Brilliant Volunteers

As I have noted many times on this blog, Blashford Lakes would not be anything like as good a site without the invaluable input from our great volunteer team. Our volunteers help out with a range of tasks and do some projects in their entirety.

Over the last week we have had volunteer educators helping with school groups river dipping in the rain, reptile and butterfly surveyors, office administration and our Tuesday and Thursday working parties.

The rarest habitat at Blashford Lakes is the Lichen Heath, perhaps because of its industrial origin it is not actually designated, but it is home to many nationally rare species which form an assemblage which needs looking after.

lichens

Lichen Heath close-up

The importance of the area rests on it having very low nutrients, but over time nutrients fall from the sky and collect in the upper layers of the soil as mosses, lichens and small plants die. The obvious conclusion is that it will slowly disappear and turn into nutrient poor acid grassland. So how to keep some areas to true Lichen Heath? The answer is probably to strip off the surface layer and get down to the bare sandy surface and let it colonise once more. This seems very drastic and it feels wrong to be stripping off what is still a diverse sward with lots of interesting species. We started doing this in a small way on Tuesday, doing six small trial plots which we can monitor, if it looks a good technique we can extend it more widely in the years to come.

Lichen heath before

Lichen heath before surface stripping

Lichen heath after

Lichen heath after surface stripping

We chose sites where there were small bramble or birch trees that needed removing anyway and piled up the material on the northern side of the scraped area to provide some variation in the surface topography and potentially warm nesting sites for the many species of bees, ants, wasps etc. that call the heath home.

The rain this last week is what allowed us to work on the heath as it meant the lichens absorbed water and so could be walked on gently, in dry conditions they would just crumble to dust under foot, which is why we ask visitors not to walk on it. Even in wet conditions it is intolerant to trampling so we do as little as possible out there. So it was a treat whilst we were there to see some of the special species that grow on the heath including the two rare bird’s-foot trefoils.

hairy bird's foot

Hairy bird’s-foot trefoil

 

slender bird's foot

slender bird’s-foot trefoil

On Thursday the volunteers were back on the task of clearing Himalayan balsam and pink purslane from along the Dockens Water. These two invasive alien species can muscle out native species, but can be controlled by pulling them up to prevent seeding. After several years of doing this we have made great progress and balsam is now no more than occasional where once it was the dominant plant. Along the way when doing such tasks we come across other things of interest, one such find was a mating pair of lime hawk-moth.

lime hawk pair mating

Lime-hawk moth pair

Some discoveries though are less welcome and one such was an American skunk cabbage plant, the first I have ever heard of along the Dockens Water. This plant has been a big problem in wetland sites across the New Forest and the subject of an eradication program, so finding it here is a worry. I suspect that somewhere up stream someone has it planted around their pond and the seeds are escaping to grow in the wild.

skunk cabbage

skunk cabbage, a young plant without the huge leaves and yellow flower that attracts water-gardeners.

Our last chance find was made by Geoff, one of our most regular volunteers who photographed this crab spider which had ambushed a bee visiting a daisy flower.

spider

Crab spider with bumble-bee prey on ox-eye daisy.

I will endeavour to do a wildlife update for the week later, I know we have received a number of fabulous photographs from visitors.

 

Sunday Sun, (Eventually)

On Sunday I opened the moth trap for visitors to the reserve, the catch was actually not too bad considering how windy it had been overnight. The highlight was a micro species, Anania verbascalis, which I was only able to identify retrospectively, as far as I am aware it was new for the reserve as well as to me. Unfortunately it was very difficult to get half decent photographs as it was very dull and raining at times.

Luckily in the afternoon it did warm up and the sun came out. I had to mend part of the fence beside the sweep meadow and could not avoid admiring how good it is looking this year.

sweep meadow

sweep meadow

It often has a good show of ox-eye daisy, but I think it is the mass flowering of bird’s foot trefoil that really makes it look so good this year. Actually there are four different bird’s foot trefoils growing across the meadow and nearby lichen heath. In the wettest areas there is the tallest one, the greater bird’s foot trefoil, in the general grassland there is the “regular” bird’s foot trefoil, whilst as it gets drier there are patches of slender  bird’s foot trefoil and on the really dry sandy spots there is hairy bird’s foot trefoil. The rarest, at least in Hampshire is the slender bird’s foot trefoil, which seems to be having a very good year this year, with some large patches.

slender bird's foot trefoil

slender bird’s foot trefoil

As I finished repairing the fence I noticed a common toad crossing the path, no doubt tempted out by the morning rain.

toad

common toad

As the sun warmed the insects came out in force. I came across my first bee wolf of the year, in fact several on a sandy patch beside the entrance track.

bee wolf

bee wolf

These wasps capture honey bees to provision their nests, which they dig in the sand, to provide food for their larvae. I also saw several other digger wasps, I only a picture of one and so far I have failed to get a positive identification of it.

digger wasp

digger wasp

 

A Few Pictures

Not much to report today, but I will share a few pictures that I got during the day. First, at lunchtime I tried, largely without success to get a picture of the ants that are farming aphids on docks by the pond, this was my best of many, many attempts.

ant and aphids

ant and aphids

I was on the edge of the lichen heath for a short time and was impressed by the quantity of hairy bird’s foot trefoil there this year.

hairy bird's foot trefoil

hairy bird’s foot trefoil

Finally as I locked up the hides I found a grey-haired mining bee nectaring on hemlock water dropwort, usually a plant covered in insects but today mostly attracting bees.

grey-haired mining bee

grey-haired mining bee

I also spotted a very fine stand of foxglove and had to try a picture of them as well.

foxglove

foxglove