And it’s goodbye from me…

Twenty years almost to the day (& certainly to the week) since I joined the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust Education team at Blashford Lakes I am returning my keys, uniform, phone & laptop and leaving for new challenges with the New Forest National Park Authority Ranger team.

Twenty years is a loooooong time in one job, particularly these days, but to be fair both the site and my job have grown and changed quite significantly in that time. Indeed when I first started I was an “Education and Community Warden”, the only employee on site, the nature reserve was a fraction of the size that it is now, had just one hide, with one path down to it (roughly in the location of Ivy South Hide today) and the site was closed to the public unless part of a booked, organised & pre-arranged group visit (not that that stopped birders clambering over the odd gate & fence for a glimpse of the lake – you know who you are!). In 2002 quarrying had only very recently been completed in what is now Ellingham Lake and it had not formally been signed off by Hampshire County Council Minerals and Waste Planning, both Rockford Lake and Ibsley Water were both still very much active quarries and Hanson were operating both a concrete block plant and cement pre-mix facility on the southern shore of Ibsley Water too.

Since then the site has gone onto employ more staff across a site which has doubled in size, welcomed in the public and established itself as an excellent educational resource for schools and uniformed youth groups across Hampshire, Dorset & Wiltshire.

As an educator it has been an amazing place to work and the Trust has been a fantastic organisation to work for – the same mix of habitats, all within a relatively small area, and the rich biodiversity which make Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve such a popular destination for wildlife lovers and bird watchers, means that it is, in my opinion, one of the best (the best of?) places to introduce children (and adults) to wildlife and the outdoors, engender awe and wonder and an appreciation of it, as well as the desire to proactively learn about and care for it. At the same time the Trust has provided the space and support for me to develop an education program and activities, both formal and informal, as I see fit.

I know that my love of nature doesn’t come from school, books or screens but rather that it stems from the time I spent growing up outdoors as a child and youth in North Lincolnshire. Not pro-actively seeking wildlife but simply exposed and immersed in the natural world whilst playing in it. This experience & knowledge has informed, and continues to inform, all of my outdoor education work and it has been my absolute joy & pleasure to be gifted with the opportunity to play & encourage play in nature at Blashford Lakes over the last twenty years.

A big thank you to everyone who has joined me exploring and playing in and around the pond, river, meadow, woodland or hides. It really has been my pleasure &, as much as I am looking forward to new challenges in my new role, I already know how much I am going to miss Blashford, the staff, the volunteers and visitors!

Join me for my final wander around Blashford (as a member of staff at least!) via my Twitter feed here: https://twitter.com/JimDay22857614/status/1573257381223481345

I’ll be back 😉

Sad as it is to be leaving, it’s good to know that the site is in good hands.

Thank you to everyone who contributed so generously to the escape fund, for re-naming the education meadow “Jim’s Meadow” & to Geoff for my wonderful wooden “glasses”:

If nothing else it will be quieter next week…

AWOOOOOOOOOGAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRGH!

…if you know you know 🙂

Blashford Lakes will be open as normal on 19th September

We are extremely saddened by the death of Her Majesty The Queen and send our deepest sympathies to the Royal Family.

Queen Elizabeth II dedicated her life to public service and was celebrated for her passion for the outdoors, the countryside and rural life, lending her support to the work of The Wildlife Trusts and many environmental charities over the years. 

Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust Nature Reserves, including Blashford Lakes, hides and car parks, will remain open on the day of the State Funeral for people to visit for quiet reflection if they wish.

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

Quick post on bird and dragonfly photography

Firstly on bird photography: we are absolutely delighted and thrilled to have local wildlife photographer and lecturer John Combes back for the first time since the pandemic hit delivering his popular and brilliant photography courses.

Sadly the “Basics” day course, which should have run today, didn’t, and this is particularly sad as it is almost certainly simply because of the fact that with our current (temporary!) reduced staffing levels I have been too busy to advertise it as well as I should have done. So I am working at home late tonight to make sure that more people are aware of the follow up “Birds” photography course which is being held next Saturday, 2nd July. With some places sold already this course is definitely running – but we are keen to fill it if we can!

Please visit the website to find out more – and book!

https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2022-07-02-wildlife-photography-birds

Now onto dragonfly photography – I have a special request…

Nigel Kendall, a Blashford Lakes supporter, one of our Welcome Volunteers and a keen photographer himself, is working up a “Blashford Dragonflies” book which will be sold from the Welcome Hut with all proceeds to Blashford Lakes. The book will feature a small amount of information alongside images of all of the Odonata species currently known to frequent the nature reserve as well as a small number of other species not yet recorded which are likely to be at some point in the future (based on a list compiled by Bob Chapman).

Nigel has good quality images which he is happy to publish of the vast majority of dragonfly and damselfly species on the list, but is missing the following:

Willow Emerald Damsel
Scarce Blue-tailed Damsel
Green-eyed Hawker
Vagrant Emperor
Lesser Emperor
Yellow-winged Darter
Red-veined Darter

So, if you have images of any of the above you are willing to share for this publication, or can forward this blog post onto anyone who you think might be able to help, we would be very grateful. Could you please email us at BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk with your consent for me to forward your email on to Nigel, and I will do so so that he may correspond with you directly.

In return you will obviously be credited as you wish within the book and you will receive your very own copy of the book free of charge when it is published – and, as if it could get any better, you will also get to experience the wonderful, warm, glow of knowing that your image contribution is indirectly contributing to the ongoing support and management of the Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve & Education Centre!

We hope to hear from you!

Draft front cover of Blashford Lakes Dragonflies by Nigel Kendall

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.