Young Naturalists – Seven for the Price of One

Hopefully better (very) late than never, here’s an update of what our Young Naturalists have been up to over the last seven (!) months. It’s going to be long one!

August

In August the group decided they wanted to have a go at snorkelling in the Dockens Water. We’ve done this before with children on our Wild Days Out holiday activities, but never with the Young Naturalists. After roping in a friend (Ida) as our qualified diver (!) to satisfy our risk assessment needs and meeting Jo prior to the session to check the river was free of any hazardous debris, we were all set to do as much or as little paddling, swimming and snorkelling as we wished.

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Ready to snorkel

There was a lot of sticking bottoms up into the air, but a number of faces definitely did get quite wet as we stared closely at the gravel on the river bed:

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Getting our faces wet

We explored the river from the bridge by the road crossing to Lapwing and Goosander Hides down to our usual river dipping spot. We did some litter picking along the way:

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Litter picking on the way

Generally speaking the river is only ankle deep, but there are some deeper pools to explore and those who wished to managed to do a bit of swimming and snorkelling – we even managed to see some fish!

Ida

Ida snorkelling in the Dockens Water

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Alex having a swim

Alex was happy to oblige for an underwater photo – he definitely enjoyed himself!

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Alex getting ready to take the plunge

Alex

Alex

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Photographing Alex underwater

Alex underwater

Alex underwater

We also found time to remove some Himalayan Balsam from the edge of the river, definitely easier to do whilst stood in the channel and already wet.

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Removing Himalayan Balsam

removing Himalayan Balsam

Removing Himalayan Balsam

Introduced as a garden plant in 1839, Himalayan Balsam is an invasive plant found along river banks and in ditches that prevents native species from growing through its abilities to grow and spread quickly.

After drying off and having our lunch we headed back down to the river, this time to have a go at river dipping. I had borrowed a couple of underwater viewers, which led to a new watch and wait tactic on the edge of a deeper pool. They saw fish using the viewer but I’m not sure it improved their catching abilities!

September

September saw us heading up to the area by Goosander Hide to remove some of the silver birch trees which were encroaching on the open scrub habitat. Putting what we were cutting to good use, we used it to make besom brooms and added the excess to the dead hedge to the left of the hide.

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Removing birch trees near Goosander Hide

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Besom broom making

Some of the group took their broomsticks home whilst others made them for us to sell for a donation from the Welcome Hut in the run up to Halloween:

Broomsticks

Broomsticks for sale

We also went looking for wasp spiders but sadly we were too late in the year and had no luck. We did though find a number of their stripy egg sacs:

Wasp spider egg sac

Wasp spider egg sac

October

October’s session didn’t quite go to plan, with strong winds the night before putting paid to my plans for a fungi walk followed by a campfire. We adjusted the session slightly and spent the morning tidying up what storm damage we could and closing off paths as necessary.

We paused to look at the river which was in flood, and Harry made a boat to sail on the water below.

pausing to look at the Dockens Water

Pausing to look at the Dockens Water

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Distracted by the river

After lunch we did head over to the campfire to cook toffee apples. Before lighting the fire, we carefully emptied a sprung mammal trap from the Centre loft, which revealed a wood mouse who was very happy to pose for photos.

With the campfire lit, we prepped some toasting sticks and cooked our toffee apples:

We also had a rummage under some of the logs and found this juvenile newt, who we popped back carefully after having a good look:

juvenile newt

Juvenile newt

November

For November’s session the group helped pollard some of the willows growing on the northern side of the reserve, up towards Lapwing Hide, so we had plenty of cuttings to turn into willow wreaths. Once made, the wreaths were sold for a donation from the Welcome Hut in the run up to Christmas, with families and individuals encouraged to enjoy a short walk on the reserve gathering materials (or using cuttings from elsewhere) to decorate them with.

The new growth from the pollards this coming year will provide us with more willow rods next autumn and winter.

After carrying all of our cut material back to the Centre, some of the group had a go at creating and decorating a willow wreath to take home whilst others headed to the bird hides for some bird watching.

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Making wreaths

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Willow wreaths

December

In December we headed out of the reserve and up to Rockford and Ibsley Commons.

Our bird list for the walk totalled 41 species which wasn’t bad, given it was a rather dull, grey day and whilst up on Ibsley Common we did eventually manage to spot a very distant herd of deer – for a while we didn’t think we were going to see any.

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Our bird list for the walk was as follows: Siskin, Great tit, Blackbird, Wood pigeon, Long-tailed tit, Blue tit, Jackdaw, Coot, Mute swan, Robin, Buzzard, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Tufted duck, Great crested grebe, Herring gull, Carrion crow, Shoveler, Pochard, Gadwall, Great white egret, Lesser black-backed gull, Cormorant, Jay, Redwing, Mallard, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Song thrush, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Coal tit, Stonechat, Meadow pipit, Starling, Canada goose, Grey heron, Pied wagtail, Magpie, Mistle thrush and Green woodpecker.

We enjoyed a different view of the reserve, looking down from Rockford Common towards Blashford Lake and down from Ibsley Common towards Mockbeggar Lakes and Ibsley Water.

Redwing

Redwing

We finished the session toasting marshmallows over the campfire.

Toasting marshmallows

Toasting marshmallows

January

January saw us treated to a bird ringing demonstration by BTO trained bird ringers Brenda and Kevin and trainee ringer Kate. The group learnt how to age and sex the birds, measure their weight and wing length and they practiced how to handle the birds using Brenda’s knitted example.

After the birds were ringed and processed the group were able to carefully release them under Brenda’s watchful eye:

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Elliott getting ready to release the Firecrest

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Alex releasing a robin

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Will releasing a chaffinch

A total of 43 birds were caught: 3 Chaffinch; 3 Dunnock; 8 Lesser redpoll; 5 Greenfinch; 12 Blue tit; 4 Great tit; 2 Long-tailed tit; 1 Goldcrest; 1 Siskin; 2 Robin; 1 Firecrest; 1 Goldfinch.

We also had time to visit the bird hides, but sadly the Bittern evaded us!

Bird watching from Ivy South Hide

Bird watching from Ivy South Hide

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Bird watching from Ivy South Hide

February

Finally, we met yesterday for some pewter smelting. Whilst some of the group laid the fire and had a go at fire lighting, others made a smaller fire in the base of a Kelly kettle so we could boil some water to make a play dough that would be used to create moulds for the pewter to be poured into.

With the water boiled, Isabella and Alice mixed up some dough. We divided the dough into balls and everyone had a go at pressing something they had either bought with them or found on the reserve into it.

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Moulds ready for pewter

Our items included alder cones (difficult to cast!), sea shells and snail shells, Chloe bought in a shark’s tooth and some pieces of ammonite, Will bought in an antler and Harry bought in a small wooden hedgehog.

We sat around the campfire for lunch, giving it time to take and burn down a little:

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Group sat around the campfire

After lunch we set about taking it in turns to melt some pewter shot before carefully pouring it into the moulds.

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With a bit of practice we slowly got better at pouring the pewter into the moulds and their results were fantastic:

Yesterday’s session was sadly my last with the group, so it was brilliant to see so many faces, both old and new, and spend a bit of time around the campfire. Nigel and Geoff very kindly bought in some cake for us all to share and the group had contributed to a photo book of our sessions, which included comments from some past members.

It was great to hear how our sessions have shaped some of our members, who have gone on to gain more knowledge and skills in conservation through work experience, on to further education courses at Sparsholt and Kingston Maurward Colleges or on to university to study subjects including Biology, Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Science (with a view to working with children and educating them about wildlife and conservation) and Zoology.

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Finishing off around the campfire

I shall definitely miss working with them all, the group has easily been the highlight of my time at Blashford and we’ve come along way since our first session with three young people as Wildlife Rangers back in April 2015.

Funding and support from the Cameron Bespolka Trust for five years enabled us to grow the group and try new things, venturing further afield for residentials, visiting other nature reserves and inviting experts to share their skills and knowledge with the group.

I know they will be in safe hands with Jim and Chloe going forwards and will continue to enjoy all the opportunities offered to them.

It’s 12 Days Wild! What wild thing have you done today?

Just like our 30 Days Wild challenge in the summer, we are asking you to do one wild thing a day over the festive period, from 25th December to 5th January for #12DaysWild.

If you haven’t started yet don’t worry, you can begin right now just by going and spending 5 minutes outside, looking at the sky and seeing if you can hear any birds.

Today is day 3 of #12DaysWild!
For day 1 I went on a lovely Christmas dog walk, enjoying the sound of the rain on the hood of my coat, and the birds chirping in the hedgerows. Yesterday I went for a walk in the New Forest, and saw lots of mossy fallen trees, and admired a golden glowing sunset.

Day 3… and luckily I am working at Blashford today! I decided I would spend some time outdoors despite the rain, practising my willow weaving skills. Now that our Christmas wreath making activity has come to an end, we need do to something with all the willow, so I am learning how to make bird feeders. They don’t necessarily always go to plan, but practise does (I hope) make perfect, and it feels great to learn a new skill using a natural material.

Let us know your wild acts for nature on social media using the hashtag #12DaysWild and if you’ve done something at Blashford, make sure to #BlashfordLakes too!

Tis the season to weave willow…

We have been getting in the festive spirit here at Blashford Lakes over the past few weeks, using the willow that Bob and the volunteers cut to make lots of wreaths which are now available for a small donation at the Welcome Hut as a self-guided activity.

On Monday we ran two wreath making sessions for home educating families, which were very well attended. We began by going on a foraging walk along the Dockens Water path with bags and secateurs in hand to see what we could find. The group returned with an abundance of holly, fir, ivy and other wonderful natural finds to use for decoration.

We gathered under the shelter behind the centre, with many piles of willow to choose from, and Tracy gave a demonstration on how to create a willow wreath. Firstly, select some willow that isn’t too thick or woody, as it needs to bend around into a P-shape to start. Wrap the willow around itself so it holds shape. Then, imagining your hoop as a clock, add new willow in at 12, 3, 6 etc…. and keep wrapping around and adding at roughly quarter intervals until you have a beautiful wreath. Try not to get too frustrated when it gets a kink in it, you can usually hide it with another piece of willow.

All of our families created wonderful wreaths, abundantly decorated with greenery, and splashes of colour from wool, material, and biodegradable-glittered pine cones. The only thing left to decide when each family gets home, is which of their children’s wreaths gets pride of place on the front door! I don’t think I would like to be in charge of that decision!

Reserve access update and a swan rescue!

Unfortunately in addition to the two path closures mentioned in Jim’s last blog, we have also had to close the stretch of path between the Welcome Hut and the Woodland Hide (you can walk along this path as far as the left hand turn towards Ivy North Hide). 

Both the Woodland Hide and Ivy South Hide are open, but they need to be accessed from the other direction, via the bridge and boardwalk.

We had hoped to get the offending tree branch, which has partially come away from one of the large oaks and is resting over the path against another tree opposite, removed today but unfortunately this did not happen. Hopefully the tree surgeons will be able to re-schedule their visit soon, as we know the circular ‘Wild Walk’ loop is a popular one.

On Saturday evening I had received a message from Jim warning me that visitors had reported a swan inside the water treatment works fence. Unable to do anything that night, it was left for me to investigate again on Sunday morning after I had opened the hides.

The swan had probably planned to land on Ivy Lake, and had either made a mistake and overshot the water, or being a young male it could have been put off landing by another male. On walking around the perimeter fence I did indeed find the bird. It was not overly impressed to see me, but didn’t appear too unscathed after a night inside the site.

On my way back to Centre I spotted a couple of Earthfan fungi on the edge of the lichen heath.

I found the key to the works and called Mike at the wildlife rescue at Moyles Court to see if he was available to retrieve it. He came down straight away and we went inside, following the fence line round. The swan had moved from its original spot, and had been closer to the entrance the night before, so clearly it didn’t have a problem walking.

With me blocking the swan’s exit (not entirely sure what I would have done if it had run at me), Mike was able to catch the bird and hold it down, while I positioned a carry bag. He placed the swan on top of the bag, holding its wings tight, and I zipped it up so his wings were held in place. We then carried the swan back to his van and took it across the road to Ibsley Water.

Before releasing the swan on the larger lake, Mike checked him over to make sure he was fit and well and hadn’t damaged himself in any way when he landed.

With no signs of damage to his wings or feet, Mike was satisfied and we went out onto the shore to release the bird. Ibsley Water is a much larger water body than Ivy Lake and is able as a result to support a larger population of swans without them getting too close to each other.

Mike released him slowly, making sure he had a chance to take it all in and clock where the other swans were on the water. He was quite happy to get back onto the water, and was quite vocal in his appreciation! Thank you Mike!

After the excitement of a swan rescue, I was able to have a look inside the moth trap, which revealed a nice selection of autumnal moths:

Today Bob, Chloe and NFNPA apprentice Ben have been improving the view of Ibsley Water from the viewing platform by removing some of the willows that have been merrily growing taller and taller. This will improve the views of the gulls and other birds roosting on the lake and also hopefully the starling murmurations.

I wasn’t able to take a before photo as I spent the morning uploading events to the website and Eventbrite, but I did join them in the afternoon so I could pinch some of the cut willow for wreath making. The rest was added to the dead hedges.

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Willow ready to be turned into wreaths

Bob still has a few willows to cut, and with us selling 100 wreaths last year for a donation any nice straight whips will be put to good use!

Our self-led ‘Decorate a Willow Wreath’ activity will be available once again from Sunday 28th November and you can find out more on our website here.

In bird news, a Caspian gull has been seen on Ibsley Water both today and yesterday, with other recent sightings including marsh harrier, common and green sandpiper, a number of yellow-legged gull, water pipit and a number of black-tailed godwit. Elsewhere on the reserve firecrest have been showing nicely along with good numbers of siskin and a Siberian chiffchaff was caught on Thursday by bird ringer Kevin.

Finally, David Cuddon shared this photo of a Peregrine falcon wit us, showing nicely from (I think) Tern Hide – thank you very much David!

30 Days Wild – Day 1

It’s that time of year again and after a rather slack time for blogging I will try an pick up the baton again. Although we are moving close to Mid-summer’s Day, it actually still feels quiet spring-like, despite the weather having finally turned warmer. So I will start with bluebell, still in flower in lots of places at Blashford Lakes, although just starting to go over in places.

Bluebell

Ferns are a feature of the woods around the Centre, especially those self-sown on the old spoil heaps left by the gravel workings. Perhaps the least “ferny” is the hart’s tongue fern, which completely lacks the pinnatifid form that is normally associated with a fern

Hart’s tongue fern

Despite getting warmer the moth trapping remains very poor, but the trap does not only catch moths, one of last night’s non-moths was this rather cute looking brown lacewing, I am not sure of the species as they are rather difficult to identify in life.

Brown lacewing

Warm and dry conditions at this time of year can result in “snowfall” at Blashford, or at least that is what it can seem like, as the willow seed is shed in clouds and collects in drifts along the paths.

Seeding willow

Having said the moth trapping has been poor, I did catch one rarely seen species last night in my garden trap, a buttoned snout, not a lot to look at perhaps, but a new record for my garden. It had been though they were in steep decline, having been regularly found by earlier naturalists. However it seems our modern reliance on light traps for recording moths maybe to blame. They do not often come to light, so were considered scarce, but if you look for the caterpillars, as entomologists did before they had light traps, it turns out they are not so hard to find. How you look is important, especially if you want to infer change.

Buttoned snout

In between weaving

I’ve been meaning to write another blog for a while now, but have been ever so slightly pre-occupied by cutting willow and wreath making, with our decorate a wreath activity turning out to be staggeringly popular! As of today, I’ve made 80 willow wreaths (with a little help from Jim who finished some I’d started off for me) and 72 have been ‘sold’ for a donation, so a huge thank you to every one who has joined in, donated and spread the word. We’ve had some fantastic feed back from both individuals and families and it’s been lovely to weave outside the front of the Centre and chat to people as they head off collecting. We may have to do it this way next year, as it clearly works!

I decided to have a break from making today as the weather has resulted in a quiet day visitor wise, but I have more willow cut and ready to weave into hoops for the rest of the week. I haven’t managed to get many photos of finished wreaths but do have a couple:

Oliver is one of our Wildlife Tots and, missing our usual wreath making December session, his mum asked if they could make their wreath as well as decorate it. They were very pleased with the finished result!

I haven’t just been standing outside the front of the Centre weaving, although most of my time spent out on the reserve does now involve staring at every willow I come across, looking for nice straight rods to harvest and weave with at a later date.

Here are a stonechat, marsh tit and robin I’ve photographed whilst out and about: 

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Stonechat on the edge of the main car park, when the sun was shining!


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Marsh tit on the feeder by the Welcome Hut


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Robin along the path by Ivy Silt Pond

We’ve also had some really lovely photos sent in by Doug Masson and Phil West. Thank you both very much for sharing them, and sorry for the delay in putting them on the blog!

Chiffchaff by Doug Masson

Chiffchaff by Doug Masson


Goldcrest by Doug Masson

Goldcrest by Doug Masson


Goldfinch by Doug Masson

Goldfinch by Doug Masson


Female mallard by Doug Masson

Female mallard by Doug Masson


Siskin by Doug Masson

Siskin by Doug Masson


Treecreeper by Doug Masson

Treecreeper by Doug Masson


Treecreeper 3 by Doug Masson

Treecreeper by Doug Masson

 

Fallow deer by Phil West

Fallow deer by Phil West


Fallow deer 2 by Phil West

Fallow deer by Phil West

Aside from photographing the wildlife on the reserve, the dewy and frosty mornings we’ve had recently have also provided some good opportunities for taking photos. A few more frosty mornings and a little less rain would be very nice… 

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Dewy seed heads on the edge of the lichen heath


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Dewy spiders web by the car park


Another wreath has just gone, so tomorrow I think I will be back weaving – definitely not a bad way to spend the day!

Christmas is coming…

…like it or not, it actually is, and, at Blashford at least, it’s looking like it could be a white Christmas too. A great white egret Christmas that is!

Up to 5 great white egret, with up to 13 little egret “in attendance” are being seen on the reserve at present,  mostly on or around Ibsley Water where they are particularly enjoying spending time hanging out over the water at the south western corner of the lake on the willows that we have been felling along that shore and over the lake to vary the habitat, improve nesting capacity for birds like little and great crested grebes and coot, and, at the same time, impede access to those users (abusers) of the nature reserve who insist on being where they shouldn’t be…

Sadly it would appear that the famous, one and only “original” Blashford great white egret, affectionately known to all as Walter White, is not one of those five 😦

As regular readers of this Blog and visitors to the nature reserve will know Walter was a distinctive bird with leg rings which he received as a chick in France in 2003 so could always be readily identified upon his return, usually at some point in August, although at times both earlier and later than that month. Tipped to become Europes  oldest great white egret (record currently stands at 17 years) it would appear that Walter sadly may well have matched it, but has not exceeded it, as we have neither seen or had reports of a ringed great white this winter.

There is still hope however,  albeit slim. It was only last year (maybe the year before) that Bob, having given up hope of Walter’s return, effectively wrote an obituary for this  much loved bird on these pages – only for Walter to be sighted the very next day. So fingers crossed everyone!

Elsewhere in the general environs around Ibsley Water I can’t not mention the starling murmuration. Although still very much not on the scale of some winters there are, at present, still a good number of several thousand birds gathering and roosting in Valley and although perhaps not big on numbers some evenings at least they have been performing some great displays and throwing some stunning shapes! Good to see the goosander coming into roost too – so far Bob has recorded a little over 50 and there are now 10+ goldeneye too.

Around the woodland habitats on the reserve, this winter looks like being a good one for redpoll with a number feeding in the tree tops amidst the siskin – although not yet coming down to feed on the bird feeders. We also still have a pair of marsh tits established in an area roughly from the Centre down to Ivy South Hide – both have now been ringed by BTO volunteer bird ringers Kevin & Brenda so if you see a marsh tit without a ring let us know because it will mean we actually have more than just the two birds!

Further to  Tracy’s last post, in which she described the DIY wreath activity you can enjoy on your next visit, should you choose, I just thought I’d give a plug for the various items which can be bought from the Welcome Hut while you are here, the proceeds from which will all go towards supporting the education and conservation work here at Blashford Lakes. Just bear us in mind for some of those stocking fillers for your nature loving loved ones – just like the high street, we need your support (and if like many you are doing a lot of your shopping online at present remember you can still support the Trust either by purchasing direct from our online shop ( http://www.hiwwt.org.uk/shop-support-wildlife ) or by shopping via Amazon Smile or Easyfundraising and nominating Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust as your chosen charity.

But now for more in terms of what we can sell you from here when you visit!

The Welcome Hut remains closed to visitors (not very welcoming I know – sorry!), but it is making a very handy additional office space so we can better manage our socially distant safe working practices, and it does mean one of us is usually around to take your money if there is anything in particular you are interested in buying 😉

If you arrive and there isn’t anyone working from the hut do knock on the Centre door or call the mobile phone number which will have been left out on a sign outside the Hut.

At present we have Christmas cards (either handmade ones for sale at 2 for £3, or packs of 10 Wildlife Trust cards for £3), lovely handturned wooden ballpoint pens (£3), a wide variety of FSC wildlife identification guides (4 of which are shown below – £3.30 or £4 each), a small selection of children’s picture books, bird nest boxes and bat boxes (£10) and bug homes (£5).

Feeling festive!

On Sunday I began cutting some of the willow we have growing on the reserve to weave into wreaths. Usually at this time of year we would be offering willow wreath making sessions for individuals and families, harvesting the willow, weaving the wreath and decorating it with items gathered on the reserve. This year, we are offering it as a self-led activity, where visitors can make a donation for a pre-made wreath then follow the mile long ‘Wild Walk’ circular loop in search of natural items to decorate the wreath with. I may be wreath making on and off for the next week or so! 

Our pre-made wreaths can be found on the plant sales table by the Welcome Hut, for a suggested donation of £3 to £5. Payment can be made by card using the contactless donations point by the door to the Welcome Hut, or by cash in the green box on the fence.

Bundles of wool for tying items on to the wreath and for hanging it up afterwards can be found hanging on the tree to the left of the table. If you want to tie items on all the way round, instead of leaving some of the willow showing, you will need more than one bundle – we are happy to take back anything you don’t use for another time. You could also try tucking items in between the pieces of willow to secure them.

There are also a couple of buckets on the ground containing additional items which can be added in if you wish. 

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Wreath making station and plant sales

I walked the ‘Wild Walk’ loop to make an example wreath, and found a nice mix of natural items including bracken (I snapped top of a couple of individual leaves off), a mixture of leaves from the ground, some moss, some dried seed heads, grasses and a small twig that still had closed catkins on it. When you do go gathering, please remember to collect responsibly and not take too much of one particular item. 

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Finished wreath

Some items will last longer than others, but those that begin to wilt could be replaced with something else you find next time you go for a walk, or items from the garden… and on that note you are of course than more welcome to make a donation for a wreath and take it away with you to decorate at home. Either way, have fun wreath making! 

Once you have finished with your wreath, the items you have added will break down if put back outside and the wool could be reused again another time for something else. Your wreath will dry and change colour, but it will last and if stored somewhere dry it could be used again next year and the year after…

Finally, we do still have some plants on the plant sales table available for a donation, along with other items made by volunteer Geoff that would either make a great addition to a wildlife friendly garden or make a great gift: the bug homes are £5 each and the bird and bat boxes are £10 each. Again donations can be made by cash or card.

30 Days Wild – Day 12

A bit of a delay with Day 12, I managed a Tweet but not the blog. Friday was a decidedly mixed day, fine enough in the morning but with heavy rain in the afternoon, at least it refilled the water butts at the Centre after I had emptied them to top up the pond earlier in the week.

The last few days have brought at least some rain and a spurt in growth is just starting. Plants need both water and sunshine for growth, so where the ground remained wet from the winter growth is already spectacular, after one of the wettest winters followed by the sunniest spring plants like common reed will probably reach record heights.

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Reedbed

The reeds near Lapwing hide are already mostly overtopping last year’s maximum height and they should grow on a good bit more yet before they stop growth and start putting their energy into flowering.

The higher light levels are also apparent in the woodland, here light levels are typically low and many plants rely on just a short period of sunlight a day, or even no direct sunlight at all. With such high light levels this year growth even in shade has been good so long as there has been enough water. The shaded vegetation under the trees by the boardwalk often struggles, there is plenty of water but light is at a premium, but ever here growth has been vigorous. The variation caused by the different sized openings in the canopy where trees have fallen produces a wonderfully mixed vegetation  and wonderful habitat for lots of species. This is one area of the reserve where there is almost no habitat management and we let nature takes its course, a miniature rewilding.

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Willow swamp vegetation

I am sometimes asked why we don’t rewild more of our reserves, it would be a great thing to do, but we are limited by the demands of safe public access, so it is only really in areas that the public cannot access that we can safely leave things. Although a passion for tidiness in some quarters is a significant factor in the amount of habitat such as deadwood and especially standing deadwood that is left for wildlife, the need to provide what is seen as a safe place for people I at least as significant. Certainly at Blashford there would be  a lot more standing deadwood habitat if the only consideration was the needs of wildlife. The irony is that although all trees will fall eventually most of them actually fall when they are not dead. This I found myself when I came to leave yesterday and found a willow had fallen across the entrance track. A combination of a large load of leaves, a weight of water from the rain and some gust y winds had proved too much for it. Willows do this a lot and rarely break off, they go from vertical to horizontal and just keep on growing, or at least they would if we let them. As I wanted to get home this one was cut back, rewilding is all very well but I was getting hungry!

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fallen willow blocking the way

Full of Promise

It seems to have been a week for blossom, the crab apple is at its best, the pear is just ahead but still great on the northern side of the tree and yes we do have a pear at Blashford, blackthorn is over and today I saw my first hawthorn in bloom.

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Hawthorn in flower

Lots of  flowers should mean lots of fruits in the autumn, unless we have a very, very dry summer of course.

Elsewhere on my rounds I found three orchids, twayblades nearly in flower, but also in the dark under a bush so I could not get a picture. In the open were a southern marsh orchid, with very spotted leaves.

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Southern marsh orchid

And even more in the open, several bee orchid rosettes.

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bee orchids, rather nibbled by rabbits

These orchids will be flowering later in the season, but as you may have noticed there are lots of bees out now, many will visit dandelions and daisies, not weeds but vital nectar sources. A good few species also visit willows in the spring, including that rare spring species the grey-backed mining bee Andrena vaga, the females return to their nests with loads of the bright willow yellow pollen as food for their larvae.

Andrena vaga

grey-backed mining bee

Spring is a time of migration and one of the species that passes through on the way from North Africa to the uplands of Scotland an Scandinavia is the ring ouzel. This is a bird very like a blackbird, in fact sit was known as the mountain blackbird, but it has a white crescent across the chest and rather longer wings, as befits a bird that flies long distances. Today I saw a blackbird with some white, sadly though not a ring ouzel, but a common blackbird with some white feathering.

blackbird

“Just” a blackbird

Finally I turned on the camera screen at Blashford today as I waited for computer support to reconnect me to our network and found that the grey squirrel that has been occupying the owl box has actually been rearing a family.

young squirrels in box

young squirrel in the owl box