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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
Although I am sorry that it may be that we are unable to accommodate everyone who wished to join us for pond dipping this Easter I am pleased to update this blog post with the news that all 13 of the sessions offered have now been booked.
The number of events and places were limited by necessity so when they are gone, they are gone, but I can’t emphasise enough how great it is to be able to offer guided events again and engage directly with our visitors to facilitate their connection with nature again. No further events are planned for this holiday but keep your eyes and ears open for more pond dipping sessions and other activities to follow over the weekends of the coming next few weeks and months.
A somewhat inauspicious date to be posting a blog but I promise that there will be no making fools of anyone here!
I updated the website yesterday but unfortunately didn’t find the time to post on here. Essentially Mondays Step 1 of the Government’s roadmap for easing out of lockdown has had little impact on visiting the nature reserve other than in two small, but significant, details: firstly, the portable toilets are now open for use again!
They have been closed since the beginning of January as a necessary saving of £200 per month while visitors were (or should have been…) staying local and visiting for exercise only, and therefore not in quite the same need of them as someone staying all day or travelling to get here.
It has been lovely to see all of the usual regulars these last few days, whom we’ve not seen since last year, and judging by the smiles they were all pleased to be back!
The second Step 1 development is that now visitors are able to enjoy the nature reserve for pleasure as opposed to just exercise we are able to put out Tracy’s lovely and informative “wildlife spotter signs” and she wasted no time in doing so!
To run throughout the Easter Holiday, she has also re-prepared and put out the self-guided “Forest Folk” activity and trail that had to be taken in after only a few days of being out at the beginning of lockdown- information on the website here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-04-02-forest-folk
We’re hoping to start running some small guided events too – watch this space!
I’ll leave you with some recent photos from the reserve:
…what better way to celebrate and welcome it in than with, yes, you guessed it, more wild daffodils! If you’re fed up of seeing wild daffodils on these posts you may want to skip the next bit, but if like me you look forward to their blooming each year and mourn their passing, have a look at this short film I recorded a couple of weeks ago on behalf of a colleague:
Although the wild daffodil is unquestionably my favourite wildflower of late winter/early spring there are a number of close runners up, one of which is the tiny and so easily overlooked moschatel, or town hall clock:
It is tiny, and I think that’s why I like it so much. A bit like the scarlet male flowers of the hazel, seeing and appreciating their diminutive, perfectly cubic, flower heads is like discovering a secret known only to a select few every year.
Like the wild daffodil, and the bluebell whose leaves are becoming more prominent week by week around the nature reserve, moschatel is an ancient woodland indicator; i.e. a flower which indicates that you are in a woodland habitat that has survived as continuous woodland cover for a period of at least 400 years. The biodiversity of such a woodland is far, far greater than that of a newly planted woodland. The more ancient woodland indicator species there are present, the more likely that it is that that woodland is “ancient “.
As well as being Spring, today, the 20th March, also marks the first ever “World Rewilding Day”.
Rewilding is a relatively new term, but it is a concept whose value in helping to achieve the reversal of the climate change crisis through carbon capture, as well as, of course, helping to conserve biodiversity and reverse the terrible decline of so many species, has very quickly become a mainstream concept, no longer the preserve of a few scientists, radical landowners or guerrilla conservationists. Those few individuals in this at the start must today be incredibly pleased and surely also not a little surprised, that rewilding is now a world wide celebration!
What has the moschatel pictured below got to do with rewilding? Well, growing where it is within a small woodland amidst what was an aggregate quarry it is itself probably a rewilded plant. The Dockens Water river which flows through Blashford Lakes has retained and protected a narrow belt of ancient semi-natural woodland while all around it over the years man has farmed, constructed a WWII airbase and extracted sand and gravel. Once the quarrying activity stopped plants, animals, fungi and all the many other life forms which comprise our woodland ecosystem, are slowly, but steadily, recolonising the land.
It’s been rewilded.
The last couple of years has seen a huge drive to plant trees across the UK in a bid to slow or reverse the effects of climate change through the capture of carbon by trees. Planting tree’s is no bad thing, particularly in an urban environment. But in a non-urban setting nature can, and will, “plant” trees far better. Tree’s plant themselves if allowed to do so and if they are protected from intensive grazing or trampling. The resulting woodland will be more natural, more resilient and more diverse. And that is exactly what you can see happening on a small scale in the secondary woodland habitat around BlashfordLakes. It is far from being as biodiverse as the woodland along the Dockens Water, but, give it time… the moschatel and wild daffodils, and everything else, will come!
Of course in this time of enheightened awareness of climate change and rewilding we must remember that biodiversity is about far more than trees. Heathland, wetland, bog and grassland habitats can, and do, all sequester carbon and can, and do, all provide habitat for many rare species. Planting tree’s, or even allowing a woodland to develop naturally, in one of our few remaining ancient meadow habitats for instance would be as catastrophic for wildlife as ploughing it up or building on it. Indiscriminate tree planting, albeit with all of the best intentions, is not always the best or right thing to do.
Have been planning on writing a blog for a while as it has been far too long since the last post, but a yellow weather warning for wind and particularly strong winds forecast for overnight has finally prompted me to post!
If the weather is as unpleasant tomorrow as the forecast predicts it will be we don’t anticipate the reserve being particularly busy tomorrow (we’re aware of only two visitors so far today and they weren’t here long!).
If you are planning a visit here tomorrow (Thursday 11th March) do check here on the blog for site opening updates first, and do not plan to arrive first thing as even if the site does open tomorrow we will certainly be doing a site check when we arrive to ascertain that it is safe to open to visitors before opening the gates to the car park a little later than normal, assuming they open at all.
Todays weather is a far cry from that of the last few days which have been really very pleasant out of the wind in the sunshine. Nature has certainly been responding to the increase in temperatures and daylight length.
Bob reported seeing his first grass snake on Wednesday last week and indeed Tracy and I have both also seen the same snake basking in the same location on several occasions since. Adders have also now emerged and can be seen basking from the shelter of the dead-hedges along the footpath through the reedbed between Lapwing and Goosander Hide.
Other animals who are stirring or making their presence felt this Spring include black-tailed godwit who have been present around Ibsley Water in significant numbers of up to 2,000 or more last week and really putting on quite spectacular flight displays at times. Although staff have yet to see one, sand martins have also been reported flying around Ibsley Water over the last few days. Green woodpecker, noticeable by their absence the last couple of years have been “yaffling” fairly consistently and the great spotted woodpeckers have also been drumming of course too. Nest boxes and natural cavities are all being investigated for their potential as nest sites by any number of birds, most conspicuous of which have been the nuthatches who have been very busy in numerous locations as they inspect the “real estate”.
Drier nights (tonight and last night being the exceptions!) have also led to our running the light trap more regularly for moths and although not teeming with moths in the morning, the rewards have generally been worth the effort of putting it out:
On the mammal front the badgers, whose sett is in the vicinity of Woodland Hide, seem to have made a massive comeback – they all but disappeared from this location a few years ago for reasons unknown, but were clearly back last year and this Spring are incredibly active with any number of fresh diggings, latrines and piles of discarded bedding materialising!
The first of the wild daffodils started flowering 2-3 weeks ago but have only started to come into their best over the last few days:
Other wildflowers that have been becoming more prominent in recent days include coltsfoot, lesser celandine, primroses and willow catkins:
I’ve often pondered the “yellow-ness” of Spring – certainly not all of our Spring flowers are yellow, but it is true that a great many are, as illustrated above, so I did a bit of research on this phenomena a couple of weeks ago and the general belief seems to be that this colour must be the most obvious to insects throughout the relatively low hours of daylight early in the year. Whatever the actual reason, all of these bright, colourful, flowers are a most welcome burst of colour after the greyness of winter! Another such welcome splash of colour is the vivid red of the scarlet elf cups which thrive on the decaying wood in the damp and shady areas of Blashford woodland, although having been fruiting for several months they are now starting to lose some of their vibrancy and will not be with us for very much longer:
Other welcome signs of Spring include the slow but steady greening up of our tree’s and hedgerows, with the leaf buds of both elder and hawthorn now swelling and opening:
A less welcome sign of better weather is an increase in the number of “rogue” visitors accessing the site. Although by far the majority of visitors visit, use and respect the nature reserve as we intend a small minority do not. Illegal fishing and poaching activity has noticeably increased on the nature reserve, particularly on Ellingham Lake where it is less of a wildlife conservation issue, but also on Ibsley Water where it does pose significant risks to the ground nesting birds who nest around it and who are so readily disturbed by trespassers, be they anglers, birders or walkers who “just want to look at the lake”. Fly-tipping and of course littering, the latter of which is not usually an issue at Blashford Lakes fortunately, has also increased, and I was very saddened to see that most awful and unnecessary of modern British countryside sights for the first time at Blashford Lakes just a couple of weeks ago: that of a plastic bag of dog mess swinging from the branches of a tree along the Ivy Lake/Rockford permissive footpath 😦 .
Readers of this blog are, I am sure, all respectful of our wildlife generally and of our nature reserve particularly, so please do let us know if you witness anyone behaving inappropriately. There often is no one in the office to pick up the phone but you are welcome to call 01425 472760 and leave a message, or alternatively email email@example.com – if you could include a date, time, place and brief description of the wrong-doer and wrong-doing it would be very helpful, particularly as at least some of the inappropriate activity is undertaken on a fairly routine basis by the same individuals.
Please do not however attempt to challenge anyone directly as we would not want a more significant incident to deal with!
With this Monday seeing us, as a nation, begin our journey out of lockdown with the children returning to school, the Trust is reviewing how we manage our work and sites alongside the easing of restrictions.
Some of our volunteer wardens will return this week adding to eyes and ears “on the ground” which will no doubt help with some of the aftermath of less welcome visitors and all being well our Welcome Volunteers will return at the end of the month and it is at the end of the month that we will review making the portable toilets available to visitors as well. For the time-being the guidance from the Government is to “stay local” and we are operating our sites under that premis.
Look forward to welcoming everyone back soon! In the meantime, stay safe.
Bob and I prepare and present an annual report to our funders and partners in the “Blashford Lakes Project”, Bournemouth Water and Wessex Water at a meeting in the early Spring of the year following that of the reporting year. This meeting was held (via Microsoft Teams of course 😉 ) earlier this week and the report accepted.
So, for anyone stuck at home and looking for things to do this lockdown, or who is missing the place but staying away from Blashford because it is too far away than is reasonable to travel for exercise at present, please enjoy said report by following the link here: