Kent’s new country park

Conningbrook Lakes

Conningbrook Lakes - Credit: Archant

An exciting new country park has opened on the outskirts of Ashford, offering a wealth of wildlife

Ashford Borough Council, Ashford Leisure Trust, Mid Kent Fisheries and Kent Wildlife Trust are working in partnership to establish and manage a new country park on the banks of the River Great Stour on the outskirts of Ashford.

The 34-hectare park, which can be reached via the Julie Rose Athletics Stadium (free parking), offers a wide range of water and land-based recreational activities, from cycling and sailing, to canoeing, kayaking, rowing and swimming. Mid Kent Fisheries manages the angling interest of several permitted fishing areas.

The park provides access to a network of country trails and there are plenty of spots to picnic; walk dogs (on leads), enjoy views over the Kent Downs and to discover its wealth of wildlife.

Kent Wildlife Trust is responsible for both developing and maintaining the wildlife interest of the park (around 18 hectares) with its three lakes fringed with wet woodland, river bank, reed beds, meadows and hedges.

And 1,000 trees supplied by The Conservation Volunteers, including blackthorn and hawthorn, have been planted by Kent Wildlife Trust – along with volunteers from Ashford, TCV and the Linbury Trust – to create headlands and belt hedges.

To mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, one of Britain’s rarest native trees - a black poplar - was also planted. The Linbury Trust and The Wildlife Trust’s national office are supporting Kent Wildlife Trust’s allied initiative at Conningbrook, the ‘Older and Out There’ project that aims to re-engage older people with their communities through nature conservation. Research has shown that older people can derive real benefit in terms of health and wellbeing through contact with nature.

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Volunteers will undertake practical conservation work outdoors, helping to both manage the Country Park and to create a therapeutic wildlife garden. The site was once worked for sand and gravel by local quarry operator, Brett Aggregates and has been sympathetically restored so it could be developed as a country park.

Kent Wildlife Trust has already carried out surveys to identify the range of species that populate the site and these have revealed good numbers of dragonflies, particularly brown hawkers, and butterflies, such as green-veined whites. The scarce wasp spider has been found on site and there have been frequent sightings of kingfishers, herons, swallows, swifts and house martins. A nest box has been put up in the northern meadow to encourage the barn owl that has been spotted here to breed.

The Eco Lake has supported an overwintering group of 14 little egrets and one great white egret and a black-necked grebe has spent a day on the main lake. The park’s first Community Open Day in September attracted 1,700 visitors, when the Trust organised guided walks led by the park’s nature conservation community warden.

Find out more

Anyone who would like to give practical conservation at the park a try, should contact Vicky on 07747 608826, or email vicky.aitkenhead@kentwildlife.org.uk.

Conningbrook Country Park can be found just off Junction 10 of the M20 (TN24 9QX) and is open seven days-a week from early till late; call 01233 613131 for detailed times.

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