Hides re-opening this Monday!

These views will be yours again!

Tern Hide looking north-east
Ivy South Hide looking north-east

Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust has maintained the stance that our hides would re-open again in line with step 4 of the transition out of lockdown, ever since the Government revealed its roadmap in the Spring of this year.

That day has, finally, arrived, and as such the hides at both Blashford and Testwood Lakes will be open daily from Monday 19th July.

Clearly this transition out of COVID-19 restrictions is not without risk as the number of cases and hospital admittance continues to accelerate both nationally and, critically,  locally, and for this reason, and in order to give ALL of our visitors the confidence to use our facilities we will be asking that everyone wears a face covering while using a Hide, that they open sufficient windows to ensure a reasonable air circulation and that everyone observes a 1m+ social distancing between themselves and others not of their party.

We know of course that our hides can be very popular with photographers as well as birdwatchers and respectfully remind EVERYONE that with the number of people able to safely use the hides limited, if the nature reserve is busy with lots people wishing to view the wildlife from the hides it will not be appropriate for any individual to “set up camp” in a hide, but rather they should leave and allow other visitors to enjoy the views after a reasonable length of time.

We will be reviewing how the reopening goes in light of visitor feedback and, of course, as circumstances and/or government guidance changes, and will amend the way we ask visitors to use the hides, or close them again, accordingly.

Since the pandemic started our income has plummeted – both that which we normally generate through our educational visits and events, but also that which we normally receive from our visitors in-lieu of a reserve entry fee.

Even on those days when the site has been busy, which has been often, our visitor contributions have been well down on what we would normally expect.

This may, or may not, be a perceived reduction in benefit which some visitors may have been feeling for as long as the hides have been closed, not appreciating the costs that are involved with our maintaining the excellent footpaths around the site, providing toilet facilities, wardening it in light of antisocial behaviour, particularly last Summer, and continuing to manage the site for nature conservation.

Regardless of the reasons for the reduction in donations that we have seen, we are very much hoping that with the hides open again visitors will dip their hands into their wallets again. We absolutely do rely on your donations to continue our work at Blashford Lakes so thank you in advance and anticipation of your future generosity!

Please bear in mind that we will always endeavour to open our nature reserves but that, with our limited staff numbers against an ever increasing number of people being required to self-isolate, that it is becoming an increasingly likely possibility that there will be times when with very little, if any, notice, we will be unable to open on occasion.

Should this situation arise we will always let people know via Twitter (https://twitter.com/bobservablelife?lang=en,https://twitter.com/jimday22857614?lang=en or https://twitter.com/HantsIWWildlife), the website (https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/nature-reserves/blashford-lakes-nature-reserve) and, of course, this blog, just as soon as we are able to do so, so do keep an eye on all of these channels, especially before planning a visit from any distance away. And if you do arrive and find that we have been paralysed do take advantage of the fact that there is a very beautiful part of the New Forest just down the road and over the cattle-grid!

Tree works this week

Many of you will know there is a serious disease spreading through our ash tree population at present, unfortunately it is killing very large numbers of ash trees across the whole country and Blashford is not immune. Ash die-back can kill whole trees or parts of trees very quickly and, in the case of ash, the dead branches become brittle and prone to falling very quickly, meaning that trees identified as dying when they should have come into leaf in May cannot be left standing until the following winter, at least in high risk locations.

One such location is near the access to the Goosander and Lapwing Hide path where five ash trees have been identified as dying. This is a heavily used area and so these cannot wait until autumn to be made safe. They have been surveyed for nesting birds and bat roosts and we are satisfied that these are not present so felling is planned for the middle of this week. In addition two further at risk trees on the path toward Ivy North Hide are also to be felled as they risk falling onto the path.

The works will mean there will be some restrictions on access to some parts of the reserve at times on Wednesday and Thursday, if you are visiting please obey the signage, some of these are large trees and they will be felled onto the path, so the hazard is very real. If possible avoid visiting on these days if you wish to go around the whole reserve.

Felling is a last resort on the reserve and wherever possible we aim to retain standing deadwood as a habitat resource, but there are locations where this is not possible

Sadly almost all trees we are losing in this case are dying as a result of pathogens which arrived in Europe as a result of the international trade in trees. It seems likely that ash die-back originated in the Far East and the fungus that attacks alder trees may have arisen when two related fungus species came into contact and hybridised, possibly as a result of the international trade in trees and timber some of which will inevitably have travelled with their fungi.

30 Days Wild – Day 30

Another 30 Days come to an end, not that it is not possible to do wild things other than in the month of June. A lot of people have realised how much they value the wild, or at the very least green space, over the last year or so and especially the benefits of contact with nature close to home. We have never needed people to appreciate nature more, it is rapidly slipping away from us, something that is now widely recognised, but as yet which has not resulted in genuinely positive action.

I was at home for Day 30 so spent a little time in my garden and especially the mini-meadow, as usual I was amazed by just what there was to be found.

ornate digger wasp pair

Ornate digger wasps are quiet common in S. England, especially where there is sandy soil. They are regular in my garden, not because I have sandy soil but because I have lots of flowers for nectaring. The smartest sighting was of a cuckoo wasp, it was very difficult to photograph as it never stopped still and even when it slowed down the antennae were still twitching, this was the best picture I could get.

cuckoo wasp

In the evening I went down to Ashlett Creek on the shore of Southampton Water. There is extensive saltmarsh with lots of thrift and sea lavender on the upper shore, the thrift is mostly past flowering now but the sea lavender is looking good.

sea lavender

Lower down the shore, or where there are lower spots there are patches of glasswort.

glasswort

Saltmarsh is a very specialist habitat and almost entirely restricted to the coast, with a whole caste of specially adapted plants and the insects that live on them. The saltmarsh plume moth is one of these, a very distinctive moth and very common on saltmarshes, but nowhere else.

saltmarsh plume moth

I saw a fair few birds including a flock of oystercatcher, several curlew and a whimbrel. These are mostly likely to be failed breeders, although some of the oystercatcher could be young birds as they do not breed in their first few years. The curlew are likely to be birds that had attempted to breed on the New Forest. The Forest is one of the only remaining nesting areas in S. England, but nesting success in recent years has been very poor with almost no young being reared, despite increased efforts at conservation. Curlew are restricted to the bogs of the Forest in our area, however oystercatcher are less fussy, although most nest on coastal shingle, some nest inland on gravel pits as they do at Blashford Lakes and a few use flat roofed buildings. This may be why the one in the picture seemed quite happy perched alongside a couple of black-headed gull high on the ridge tiles of Ashlett Mill.

oystercatcher on the roof

30 Days Wild- Day 29

Out with the volunteers again today continuing with work to prepare the grassland around Ibsley Water for grazing again, we have replaced a few hundred metres of fence and tidied up some of the old fence lines. With no grazing possible last year and recent rain, the grass is as long as I have seen it, although this makes it very popular with marbled white, which like a longer sward than most other species. It was also interesting to revisit parts of the reserve I rarely get to. This may sound odd as I work on site, but some areas are very difficult to get to without causing a lot of disturbance to the wildlife so we only go there when there is work to be done. One such is towards the northern end of Ibsley Water where we did some work laying over willows last year to give more cover along the shore, it looks really good now.

Ibsley Water shore with willows forming a thicket habitat

The main wildlife excitement of the day came from the moth trap, which contained two species previously unrecorded on the reserve and both were new to me. One was tiny, so easily overlooked Cosmopterix scribaiella is a recent colonist of the UK and still quiet local, the larvae mine the leaves of common reed, so it has plenty of habitat.

Cosmopterix scribaiella

The other was not so easily overlooked as it was a “macro-moth”, an olive crescent. This was for many years a very rare species with perhaps just a couple of local colonies in the UK, however in the last few years it has increased and now seems to be locally established in oak woods in S. England, probably benefiting from climate change.

olive crescent

The 30Days almost over now, just one day to go.

30 Days Wild – Day 28

More rain! We had 30mm overnight, but at this time of year this means it is worth checking for migrating birds that might have been forced down by the rain. Believe it or not autumn migration has already started. Many cuckoos will have headed south and lots of high Arctic waders are on the move, These will be either birds that have failed in their breeding attempt and have no time to try again or species where only one parent rears the chicks. One of these is red-necked phalarope, the female can lay eggs in more than one nest and these are then incubated and the chicks reared entirely by the male. All the same finding a female red-necked phalarope on Ibsley Water when I opened up was a treat, sadly too far away for a picture and it seems it did not stay beyond mid-morning.

The moth trap had few moths of note but this little micro moth was rather smart. Unfortunately a lot of these tiny moths cannot be identified reliably to species without dissection, so Genus will have to do.

Sycopacma species

Also in the trap was a small and rather strange fly, I think some sort of midge, but I have no idea, it seemed almost translucent.

midge

The sun did come out for a while and I got out to do some fencing work, it was good to see a fair few butterflies, mainly meadow brown and marbled white but including a small tortoiseshell.

marbled white

Since I collected some eggs from a female that I reared form larvae I had last year, my emperor moth caterpillars have been growing. I have let most go , as I had hundreds at one point and now have about 15 or so. As they grow they change colour an dare now looking their best.

emperor moth caterpillar

30 Days Wild – Day 27

This does seem to have been a particularly rainy 30Days with some overnight and a lot more today, at least we had a little sunshine in the morning. I ran the moth trap at home and caught a few moths, a couple of small ones were new for the year, the first was the rather smart meal moth, which feeds on stored vegetable matter and perhaps garden waste.

meal moth

The other was Homoeosoma sinuella a heathland species locally and quite frequent on the New Forest.

Homoeosoma sinuella

With the weather being poor I only had a few minutes in the garden when the sun was out. The mini-meadow is looking good at the moment, I have got traditional borders planted with insect friendly plants but they don’t come anywhere near the sheer abundance of flowers in the meadow. The meadow has abundance, with multi-layered diversity, that I could never imagine getting in a border.

mini-meadow

This picture has ox-eye daisy, bloody cranesbill, cat’s ear, wild carrot, corky-fruited water dropwort, lesser stitchwort, two species of buttercup, field scabious, yellow rattle, bird’s foot trefoil and lady’s bedstraw all in flower now, it had cowslip, bugle, mouse-eared hawkweed, goat’s beard, grass vetchling and dandelion and will have knapweed, devil’s bit scabious and others that are still to flower. This is not a full list by any means and I am still finding new species that have arrived I know not how. One of these that I first saw today is musk mallow, with large pale pink flowers, not an easy one to miss.

musk mallow

All these flowers are great for insects of course and another first for the year in the garden today was small skipper.

small skipper

This meadow was established out of a traditional lawn, no turf stripping, just let it grow and add some seeds. I cut it once a year by hand, but that is just because I like to keep the anthills and I take away the cuttings, very simple. Most of it grows no more than 50cm tall and a lot of it less. It is so simple it seems remarkable that we cannot have our incidental grass areas, so often mown within an inch of their lives, managed like this and all be surrounded by flowery grasslands full of life. It would perhaps make only a small difference to the biodiversity crisis we are in but it would make a difference. The fact that it is not done suggests that for all the talk of reversing environmental collapse that might come from government, on the ground nothing changes because those that actually issue the contracts and do the work don’t get it. If we cannot even do the simple things what hope do we have for doing the difficult things that inevitably lie ahead?

30 Days Wild – Day 26

Looking ahead the next few days look poor with rain for at least part of every day, so a sunny morning presented an opportunity to get out and the call of the Downs won over again, this time it was Martin Down. Martin Down is the largest intact downland area in Hampshire and home to significant populations of corn bunting, yellowhammer, grey partridge and turtle dove. It is also now a the heart of the Martin Down Farm Cluster, this is a group of farms that have come together to improve their farms for all of the above species and many more downland specialists. Big though Martin Down is it cannot support viable populations of many species in the long term, so sympathetic management of neighbouring land is essential.

I spent most of my time in the Kitts Grave area, not the classic open grassland downland, but a mosaic of grassland and scrub. Martin Down is a National Nature Reserve and managed by Natural England, Kitts Grave is part of the reserve but is owned by the Wildlife Trust, so I occasionally get to go there in a work capacity as well. The whole reserve is famous for its butterflies and although the day was not completely sunny they were out in some force.

dark green fritillary pair

There were quiet good numbers of marbled white and meadow brown, but most of the blues were looking quite battered by recent weather. The rain does make for lost of growth though, ideal for growing caterpillars, so long as it is not too heavy.

egg-laying large skipper

I did not restrict myself to butterflies as there are so many more insects to look at. Over the last few years the downland villa, Villa cingulata has turned up at lots of new sites, probably benefiting from climate change. I narrowly missed out of finding the first for Hampshire, when I found one at Old Winchester a few years ago as there had been one seen a short while before near Winchester, so mine was the second. I have since seen them at Martin Down and Noar Hill, so they are widespread across the county now.

downland villa fly

This is one of the bee-flies and they scatter their eggs around the nesting areas of solitary bees, the larvae then live as parasites in the nests, so they have probably spread along with an increase their bee hosts.

As well as butterflies there are lots of day-flying moths too, the most striking of which are the burnets moths. There are several species, I am pretty sure this is the narrow-bordered five-spot burnet.

narrow-bordered five-spot burnet

As well as butterflies, moths and flies there were also lots of bees and beetles. This large longhorn beetle was one that stayed still for a picture.

Leptura quadrifasciata

Rather smaller was a tumbling flower beetle, I am not certain of the species yet, but I am pretty sure it is Variimorda villosa as species of ancient broadleaved woodland, so perhaps a surprise to see it on a downland site. However this is one of the delights of Kitts Grave, where the downland merges into a block of ancient woodland.

Variimorda villosa

Species rich habitats are not single entities downland needs to merge into other habitats to be great downland, woodland needs glades and transitions to grassland and scrub, this is what landscape scale conservation is about. Conservation of little islands of “pure” habitat has not long-term future, yet this is what we have largely been left with as nature reserves. Martin Down is huge for a nature reserve at about 350ha, but it is surrounded by 1000s of hectares of mainly arable farmland, unless some of the wildlife can find a way to live alongside modern agriculture it will eventually be lost. This is where the Farm Clusters come in, sympathetic management of field margins can give space for wide ranging species like turtle doves and corridors for smaller species to expand out into the wider countryside, perhaps to recolonise smaller isolated habitat islands. With luck species like yellowhammer, which were almost ubiquitous in farm hedges across the country will find a way back and a “little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese” will mean something again.

yellowhammer

30 Days Wild – Day 25!

The moth trap was surprisingly quite for such a muggy night, perhaps the recent poor weather means there are just not many moths flying. I posted a plume moth the other day and mentioned their odd wings, although the one I showed had wings folded, here is a white plume moth showing the wing structure.

white plume moth

A new moth for the year was a festoon, a moth of oak woods that is surprisingly scarce at Blashford.

festoon “moth on a stick”

After drizzle early the day brightened and the dragonflies came out, this male scarce chaser was by the Education Centre pond at lunchtime.

scarce chaser “dragonfly on a stick”

It was a day of odd jobs either in the office or out on the reserve and after a bit of path trimming and making a new Hampshire gate, I was off to Fishlake Meadows for the first time in a while. This is a fabulous site, a wetland that has established itself on former arable farmland when the pumps which kept it dry were turned off. Not only is it an amazing bit of habitat but it is more or less in the town of Romsey, or at least a short walk for most of the town’s residents. It has an osprey more or less resident for the summer, marsh harrier, hobby and red kite regularly flying over and warblers in abundance.

blackcap one of several “birds on sticks”

I saw juvenile warblers all over the place with blackcap, whitethroat, sedge and reed warbler and lots of Cetti’s warbler.

Cetti’s warbler juvenile

There has also been a pair of stonechat breeding this year and I found one of the juveniles preening in a small bush beside the path.

stonechat juvenile

The real joy of the place is the extensive shallow water and fen vegetation it has developed, this is what supports all the insects that in turn support many of the birds. Lots of teh marsh and fen plants have “frothy” flowers and none more so than meadow sweet.

meadow sweet

Running it pretty close though is meadow-rue, something of a specialist in more alkaline wet areas than the less fussy meadow sweet.

meadow-rue

Lots of flowers attract lost of insects and I found another chafer beetle, I think my third species of the #30DaysWild this year.

garden chafer

When I got home the sun was still out and I took a quick look in the garden mini-meadow and found a meadow brown, I like to think it was born and bred in our meadow, but even if it has flown in, it is making a home in our meadow.

meadow brown

Rather rarer in gardens, although not in ours as we have a colony close by, is silver-studded blue, this was the first in the garden this year and unlikely to have been reared here.

silver-studded blue

30 Days Wild – Day 24

Working with the Blashford volunteers again today, this time a little ragwort control, but not too much, fencing checks before the ponies arrive and a count of the bee orchids along the way. We found over 60, which is a good number for this part of the reserve and a very variable lot they were too.

bee orchid, a pale one
a darker one
a more typical one

The last one looks like a toy duck with a tiny gosling on its head! (or at least it does to me).

Back at the Centre for lunch I noticed the dark mullein is now in flower so went to look for some mullein moth caterpillars, did not find any but got this close up image of one of the flowers.

dark mullein close-up

I had a quick look on the lichen heath near the Pound afterwards when I went to collect parts of one of the rafts that had collapsed after I had been unable to get it in last autumn. These dry, sandy habitats have a whole suite of species that specialise in living on them and coping with the difficult conditions. One of these is the small velvet ant, actually a wingless wasp that parasitises other wasp species that make nest tunnels in the sand.

small velvet ant

Another specialist of sandy habitats is the chafer beetle Anomala dubia, one I had not seen before.

Anomala dubia

We are now firmly into horsefly season and today’s humidity was ideal for them. Many species of the Tabanidae have amazingly patterned and coloured eyes. only the females bite, luckily this Chrysops caecutiens.

Chrysops caecutiens

More wild stuff tomorrow!

30 Days Wild – Day 23

A day off so went out for a couple of short walks. The first was on the coast at an ex industrial site now long since colonised by nature and lots of it. There were meadow brown, marbled white and my fist small skipper of the year flying over a flowery grassland interspersed with belts of magnificent scrub. I failed to get any pictures of the butterflies but did manage this which is probably a heath sand wasp.

heath sand wasp

Later in the day I went out on the Forest walking round Shatterford area. Lots of stonechat, singing woodlark, one of my favourites, melodic and melancholy, and what may be my last cuckoo of the year. Coming back to the car as the sun was going down the cotton grass was looking very fine indeed.

cotton grass

Although it can get very busy at times the New Forest is a magnificent area, it is not so much that it gets too many visitors, that is a hard judgement to make, but it gets too many who perhaps don’t see it for the wonder it is. There are lots of competing claims of the Forest resources and everyone feels entitled to “Their share”. However I think this is to look at things the wrong way, the Forest is not something to portion out and consume, we should not be using it up. Everyone who uses the Forest has an impact upon it, we all need recognise this and try to make it as small as possible, ideally so small it cannot be noticed, access with responsibility. Obviously the same goes for all our countryside and in fact everywhere we share, but somehow these issues become more obvious in a National Park setting.