About Jim Day, Blashford Lakes

Education Officer at Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trusts Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve, near Ringwood.

What’s on at Blashford Lakes this half term?

Campfire “toffee apples”

Lots!

Starting with storytelling around the campfire during the afternoon of Saturday 23rd October, complimented by the wonderful seasonal campfire delicacy that is sugar coated apple baked on a stick. What’s not to like?!

See the website for more details and to book:

https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-10-23-go-wildcampfire-taleshttps://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-10-23-go-wildcampfire-tales

Woodmouse being released behind the Centre during a previous event

I’m delighted to say that we are also running Wild Day Out activity days for children again this half-term – and that bookings are going well.

The theme this half-term is mammals, tracks & signs. There are some places left, but they are limited, so book now if you want to avoid disappointment!

Tuesday 26th October, Traps, tracks & signs, is our Wild Day Out for 7-12 year old children: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-10-26-wild-day-out-traps-tracks-and-signs

And Wednesday 27th October, Animal Quest, is our Wild Day Out for 5-8 year old children: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-10-27-wild-day-out-animal-quest

And finally, being the last Sunday of the month, from 10am to 2.30pm on Sunday 31st October there will of course be our regular meeting of the Young Naturalists led by Tracy (our wildlife and conservation event for 13-17 year old young people) – details and booking information to follow shortly on the Events pages of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events

Bookings for all events must be made in advance online via the above webpage links, but if you have any queries you are very welcome to email us on BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk and we’ll get back to you 🙂

Feeling blue?

Clifden Nonpareil (blue underwing)

It is properly grim out there today so just a quick post with a truly blue stunning insect to cheer up your weekend!

Just three individual moths in the light trap this morning, two of which were this awesome moth, a blue underwing (which sadly you can’t see in my picture so you’ll just have to imagine the sky blue/black banded hindwings!), or Clifden Nonpareil.

A one time resident of the UK it became extinct during the mid-20th Century with just occasional sightings of migrants each year. More recently however it has become more frequent and is thought to be making a very welcome back 😊

Recent bird highlights include a grey phalarope which has been present on Ibsley Water all week and showing relatively well. To the best of my knowledge not seen yet today by the handful of visitors braving the downpours, but the hundreds (thousands?) of house martins skimming hither & thither across the surface of the lake are very impressive to behold!

A Wild Day Out at last!

During the half-term school holiday of February 2020 we enjoyed some unseasonably mild, but very, very wet weather amidst the good company of children, both regulars and newcomers, and enjoyed some natural craft activities on our school holiday activity days known as “Wild Days Out” (see the blog post that followed it here:https://blashfordlakes.wordpress.com/2020/02/28/winter-craft/).

Little did we know at the time that that would be the last for 18 months!

So it was with some trepidation, but mostly delight, that this summer holiday we finally held Wild Days Out again – Tracy at the beginning of the holidays with some den building and fire-lighting fun, me at the end with an aquatic adventure; pond dipping and river dipping with a difference.

The weather throughout August could have been better, but it could have been a lot worse, and I think it is fair to say that staff, volunteers and children all had a ball and that everyone involved was genuinely pleased to be back doing what we love! Yet another milestone in the road to pandemic recovery.

I love my job as an Education Officer, but even so it is not often that I will declare that all of the children that I work with are delightful, but, in this instance, they really were and it was so lovely to spend some time playing outdoors with them all, everyone sharing a love of and learning about nature 🙂

We started our Wild Day Out off at the pond with some pond dipping following on from some colouring, wordsearch, frog origami and pipe-cleaner dragonfly crafting activities while we waited for everyone to arrive and be registered. Given that the dipping pond we were using is only just more than two years old it amazes me every time we dip it just how much wildlife has already colonised it – and is colonising it. All of the children had memorable close up dragonfly encounters whilst being inspected by the southern and migrant hawkers standing guard over their territory!

Still as good as the pond is, and the promise it holds, I very much hope we are successful in raising enough money through our current boardwalk and pond replacement fundraising appeal to replace the neighbouring “original” dipping pond which, sadly, despite the incredible biodiversity it once held, no longer holds water and which has, during this very dry summer that we have had, now all but dried out completely.

We need to raise £5,000 to supplement some money which has already been secured, partly by a very generous donation from a regular supporter of, and visitor to, Blashford and if you would like to help us achieve this amount – and in doing so ensure that we are able to continue to offer incredible educational experiences and wildlife encounters for children and adults on Wild Days Out, school visits or events – please do visit our appeal page and donate to the project by following the link to the website here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/appeals/blashford-lakes-boardwalk-pond-appeal

A very heartfelt thank you to everyone who has already contributed to our appeal – as well as to everyone who I hope will now do so!

We spent a lot of time at the pond and what was particularly gratifying on this occasion especially was how long the children spent studying and identifying the invertebrates in their catch: all too often it is the “thrill of the hunt” which captivates them so this was great 🙂 !

Following lunch (which again was remarkably civilised for a Wild Day Out) we headed down to the river dipping area to explore the Dockens Water, pausing on route to make some soft rush boats on our way down, always a much loved, favourite and memorable past time!

Rush boats making – and a none too subtle hint of what was to come when we got to the river!

Boats sailed (see the video clip I posted in my Twitter feed here: https://twitter.com/JimDay22857614/status/1430944382287556616 !) we got on with the business of kick sampling to see what river wildlife could be found:

Sadly there was not as much wildlife to be found as we would normally expect to see, although more than enough to satisfy us on this occasion. I fear that a lot of “dam building” by visitors this summer may have excessively disturbed the river bed and thus dislodged the invertebrates – and some fish – who were sheltering under the cobbles and amidst the gravels that were used in the construction. Although I am reasonably confident that the wildlife itself is fine, and just resettled downstream, it has left our dipping area somewhat bereft of its usual abundance of life, and probably won’t be recolonised until we get some rainfall and the spate conditions which follow re-distributes the animals along the course of the river. There is a lot to be said for encouraging river play, and indeed I positively encourage it myself, but it should always be borne in mind that our actions can, and do, often have unintended consequences. Indeed it is due to the impacts that our river activity can have on the wildlife that within the nature reserve we very much limit our activity to one very small section of river.

With time marching on, the end of the session (and collection by parents) drawing closer it was time to take the plunge – quite literally – for those that wanted to, and were daft enough!

While some children (probably quite sensibly) continued fishing with their nets, a handful of us (lumping myself in this group as the biggest kid of the lot 😉 ) donned masks and snorkels to see what, if anything we could see…

Some of us were content to just put our faces in…

Some of us wanted to go further, but were not quite committed enough…

And some of us went for it!

And just for the record I did see fish – some little minnows which I was ridiculously excited to see as the exclamations through my snorkel would testify to all that were there to hear them!

And was it cold? Cor blimey, yes it was! A lot colder than the sea had been when I’d gone swimming with the family at Highcliffe a couple of days before hand!

A lot of fun though 😉

All being well the next Wild Day Out will be held during the October half-term holiday. Although the theme for the activities is yet to be decided they are likely to run on Tuesday 26th October (for 7-12 year olds) and Wednesday 27th October (for 5-8 year olds) if you want to pencil those dates in your diary! We’ll advertise and take bookings through the website as normal when we are ready: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events

A long overdue post – and an appeal for our appeal

Ooops! when this was originally posted the hyperlink to the donations page was not working. Re-blogged here with the hyperlink now working!

Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve

Visitors to Blashford over the last 5 years or so can’t have failed to notice that the boardwalk beyond Ivy South Hide has been deteriorating slowly but surely. It has had a multitude of boards replaced in this time but, with a rapidly failing substructure, this is no longer an option and it has been on the priority list for replacement as and when budget allows for the last two years.

Unfortunately budget has not allowed.

Like most businesses and other charities we have not been left unaffected by COVID and our income from both group visits and general visitor donations has fallen significantly over the last 18 months, the latter despite a significant increase in the number of visitors enjoying the site throughout a time when people have been feeling safer meeting friends and enjoying outdoor recreation as a safer alternative to indoor spaces.

Extra footfall is a great…

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A long overdue post – and an appeal for our appeal

Visitors to Blashford over the last 5 years or so can’t have failed to notice that the boardwalk beyond Ivy South Hide has been deteriorating slowly but surely. It has had a multitude of boards replaced in this time but, with a rapidly failing substructure, this is no longer an option and it has been on the priority list for replacement as and when budget allows for the last two years.

Unfortunately budget has not allowed.

Like most businesses and other charities we have not been left unaffected by COVID and our income from both group visits and general visitor donations has fallen significantly over the last 18 months, the latter despite a significant increase in the number of visitors enjoying the site throughout a time when people have been feeling safer meeting friends and enjoying outdoor recreation as a safer alternative to indoor spaces.

Extra footfall is a great opportunity for a wildlife charity to engage and connect people with the wildlife in their local area, but it does also cause wear and tear on the footpaths and infrastructure which most of us just take for-granted, without considering the fact that there are costs, sometimes significant, to maintaining them.

As a Trust we don’t build boardwalks on a whim; they are expensive. But this boardwalk across the Dockens Water floodplain and through some wonderful wetland willow carr habitat, not only gives visitors a glimpse into this unique habitat in safety, it is also one of the lynchpins within our permissive footpath network which holds it all together – it’s loss would be great not just for our visitors but for many educational groups that use it too.

Sadly it is deteriorating fast and earlier this summer the decision was made that it was no longer safe for large electric wheel chairs or for mobility scooters to cross for fear that the weight of the machines would be too much for the weakened structure. As it is it won’t survive the winter for people on foot either, and may not even last the autumn before we take the difficult, and reluctant, decision to close it completely.

However, fortunately, it is not all doom and gloom!

A very generous regular visitor to, and supporter of, Blashford Lakes has pledged £10,000 towards the replacement of the old boardwalk and to also replace the original dipping pond behind the Centre which sadly no longer holds water following the ingress of reeds into it and through the liner (more on why the pond is so important to us, not just for wildlife, but also the irreplaceable educational opportunities it provides, to follow in a subsequent blog). We also have a further £5,000 secured but we need another £5,000 to complete the works – and this is where (I hope!) you come in.

The Trust has launched a public appeal to raise this additional £5,000. We have already received contributions totalling nearly £3,000 but we are hopeful that we can raise the full amount.

If you have already donated to this appeal, then thank you. Your contribution really is so very much appreciated!

If you have not done so, and indeed this may well be the first you have heard about it, and if you are in a position that you can afford to do so, then please do make a donation.

You can donate direct to the boardwalk/pond replacement project via Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trusts dedicated website page, where you can also track how well the fundraising is going, here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/appeals/blashford-lakes-boardwalk-pond-appeal

Thank you in anticipation of your generosity!

Hide opening update and events for children and families this summer

Having satisfied our adult visitors last week with the long-awaited opening of the hides, out on site our attention has turned to maintaining access to said hides despite the unstoppable force of nature that is the bramble and stinging nettle growth during the perfect growing conditions of sunshine and rain! The re-opening generally seems to have gone down well and everyone is happy to be in the hides again after all this time, even though there is not a HUGE amount to see from them at the moment. Everyone does also seem to be behaving themselves and respecting everyone else at present, which is also pleasing, and reassuring, to see!

A plea however!

Understandably, and in line with our request to keep the hides well ventilated while in use, the windows are being opened up but could EVERYONE also please make sure that they close the hide windows behind them when they leave (also in line with our request on the notices outside and within each hide). Last week was ridiculously hot and it was not unexpected therefore to find them all open at the end of the day, but the weather has broken, it is not so hot, and we are getting some very heavy downpours and it is very disappointing to find the majority of windows in the majority of hides all still wide open when closing up, even when it is chucking it down with rain outside (and inside!) the hides.

Grass snake basking outside Ivy North Hide on Tuesday morning

Elsewhere on the reserve, across the lichen heath to be exact, you can’t help but be amazed (I can’t anyway) by the field of gold that it has become over the last couple of weeks, primarily with the perforate St Johns-wort pictured above, but with a scattering of nectar rich ragwort towering above them and hawkbits below.

Back in the office I have been juggling reduced staffing, volunteer availability, COVID-19 mitigation, testing and “pings” to work out what our summer holiday children’s activity programme will look like.

It was a bit of a complex tangle to unravel but I am delighted to say that, as things stand at present at least, yesterday afternoon bookings for a busy summer of pond and river dipping, den building, fire-lighting and mini-beasting went live!

Details and booking (which is essential for all of our events this summer) can now all be found in the Events section of the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust website here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events (easiest way to find the Blashford Lakes entries is to use the “Location” filter, second from the bottom of the filter menu 😉

A word of warning – in recent months some of our visitors have had difficulties booking on to our events via their mobile phones. They get so far, including all of the form filling which is required, but then stall at payment and can get no further. This glitch is unfortunately beyond my control and more than a little frustrating, so please do use a computer or laptop to book places on the events if you can – and if you can’t and you do experience problems do please let us know and we will collate and pass on any feedback to those responsible for the website platform in hope that enough people fed up with it might generate some action to correct it! Fingers crossed it all just works though!

Looking forward to seeing some “old faces” again soon. Mind-boggling to think that our last Wild Days Out events were in February last year – see https://blashfordlakes.wordpress.com/2020/02/28/winter-craft/! #

We’re looking forward to another summer of this at long last!

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!

“Wilder Festival” Invitation

Join us in celebrating the people, wildlife, and conservation work in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

This year, to celebrate the amazing actions for nature that are happening all over our two counties, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust is hosting our inaugural Wilder Festival and Annual Awards: eventbrite.co.uk/e/wilder-festival-and-annual-awards-tickets-154532004385

We have a packed schedule for you, your friends, and your family to take part in and because it is all online, you can come and go as you please!

Get excited for the following: mindful nature videos, storytelling by a campfire, the Wilder Annual Awards Ceremony and more! We’ve also planned a virtual scavenger hunt and a BioBlitz that your families can do at home and share your findings with other families on our social media wall. Blashford wildlife will be well represented too, with a live pond dipping demonstration and pond life identification session led by our colleague Craig and live moth trap opening and insect identification/ Q & A with our very own Bob Chapman.

As the event is online, you can come and go as you please.

All of the festivities will be recorded and live on the event’s website, even after the weekend is over. So, book your tickets now and if you can’t come to all the events during the festival, you will still have access to all our recordings until 20th July 2021.

Book your free tickets here: eventbrite.co.uk/e/wilder-festival-and-annual-awards-tickets-154532004385

An invitation from Longham Lakes

After months of struggling to do very much on the face to face engagement front it is so lovely to be seeing school groups again now – but with depleted staff hours we are limited in what we are able to offer, so sadly we have not been able to organise activities for this half-term holiday. I am hoping to advertise some weekend family events soon and get some “Wild Day Out” activity days in the calendar – watch this space for updates!

In the meantime we have received a request from our partners, the South West Lakes Trust, to share details of a family activity day which they are holding at Longham Lakes in Ferndown this Friday.

They promise fun activities for families to learn about where their water comes from, the wildlife around the lakes, how to cook over a fire, use tools and more, so, if this is of interest to you, do follow this link to their website to find out more and book!