7. The Ongoing Care of the Villa
As the Friends of Littlecote Roman Villa gradually progress with the Conservation Plan through 2019-2024, it is necessary to develop a plan for the ongoing care of the villa to prevent it deteriorating to the state it was in during 2018. This plan will be modified as and when necessary.
The walls of the villa buildings:
There is a great tendency for the walls to become covered by moss, grass and weeds. The "mowing trenches" and the plan for close mowing the grass 2 metres around the walls will greatly reduce the problem, but regular inspection and a combination of manual cleaning (as in 2019-2020), along with the careful use of weedkiller will be required.
The gravelled room interiors:
The planned use of geo-tex weed-supressing membrane topped with gravel is aimed not only to improve the interpretation of the site, but to reduce the need for ongoing care. We anticipate that once the geo-text and gravel are in place that regular inspection and the occasional use of weedkiller will be all that is required.
The river margin:
The river margin on the completion of the restoration in 1991 was close mown grass to the river edge. Since then the flow in the river has reduced, and the various willow trees had grown greatly and by 2018 they had spread to the walls of the north range, with dense thicket of wild plants totally obscuring the river itself.
Advice on the appropriate management of the river margin was sought from Action of River Kennet, and an on site meeting was held with Hugh Pihlens and Anna Forbes on 12th July 2021. We discussed the importance of striking a balance, between the conservation of the villa and its environs and preserving a SSSI chalk stream. Anna advocated:
- Maintaining a buffer strip of knee high native marginal vegetation along the river bank, to hold the bank together and not end up losing land. Common marginal plants are what should be along a riverbank, they hold the bank together, which prevents erosion and produce flowers which are great for pollinating insects. A buffer of marginal plants help slow the flow of runoff entering and polluting the river, the plants are food and a safe corridor of cover for many wildlife species to move along the watercourse and avoid predators. Ground nesting birds will also use the marginal plants for nesting and there may well be water voles there.
- Coppicing the willows on the south bank to let in more light,
- The phragmites is doing a great job consolidating the silt and narrowing the river channel which improves the flow. Plant roots holding silt is good, it means less silt smothering the riverbed. Removing the phragmites is not advisable as it would no doubt grow back. Because it is a really good habitat for birds, especially warblers, it should not be strimmed during the nesting season. Keeping the riverbed gravels clean is vital for wild fish to spawn. As we do not want tall phragmites so close to the villa, Anna suggested we could maintain it by strimming to knee height.
- Anna spoke with Jack (the River Keeper at Eastridge) about allowing extra water through this channel, but even in winter he would not be in a position to send water through the Littlecote watercourse.
- She offered to collaborate and improve the very eroded and currently dark stretch of river with some planting of native plants that will ecologically improve the stream corridor and be more pleasing the eye of visitors, maybe in 2022.
The Orpheus mosaic:
The amount of ongoing care will depend on what happens to the cover building, which is currently (2021) not adequately protecting the mosic.
The mosaic is likely to need a maintenance program of regular sweeping (to remove nesting material, leaves and other material), regular inspection, and intermittent detailed cleaning (as in 2021), perhaps every 5 years.