A Wind in the Willows

And the Oaks and all the other trees come to that! The wind blew and sadly some of the trees fell, but we are clearing them away and now there is access to all the hides, although not all the paths are open yet. All hides and car parks are open as normal, however the path along the Dockens Water to Goosander and Lapwing hides is closed, this is due to a number of fallen trees and fallen overhead power lines lying across the path. The path around Ellingham Lake is also closed, a number of fallen and hanging trees are the problem here.

We will be clearing trees from the paths over the next few days and the power lines will be repaired, this work may mean some additional restrictions to access at times. Please take heed of any signs indicating closures or work in progress whilst we try and get the reserve fully up and running again.

We will only be clearing trees where they are a hazard and wherever possible the fallen wood will be left as habitat, more beetles, more fungi, generally more wildlife.

30 Days Wild – Day 12

A bit of a delay with Day 12, I managed a Tweet but not the blog. Friday was a decidedly mixed day, fine enough in the morning but with heavy rain in the afternoon, at least it refilled the water butts at the Centre after I had emptied them to top up the pond earlier in the week.

The last few days have brought at least some rain and a spurt in growth is just starting. Plants need both water and sunshine for growth, so where the ground remained wet from the winter growth is already spectacular, after one of the wettest winters followed by the sunniest spring plants like common reed will probably reach record heights.

reedbed

Reedbed

The reeds near Lapwing hide are already mostly overtopping last year’s maximum height and they should grow on a good bit more yet before they stop growth and start putting their energy into flowering.

The higher light levels are also apparent in the woodland, here light levels are typically low and many plants rely on just a short period of sunlight a day, or even no direct sunlight at all. With such high light levels this year growth even in shade has been good so long as there has been enough water. The shaded vegetation under the trees by the boardwalk often struggles, there is plenty of water but light is at a premium, but ever here growth has been vigorous. The variation caused by the different sized openings in the canopy where trees have fallen produces a wonderfully mixed vegetation  and wonderful habitat for lots of species. This is one area of the reserve where there is almost no habitat management and we let nature takes its course, a miniature rewilding.

willow swamp

Willow swamp vegetation

I am sometimes asked why we don’t rewild more of our reserves, it would be a great thing to do, but we are limited by the demands of safe public access, so it is only really in areas that the public cannot access that we can safely leave things. Although a passion for tidiness in some quarters is a significant factor in the amount of habitat such as deadwood and especially standing deadwood that is left for wildlife, the need to provide what is seen as a safe place for people I at least as significant. Certainly at Blashford there would be  a lot more standing deadwood habitat if the only consideration was the needs of wildlife. The irony is that although all trees will fall eventually most of them actually fall when they are not dead. This I found myself when I came to leave yesterday and found a willow had fallen across the entrance track. A combination of a large load of leaves, a weight of water from the rain and some gust y winds had proved too much for it. Willows do this a lot and rarely break off, they go from vertical to horizontal and just keep on growing, or at least they would if we let them. As I wanted to get home this one was cut back, rewilding is all very well but I was getting hungry!

fallen tree

fallen willow blocking the way

Wetlands

This week has been busy working with volunteers at both Blashford Lakes and Fishlake Meadows. Both are wetland sites, rich in wildlife and the tasks have been aimed at maintaining this diversity of habitat and wildlife. The value of many wetlands lies not in the water itself but what grows in it or immediately around it and how these species and habitats interact. They form a mosaic including open water with lush marginal vegetation, these plants act as the support for a huge foodweb, although it is often only those species such as reed warbler or marsh harrier near the top that we notice.

So what were the volunteers up to? on both Wednesday and Thursday each team was managing scrub willow, to recreate open areas, allowing in light and restarting the habitat succession. In the past such work might have accompanied by a roaring bonfire, something I moved away from a good few years ago. I have several reasons for avoiding fires, they pollute the atmosphere, they sterilise the ground with their heat at the fire site, the ash acts as a fertiliser for hungry plants like nettle and thistle and the twigs and branches burnt are potential habitat for lost of species. For years we left log piles for beetles and other wood boring species, but the smaller diameter branches and twigs were ignored, despite the fact that they support even more species. So now we avoid fires and use dead hedges wherever we can. Ultimately the wood will break down and the carbon in it be released, but much more slowly and only after use by many other species.

volunteers working at Fishlake Meadows

Fishlake’s volunteers getting stuck-in shifting willow from a reedbed area to a new dead hedge.

At Blashford Lakes the terrain was a little drier and the areas opened up will support a mixed reed and dry fen vegetation, there is also an additional reason for clearance as this habitat is favoured by adder at Blashford. Many adder populations are in trouble, with some rarely producing young, luckily Blashford’s adders seem to be doing well and we see young snakes quite regularly.

Blashford volunteers

Blashford’s volunteers clearing scrub willow.

At Blashford we have combined the clearance of small willow with pollarding of larger ones to keep some dense willow growth favoured by many species. The dead hedges here provide valuable wind breaks for lots of wildlife including snakes and log piles placed in shelter are used for basking.

As it happens today is “World Wetlands Day“, this year’s theme is “Urban Wetlands – prized land, not wasteland“. Blashford Lakes is perhaps not an urban wetland, although it is not far from the town, but it is a prized wetland developed from a former industrial site, used for gravel extraction and making concrete products. Fishlake is perhaps a suburban wetland rather than a truly urban one, it is certainly right on the doorstep of Romsey town. In many ways it had been something of a wasteland since the abandonment of farming, but a “wasteland” that nature has reclaimed in a spectacular manner and well on the way to becoming a prize wetland site.

At dusk yesterday I was struct by just how valuable wetlands are for wildlife, from Ivy South hide I could see close on a thousand wildfowl, scattered all across the lake.

wildfowl on Ivy Lake

wildfowl on Ivy Lake

A little later still on Ibsley Water the huge gull roost emphasised how much wildlife depends upon wetlands, in this case as a roost site, as most of them spend the day feeding on farmland out on Salisbury Plain.

gull roost

A small part of the Ibsley Water gull roost with a few duck in the background.

Although the Thayer’s gull of last Sunday has not returned, this week has seen regular sightings of the regular ring-billed gull and on Wednesday and Thursday evenings a juvenile Iceland gull.

 

A Cold and Frosty Morning

Ivy Lake from Ivy South hide

Ivy Lake on a chill morning

Despite the chill, seven volunteers turned out today to do a dead hedging task at Blashford Lakes. I am a great fan of the dead hedge, when we are scrub cutting, or coppicing or just dealing lop and top it provides a great way to clear the branches without the damage caused by burning. Conservationists are great at leaving log piles for invertebrates, often forgetting that the smaller branches and twigs are home to even more species. In addition the dense tangle of a dead hedge provides cover for nesting birds, hibernating insects and also makes a good barrier. We use them as shelter to promote bramble, both as barrier features and habitat in its own right.

Out on the reserve on Ibsley Water the black-necked grebe was still present as were both pink-footed geese, although the juvenile looks very unwell. I counted 118 pochard, my largest count for some years, although I missed the goosander roost, a disappointment as I expect there are well over 100 now.  Near the Centre and at the Woodland hide there were a few brambling and one or two lesser redpoll. 

pink-footed goose

a very poor record shot of the juvenile pink-footed goose

Dusk saw a somewhat reduced number of starling coming to roost, although they gave a good show thanks to being attacked by a peregrine. The gull roost included the regular ring-billed gull, although it seems there has been another bird seen recently, although I don’t think both have been seen on the same evening. “Walter” our great white egret was back on his dead alder roost on Ivy Lake near the cormorant roost, but there still seems to be no sign of a bittern yet.

I got an almost equally poor record shot of the black-necked grebe the other day as well, poor but still the best I have managed!

black-necked grebe

It will close with a last shot of the Ivy Silt Pond with almost perfect reflections in the calm chill of the morning as I opened up the hides.

silt pond reflections

Ivy Silt Pond reflections

Don’t forget the Pop-up cafe will be in again on New Years Day, see you there!