I grasped this opportunity to volunteer for many reasons, but in 2020 when we were all wondering where any of our freedoms and constraints were heading, I knew I wanted to be in the outdoors and this small reserve of 11 ha was on one of my daily walks. Somerset Wildlife Trust had sufficient trust in me to ask if I would ‘warden’ the fields, but with only my rudimentary knowledge of birds, I knew it might be quite a challenge to look after a reserve that focused on plants. I would have a steep learning curve finding out about plants generally and the listed species specifically, as well as the broader ecology.
Fortunately, there is a comprehensive Management Plan crafted by experts, so I did not start from scratch. In the eight months I have been wardening, I have seen how the four-year cycle of work to rescue and manage the rare arable plants operates and have been surprised at the intensity of the management. The fields are ploughed and worked to a fine tilth three in every four years to ensure there is an opportunity for the rare seeds to regenerate without the heavy competition from ‘pernicious weeds’ and half the hedges are trimmed in alternate years. There is a marked difference from the surrounding agricultural fields, and which is already bearing fruit.
Corn Buttercup and Narrow-fruited Cornsalad at Fivehead Arable Fields © Alex Hyde
I have visited the Reserve weekly since September 2020 and recorded the birds that I saw in the hedgerows and on the fields, trying to understand why they were there and what they were eating. And why they were either the same or different from the surrounding fields. I have been amazed that I have already recorded 37 bird species, including one Barn Owl, even two Snipe in the waterlogged fields (February), though what has been particularly special was that a pair of Kestrels raised two young nearby and then spent many weeks hunting successfully over the fields; as their principle prey item is mouse-sized mammals, supplemented by some insects, there is clearly a broad ‘web of life’ in the fields to support them. I have seen Roe Deer, Fox and Rabbit, and plenty of Badger sign too.
Great green bush-cricket at Fivehead Arable Fields © Cath Shellswell
I have also begun to learn about the butterflies - with a personal list of nine species; dragonflies – a couple identified; and clouds of moths that is an ID challenge for me for this coming year. The greatest challenge though will be to correctly identify the arable weeds for which the Reserve is so important: Corn Buttercup, Broad-fruited Cornsalad, Spreading Hedge-parsley, Shepherd’s-needle and Slender Tare. I have at least managed to enjoy the beauty of Greater Stitchwort, Violas, Cowslip, Primrose, Dandelion, Common Field-Speedwell, Ground Ivy, Colt's Foot during this Spring though.
Corn Buttercup Ranunculus arvensis © Alex Hyde
Spreading Hedge-parsley Torilis arvensis © Alison Mitchell
Slender Tare Vicia parviflora © Cath Shellswell
The Reserve is an important example of how best we could and should be managing our environment. We are all aware that Climate Change is a global phenomenon, so we must learn from this small experience and adjust our footprint to tread more sensitively and for us all to be better stewards of the wider world.
Visitors are always welcome, and the Reserve is open to all at all times of the year though for the rarer arable plants, it is best to visit around June or July. When you visit, please walk around the grass field margins. For more details click here.
Mark Winsloe – Volunteer Reserve Warden
Fivehead Arable Fields SSSI
Colour in the Margins is part of the Back from the Brink programme, funded by the National Lottery, and led by Plantlife in partnership with the RSPB.