Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Gardening, etc

I happen to be lucky enough to have a large garden, I suppose it is in the region of half an acre and I enjoy looking after it. Since we have lived here I have endeavoured to create a wild life garden in order to encourage both birds and insects, butterflies and bees. This has involved planting quite a lot of trees. Many years ago when we lived in Surrey we belonged to The Cottage Garden Society and, as members, we attended their summer evening garden visits. These were always very pleasant as they involved a tour of a garden followed by a picnic, a good old natter and a plant buying opportunity. A very good way of obtaining plants at a reasonable price. I recall a visit to a particular garden which was owned by a chap called Trevor and his partner. It was, as you might expect, created in the cottage garden style and it was stunning. But the thing I remember Trevor telling us was that gardens should be a series of rooms. His theory being, you walked from one room to another and each one was different, planted with differing sorts of plants and providing a different atmosphere and experience. This impressed me and I have followed that idea ever since. Incidentally, Trevor had written a number of books on the subject and was an acknowledged expert in his field. Sadly I don't remember his surname. 

In any event, my tree planting has been in an effort to construct a series of rooms and I now have a garden which provides that experience. Each area being different from the previous as you walk through. The main area has a lawn and a flower bed planted with cottage garden plants, roses around the house and lots of large pots and containers full, for the most part, of bee and butterfly attracting plants. Several honeysuckles and a buddleia complete the insect feeding stations. It works, on a sunny day all of the above are covered with several species of bees and we also have a healthy butterfly population. The trees create, if you like, the walls of the rooms. I also have a Japanese garden, a large pond, which is enclosed and covered and a wild area with just a few paths cut through it. The pond area is enclosed with fence and netting overhead as we have a local heronry and I have even had the odd visit from a kingfisher. Not to mention, one weekend when we were away, a devastating visit from an otter. The trees I have planted consist of oak, field maple, willows various, cob nut and walnut and the odd hawthorn and blackthorn which I have allowed to grow into quite large specimens. All in all they attract a wide range of birds and an occasional, unwelcome, grey squirrel. Why unwelcome ? These non-indigenous pests are omnivorous and therefore they eat the eggs and fledglings of song birds, indeed any birds,not to mention the damage they do to trees. 

My back, and boundary hedge, has a big and, so far, healthy elm tree group within it. I hope they have a degree of resistance to the dreaded Dutch Elm disease. So far, and they are now over thirty feet in height, they have remained unscathed . In most cases, I am told, the disease strikes before the young trees reach twenty feet so each year I watch carefully for any signs of illness but so far so good. My hedges around our field, which is beside the house and separated by a driveway, contain a variety of trees and shrubs and a good quantity of brambles which acts like a magnet for birds and insects especially when they are fruiting. So all in all,we manage to attract a wide range of wild life. This year, nesting in the garden, we have had three lots of bluetits, two great tits,three robins, a wren, three blackbirds, a pied wagtail and numerous sparrows. The sparrows nest in a large old clump of clematis which was here when we bought the place, it is very dense and provides the birds with shelter and, no doubt, some warmth. Apart from nesting in this mass they also roost in it throughout the winter.The above accounts only for the nests I have discovered in the garden and sheds, in fact I have a blackbird with fledglings in my workshop as I write. I am quite sure there have been many more nests in the hedges around the field, but my days of rummaging through thick and ancient hedgerows are, sadly, long gone. 

Readers, if there are any, that follow my jottings will perhaps recall in a previous article my comments regarding the rabbits which had taken up residence in my field and my fears that they may have succumbed to the fox or disease. Well, I am happy to report they are still around and doing well. In fact, the other morning when I went out to feed the animals one of their number had come to the top of the field in an area near the feed shed. He got a bit of a shock as Humphrey, my terrier was with me and gave chase. The bunny made it safely to the bramble patch at the bottom of the field with time to spare. The trouble is, now Humpers knows we have rabbits he keeps clearing off in search of them every time he comes out with me which is twice a day. I don't imagine the rabbits are in any great danger from him but if Bertie, our lurcher, gets involved it could be another story. Oh well, as they say, that's life in the sticks.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Surveys

As of the first of April life changes in the Yeomans household in that I begin undertaking wildlife surveys again. First there are the transect walks on behalf of Butterfly Conservation and these take place between the first of April and the last day of September each year. One walk each week and, since I cover Duncliffe and Fifehead woods, I am committed to two walks a week. Duncliffe being the longest with eight sections and Fifehead has five sections. Certain conditions have to be met in order that a walk can take place. The temperature has to be over thirteen degrees, the amount of sunlight has to be taken into account as does the wind and time of day. Walks take place between 1045 and 1545. It is usually possible to fit the walks in but there are the odd weeks when the weather and conditions are just not suitable and a walk is missed. So far this year all of my walks have been completed but last week was testing. 

Early butterflies are Brimstones, orange tips, speckled woods, common and holly blues with the odd red admirals and peacocks. I have also been fortunate enough to record the lovely little small copper which has appeared again in a meadow beside Duncliffe woods. Last year I was recording the odd one or two of the small coppers but so far this year it has been eight or nine which is very encouraging. The meadow in question is, incidentally, of an old unspoiled type containing lots of wild flowers. Just like meadows used to be before farmers began the widespread use of pesticides and weed killers. 

In general terms last year was a fairly good year for most butterfly species and increases in numbers were recorded in these parts for most. However, the small tortoiseshell did not do well with numbers dramatically down.

At the same time as the transect walks begin so do the dormouse surveys and I attend two of those. One in a small copse called Oysters copse which belongs to the Wiltshire Trust for Nature Conservation. The other is Goblin Coombe in North Somerset where the surveys are undertaken by members of the Somerset Trusts mammal group. Both areas are of old woodland and contain a wide variety of trees and shrubs and contain the elusive little dormouse. The first survey in Oysters proved negative as far as dormice were concerned. However, almost half of the dormouse boxes surveyed contained nesting tits. Blue tits, great tits and marsh tits. One wonders how on earth these little birds find the entrance hole to the boxes as they are located at the back of the box and against the tree trunk. Bird boxes, of course have their holes facing outwards and are obvious and easy to locate. But find the entrances they do and then occupy the boxes for just over a month until the fledglings have flown the nest. The other, less welcome, squatters are bees, These take over the odd box or two and are usually very aggressive when disturbed. 

I missed the first Goblin Coombe survey due to a post opp. infection but six individuals were recorded. The second survey, Mays, took place yesterday and we were lucky enough to record nine individuals. Some boxes had two mice in them and one had three. All were torpid and remained fast asleep during the process of sexing and weighing them. The smallest weighed ten grams and the heaviest seventeen grams. All were in good condition and, clearly, had survived the winter hibernation. It never fails to thrill when a box is opened and inside is a little dormouse they are just the most delightful of little creatures. Although all nine were found to be asleep this is not uncommon as the dormouse has the ability to induce this state of temporary hibernation as and when they feel like it. No doubt, when the weather is a bit unfavorable or perhaps when food is scarce. They can remain in this torpid state for a few hours or a day or two which is quite handy. When found the mice feel very cold and one could be forgiven for imagining that they were dead. Often they are snoring and occasionally the warmth from the hand of the surveyor will cause the mouse to partially wake. All quite charming. So there you have it, that’s what surveying is all about as far as I am concerned, a joy to be involved in. Anyone reading this and thinking they might like to get involved can do so by contacting their local Trust for Nature Conservation. In my experience I have found them to be helpful and willing to provide the necessary contacts. The good news is you don’t have to be a member if you don’t want to. 

Friday, 3 May 2019

May 2019 local election

Binsted, Bentley & Selborne
ASHCROFT David Arnold The Conservative Party  1029 Elected
BURFOOT Barbara Anne Labour party  192
CARTER Ken The Conservative Party  889 Elected
PRICE Jane-Frances Margaret Labour party  266
RAVENSCROFT Lynne Liberal Democrat  839