30 Days Wild – Day 30: At Last!

Sorry for the late post of this the last day of 30 Days Wild, but my 30th day was spent on the road. On my travels I passed through areas of the country that I have lived in during years gone by. It was interesting to see that there were buzzard almost everywhere, I remember when it was necessary to go west to at least the Welsh borders to see one. I also saw red kite, once so rare that a special trip was the only option if you wanted a glimpse of one.

As my post is late it coincides with National Meadows Day, so I will mention one of the other things I noticed on my travels, the verges and how they were managed. I was mostly on the motorway network so much of the grass was long, with scattered banks of scrub. I was disappointing to see the particularly wide banks of grassland beside the M6 Toll road being mown short even right to the top and the cuttings left lying, it looked very “neat” but was a disaster for wildlife. I don’t know if it was because it was a toll road but this was thankfully the only section I saw getting quite such brutal treatment.

Incidentally I make no apology for not applying the strict definition of a meadow, that is a field where herbage is cut as a crop, dried in the sun and removed to feed livestock, there are rather few of these now. For my purposes, if it is a grass and hopefully, herb mix that is maintained with little or no spring grazing, it could be a meadow as far as most of the species that use meadows are concerned. So wide verges, roundabouts, golf course rough and corporate greensward all count.

As I said I spent the day on the road, in fact it was also part of the night as well, due to road closures and subsequent detours. On the nocturnal part of my journey I saw a couple of foxes and another recent addition to south-east England, a polecat, which trotted across the road in front of me as I was navigating a back route alternative to the A34.

Today I was at Lepe Country Park, where they were opening a new sensory garden, put together by staff and the Friends of Lepe, it is very fine and well worth a visit. Many years ago I used to work at Lepe and one of the projects I did then was to add what is now the meadow area at the north of the site onto the Country Park. It had been a deep ploughed cereal field but we seeded it and thirty years on is a meadow afforded SINC (Site of Importance for Nature Conservation) status. I took a quick look today and it was alive with butterflies, maybe not an old meadow but a great one for wildlife. This is one of the wonderful things about grassland, a relatively few years of good management can produce something of real value for wildlife. Despite this it is trees that get planted all the time as good for nature conservation, yet most of these secondary woodlands will still be struggling to reach anything like their potential in a few centuries. Plant a tree if you must, but make a meadow if you can or persuade someone who manages grass to step back and appreciate that they manage a wonderful habitat, not a green carpet. With a little imagination we could be surrounded by meadows.

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30 Days Wild – Day 17: Lepe and a Jumper

A day off and mostly spent in the garden, I had intended to do some work but it was too hot to do very much. It was even too hot for most insects apart from bees. I did see a very few butterflies, two meadow brown and single, rather worn, male common blue.

common blue

A slightly tatty male common blue.

My pond is dropping fast, it is only shallow with very sloping sides meaning it has a large surface area relative to volume. I fill it from water collected off the roof, but in this weather it does not last long. Despite not having much water it still attracted a male keeled skimmer, which stayed for several hours.

keeled skimmer

male keeled skimmer

In the evening we headed down to Lepe Country Park to enjoy the sea breeze. Many years ago I used to manage this site when I worked for Hampshire County Council. It has changed a bit since then. The sea defences I put in to the east of the lower car park have finally been abandoned. On the cliff top, the meadow area behind the car park has developed from the deep ploughed cereal field that we took over and seeded, to a really successful flower-rich grassland divided with hedges that provide shelter and cover for nesting birds.

Despite the beach being small and very popular it still has sea kale and yellow-horned poppy, two plants typical of shingle beaches and usually the less disturbed ones.

yellow-horned poppy

yellow-horned poppy

Walking east to the Mulberry Harbour casson construction site I looked for the broad-leaved heleborines that used to grow straight out of the shingle, I found one very large plant hard against the brick wall.

broad-leaved heleborine

broad-leaved heleborine

I was also pleased to find several little robin plants at the very far eastern end, this smaller relative of the common herb Robert is a bit of a Solent coast speciality.

little robin

little robin

I was also searching the shingle, as many years ago I found a jumping spider here that was a new record for Hampshire, however all I could find was a few of the common zebra spider.

zebra spider

zebra spider

They may be common but I can spend a lot of time watching these spiders as they stalk their prey, they are formidable predators at their own tiny scale.

Weekend wanderings – part 2!

As promised earlier in the week, here’s what happened on day two of our Young Naturalists New Forest residential.

On Sunday morning we started bright and early, meeting Home Farm’s Education Officer Steve Barnard for an animal feed session. Steve took us on a tour of the farm, letting the group help out with some of the feeding tasks, collecting eggs and generally having the opportunity to ooh and ahh or gobble at every animal they came across…it was a definite highlight of the weekend!

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We particularly enjoyed watching Lysander feed the ducks, which he had to get to via some sheep…he did a brilliant job…

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After our fun feed session we thanked Steve for his time and went to meet Paul and Mandy Manning from Amews Falconry for an incredibly informative falconry demonstration. We began in the garden room with Paul introducing us to four different birds, an American red tailed hawk, a peregrine falcon, a kestrel and a European eagle owl. He gave the group a basic understanding of these different birds of prey along with their training and care.

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We then headed outside for two tremendous flying displays from a Harris hawk and a Gyr falcon.

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Paul with the Gyr falcon

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Gyr falcon by Geoff Knott

Thank you Paul and Mandy for a fabulous morning!

We then headed over the Lepe Country Park for lunch followed by a wander through the nature reserve.  Whilst at Lepe we saw peacock, brimstone, red admiral, holly blue, orange tip and large white butterflies along with kestrel, swift, chaffinch, shelduck, godwit, redshank, grey heron, blue tit, Canada goose, little egret, oystercatcher, lapwing, black headed gull and ferel pigeon.

After an ice cream break we headed along the shore for a spot of beach combing before it was time to head back to Home Farm and head home.

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Everyone had a really enjoyable weekend, adults included! We managed to find 52 species of bird, plus seven different types of butterfly, an extraordinary great diving beetle larvae on a mission and two different species of bat on our wanderings. We visited heathland, broadleaved woodland and the coast, well and truly exploring this lovely part of the forest.

Will’s favourite part of the weekend was hearing his first cuckoo while Lysander enjoyed beach combing at Lepe. Everyone else enjoyed the farm feed session and the falconry display whilst visiting Needs Ore and listening to churring nightjars were both firm favourites with the adults.

Which leaves me to say a huge thank you to volunteers Emily, Harry, Nigel and Geoff who gave up an entire weekend to spend time with the group, cooking one splendid dinner, two great breakfasts and preparing two lunches – we couldn’t have done the residential without you!!

Thanks too to the Countryside Education Trust for being such great hosts, Home Farm was a great place to stay and hopefully we’ll be able to visit again soon!

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We’ve had a fab weekend, we’re just a tad sleepy…

Our Young Naturalists project is funded by the Cameron Bespolka Trust – empowering today’s youth through love for nature.