Kent Ramblers

Getting the Medway into Shape

This article from the September 1993 issue of Kent Area News describes the work involved in the project to create the Medway Valley Walk.

Getting the Medway into Shape

Brian Smith, Medway River Project Manager, describes the results of 5 years of work

Established in March 1988, the Medway River Project is funded by the National Rivers Authority, KCC, Tonbridge & Mailing and Maidstone Borough Councils, and the Countryside Commission. The Project aims to:

  • manage and enhance the landscape and wildlife of the Medway;
  • maintain and enhance the access and recreational use of the Medway:
  • promote local community awareness of, and involvement in, the enhancement of the Medway's environment;
  • encourage landowners to take a positive role in enhancing the Medway and its surrounding countryside.

Since its launch, the Medway River Project has:

  • involved volunteers in over 6,500 days of action
  • provided access and recreational facilities for disabled visitors
  • enhanced the river environment through a sustained campaign of action against litter
  • created environmental education opportunities for local schools
  • reintroduced traditional management for the conservation of landscape features
  • established new landscape features and wildlife habitats
  • provided advice and support for community led schemes.

The Project's initial priority was to enhance access to the riverside path and surrounding countryside.   Work included replacing footbridges and stiles, and improving waymarking.  Three circular walks at Teston, East Peckham and Allington were published in 1990 and are now included in KCC's walks packs.

Key access issues include reinstatement of the 'missing link' and the restoration of major erosion sites.  The missing link is a 1.5 mile section from Wateringbury to Hempstead Lock which was omitted from the definitive map, causing inconvenience to many walkers.  Over the last five years, the Project has made the designation of this link a priority objective.  Substantial progress has now been made, and we hope to open the path in 1994.

In 1989, six sites were identified for major restoration schemes where erosion made access dangerous, and where there was no suitable alternative path.  Restoration of these sites involved reconstructing the river bank, work which is beyond the resources of any single authority.  The first sites, at East Farleigh and Hartlake Bridge, were completed in March 1992 at a cost of 130,000.  Both sites required the use of construction methods which left minimal scope for environmental enhancements.  But the scheme at Branbridges and Oak Weir, to be implemented in November 1993, will utilise traditional techniques which provide valuable habitat and can outlast most modern alternatives.

Enhanced access facilities for visitors with special needs, including the installation of kissing gates, have been created wherever practical.  In October 1991, with enthusiastic support from HM Prison Rochester, sponsorship from local industry and advice from disabled volunteers, the Project constructed a 450m disabled visitor trail at Brookland Lake, Snodland.

Many community groups are now taking the initiative on footpath issues, and it would be inappropriate for the Project to duplicate the excellent efforts of these groups.  It is now the Project's aim to support other agencies (statutory and voluntary) in the enhancement and promotion of access.  The Project will continue to promote the restoration of the a missing link* and river bank erosion programmes.

Effective landscape management is a key priority, and the Project has been working with many landowners to restore or create important landscape features.  The Countryside Stewardship and Hedgerow Incentive Schemes have provided a vital stimulus, as has the Forestry Authority's Woodland Grant Scheme.  To date, over 50 acres of traditional orchards, 1.5 miles of hedgerow and many acres of woodland and meadow have been brought back into good management. Additional habitat enhancement has been achieved by working with the NRA to restore areas of emergent vegetation within the river channel.

The Project has endeavoured to promote enhancement through responsible conduct by all river users.  The Clean (n Green campaign, launched in partnership with the Clean Kent Campaign, promotes awareness of litter and nuisance on the river.  The Medway Litter Wardens, established in 1991, have won two national awards for their commitment in keeping the river banks clean. In the process, they have walked at least 3000 miles, removed over 500 bags of litter and have visibly changed the attitude of some river users.

The Yalding Fen Educational Nature Reserve, managed in partnership with ICI Agrochemicals and the Kent Trust, enables primary school pupils to explore, with support from qualified wardens, the wildlife of marsh, pond and woodland.  Study packs, based at Allington and Teston, sponsored by Kimberley-Clark, encourage pupils to explore a range of themes including; why people visit the countryside, the impact of leisure on wildlife and the country code.

The growth from 225 volunteer work days in 1988/89 to 1,500 in 1992/93 is evidence of the strength of community support for the Project's work. New grants, eg Rural Action, enhance the Project's ability to support community led initiatives, and the Project is placing priority on schemes which integrate landscape and wildlife enhancement with access.

If you are not already a member of the Ramblers, please join us to support our continuing work to protect and improve walking opportunities in Kent.


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