses has influenced the composition of the grassland habitat and much of the area remains as grazing land today. There are few other places in East Kent with the same characteristics as the South Willesborough Dykes (South Richborough Pasture and Ash Levels are the only similar sites). Plants that are unlikely to be recorded anywhere else in Kent are found on the South Willesborough Dykes, these include marsh stitchwort, water violet, marsh woundwort and blue water speedwell. One type of moss found in the area is only present at one other site in Kent. The area is also important for wintering and breeding birds such as Fieldfare, Linnet, Swallow, Lapwing (often found together with Golden Plover) and Snipe.
Access is limited. You can walk along the boundaries of the dykes on a path along the East Stour from the International Passenger Station towards B&Q and Asda, and on a path north of Park Farm. Please ensure that you keep to public rights of way in this area.
By the late 1800’s , Ashford was growing fast and more leisure facilities were needed. In 1898, 17 acres of agricultural land , probably then grazed by sheep, were bought from local landowners -the Jemmett brothers, to create Victoria Park. A look at old maps shows that the park’ s boundaries closely follow those of the original fields. The Hubert Fountain, originally made in France for the Second Great International Exhibition, London 1862, was installed in 1912.
This is an important site linking areas in the south of Ashford to the town centre and other parts of the Green Corridor.
Now situated within an urban setting, the area derives its name from its history of watercress growing. In the 19th century, this wild plant was grown commercially in clear chalk streams ( such as the Great Stour) to be transported to London markets. Maps of the time show a Watercress Farm was located nearby. At its western end are still the remains of an old fording point dating from before the area was built up.
Watercress Fields now has formal football pitches and a play area as well as areas for informal recreation. However the river has retained much of its wild character.
The river has a natural profile with many meanders, and wide margins of vegetation that support many riverside species such as cuckoo flower and alder (although some of the alders have succumbed to a disease – dead wood however, is a good habitat for invertebrates). The river itself supports water voles, having sufficient food resources and bankside cover. The rest of the park has an open character that is interspersed with woodland gardens and areas of long grass that are important habitats for bird species and invertebrates.
The river brings wildlife right into the heart of Ashford and can boast better habitats than in many rural areas where riverside vegetation has been lost in favour of agricultural crops. The recent addition of a traditional community orchard further encourages insects and other wildlife into this green space.