The gorse fire cycle

27 06 2010

Even before the big fire on the heath today I was researching the gorse fire cycle and had collected some photos from the common showing the various stages of the cycle.

Gorse is always closely associated with fire,  gorse was traditionally collected from Rushmere Common as fuel and it was often used in bread ovens and. When gorse is not proactively managed it will eventually catch fire in an uncontrolled way and the longer the period until that fire the worse it will be. Arson is an obvious source, however even without deliberate burning there are other ways that a fire can start accidentally or naturally.

The Gorse article on wikipedia says:

“Gorse may grow as a fire-climax plant, well adapted to encourage and withstand fires, being highly flammable, and having seed pods that are to a large extent opened by fire, thus allowing rapid regeneration after fire … Typical fire recurrence periods in gorse stands are 5–20 years.”

The RSPB says:

The accumulated dead material also presents an increased fire risk… Cut gorse to ground level and remove or burn the arisings. Also remove the accumulated litter of dead plant material as it is highly flammable

I checked out the heath today and took photos of the different stages of fire cycle which confirmed the quoted articles:

1) Here is what the gorse looks like immediately after a fire (the one today):

Ground still wet after fire is put out

2) After a few months a plant layer is starting growing back:

A few months after a fire

3) And then the gorse starts to re-grow from the base. Notice that heather is also growing well:

New gorse starting to grow

4) and gains height….

Growing fast and gaining height

5) It grows to full size…

Mature gorse

6) And then becomes leggy and starts shedding branches, which die, fall and start to build up the material for the next fire. Gorse is very brittle so breaks easily.

Older gorse shedding branches

7) Large amounts of material builds up at ground level over time.

Large amounts of dead material building up

The conditions are now set for the next fire, and indeed the longer it is left to build up the more serious the fire will eventually be, hence the advice to manage gorse to remove this material mechanically or by controlled burning before this happens.

I understand from a conversation with the commoners’ committee last year that they used to do controlled burning on the heath but that they don’t any more.

What does seem clear is that we will continue to have serious uncontrolled fires on the heath at regular intervals until some more effective management is done. The RSPB recommend that:

“Where discrete patches can be completely isolated from other habitats, they could be burnt in situ, although extreme caution is required as gorse is very flammable.

On the heath this does seem to be the case, especially as the gorse is separated by the fairways and could be managed into such areas – possibly this is being done, I will again ask the committee what their strategy is.

I note that the Rushmere Commoners’s 2009 AGM report mentions that the committee meet with the fire officer and manage fire breaks and access for fire appliances (but it mentions nothing about removal of material or controlled burning):

Firebreaks continue to be cleared and the Warden has recently met with the fire officer to discuss further work to assist access by fire vehicles and widening of breaks.

Before I sign off, this is clearly not just a local problem. Here are some gorse fires in the news in other parts of the country over the past few days.


27 06 2010

There were 6 fire appliances and 40 firemen on the heath this afternoon for a couple of hours fighting another fire in the gorse. There are also official signs on the heath reading ‘Help Stop Arson – Now! Fire kills’ with requests for people to phone 01473 613500 if they have any information about those responsible.

Fire appliances on the heath

A fireman on Rushmere Common

Firemen packing up after this particular fire is out

Ground still wet after being put out

I have written a separate post about the gorse fire cycle.

Update the following day….

As if to drive home the message two fire appliances were back on the heath for another fire in the same area the following day. Is it really best to have to respond to a fire on the hottest day of the whole year?

Another fire in the same area the following day

The ‘police station path’

25 06 2010

The main approach to the common from the Ipswich side is via the footpath to the south of the hospital and then across Heath road using the  toucan crossing. From there one goes down Heath Road and onto the common at the tank traps.

The suggested route onto the common from the tank traps is pretty clumsy with a number of sharp bends; it isn’t convenient for cyclists or for pedestrians being beside a busy 40 mph road part of which is dual-carriageway.

A preferable route which has been available for about 6 months until it was blocked under instruction from the commoners’ committee is more direct. Here it is:

The 'police station' path

The entrance to the path is from the neighborhood police station and avoids the busy Heath Road section.

The normal approach to the common along Heath Road

Here are the routes (original route in blue, the ‘police station path’ in red).

proposed route onto Rushmere Common

As well as being shorter the proposed route avoids passing in front of the 2nd tee (which was one of the reasons for the committee objecting to council’s Bridleway proposal).

I had a meeting with a representative from the committee and with the general manager of the club a few days ago to discuss this path which had been partially blocked by a log. They said they objected to the route on the following groungs:

  1. The route round the back of the green was dangerous (Health and safety).
  2. A cyclist had been spotted using the route at high speed causing a danger (Health and safety)
  3. Part of the route was along a path created by the golf club for their members and this was not available for use by the general public
  4. A section of the route had been created without permission
  5. The route exited by the police station which would create a danger of collision with police leaving their car park in a hurry (Health and Safety).

Personally I am not convinced by the above arguments. The antisocial cyclist can be dealt with by some natural ‘traffic calming’ and by sending a photograph to the police if necessary – no need to inconvenience everyone else. I don’t believe any of the ‘health and safety’ concerns would stand up to scrutiny, especially considering the potentially deadly risks from walking beside busy roads (two boys killed on Bishop’s Hill and then two young adults walking beside Foxhall Road).

The following day these impressive logs arrived across the path.

Logs blocking 'the police station path' on Rushmere Common

Cunningly the golf club also resurfaced the golfers’ path around the green on the same day. It will need a bit of rain and rolling before it is firm, but it will then be a fine example of what some of the public paths across the common could be like with a little effort.

Do note that one can still faintly see the new squares of turf to the right of the path in the above picture. Six months ago there was a gorse hedge and a number of mature trees separating the path from the green. The gorse and trees were removed by the golf club with permission from the commoners’ committee and replaced with turf visible in the picture.

The aerial imagery in the picture below clearly shows the line of gorse and trees to the right of the path (shown in red) prior to this work.

With reference to routes across the common generally my local St John’s Ward councilor commented:

I am a bit fed up with the notion that cyclists are perfectly ok doing 90 degree bends and cycling 50 m out of our way here and 50 m out of our way there.

A local cyclist also commented:

The situation as described by Peter has prevailed for at least 10 years to my knowledge.

Personally I would suggest that there is a little more consideration given to the needs of other groups beyond the golfers (who I have no argument with – all the folk I have spoken to have not had a problem with walkers and cyclists as long as they don’t have picnics on the fairways, ride on the greens and drop litter etc!).

Bridleway proposal

25 06 2010

Rushmere Common offers an idea off-road cycle route between Martlesham, Grange Farm, Kesgrave and Ipswich. It also offers a good route for a number of major destinations including Ipswich Hospital (3,800 staff), Copleston School (1,800 pupils), Broke Hall School, BT Research (at Martlesham) and others.

There are a number of problems that I am aware of; firstly, the surface of the main paths are very poor, secondly the routes are poorly signed and finally that the  maps of the area are not that good either. Some people avoid the route because of the surface and others say they avoid the route because they get lost when the try to cross it.

Here are the main routes across the common from my point of view (blue for sections across the actual common and red for the continuation routes).

Rushmere Common 'commuter' routes

And here is the particular route that the council has been wanting to upgrade and convert to a bridleway for a number of years. Sustrans are keen to route National Cycle Route 1 across the common which currently has to make an awkward loop to the south of the common for avoid a section where cycling is officially forbidden.

Proposed bridleway route

The council currently (June 2010) has money to improve the route.

So why are there no signs and why is the surface so poor? Personally and based on conversations with other people it seems to come down to a resistance from the golf club and the commoners’ committee who object to the proposal on grounds of ‘health and safety’ (see below). This is a shame as it leaves the surface very poor for cycling, parents with pushchairs, people in wheelchairs etc.

As a representative of the local cycling campaign group I have raised this issue with the commoners’ committee on a number of occasions. Here is the explanation I received by email from the clerk of the committee recently:

As you are no doubt aware, SCC have for many years attempted to persuade the trustees to accept the principle of a cycleway across the common. This has been resisted on the grounds of safety, in that conflict would arise between cyclists, golfers and walkers. I appreciate what you are attempting but I am sure that the trustees will resist.

And until a few days ago their website explained:

There is a proposal to establish a bridleway for use by cyclists by upgrading the existing footpaths from the tank traps opposite Heath Lane to the Penzance Road end of Blaydon Drive [Brendon Drive?]. The Trustees are opposed to this proposal as the route would cross very close to the Second and Ninth Tees creating a health and safety problem, as well as encouraging illegal motor cycling.

At the 2009 AGM a committee member explained that they were also concerned about the impact that horse riders might have (not that I could imagine many horse riders using the route).

Finally, I was told a few years ago that they were not allowed ‘to disturb the surface of the common’, but in that case I can’t see how it is possible to create the beautiful greens, tees, fairways and paths between tees and greens.

The council’s position is that that they want to improve the surface of the main path across the common with a surface treatment similar to that used by the golf club on paths between the golf greens and the golf tees and ideally also change the right-of-way from a footpath to a bridleway (which allows cycling as well as horse-riders).

Here is a summary of the county council’s current position based on recent email from the relevant officer (Footpaths 59 and 66 represent the main path running east/west from Heath Road to Brendon Drive).

The proposal that we are investigating is to create a bridleway across Rushmere Common by upgrading Rushmere Footpaths 59 and 66 and creating 2 short lengths of bridleway one to link these routes at the eastern side of the common the other to connect FP59 to Heath Road at the western end. We met with the Trustees of the Common earlier this year. They did not support this proposal and were not willing to enter into the creation agreement for the bridleway. In view of this we are now in the process of considering the options available to us to enable us to proceed with the scheme.

So are there serious conflicts between cyclists, walkers and golfers? Not that I hear when I talk to people on the common and I am not convinced by the arguments being used. The health and safety argument seems to come down to their concern about golfers hitting other users of the common with golf balls – and indeed the golf club manager told me recently that six people had been hit by golf balls in the past 12 months! The club also has a number of signs at the edge of the land owned by the golf club saying ‘Private’ and ‘ Trespassers may be hit by golf balls’! Is golf really that dangerous? (As an ex-golfer myself I don’t think so as long as people are careful).

Personally I hope that by drawing attention to the council’s generous proposal we can help tease out the real issues and come to a satisfactory outcome for golfers and also for walkers, cyclists, folk in wheelchairs and parents with buggies!

Stay tuned for further developments!

Update: October 2010

SCC has unfortunately just told me that they have withdrawn funding.

Mapping the common

25 06 2010

Soon after I arrived in Ipswich I realised that there was were no decent maps of the area for pedestrians or cyclists, and then I also started noticing lots of errors, distortions and omissions on these existing maps.

Luckily I came across OpenStreetMap which could best be described as ‘wikipedia for maps’ – it allows volunteers to survey details of their area and upload it into a global dataset and to date 250,000 people have signed up to do just that. A couple of years on and with contributions from a bunch of pretty obsessive people (including myself!) the map of Ipswich area is exceedingly good so let’s compare what is available currently form different sources.

First, let’s look at Google’s mapping for the area.

Google's mapping for the the Rushmere Common area

A few things to note – firstly the common is called ‘golf course’ which might imply that it was private property. Secondly the boundary is seriously wrong, the common land to the north of the A1214 is missing and an area of housing there is shown as open space, also the land to the south which is actually owned by the golf club is not shown in green at all implying. Finally … there are no paths shown on the common and even the main pedestrian/cycle route to the south the hospital is missing. Verdict: not much use for a pedestrian or for discussing issues relating to the common.

Ok, so how do Microsoft do with their ‘Bing’ mapping.

Bing's map of the area - no paths, no hospital, missing section of common

Actually it is worse. The green area is a different shape but is still wrong, there are no paths and this time even the hospital (which employs 3,800 people) is missing! The common is again called ‘Golf Course’ with little golf club symbols across it. I sometimes joke that most online mapping is designed for car-drivers who play golf (based on the fact that virtually no information is provided for pedestrians and cyclists and golf clubs figure to prominently everywhere)! Verdict: less useful that Google’s map.

Now let’s check out the official Ipswich cycle map which is published by Suffolk County Council each year.

Cycle mapping published by the County Council

This one is slightly better, it does show the hospital and also the cycle/pedestrian route to the south of the hospital and seems to get the shape of the common correct. It does show a single path across the common which is better than nothing but still less than a complete representation of the situation! It shows schools in the area with their names which is good. Verdict: Better than nothing but pretty disappointing.

Another map available with support from the county council is which as the name implies is for people who are walking! However… unfortunately there are hardly any paths on this section of map. map

Notice that there is only one path across the common, that the hospital is missing together as is the pedestrian/cycling path to the south of the hospital. I have written to both the council and to for an explanation. and have had responses for both so let’s see if the mapping gets sorted out soon. Verdict: Personally I think this one is pretty disgraceful given that it totally fails to do what it says on the tin!

Finally here is the mapping available from OpenStreetMap which shows all sorts of detail missing from the above maps including paths, ground cover (grass/gorse/woodland etc), a number of schools and of course the hospital.

Mapping of the common available from OpenStreetMap

Because it is produced by volunteers and anyone can edit the map it can be updated or corrected within minutes, for example I removed a path from the common yesterday after it had been blocked by the committee (more about that later!). Verdict: I am of course biased, but I think this one is by far the best!

Do note also OpenStreetMap data is available for free-re-used under a creative commons license (no threats of prosecution and civil proceedings) and is therefore used in lots of other applications, including a cycle journey planner (CycleStreets), a mobile mapping application for iPhones (OffMaps) and many more. Of course this information could also be used by the council to produce much better mapping for cyclists and walkers at less cost that the current offerings however they are not yet engaging with the project.


24 06 2010

I have been walking and cycling across Rushmere Common for a number of years now and have become aware that it would be good to have a place where users of the common can tell other people about the common and their ideas for making it even better.

The initial motivation for creating a blog  was to highlight a few issues in advance of the 2010 AGM of the Commoners’ Committee (which takes place at Rushmere Village Hall, Humber Doucy Lane, Rushmere St Andrew, on Wednesday, 30 June at 7.30 pm).

This is not the official website and the ideas and comments are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Rushmere Commoners’ Committee.

If you would like to write for this blog then you can email me at [petermiller63 (at) googlemail dot com].