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).
Prime fungi spotting time is upon us and there are some crackers about at the moment. Just walk slow and look everywhere. They are really easy to photograph with your phone camera so long as your back is supple but a bit of time spent with a DSLR on a tripod with a macro lens and remote release can pay dividends. Please leave them as you find them and don’t forget there are a number of species that can make you feel pretty sick and more than one than can be fatal if eaten. If in doubt, do not touch!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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!
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:
One of the most striking moths in the trap was an Elephant Hawk Moth, and Fletcher caught this spectacular front-on close up:
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:
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 damselflies were everywhere around us, though they were difficult to photograph, as they don’t settle for long. Here are a couple of shots:
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?):
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:
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!
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:
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!