Short but sweet!

It’s been a whirlwind year at Blashford Lakes! I started in the October half term of 2021 as Assistant Education Officer, and I have now finished my role at Blashford, and am off to Indonesia for 7 months.

If it wasn’t for an amazing opportunity in West Java, I would definitely have continued on at Blashford, it’s such a beautiful place, and there are so many lovely regular visitors, volunteers, and the staff are alright too (although 3 of them left once I joined….was it something I said?!). Thank you to Jim, Tracy and Bob, I have learnt so much over the past year.

I wish Jack, Pete, Sam and Karen, and whoever the new face of Education is all the best, and really they won’t get rid of me, I will try my best to wriggle back in (maybe as an OLT) once I get home. Fingers crossed for fewer trees down than last year, and hopefully none of them will hit the power lines! I am looking forward to seeing all the hides waterproof once more, and I am sure I will be kept updated with how many infuriating mice have plundered the loft!

Thank you all for making me feel so welcome! To everybody who came on harvest mouse nest surveys, who helped on education days, and, although I don’t want anybody to feel like I am picking favourites, thank you to Midge for bringing me a variety of animal skulls and for wanting to draw the fallow buck, and to Kate who was always delightfully cheery when I asked whether she wanted to help me with the ‘pond snot’. I do hope the ponds don’t get too snotty again… it’s not as exciting a job clearing it by yourself! Thank you to Liz and Nora who wouldn’t let me leave without an afternoon of cake (and walnut cracking!) and amusing presents.

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Harvest Mouse Survey Winter 2022

Today I took 3 of our regular volunteers out to the north of the reserve to re-survey some plots in grassy habitat, to look for harvest mouse nests.

Highly suitable habitat for harvest mice

During the winter of 21-22, the Mammal Society asked people UK wide to go out and survey for harvest mice nests. It’s now time to head out again to find the nests that were built throughout 2022. This ‘National Harvest Mouse Survey’ is helping to build a picture of where they are found, their associated habitats, and will provide an idea of how much they have declined and what work needs to be done to protect them. To find out more have a look at the link below, and if you want to go out and survey in your local area please do!

We found 3 nests today, all woven into the grassy stalks and still suspended. One was the size of a golf ball – this is a solitary nest. Then another beautiful, newer nest that was much larger – this one was definitely a breeding nest. Then in another plot we found an older nest hidden away which could have been from spring 2022, or more likely we think could be from 2021.

Three harvest mouse nests (top – breeding, middle – old, bottom – solitary)
Harvest mouse breeding nest (around the size of a tennis ball)

We would like to survey more of the reserve to see whether harvest mice are present, and it was fantastic to find these nests in the same plot that was most fruitful last year. We need to ensure that the habitat doesn’t get encroached by brambles, so this will probably be one of the winter jobs for our conservation volunteer groups.

Mammals in the education area

I go into the education area fairly regularly, to set-up activities for groups, and to check whether there have been any branches down that might cause an issue, or to see whether there are any precarious ones dangling over our log circle which we need to deal with. When I am there I always wonder, just how much goes on when it’s quiet and still. Turns out…. quite a lot of mammal activity!

Grey squirrel…. who very much likes to jump around the log circle, red fox, and fallow deer demonstrating just how much they can vary in colour. Taken with a Ltl Acorn camera trap. I have a Bushnell also set up to take videos of the badger set, and am looking forward to sharing those soon (although only photos on here, as videos don’t upload).

From a heatwave to much needed rain, we’ve been having fun at Blashford!

It’s not been quite as busy here with events as in previous summers, but the events we have run really have been fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed Family River Dipping – seeing children lying down in the river with their masks on, looking into the underwater world of the Dockens.

Another highlight was Family Den Building! I love building dens, and I challenge any adult to look back on their den-builds of the past and not remember them with a smile. We had beautifully sunny weather… which was perfect… because of course, the dens had to be ‘tested’ for waterproofness! It’s one of my favourite bits of the session… wandering about with my watering can to see if anybody inside gets wet when it ‘rains’. The only drawback (which the children find absolutely hilarious), is that I really am not tall enough to reach the tops of the dens properly, so they may stay dry inside, but I usually end up with half the watering can down my pouring arm!

Wildlife Tots had a break over the summer, and it was great to have them all back on the 5th September. We had a ‘teddy bear’s picnic’ – everyone brought a teddy (my bear is called William), and we went to the campfire area to search for other cuddly toy animals that our bears could ‘picnic’ with. Then (with the help of some tall people.. some might call them adults, but really they’re big kids) we built some dens! I was thoroughly impressed with how well the Tots handled the pole-carrying, and were guided to tie knots with good concentration and dexterity.

After the dens were constructed we all gathered around a small campfire and toasted bread for butter and jam. We learnt about campfire safety, and made sure our teddies stayed away from the fire. After some tasty snacks it was the end of the session, and the heavens opened! I had elected to dismantle the dens myself…. and so as the Tots and tall people went home… I sat in a very well made den for a bit and contemplated the rest of my day.

Hillview Art’s Summer Open Studio 2022 – in loving memory of Arthur.

As a bank holiday treat during my work day at Blashford Lakes, I popped down to Hillview at Linwood, to take a look at the wonderful art on show at Angela’s Hampshire Open Studios event.

Mia’s A Level artwork of her grandfather, Arthur.

For many years, Angela and Arthur have opened their gates and welcomed members of the public to experience the wonderful art and garden. Sadly, Arthur passed away in June 2022, and this Open Studio event was in memory of him.

I wandered through the gates and was warmly welcomed, and took my time marveling at all the beautiful works of art in the studio, wooden cabin and in the tent. It was a sunny day to walk around the garden, where there were metal sculptures and hanging glass works to see too.

I won’t profess to knowing much about art, but I thoroughly enjoyed getting lost in the textures of the landscapes Angela has painted, and admiring the woodwork that Geoff Knott had made (some of which is made from Blashford wood!).

Geoff’s beautiful wood work pieces

I went into the garage, which had refreshments and a ‘garage sale’, in aid of the Wildlife Trust. We will be forever grateful at Blashford Lakes for Arthur’s enthusiasm in setting up this sale to raise money for the Trust, and for Angela and Arthur’s support over so many years.

If you missed this Open Studio event fear not! Hillview will be opening again on the 12th and 13th of November from 10:30am – 4pm for ‘Hillview Art Christmas’, with ceramics, glass, sculpture, painting, wood turning and more. Visit the website at: http://www.angelaperrett.co.uk for more information, or grab a leaflet from the Welcome Hut at Blashford.

Blashford Lakes – my sanctuary. An interview with Trevor, our ‘robin-whisperer’

When did Blashford Lakes become such an important place for you?

Blashford Lakes is a little jewel of greenness and beauty. It was one of the first places I ventured out to with my Dad when I was recovering from my second mental breakdown back in 2013/14.

I always remember we were sitting in a lake facing hide and had two Bitterns fly from the other side of the lake straight over the top of us. I didn’t know then how important this place of beauty would become to me. Years have passed now and I am off all medications and have been for some years now the only drug I crave is nature.

What has helped your struggles with mental health?

You see when I was going through my second mental breakdown all my worries and anxiety were constantly spinning around in my head, the only time when it wasn’t was when I was surrounded in green, with my camera around my neck. Photography and nature gave me a distraction and a focus, when I was taking my photos it gave me some much needed headspace.

How does visiting Blashford Lakes help you?

Nature, photography and Blashford are still my self-help therapy tool to this day. Blashford has even become more important to me as I’ve got two little feathered friends, Mr and Mrs Robin.

I’ve been hand feeding this ‘on and off’ couple of love birds for a couple of years now. This year Mrs Robin went off with another fella, and Mr Robin went off with another lady for the mating season. Both have now been dumped, bringing Mrs Robin back into the fold slightly to the annoyance of Mr Robin. I’ve had a talk with both of them and hopefully we’ve come to an agreement to let bygones be bygones….. it’s almost like being on Eastenders with my two little friends!

Blashford Lakes will always have a special place in my heart. I did my Sky News interview from here earlier this year as I feel so much at home here. Nature is a healer and still helps me to this day, take care all who read this.

Mrs Robin – Photo taken by Trevor

Thank you so much to Trevor for befriending the Blashford Robins, and for taking the time to talk to me about how important nature, and connecting with nature is for our mental health. The whole team here at Blashford is so glad that we are able to offer people a place of sanctuary during difficult times, it really is a wonderful place. Chloe – Assistant Edu Officer

Summer Holiday River Fun!

We had 50 people come and enjoy the Dockens Water last Wednesday, half coming along in the morning, and then another session in the afternoon.

Lots of kids, and big kids (….I should call them adults but really they like playing in the river too!) assembled under the shelter, and then we set off. On the way we found some rushes, and a small leaf each. Gathering in a circle, everyone had a go at making a rush boat, and we had some spectacular ones!

After the adults had perfected their boats… and the children had crafted tiny masterpieces, we headed to the river.

Emptying a net into a sample tray

First a quick line up on the bridge looking over the water for an intro to the Dockens Water and how to river dip, then we all got into the river to sail our boats. We had some upright, some with top heavy sails which did some ‘sideways sailing’, and one absolute winner, made by education volunteer David. With ambitions of a ship akin to the Dawn Treader from the Chronicles of Narnia, David plaited strands of rush together and made the most impressive rush boat I have ever seen! Sadly no pictures were taken… I will just have to ask him to make another!

Ready to look under the water!

We spent the rest of both sessions river dipping, getting splashy, and putting on masks so that we could see what the underwater world had to offer! Some children chose to lie down in the water, and lots of people got very wet! Others went to peer into the water at the edges of the river, carefully lifting the larger stones to see if any creatures were hiding underneath.

Despite the river being very low (could we all try and do some extra rain dances please!!), we caught quite a few invertebrates, with cased caddis fly being a firm favourite. We even managed a couple of fish – a bullhead, and a minnow!

Bullhead (underneath, more vertical), minnow (above, horizontal)

Young Naturalists in the picture

Our latest Young Naturalists session was all about photography.  We were hoping to be joined by Clare, a local landscape photographer, who unfortunately couldn’t make it, so we are hoping to get her to one of our sessions later in the year.  Meanwhile, we took out our phones and cameras and took lots of images of the wildlife.

We started with the moth trap, where we were joined by Simon, who is a moth expert, and who not only identified all the moths we found, but also gave good tips on getting the best photos.  After a warm night, there were loads of moths to choose from, so here’s a selection:

Willow Beauty, by Lucas, Blood-vein, by Arun

One of the most striking moths in the trap was an Elephant Hawk Moth, and Fletcher caught this spectacular front-on close up:

Elephant Hawk Moth, by Fletcher

Of all the moths which regularly turn up at Blashford, I think my favourite is the Buff-tip, which looks exactly like a broken birch twig:

Buff-tip, by James

We spent the rest of the morning in the wildflower meadow, where there were lots of insects to photograph, and we had sweep nets to catch and have a good close look at the different species.  I think Rosie’s ground-level photo of the meadow captures it perfectly:

The Wildflower meadow, by Rosie

The damselflies were everywhere around us, though they were difficult to photograph, as they don’t settle for long.  Here are a couple of shots:

Common Blue Damselfies, by Fletcher (left) and Rosie (right)

After lunch, we checked the hoverfly lagoons (no sign of hoverfly larvae yet), and had a go at clearing some of the slime off the pond, before heading down to Ivy Lake for a final try to capture more images of the day.  I finally got my camera out, and took a shot of one of the resident black-headed gulls (why isn’t it called a brown-headed gull?):

Black-headed gull, by Nigel

The Young Naturalists group is open to all 13 to 17 year-olds, and this month’s session gives you the chance to be a tree for the day.  Its on Sunday, 31st July, from 10am to 2:30pm, more details and to book a place, click here:

Blashford Lakes Young Naturalists: Tree Challenge Tickets, Sun 31 Jul 2022 at 10:00 | Eventbrite

Nigel Owen

Young Naturalists Leader

Hawks, Snakes and Terns


We had another successful Sunday with the Young Naturalists group recently, looking at three very different aspects of the wildlife at Blashford Lakes. First we unpacked the overnight light trap, which is mainly used to keep a record of the moths on site, but the first insect out of the trap wasn’t a moth at all, but a cockchafer beetle (or May Bug, if you prefer). These large and impressive beetles are only on the wing for a few weeks each Spring, and this one was sufficiently sleepy to allow us to pick it up, and feel it tickle the hand as it tried to cling on.


Thanks to Fletcher for the brilliant head‐on photo. Most impressive of the moths was a Poplar Hawk Moth, and this time Fletcher gave us a profile photo. We also managed to identify Light Emerald, Treble Bar, White Ermine, Scorched Wing, Clouded Border, Nut‐tree Tussock, May Highflyer, and a couple of what we think were Orange Footman.


The rest of the morning was spent searching for snakes. A team of Blashford volunteers has laid out a number of tin sheets and felt squares for snakes and other reptiles to use. They are tucked away well hidden around the reserve, and only checked once a fortnight to minimise the disturbance for any snakes which might use them as shelters and places to warm up. We had special permission to lift a few felts and look underneath, and we had also heard that a baby grass snake had been spotted underneath a log in the Badger Wood area, when a visiting school had been on a search for minibeasts. So we were delighted when we turned over a log, and there was a small grass snake curled up underneath. Again, Fletcher was quick enough to capture a photo before the snake wriggled away into cover.
The photo also shows the snake’s nictitating eye membrane, a translucent protective cover over its eye. We found another four grass snakes under another of the felts, all of which looked to be youngsters, but they didn’t hang around long enough for a photo.


After lunch we headed over to the north side of the reserve, to have a look at places where adders have been seen basking in sunny spots in the undergrowth. We didn’t see any adders, but while we were out we took a look at the tern rafts which have been moored in the lakes to attract breeding Common Terns. The terns don’t seem to be in charge of the rafts on Ibsley Water, where the Black‐headed Gulls have taken over, but back on Ivy Lake we counted between 8 and 10 terns which appeared to be sitting on nests on the rafts. We also checked the rafts out on Ellingham Pound, where again the Black‐headed Gulls were in charge. While we were looking at them, Geoff spotted a Hobby, hawking above the trees, and we watched as it appeared to eat a dragonfly on the wing.


This month the Young Naturalists are meeting on Sunday, 26th June, when we will be joined by Claire Sheppard, a local photographer, and we will be getting tips on improving our wildlife photography. For more details, see:
https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2022‐06‐26‐blashford‐lakes‐young‐naturalists‐picture


Nigel Owen – Young Naturalists Leader

Wildlife Tots enjoying the Dockens Water

Not content with only getting into the river the week before, I decided Monday’s Tots session would also be river themed! I am delighted to say that we had a fully booked morning session for Tots, and ran an afternoon session as well – one boy enjoyed himself so much that he came to both sessions.

Our first was to make paper boats (or rather, my task the night before).. was to learn how to fold a piece of a4 paper into a boat. PAPER! I hear you cry! But PAPER SINKS!? Ah ha, well…. at Blashford we are rather clever you see.

A4 paper at the ready, we scribbled and scribbled and scribbled and scribbled.. and … you guessed it…. scribbled some more…. with wax crayons, until both sides of our paper was completely covered, and WATERPROOFED!

Once we had waterproofed our paper, everybody followed along with my folding (well done parents, and children!) until we had created some lovely little boats.

We walked to the campfire area and sat around in a circle, heard a little bit of a story and then meandered our way to the river, picking little ‘passengers’ (flowers, grass heads etc) for our voyage down the river. When we arrived at the river we got in, lined up and with an assortment of adults to ‘field’ for boats so we didn’t lose any down the river proper, we let them go and had a boat race. Well, we actually had about 5 boat races!

Once we had finished racing, and ‘passengers’ had gone overboard, we all had a go at river dipping. The Tots loved splashing in the river finding all sorts of tiny creatures, and we didn’t have anywhere near as many full wellies as I had imagined. A huge thank you to the parents in the afternoon session, I was helping the children wash their hands at the tippy tap, and as I got back to the riverside all the equipment was rinsed, packed up and ready to go back to the centre. A busy day, but a wonderful one.