Making the most of it…

Over the last few weeks we have been utilising our willow crop, making the most of the many withies our osier bed produces. Sometimes referred to as basket willow, common osier has traditionally been coppiced or pollarded for its withies: thin, pliable rods used for making baskets or hurdles, screens or sculptures.

IMG_6091

Willow withies, cut and ready to be woven!

Willow is of value to wildlife, with the caterpillars of a number of moth species feeding on the foliage, the catkins providing an important source of early nectar and pollen for bees and other insects and the branches making good nesting and roosting sites for birds.

Our volunteers were busy harvesting the willow over the winter months. Some are left to grow for longer, producing large poles which can be used for fencing stakes or den building poles, whilst our main bed is pollarded each year, providing us with toasting sticks for cooking food over the campfire, bundles of willow we can sell to willow weavers and Forest School leaders for willow craft activities and lots of withies we can use ourselves.

At their February meeting, our Young Naturalists had a go at constructing a living willow dome to the side of the Education Centre. Although it may not look living now, the willow rods pushed into the ground will hopefully take, producing lots of side shoots we can then weave into the basic structure.

We began by pollarding the last few willows in the osier bed and rummaging through the piles of cut withies to select a number which were nice and long and straight.

Using a piece of twine tied to a stick pushed into the ground, we measured out our willow dome and pushed a number of withies into the ground in a circle. We then pulled in the tips of those rods and tied them together at the top before adding some horizontally part way up the structure to pull in the shape and create a dome.

Megan had made willow hoops on a Natural Wellbeing session in January whilst with us for work experience and shared this new found knowledge with Mollie and Will, producing a number of hoops we could use as windows.

IMG_0667-001

Making willow hoop windows

We added in two archways for doors and our willow hoop windows then, having run out or time, admired our creation.

IMG_20180225_142745

Our willow dome

Hopefully the willow will grow and over time we will be able to strengthen our structure with the new growth, giving it more shape and definition. I know it will be a welcome addition to the area by the Education Centre, our Wildlife Tots in particular loved the structure when they joined us at the start of the month. Thank you to volunteers Geoff and Roma for your help, and to volunteer placement Sarah who has added in more willow over the past week to fill in some of our gaps!

IMG_20180309_165528

Our willow dome with a few more willow rods – thank you Sarah!

We have also used the willow to make hedgerow baskets on an adult workshop and simple platters with children from Moyles Court School as part of their Global Development Day.

On our hedgerow workshop we harvested the willow on day one, using it to create the framework of our baskets before foraging for other materials on day two, including bramble, holly, ivy, sedge, rush, broom, birch and larch, experimenting with these materials when weaving the body of the basket. Here are some of our participants finished creations:

At Moyles Court School we made simple willow platters with the children as part of their Global Development Day, introducing them to the material and discussing the many uses of willow. They really enjoyed their willow weaving experience and everyone went away with a willow platter they had expertly woven:

Whilst we’ve used a lot of last year’s willow growth, we still have plenty left for other creations, projects and campfire cooking – and there will always be more of this wonderful natural material to harvest next Winter and use in the Spring!

Advertisements

Late Spring Colour

After a few days of properly sunny weather things are picking up on the reserve now, with more and more insects in evidence each day. There are lots of damselflies about and today I added azure damselfly to my species list for the year. I also saw my first Blashford holly blue and small copper today, often the spring brood of small copper can pass almost un-noticed, so maybe there will be really big numbers by the autumn, something to look forward to. The holly blue was near the Centre, first spotted flying round the tree tops but then it dropped down to drink from the damp ground beside the puddle outside the Centre entrance.

holly blue drinking

holly blue drinking

The recent southerly winds have also resulted in a modest arrival of large white and red admiral, fresh in from the south.

red damiral

red admiral

Other insects today included common malachite beetle, the more frequent cousin to the very rare and beautiful scarlet malachite beetle, which is actually found within just a couple of miles of the reserve.

common malachite beetle

common malachite beetle

The most notable insect of the day though was a rather rare and splendid hoverfly, a species associated with old woodland and no doubt on the reserve because of our direct link to the New Forest, it goes by the name Brachypalpoides lentus. It flies about through the vegetation like a parasitic wasp and even mimics their behaviour by trembling its body when at rest, just as the wasps do.

Brachypalpoides lentus

Brachypalpoides lentus

There are a lot more flowers coming out now, which probably pleases the insects, the hawthorn is in full bloom as is the broom, although I think our broom is actually a planted alien species called hairy-fruited broom rather than the native.

broom

broom in flower

The day was not wholly about insects though. On Ibsley Water the immature little gull is still to be seen, usually just to the east of Tern hide. A little further away on the longer shingle spit there was a very smart drake garganey this morning and as I locked up there was a single Arctic tern over the lake with the usual dozen or so common tern.