A long overdue post – and an appeal for our appeal

Visitors to Blashford over the last 5 years or so can’t have failed to notice that the boardwalk beyond Ivy South Hide has been deteriorating slowly but surely. It has had a multitude of boards replaced in this time but, with a rapidly failing substructure, this is no longer an option and it has been on the priority list for replacement as and when budget allows for the last two years.

Unfortunately budget has not allowed.

Like most businesses and other charities we have not been left unaffected by COVID and our income from both group visits and general visitor donations has fallen significantly over the last 18 months, the latter despite a significant increase in the number of visitors enjoying the site throughout a time when people have been feeling safer meeting friends and enjoying outdoor recreation as a safer alternative to indoor spaces.

Extra footfall is a great opportunity for a wildlife charity to engage and connect people with the wildlife in their local area, but it does also cause wear and tear on the footpaths and infrastructure which most of us just take for-granted, without considering the fact that there are costs, sometimes significant, to maintaining them.

As a Trust we don’t build boardwalks on a whim; they are expensive. But this boardwalk across the Dockens Water floodplain and through some wonderful wetland willow carr habitat, not only gives visitors a glimpse into this unique habitat in safety, it is also one of the lynchpins within our permissive footpath network which holds it all together – it’s loss would be great not just for our visitors but for many educational groups that use it too.

Sadly it is deteriorating fast and earlier this summer the decision was made that it was no longer safe for large electric wheel chairs or for mobility scooters to cross for fear that the weight of the machines would be too much for the weakened structure. As it is it won’t survive the winter for people on foot either, and may not even last the autumn before we take the difficult, and reluctant, decision to close it completely.

However, fortunately, it is not all doom and gloom!

A very generous regular visitor to, and supporter of, Blashford Lakes has pledged £10,000 towards the replacement of the old boardwalk and to also replace the original dipping pond behind the Centre which sadly no longer holds water following the ingress of reeds into it and through the liner (more on why the pond is so important to us, not just for wildlife, but also the irreplaceable educational opportunities it provides, to follow in a subsequent blog). We also have a further £5,000 secured but we need another £5,000 to complete the works – and this is where (I hope!) you come in.

The Trust has launched a public appeal to raise this additional £5,000. We have already received contributions totalling nearly £3,000 but we are hopeful that we can raise the full amount.

If you have already donated to this appeal, then thank you. Your contribution really is so very much appreciated!

If you have not done so, and indeed this may well be the first you have heard about it, and if you are in a position that you can afford to do so, then please do make a donation.

You can donate direct to the boardwalk/pond replacement project via Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trusts dedicated website page, where you can also track how well the fundraising is going, here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/appeals/blashford-lakes-boardwalk-pond-appeal

Thank you in anticipation of your generosity!

From pond to meadow

At the beginning of June we re-started our Wildlife Tots sessions, discovering the weedy depths of the Blashford Pond. 

Our morning session started with a rescue, with Isabelle fishing this Emperor dragonfly out of the pond. It was quite happy to be handled, or relieved to be rescued, so we were all able to take a really good look.

I then relocated it to a safer spot, where it could finish drying off. It was still there when we met the afternoon group, so they were able to take a look at it too before it flew off. 

Emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly

Newly emerged adult dragonflies are known as tenerals. They are weaker in flight and paler in colour. As the body and wings harden off they begin hunting for food, spending about a week feeding away from water and gradually acquiring their adult colouration. They are then ready to return to the pond to mate. 

It was a good day to look for dragonflies, we found lots of exuvia on the vegetation around the edge of the pond and found another newly emerged Emperor dragonfly along with a newly emerged Broad-bodied chaser.

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia

Emperor dragonfly (4)

Emperor dragonfly

Broad bodied chaser

Broad-bodied chaser

From the pond itself we caught dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, newts and a caseless caddisfly nymph, amongst others: 

It was also nice to see the other insects enjoying the vegetation around the edge of the pond, like this honeybee, large red damselfly and figwort sawfly:

Honeybee

Honeybee

 

Large red damselfly

Large red damselfly

Figwort sawfly

Figwort sawfly

At the end of the day I was lucky enough to spot another dragonfly emerge, this time it was a Black-tailed skimmer:

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So it was a very good day for dragonflies!

At the beginning of July we headed to the meadow. On the edge of the lichen heath we spotted this small tortoiseshell butterfly:

Small tortoiseshell

Small tortoiseshell

As we went in to the meadow we disturbed this grass snake, and we watched it slither up the hill to the birch trees at the top.  

Grass snake

Grass snake

We then sat quietly and did a still hunt, looking closely at the miniature world of the meadow around us before using sweep nets to catch grasshoppers, spiders, beetles, true bugs and more.

Meadow sweeping

Meadow sweeping

We also saw a solitary bee, small skipper butterfly, ruby-tailed wasp and marmalade hoverfly:

Solitary bee

Solitary bee

Small skipper

Small skipper

Ruby-tailed wasp

Ruby-tailed wasp

Marmalade hoverfly

Marmalade hoverfly

My highlight from the meadow though was this solitary wasp, the Bee-wolf. The females prey on honeybees, paralysing them with a sting and carrying them back to their sandy burrow. Up to six paralysed honeybees are placed in each chamber within the burrow, then a single egg is laid and the chamber is sealed with sand. After hatching, the larva feed on the honeybees before spinning a cocoon to hibernate in through the winter and emerging the following spring.

Bee wolf

Bee-wolf

Bee wolf

Bee wolf

Our Wildlife Tots group offers fun outdoor play and wildlife discovery activities for pre-school aged children and their parents or carers once a month, usually (but not always!) on the first Monday. After a break in August, we will be meeting again in September, and details will be available on the events page of our website soon. 

Small copper

Small copper

Autumn’s nibbled tresses

The weather certainly feels as though it is heading for autumn, although the recent (and current!) rainfall has certainly improved the look of our original dipping pond which with a tear in the liner had definitely suffered during the rather long hot dry spell.

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Our dipping pond, looking much happier and healthier than it did a few weeks ago

Thankfully we have had the second pond to use for our dipping sessions and yesterday saw another four very happy family groups delving into its depths to see what they could catch.

The highlight for me this time were the few alderfly larvae we caught in the morning:

alderfly larvae

Alderfly larvae

Whilst out by the pond we also had great views of a number of dragonflies, with a common darter perching close by on the boardwalk, a pair of common darters mating in the wheel position and resting on nearby vegetation, and in the afternoon a female southern hawker getting very close to us and egg lay into the grooves in the wooden boardwalk.

common darter

Common darter

Mating common darters

Pair of Common darters mating

Female southern hawker

Female Southern hawker

Female southern hawker 2

Female Southern hawker

I have seen dragonflies egg laying straight into the water and pond vegetation many times before but hadn’t realised some species prefer to lay their eggs into wood on the pond margin and will happily use a newish boardwalk rather than an older rotting stick.

Whilst dipping a Common carder bee flew onto one of the children, who was not worried at all, but in brushing it off her leg it fell into the pond where she was so close to it. It was quickly rescued and relocated onto some of the flowering water mint to recover:

 

August is the time of year to look for the last of our flowering orchids, Autumn Lady’s-tresses, which can be found on grassland and heathland. Here it grows in places on the lichen heath, if it is given the chance!

It is a very delicate looking orchid with white individual flowers that spiral round the short stem. I have been on the lookout for them since the start of the month, when they first started popping up on social media, but had no success. Although they can be very hard to spot I put their absence in part down to the very dry spell we had over the spring and summer. Jim though did manage to spy a small group of them on the lichen heath and Bob, in checking for them again came to the conclusion the increasing numbers of rabbits on the reserve have in fact merrily munched their way through the ones that have flowered.

Not expecting much, I decided to have one last try this morning before the rain arrived and was rewarded with one flower, admittedly slightly past its best, in amongst a clump of I think St John’s Wort (I say I think as that was also going over) which clearly kept it safe from the rabbits. Nearby I also spied a second stem, with the flower bitten clean off:

Autumn lady's-tresses

Autumn Lady’s-tresses

nibbled autumn lady's-tresses

Autumn Lady’s-tresses nibbled stem

If anyone would like to try and find some, I think Wilverly Plain in the forest will be a better place to look!

It is probably time for me to relocate everything from the Welcome Hut (a much nicer spot to work from even in the pouring rain!) back to the centre, so I will finish with a few photos taken a week or so go that I didn’t quite get round to sharing: a bee-wolf and another heather colletes bee enjoying the heather in bloom in the meadow and a solitary bee on the Inula hookeri outside the front of the Centre.

Pond life!

As Jim mentioned when he blogged on Saturday, our family pond dipping sessions have been very well received and a fun time has, I think, been had by all even during last Wednesday’s downpours… you’ll be able to tell which were the soggy sessions from the photos!

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We have caught some great creatures, including dragonfly nymphs, damselfly nymphs, lots of efts or baby newts, lesser and greater water boatmen, mayfly nymphs, water mites, phantom midge larvae, ramshorn snails and leeches to name a few. We even managed to catch an adult newt:

One of the highlights, for me anyway, was this little water measurer, an insect we do get here at Blashford but not one we catch very often:

water measurer

Water measurer, difficult to photograph as they don’t stay still!

They live on the surface of the water, hunting and scavenging for insects and are very sensitive to the vibrations on the surface, using these to locate their prey. Once located, they spear their quarry with their mouth parts and suck out the contents.

Another highlight was this very pale or leucistic eft, either we have a couple in the pond or we caught the same one on two different days:

leucistic eft (2)

Leucistic eft 

 

Leucism refers to the partial loss of pigmentation, which causes white, pale or patchy colouration of the skin, hair, feathers or scales but does not affect the eyes.

Everyone enjoyed sorting their creatures into the sorting trays so they could take a closer look at some of them. Here’s a photo of Bertie’s sorting tray:

sorting tray

The other highlight of the sessions was definitely our new tippy tap, which Geoff helped to make and Bob installed for us out by the pond. Hand washing was possibly as exciting as pond dipping for some, if not more so…

Oliver also found some time to see who else was living near the pond, using his magnifying glass to take a closer look at the flowers and insects and having a look at the bug hotel.

studying the mint

Studying the water mint, it smelt so good!

looking for insects

Inspecting the mullein flowers

Tomorrow’s sessions are all full but we do still have availability over the next couple of weeks and details along with links to the Eventbrite booking pages can be found on our website here. It has been rather lovely to be pond dipping again!

marmalade hoverfly

Marmalade hoverfly, Episyrphus balteatus, enjoying the mullein flowers

Open for pond dipping…

Whilst many things stay the same, with the Education Centre including the toilets and the bird hides remaining closed, we have been looking at what we can safely offer our visitors and in particular the families who visit the reserve to take part in educational activities.

As a result we now have procedures in place for running family pond dip sessions and hope to start these as of Monday, 17th August.

So, if you would like to discover the wonderful freshwater life of the Blashford pond on a socially distant family pond dip in the safety of your own family bubble, or know someone else who may be interested, please read on!

Emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly

Bookings are for one family bubble at a time to enable social distancing (up to a maximum of 8 people) and clean equipment will be provided for each participating family taking part over the course of the day. The person making the booking will be asked to read and agree to our covid secure guidelines.

Sessions are available on a Monday, Wednesday and Saturday for an hour, starting at either 10am, 11.30am, 1.30pm or 3pm. Session cost depends on the number of participants per family bubble, prices are £12 for up to 3 people, £15 for up to 5 people or £20 for up to 8 people.

Sessions must be booked via Eventbrite and links to all available sessions can be found here on the Trust’s website which will hopefully make booking easier. We hope to add more dates soon.

Hand washing facilities will be available by the pond, but the Centre and toilets will be closed to those participating. At this point I had hoped to be able to share a photo of our new ‘tippy-tap’, which will reduce the amount of contact made when hand washing, but sadly although volunteer Geoff very kindly came in to help prepare them yesterday, we (read Bob) are waiting for some slightly cooler weather towards the end of the week to install them outside the back of the Centre.

We hope the sessions prove to be popular and are looking forward to pond dipping with families again!

Here are a few pond creatures to whet your appetite…

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Wildlife encounters of the furlough kind

I returned to work on Sunday after eight weeks away from Blashford (it is so green now!) and six weeks on furlough along with around 40% of my Trust colleagues, most of whom are still off. Whilst I’m back to help Bob with the reserve tasks he cannot do by himself and engage with visitors on site from a safe distance, following on from the easing of restrictions last week, we are still closed whilst we look at what we can safely offer in the coming weeks and months. We will keep you updated as and when things begin to change!

A Blashford blog will follow shortly, but I thought I would share what I have been getting up to whilst off.

Spending so much time at home meant I was able to discover what wildlife visits my garden, a bit of a distraction whilst I was supposed to still be working, but it was really nice to be there during the day and have more time to appreciate my outside space. My garden is only small, with two patio areas which contain a number of plants in pots and a lawn which has struggled as a lawn and now has a few flowers planted into the patchier bits as I slowly tun it into a much wilder space. I have lived there for a couple of years, and this year the garden really seems to have come to life with birds and insects, which has been really nice to see.

Whilst at home I had blue tits, wood pigeons, dunnocks and blackbirds frequently visiting the garden along with a wren, great tits and a goldfinch. I have a willow bird table and the blackbirds seem to really like this, launching themselves onto it from the hedge and swinging around whilst they fed.

I have two hedges in the garden and this year the blackbirds successfully nested in one (I did a fair amount of cat chasing whilst off, if they have another brood they’re on their own!) which was lovely to watch. I saw four fledglings at the same time, two sunning themselves in one hedge and two in the other and both adults worked really hard to feed them with the male bringing back huge beak fulls, including a garden centipede in the photo below:

Blackbird 2

Male blackbird with a beak full

They fledged last Thursday so I was able to enjoy their company for a few days, with one of the young staying in the garden until Sunday morning. It was very amusing to see it sat swinging on the bird table calling mum for food.

I had written a rather long list of things to do to keep me busy, and one of those things was to dig a pond. Digging a pond was definitely more exciting than decorating the bathroom, re-pointing some dodgy brickwork to hopefully solve a damp issue in the kitchen and damp proofing and repainting the kitchen wall, so it was one of the first things I did and it’s been really nice to see it change over just a few weeks. The less exciting jobs were left until last week when I knew I was returning to work…

The photos below show the garden before and after, then the pond full of mud as the female blackbird decided the moss I had placed round the edge would make really nice nest building material (she had ignored it the entire time it was elsewhere in the garden) and later on with some plant additions (all native) I had been able to order online.

Whilst digging the pond I unearthed the snake millipede below, along with centipedes that were too fast for a photo, and the stones placed around the edge quickly became resting spots for hoverflies:

The blackbirds had been using a bucket of water with some willow sticks in to drink from and bathe in, but they now both use the pond which is really nice to watch. The female didn’t mind me being around at all but the male was a lot more wary of me to begin with and would fly off even if I was watching from the window, but now he is quite happy for me to be out in the garden whilst he’s there feeding.

As well as the birds it was great to see which insects were visiting the flowers and which flowers were growing really well, the ragged robin in particular has seeded so well from one plant in a pot last year I was able to plant it out in different places in the grass.

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I live on the edge of Salisbury so on my daily walks I walked my dog from home to either a little stretch of the River Bourne in Laverstock or up to the Laverstock Downs, enjoying the fact there were fewer cars on the road.

These photos were taken in the little patch of woodland down by the river:

I had hoped to see some bluebells on my wanders but sadly all those I did see were garden escapees.

I spent a lot more time up on the Downs as although they were further to walk to, it was much easier to practice social distancing up here than it was down by the river which tended to be busier with people and had a stretch of boardwalk to contend with.

It was a great spot for bird watching and I had some brilliant views of both blackcap and common whitethroat, especially early spring when the whitethroats were displaying and establishing territories.

I managed a total of 47 bird species whilst off, either in my garden, flying over my garden or on my daily walks: blackbird, blue tit, dunnock, wren, great tit, wood pigeon, collared dove, jackdaw, starling, long-tailed tit, yellowhammer, carrion crow, buzzard, pheasant, song thrush, chaffinch, chiffchaff, red kite, blackcap, common whitethroat, swallow, linnet, goldfinch, red-legged partridge, little egret, mallard, shoveler, kingfisher, magpie, skylark, great spotted woodpecker, robin, Canada goose, mute swan, raven, sparrowhawk, rook, bullfinch, house sparrow, Cetti’s warbler, grey heron, moorhen, mistle thrush, swift, house martin, peregrine falcon and mandarin duck. They were quite a good mix!

The Downs were also a great spot for butterflies, with orange tips, brimstones, small tortoiseshells, green-veined whites, small heaths, peacocks and dingy skippers all on the wing. I also found lots of green-veined orchids and other flowers on the chalk grassland.

The most exciting spot though was probably to see glow worm larvae on three separate occasions, so I must go up there over the summer in search of glow worms.

Glow worm larvae

Glow worm larvae

I was very lucky to have my garden to enjoy and also have some lovely spaces within walking distance to explore (it was also quite nice to use my car less!), so I had plenty of nature to keep me company during the pandemic, whilst a list of house and craft projects also kept me busy. I might be heading back up to the Downs at the weekend…

Almost there…

…by Lucy Wiltshire (Volunteer Placement)

P1150108

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

 

 

 

A Pond (more or less)

One of the parts of the current improvement project on the reserve is the digging of  a new dipping pond behind the Education Centre. You may ask why we need a new one when we already have one. The answer is the old one has a leak and needs repair, but to do this it needs draining and so will mean we would have no pond for dipping for perhaps a year. The new pond will allow us to effect the repair and eventually to have two ponds, which will mean that neither gets too disturbed as we will be able to spread the dipping activity between them. Below are a series of shots showing the pond developing up to today, when it is about half full of water thanks to a bit of much needed rain.

 

Just starting

pond work starts

pond work

pond digging

The pond moving on

pond progress

pond filling

The project is funded by the Veolia Environmental Trust.

vet-logo

Next week work should start on installation of the new Tern Hide, so watch this space for further updates.

I know I probably overdid the bittern pictures last night but here is one from this morning anyway!

bittern

Bittern in the sunshine

February round up

We’ve had a busy half term, with Winter Craft themed Wild Days Out, an evening under the stars (of which there really were many!) with the Fordingbridge Astronomers and our usual Young Naturalists monthly meeting.

Our Wild Days Out saw the children getting very messy in the clay pit, den building, fire lighting, creating dream catchers and baskets from willow and ice art sculptures. Lots of arty and hands on activities that involved natural materials! We even attempted to make burn out bowls in the fire, using hollowed out pieces of elder as straws. It was a slow process…

Our Young Naturalists did a great job making bird boxes, using a plan to mark up their planks of wood, cutting up the individual pieces and nailing them all together. The bird boxes along with a number made by the volunteers will replace some of the older ones on the reserve which are a little past their best, and will be a welcome addition. Thank you guys for all your hard work!

We also spent quite a while watching the kingfisher catching newts from the Education Centre pond – a very good distraction! The pond has become a favourite hunting spot for at least two birds, which are best viewed from inside the Centre as they don’t hang around for long when disturbed – hopefully they will leave a few newts for us to catch over the summer!

kingfisher

Kingfisher by the Education Centre pond

The wild daffodils by the Woodland Hide are probably now at their best and definitely worth a visit, adding a welcome splash of yellow to the woodland floor.

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Wild daffodils near the Woodland Hide

The feeders at the Woodland Hide are still being visited by three brambling and at least one lesser redpoll, whilst a number of reed bunting have been foraging around on the ground.

Goldeneye, black necked grebe and goosander are still present on Ibsley Water whilst lapwing numbers are increasing, with some beginning to display over the lake with their distinctive flip-floppy flight. The water pipit has also been viewed from Tern Hide.

We’re expecting the bittern and great white egret to leave us any day now – if indeed they are still here! The bittern was seen on Sunday whilst Jim’s most recent view of the great white was last Wednesday.

A tawny owl has also decided to roost at the southern end of Ivy Lake, best viewed from the last window in Ivy South Hide. Noticed on Sunday, it has been there most mornings and still there some evenings so it’s definitely worth a scan of the trees on the lake edge.

Finally, thank you very much to Dave Levy for sharing with us this sequence of photos of a pair of great crested grebe displaying on Ivy Lake. Spring must definitely be here!