Almost there…

…by Lucy Wiltshire (Volunteer Placement)

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From earlier posts you may already know that over the past few months we have undergone many changes here at Blashford. Thanks to generous donations from local people, together with funding from the Veolia Environmental Trust (with money from the Landfill Communities Fund) and LEADER (part-funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development) we have been able to update reserve signage, create a new pond, replace the old Tern Hide and add in additional new features for visitor engagement, including the ‘Wild Walk’ sculpture trail and Welcome Hut. Today’s blog will highlight some of these new developments just as they are coming to completion, so please do venture down to the reserve to discover them for yourself along with friends and family.

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The Welcome Hut

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Inside the Welcome Hut

Around the Education Centre much thought has been given to making the space accessible and beneficial for all, with a safer area for visiting groups and families to congregate and enter or exit the building and more picnic benches.  The wildlife has not been forgotten, with three large planters filled with many pollinator friendly plant species. Particular favourites are the Salvia and Marjoram, both of which are regularly visited by many types of familiar insects including the bumblebee (both shown in the photograph below). When visiting next make sure you stop by to look or take a few photographs of your own.  In addition, wildflower turf had been laid next to the Welcome Hut and this is currently being frequented by a dazzling array of damselflies.

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Bumblebee on Salvia

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Azure blue damselfly

As some eagle eyed readers may have already spotted from the photo at the start of this blog, we have also increased our offer to our youngest visitors to the reserve. Re-surfacing the car park to improve the drainage has removed the almost permanent puddle that was so popular with our Wildlife Tots groups and other visiting toddlers, so hopefully to compensate for the loss of this water feature we have built a sandpit, with leaf stepping stones leading from this to a tunnel (which used to be uncovered and behind the Education Shelter) and then on to the boat.

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Sandpit, tunnel and boat

The sandpit is now the first part of this mini adventure trail leading up the bank to the boat, and children can follow the oak leaf stepping stones through the wildflower tunnel.

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Stepping stones leading to the boat

The centre lobby has also been refurbished to include a new wildlife camera screen which currently lets visitors switch between live images of the new bird feeder station in front of the Woodland Hide as well as the popular pond camera. 

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Centre lobby

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New feeder station & Camera by Woodland Hide

New interpretation inside the Centre encourages visitors to think about how they can work towards making a wilder future and inspire not only themselves but also friends and family to take action, no matter how big or how small. Do share your pledge for wildlife with us by filling in a feather and adding it to our egret.

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One of the biggest changes has been to the Tern Hide, which was replaced in Spring with a whole new structure. The Tern Hide now offers a panoramic view of the lake, new seating and most excitingly a living roof which is looking brilliant as it becomes more established.

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Tern hide

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Viewing platform

From the viewing platform and the hide you can also see our newest tern raft which was just moved into place last week. Hopefully next year we will see some nesting pairs using the raft, with the aim to increase the colony numbers and to further chances of successful breeding, with the birds occupying more locations around the reserve.

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Tern raft on Ibsley Water

The new pond which again was dug earlier in the year is the only project yet to reach completion. The pond, located behind the Education Centre and next to the existing pond is awaiting a new fence which hopefully will be constructed over the next few months. This however has not stopped the wildlife from taking advantage and we are looking forward to being able to dip it once it has become a little more established.

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New Pond

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Female Emperor dragonfly egg laying in the new pond

This Female Emperor dragonfly was spotted laying eggs upon the fringed water lily beneath the surface of the water. Moreover this stunningly vivid Common Darter also paused to land on the boardwalk by the old pond – just long enough for a beautiful photo!

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Common Darter on the Boardwalk

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We also have a new donations box for visitors in the main lobby located between the office and kitchen. If you visit and enjoy all the developments to the reserve please do help us to continue improving the site by donating to the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. Without public donations the daily running and upkeep of the reserve would not be possible.

 

 

 

 

We would like to thank everyone who has helped us so far: our visitors for their support and patience during the interruptions which took place whilst the new infrastructure was being built and fitted; our lovely volunteers who have worked so hard to help us make these changes a reality; as well as to our funding partners and everyone who donated towards the Blashford Project who ultimately made these developments possible.

vet-logo eulogo New Forest LEADER

 

 

 

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All change!

This week the project work has definitely taken a leap forward, with landscaping progressing well outside the front of the Education Centre and new signage and interpretation springing up all over the place. I am really enjoying our smart new look, in particular the bird silhouettes that are now up on all the hides and our new entrance sign.

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Our new sign on Ellingham Drove

Of the hide cut outs I think the stalking Bittern may be my favourite on Ivy North Hide, but they all look wonderful:

The new Tern Hide is also looking smart with its share of silhouettes and the map of the reserve is now in place.

The way markers are still a work in progress but a number are now up, although a few tweaks need to be made with these so please do bear with us whilst this takes place. Regular visitors to the reserve and anyone eagle eyed and studying our new map will  know about or notice the footpath which links the main nature reserve car park by Tern Hide with Goosander Hide. This footpath is I’m afraid still not yet open to the public so please do obey any locked or blocked access to this route – opening the path is still in the hands of the land owner (Bournemouth Water) and various solicitors, but we hope at some point soon access will be granted as it will really make a difference to the walking routes available and I know will be welcomed by many, us included!

The interpretation has certainly given the reserve a fresh new look and it will look even better once it’s all finished and in place.

Richard the landscaper has been busy building raised planters outside the front of the Education Centre, improving the look of this area which will become a safer meeting and gathering place for visitors, families on events and children on school visits.

He will be back next week to finish off the fencing. The sign contractors will also hopefully be back next week with the interpretation for the Welcome Hut and the area outside the front of the Education Centre whilst the car park here is also still awaiting its final surface, so some disruption is likely to occur over the next week or so. The Centre and toilets will remain open as usual.

The landscaping and signage have both been made possible thanks to generous donations from local people, together with funding from the Veolia Environmental Trust (with money from the Landfill Communities Fund) and LEADER (part-funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development).

 

An Eagle at Lunchtime

Tuesday is one of our volunteer task days, but the forecast was not promising, however as it turned out the morning was not as bad as predicted. We were felling sycamore from the edge of the car park near the Centre to give the oak a bit more space, luckily the poor forecast kept visitors away so we did not have to hold up too many people as we cleared the trees from the entrance track. Towards the end of the morning the rain set in and we decided to call it a day, just as we did a visitor arrived to tell us that the white tailed eagle, that has been up the road in the New Forest, had paid us a visit and was perched on an island in Ibsley Water.

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White-tailed eagle with crows

It really was a huge bird! with a massive hooked beak and feet to match, magnificent and if the possible introduction project on the Isle of Wight comes to fruition perhaps a regular sight in the future. The very definition of “Charismatic megafauna”.

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White-tailed eagle with crow

The crows did not seem obviously intimidated, and strolled around within a few feet, the gulls were a lot more circumspect, even the great black-backed gull only made a few, quite distant, mobbing swoops.

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Showing off a seriously big pair of wings!

It was a good way off but we could clearly see that it had a metal ring on its right leg and no colour-rings. It is a juvenile so will have been ringed as a nestling somewhere last summer. A lot, perhaps even most, ringed eagle chicks receive a coloured ring or wing tag at the same time as being ringed with a standard metal ring, as this enables their movements to be tracked more easily. This bird seems to have been an exception so we have no idea where it might have come from, it could be from Scotland, but is probably more likely to be from Scandinavia somewhere. The juveniles move much further than the older birds and the adults will usually try to stay on their nesting territory all year if the food supply allows.

Unsurprisingly this was a first record for the reserve and although relatively few people were about to see it due to the poor weather, I know it was a new bird for quite a few. Some lucky people went on to the Ivy North hide and had very good views of bittern as well, not a bad bit of birdwatching for a bad weather day!

Other birds today included a water pipit at Tern hide whilst looking at the eagle, the black-necked grebe was also seen in the distance and there were 112 pochard there also, with 57 more on Ivy Lake. Locking up at dusk in the tipping rain, there were two great white egret roosting in the dead alder trees beside Ivy Lake.

All in all not a bad day for birds on the reserve, or any site in the UK. As most will know access to the reserve is free, but we do still need to raise money to keep things going and hopefully improve them so donations are always more than welcome, in fact they are essential! So if you visit and have a good time please consider making a donation. We have a had a lot of generous donations to our appeal for various improvements, including a new Tern hide and dipping pond, but it is the year round donations that keep us running day to day.

Thank You!

On Friday evening we had our annual volunteer get together, our chance to say “Thank you” to all our many, many volunteers on whom the smooth running of the reserve depends. Volunteers do practical tasks, help with education groups, lead and help with events, take photographs, carry out survey work and even do some of our admin.

The evening started with a choice of two walks or helping Tracy in her attempt to make the official Blashford coracle.corracle

As you can see they did a great job, so far at least, it will still need covering with something waterproof.

I lead one of the walks and we were lucky enough to see the bittern and a few brambling, I got no pictures, but have one sent in by Lorne Bissell (many thanks Lorne) and taken at the feeders by the Woodland hide.

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Over the weekend both the black-necked grebe and Slavonian grebe remained on Ibsley Water, while the ring-billed gull was joined at the roost by a first winter Caspian gull.

Today dawned bright and cold and there was some ice around the edges of the lakes.Ivy Lake

It being Tuesday we had our smaller practical volunteer team in, the task was to try and make repairs to the roof of the Ivy North hide to stop the water coming in. For this task we have to thank not just the volunteers who carried it out but also a donation from the Marden Charitable Trust, which paid for the materials. Donations are an important part of the funding for the running of the reserve. It is an unfortunate fact that it is much easier to raise funds to buy a bit of infrastructure than to look after or replace it. So keeping a site running is much harder to fund than setting it up in the first place. Our volunteers’ work and donations play a vital role in keeping things together in the long term.

I will sign off with a picture taken from the office, somewhere I have been spending rather  a lot of time recently.long-tailed tit

The picture was taken through the rather dirty window, but is not bad for all that. There have been at least 9 long-tailed tit on this fat feeder at a time recently, in this cold weather this high energy food supply is likely to be very important for  very small birds like these.

 

Donations

As most of you will know Blashford Lakes nature reserve is managed by Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust one of the many charitable Wildlife trusts around the country that between them manage tens of thousands of hectares of our very best wildlife habitat. As charities we seek donations from supporters, visitors and others to enable us to keep going. Perhaps contrary to the belief of some, membership income only supports a very small part of the work the Trusts do. So it is at Blashford that we ask for cash donations from our visitors, in addition some people also give us useful things like a sack of bird food or their time as volunteers.

At other times we get “Donations” that are less welcome, one such was a large drinks chiller that was “donated” out of the back of a van this morning. donation

This is one donation that may well cost us a bit to dispose of. However they don’t call me “Sherlock” for nothing (or actually at all), but I have some leads as to how it got there and even where it might have come from. You can watch this space for further exciting instalments!

Dealing with this kind of thing is just one of many ways that we end up having to spend money on the reserve that brings no benefit to either wildlife or visitors, very frustrating and unfortunately not at all uncommon.

The reserve is run as a partnership with the two water company landowners (Wessex Water and Bournemouth Water) and New Forest District Council and they provide the site and pay some of the running costs. However the Wildlife Trust also covers a share of the costs and raises all of the money for facilities such as bird hides, paths etc. and their maintenance.

Our average donation per visitor is about 30p, which annually amounts to just about sufficient to cover the costs of emptying the cess pit, filling the bird feeders and providing a tern raft. It is perhaps not surprising that at a lot of reserves you will be asked to pay £3 or £4 to get in, actually not bad value for half or even a full day out. A few years ago we asked people what they thought a visit to Blashford was worth and the average came out at £3.75, or about the price of a pint of beer or a fancy coffee (or perhaps a not very fancy coffee!). So if you can make a donation when you visit it will be VERY welcome, although we have all the white goods we need, so no more of those please.

Today’s birds were, like the visitors, rather damp, but they included the bittern at Ivy North hide and the black-necked grebe out on Ibsley Water.

Off to go sleuthing………