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

Monday, 15 April 2019

More fishing

Having watched a group of young people, all with their heads down, fiddling with tablets and mobile phones it occurred to me just how different life is today for our youngsters. As a result I got thinking about the stuff I and my friends did in Kingsley when we were of a similar age to the above mentioned group. I suspect the modern youngster walks very little and spends hours sitting with their gadgetry exercising only their fingers. It seems the newspapers are, almost daily, warning us of an obesity crisis among our youth. Trust me, there was no such crisis in my childhood days. Not least because we walked miles every day in order to perform some task or another, fishing, birds nesting, collecting nuts, blackberries, fungi etc. depending upon the season and or time of year. We left home after breakfast and, for the most part, did not return until tea time. Apart from all of the exercise we didn't have anything like the food available to us that the modern child enjoys, the war was not long over and rationing went on for quite a while. 

The fishing aspect of our activities, apart from the village pond, took place in the river at the back of the common and extended from Shortheath Common and Oakhanger all the way down to the rear of the Sleaford garage. That is a lot of walking, no doubt, amounting to many miles. 

Of course, we didn't do the whole length in any given day but we did cover long distances in pursuit of the wild brown trout which was plentiful in the river in those days. 

The other great joy, as far as the river was concerned, was tiddler fishing. This was done in the feeder stream which ran from, north of the village, behind Dean Farm under the B3004 and down hill towards where Mr and Mrs Waters farmed, before entering the river. It was the area behind the Waters farm which was the most popular with us as, in those days, it teamed with small fish. I suppose the close proximity to the main river contributed to this abundance. At the time my best mate, Lewis Batty, lived in the old chapel cottage. The cottage had a tinned roof lean-to and it was in this that we housed our collection of containers holding our fishy captives. The stream in which they had been caught was not a deep one, probably for the most part, about a foot deep. Not having lovely waterproof footwear available to us then we simply took off our shoes and socks, rolled up our trouser legs and paddled, this was in the summer months! In order to capture the tiddlers we used jam jars, bottles and netting, if we could get it. There was, I remember, a significant ridge worn away under the bank of the left hand side of the stream as it flowed to the river. Under this all manner of little fish would take refuge from our efforts to catch them. But catch them we did and we did so by pushing a jar into the ridge cavity downstream and them by means of a hand of foot slide the fish towards the jar causing the tiddlers in front to dart down and into the waiting jar. We caught dozens, in hindsight, far too many. There were bullheads, loach, (these we referred to respectively as dog and cat fish ), sticklebacks, minnows, small trout and very occasionally, fresh water lampreys.

It would interest me greatly to learn if there are still tiddlers in the stream and if so, do today's village boys go fishing for them. Sadly, I suspect the answer to both questions is a no, however, I would be absolutely delighted to be wrong on this assumption. The last time I visited Kingsley, a little over a year ago, I attempted to drive over and have a look at the river, a task that was always possible when I lived in the village, but found the way barred by military barriers. Not only that but whilst I was attempting to turn around a small detachment of rifle carrying troops came jogging up the path. It would appear the military has taken far more control of the common than in days gone by. Apart from occasional maneuvers, and they were very occasional, and the odd military radio lorry, not much was seen of a military presence. People used the common pretty much as they liked, is it still so? I am aware that the common is now designated an S.S.S.I and I wonder if that has had an impact at all? I would be very interested to learn the answers to these question, perhaps some kind soul will let me know.