Sharing our experiences

At October’s Young Naturalists session we were joined by Corinne from the Cameron Bespolka Trust and Craig from the New Forest National Park Authority to share with them all the many wonderful and varied things we have been up to as a group over the past year.

Looking back it was great to see just how many places we have visited and how many different activities we have been able to do, which have largely been made possible by the generous funding from the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

It enabled Corinne to catch up with some of the older members of the group who have been with us for some time whilst also meeting some of our newer members. For Craig, it was a great way to tie in all our sessions with the John Muir award, something we have been working towards since our residential in Beaulieu last November.

The John Muir award is an environmental award scheme which focuses on wild spaces, encouraging people to connect with nature and enjoy and care for the landscape around them. John Muir was an influential Scottish-American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher, glaciologist and early advocate for preserving the wilderness of the United States. Muir was instrumental in the foundation of the National Parks system in America and since the first was established at Yellowstone in 1872, 6,555 protected areas have been created across the globe including 15 National Parks within the UK.

The award encourages people to connect with, enjoy, and care for wild places through four challenges:

  • Discovering a wild place
  • Exploring its wildness
  • Conserving it
  • Sharing your experiences

We shared a short powerpoint presentation with Corinne and Craig, the slides of which can be seen below in this blog, with the group adding their comments or highlights as we talked about all the things we had done over the past year. Our discovering has taken us far and wide:

YN Slide 2 TS

Discovering the wild spaces around us

We have been able to venture across the New Forest to Beaulieu, visited Needs Ore Marshes, walked up to our local Rockford and Ibsley Commons, explored the chalk downland of Martin Down and headed into Dorset to Brownsea Island, Shell Bay and Kimmeridge. Finally, as well as our trips away we have spent a considerable amount of time here on the reserve, discovering the many wonderful habitats Blashford has to offer.

Whilst exploring the many wild places mentioned above we have been lucky enough to do a number of activities, learning about moths, pond and river life, farm life, the night sky, the history of falconry, fossils, the wildlife in rock pools and the flora and fauna found on chalk downland. Just to name a few!

YN Slide 3 TS

YN Slide 4 TS

The group have taken part in a number of conservation activities, with highlights including building lots of new bird boxes which replaced a number of old ones on the reserve, assisting with the bird box monitoring and beach cleans. We do enjoy a good beach clean!YN Slide 5 TS

One of our group members, Megan, nominated the group for the Waitrose Community Matters Fund with the funds raised going towards repairing the current dipping pond here on the reserve.

Finally we needed to share our experiences with others, and inviting Craig and Corinne to the session was part of this. A number of the group take photos for me to share via the Blashford Blog and they are usually obliging in having their photos taken for Twitter, Instagram and the blog…

YN Slide 6 TS

Their best sharing though has to be the video a number of the group took part in, where they voiced their own opinions of the group and the activities we get up to. If you haven’t yet seen it, it is available here:

After talking through the presentation, we headed outside and the group led a pond dip with Corinne and Craig.

The John Muir award has been perfect for the group as so many of the activities we do fit in with one or more of the four categories. It doesn’t however need to be completed over such a wide geographical area or such a long time; a wild place could be school grounds or a green space or park in an urban area as well as a National Park or stretch of coast, whilst working towards the introductory discovery level of the award over a year meant a number of the group could achieve the minimum time commitment of four days even if they missed a session or two. It is an accessible award to work to!

For more information about the John Muir award please visit their website.

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Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

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Letting the Light in

For several weeks now there have been contractors working up at the Linwood reserve working to open up an areas of mire habitat that had become seriously shaded. This happens more or less imperceptibly, in this case it was easy to think the area had always been continuous woodland , but the flora told a different story. Many species present, although declining, were ones that do not tolerate being heavily shaded. In addition when the trees are looked at more closely it was obvious that many were no more than twenty or thirty years old. The Our Present, Our Future (OPOF) New Forest National Park project had a strand that was dedicated to helping to restore habitats such as this and it is this project that has enabled the heavy work to be done.

Linwood SSSI clearance works

Work to clear shading trees from Linwood mire habitats

The oak and beech trees have been left alone, the opening up has been achieved by felling birch and pollarding willow. Some trees have been ring-barked to leave them as valuable standing deadwood habitat. It will be interesting to see how species such as white sedge and bog myrtle respond to having access to more light in the years to come.

Last night was very mild and I was looking forward to seeing what the moth trap had caught. The trap was against the wall of the Centre and there were 45 “November” moth on the wall alone! November moths are hard to identify reliably as there are a few very similar species, so I lump them together when recording. Other moths included three merveille du jour.

Merveille du Jour

Merveille du Jour – I know I have used pictures of them many times, but they are one of my favourite moths!

There were also late large yellow underwing and shuttle-shaped dart as well as more seasonable black rustic, yellow-line Quaker, red-line Quaker, chestnut and dark chestnut.

dark chestnut 2

Dark chestnut, it is usually darker than the chestnut and has more pointed wing-tips.

In all there were 16 species and over 70 individual moths, other notable ones were a dark sword-grass and two grey shoulder-knot.

grey shoulder-knot

grey shoulder-knot

We have been doing a fair bit of work around the hides recently, mostly aimed at improving the views from them. Tomorrow it is the turn of Ivy North hide, so I expect there will not be much to be seen in the northern part of Ivy Lake during the day. With luck I will get some sight-lines cut through the reeds, so perhaps the bittern will get easier to see, if it is still around.

Hosting Royalty

Well, kind of.

Yesterday saw the return of The Learning Curve (https://www.learningcurve.org.uk/about-us) and the current team enrolled on it’s Princes Trust programme who have been working towards their John Muir Award in conjunction with a number of partners from across and around the New Forest National Park coordinated by NPA Ranger Craig Daters as part of a Youth Action Project.

This is the fourth time that the Salisbury based Princes Trust team have visited Blashford Lakes now and although the objectives and end goals have remained the same each visit has been a little different; in part because each group is a little different and in part because of course the reserve changes so much from one time of the year to the next.

Usually a pond invertebrate survey (aka pond dipping!) is a highlight, but that just wasn’t an option with a frozen surface yesterday! A trip down to the river was a possibility, but I was not going to tempt fate by heading down there too soon and risking someone getting cold with yesterdays top temperature of 5C so we kept that as a back up activity for later in the day if we needed it and instead we headed out for an extended walk around the reserve instead. And extended it was! I think everyone (including the participants themselves!) were surprised by just how much they enjoyed bird watching!

171201PrincesTrust2 by Jim Day

171201PrincesTrust1 by Jim Day

In the Woodland Hide

After visiting the Woodland Hide, Ivy South Hide and Tern Hide (seeing nothing remarkable, but more than enough to engage our novice bird watchers!) we retreated to the centre for lunch and a hot drink before heading out again and preparing a campfire and a delicious “surprise soup ” from the random collection of vegetables which individuals had bought with them on the day. Craig arrived just in time to tuck in to that and our flatbreads… funny that 😉 !… and together they reviewed their week of engaging with not just ourselves, but staff and volunteers from the Forestry Commission, National Trust and Hampshire County Council Countryside teams (a lot of Cotoneaster, rhododendron, pine seedlings and gorse has been despatched from the Forest this week!).

 

We never did make it to the river, but that was probably for the best…

171201PrincesTrust1 by Nigel Owen

Josh lights the fire (with lots of helpful suggestions from John and Aidan…)

 

171201PrincesTrust2 by Nigel Owen

Checking the soup while the Princes Trust team write up their project evaluation.

 

A cold but lovely day at a lovely place with some lovely people! Thank you!

A REMINDER ABOUT TOMORROW’S POP UP CAFE!

It’s the first Sunday of the month so don’t forget that the Pop Up Café is open in the classroom again. I don’t think “Surprise Soup” is on the menu but I know there will be a delicious selection of home-baked sweet and savoury snacks, along with tea and coffee!

Nigel and Christine will be selling Trust merchandise too (calendars, Christmas Cards, a range of books and FSC identification guides and Geoff’s expertly made “bug boxes”) if you are looking for Christmas present ideas…!

A Lull

The last few days have been quiet, we are in an interim period, almost all the summer visitors and migrants have gone, but as yet, most of the wintering birds have yet to arrive. This reflected in this week’s sightings, a few chiffchaff remain, especially around the main car park. A juvenile ruff dropped into Ibsley Water for a day, but there are still only a few tens of wigeon around.

This does not mean there has been nothing to see though. Opening up Tern hide this week I have twice seen an adult peregrine perched on the small shingle island near the hide.

peregrine

adult peregrine

peregrine stretch

peregrine, stretching before heading off

During the day on Friday the two New Forest National Park apprentices paid us a visit, they will be working at Blashford for three months from November. As it was their first visit we took a look around the reserve to see some of the areas they will be working in. The sun was out and it was remarkably warm, along the way we saw lots of butterflies, at one spot on the Dockens Water path we could see 4 red admiral, 5 speckled wood and a comma and we saw many more elsewhere along with a single peacock. There were also a few reptiles, including this very small adder, proof that they have bred successfully on the reserve again this year.

young adder

“adderling”

Our best sighting though was when we visited the Tern hide, there was very little to see as all there attested and the lake looked at best sparsely dotted with birds. However I glanced at the shingle just in front of the hide and realised that with the couple of meadow pipit strolling around was a woodlark, my best views ever of this species.

I will end with a plea, at this time of year rats will be spreading out looking for a good place to winter, something we do not want them to do on the reserve if we can avoid it. To this end we try not to have food lying on the ground during the autumn, we only ground feed in the late winter. Recently I have found a number of piles of bird food on logs and seats, or just on the ground as I have been going to lock up at the end of the day. This shows that the birds are not eating it, so it will be consumed by rodents overnight, potentially by rats. If any rats find enough food for them to decide to settle with us we will be unable to ground feed in the late winter when the finches are at their best. So my plea is for visitors to please not leave bird food around the reserve where rats and rodents can get to it.

 

Goings on

This Sunday we are holding our annual Lymington and Keyhaven Nature Reserve Open Day. For details see: 2017 Keyhaven event flyer

It is a joint venture with the Hampshire County Council, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and the New Forest National Park to celebrate the wildlife of the marshes between Lymington and Keyhaven. There will be a range of local conservation groups present and a range of walks, bird ringing, a seashore search, birdwatching, activities, light refreshments and much more. If you have never been to the reserve or have but would like to find out more come along, all the details are in the link.

Talking of events I will also flag up that on the following Sunday, the 24th September we will be hosting the Bird Trail Event at Blashford. This is aimed at young birdwatchers and there will be a number of teams going around the reserve that day, so the hides will be very busy and I would suggest that regular visitors might like to give us a miss that day. The event is jointly organised between the Wildlife Trust and Hampshire Ornithological Society part of our goal of bringing on the next generation of wildlife enthusiasts. As well as using the hides the area around the Centre will be busy with other activities.

Ice, Ice

Blashford was unusually quiet today, not really surprising as roads to the reserve were treacherous and the fog meant that seeing more than a few tens of metres was impossible. This is not to say that there was nothing to see however. At the Woodland hide there were at least 2 male brambling feeding with the chaffinch and from Ivy South hide the ducks were concentrated close to the hide, giving great views. However the real things to look at were the effects of the cold weather on the everyday things around the reserve, the heavy frost on the trees and grass and frosted seed heads. Best of all, in my opinion were some amazing iced leaves embedded in some of the frosted puddles.

ice-leaves

Iced leaves

The mass of leaves looked good but some of the single leaves were even more impressive.

ice-leaf

Ice leaf

I think the effect comes from little pockets of air trapped along the leaf veins, but I don’t remember seeing it before.

Today was also notable as the day our new apprentices started, they are working with us until the end of March as part of the “Our Past, Our Future” project with the New Forest National Park.