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As many of us wander through the arable countryside for exercise, dog walking or to appreciate the stunning array of plants that surround us, I wonder how many of us stop to think about what lies beneath our feet and the history of past generations that have walked there before us?

To have the opportunity to deliver a brand-new Countryside Park for the benefit of wildlife and the community is an exciting challenge. The prospect of starting with a blank canvas with endless possibilities for interpretation themes allowed us to explore all of the amazing things about arable landscapes. Whilst we revelled in celebrating the amazing wildlife and stunning views offered at Dawlish Countryside Park, we were also very keen to delve into its past and learn about its history!

To begin with, a visit to the Devon Records Office and a look at the tithe maps revealed that the three main wildflower grassland plots we have today were once thirty five separate arable fields used by various landowners- each field with its own, often quirky name. We wanted to learn a bit more about the types of farming that happened here, the type of equipment they might have used, and any indications of what life was like in the past.

We had special permission to allow a metal detectorist onto the site for a short period of time who scanned only half of the Park but revealed some staggering finds. All finds were taken to RAAM (Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery) in Exeter for verification.

In this first picture, you can see a large piece of a Devon Plough almost certainly pulled by four Oxen which has sheared off. Wearing yokes instead of collars like Horses, the last Oxen to work in the county was recorded in East Devon in 1878.

Other assortments of ironmongery found included chain links and drag harrow spikes dating back over 200 years.

In this third picture, you can see a mixture of pottery found at the Park. Most of it is fairly recent with examples of Victorian drainpipes, but at the top you will also see 13th Century green glazed pottery. The Victorians were great innovators and engineering was limited only by the materials available to them. There are three main ceramic types- earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. You will also notice the piece of clay pipe and a honing stone. Kept in a farmer’s pocket, a honing stone was easily accessible to maintain sharp edges on sickles and scythes during harvest time.

You can see from this varied collection of metalwork that there is plenty of history to be discovered just beneath the surface.  Here you can see amongst other things musket balls made by pouring molten lead or alloy into a two-part mould. The mould seam is the thin line around the circumference of the musket ball. They were categorised not by diameter but by how many musket balls would weigh a pound. You may also be able to see several Georgian six pence’s, watch faces and even Georgian shoe buckles!

Most excitingly, even greater treasures can be found within the arable landscape. In this picture you can see a collection of flints.  The two flints at the bottom of the picture have been confirmed as Neolithic. In particular the arrowhead flint shows marks of ‘percussion’ where the flint has been struck to chip bits off until the desired shape is achieved. This process will have happened by Neolithic people at Dawlish Countryside Park some six thousand years ago!

So,  when you next enjoy walking through your local arable landscape, allow your mind to ponder what stories may be locked up in the history beneath your feet!

 

Jon Steward, Countryside Ranger

Dawlish Countryside Park

 

 

 Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

The Dorset’s Heathland Heart team have been working with land managers to provide funding and support for targeted habitat management works across a variety of sites, to enhance their suitability for some of our heathland’s rarest species.

A wetland site on Hartland Moor National Nature Reserve (NNR) in Purbeck was identified as having potential to be restored as suitable habitat for the scarce Southern Damselfly.


Southern Damselfly Coenagrion mercuriale. Credit: D. Liley & S. Lake

Nearby similar habitat supports a good size population of this otherwise vulnerable creature. It is hoped that the creation of this new sites will provide the damselfly’s the opportunity to expand its range, population size and stability.

The identified area crucially remains wet all year round with slow-running water and boasts lush vegetation, ideal for the Southern Damselfly which is a weak flyer and needs this environment to breed successfully. However, a significant amount of Alder trees had encroached onto the site causing it to become enclosed, shaded, and dryer, thereby reducing the wetland environment. The trees also made the area difficult for grazing animals to access, limiting the benefits which large herbivores provide in maintaining more open habitats.

Read more about the Southern Damselflies habitat requirements and life cycle here


Hartland Moor and views of Corfe Castle. Credit: S. Lake & D. Liley.

Hartland Moor is an excellent example of Dorset’s heathland landscape and is cared for by the National Trust as part of their Purbeck estate. It is also a key element of the recently designated Purbeck Heaths NNR which sees local landowners forming a significant partnership to work collectively towards conservation goals.

The wetland restoration works here involved clearing some of the over-crowded Alder trees, which were felled during the winter season. The felled Alder was initially left on site as removing it over the winter could have caused too much disturbance to the ground especially as access was tricky.


Area partially cleared of Alder, here seen in the wet winter conditions. Credit: S. Lake

In addition, some of the timber was used to construct small dams to further slow-down the flow of water in the deeper channels and create shallow pools in the more open areas.


Dams and pools, image taken in early Spring. Credit: S. Lake

The remaining timber extraction was planned for the drier summer conditions and a local specialist contracted to complete the works. Dorset Horse Logging, which is based in Corfe Castle, specialise in felling and low impact timber extraction using heavy horses, negating the need for any disruptive machinery. This is especially useful on sensitive sites, in areas of soft or wet ground, or those which are hard to reach by vehicle. Toby Hoad who owns and runs the business is a local resident and is well connected with local conservation organisations. He has worked for many years as a woodsman and greenwood-worker producing sustainable woodland products from firewood and charcoal, to hand-crafted furniture. Find out more about Toby and his Dorset Horse Logging business here

We went to see Toby in action at the site in July. He was working with one of his four working horses Celine. Celine is a special breed of horse called a Comtois, which is a draft horse originating from the Jura Mountains on the border between France and Switzerland.


Comtois Horse; Celine. Credit: A. Roe

Celine is a very impressive and strong animal; she was impeccably behaved responding to Toby’s commands and moving heavy timber with ease. Despite the heavy work she was very relaxed and enjoyed making the most of the lush vegetation around her, having a good graze between hauling loads.


Toby and Celine negotiating a route through the trees. Credit: T. Bagley

Toby and Celine made a great team working together to get all the cut timber out of the wet site and onto dry ground. Negotiating a route around numerous trees, ditches and banks which all remain intact thanks to this low-impact extraction method. Toby will then process the timber and sell it onto the local community as sustainable firewood.

Southern Damselfly may be the target beneficiary from habitat restoration here but the works will benefit a wider community of species, and the wetland sites provide an important feature within the wider heathland habitat and landscape beyond.

 

Aemelia Roe

Dorset Heathland Heart Outreach Officer

 

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

 

Needless to say, lots of plans and dreams this year have been scuppered by the coronavirus pandemic. Conservationists and RSPB staff members Dr Jen Smart and husband Mark Smart had planned to cycle from the UK to the annual conference of the International Wader Study Group (IWSG), which was to be held in Germany this year. As keen cyclists and wader conservationists, their aim was to promote responsible travel while raising funds for wader conservation. For obvious reasons, the conference will now be an online event this year – so in light of a pandemic Jen and Mark innovatively adapted their plans.

Jen and Mark will instead remain in the UK and cycle 600 miles in eight days from Somerset to Cambridgeshire between 23rd-30th August, following a route that links 11 nature reserves which have been visited by black-tailed godwit chicks raised and released by Project Godwit. The intrepid duo will be raising money for Project Godwit and for IWSG, which gives out small grants each year to support wader projects around the world.

Jen & Mark Smart will cycle 600 miles in eight days for wader conservation

This Sunday 23rd is Day 1 of Jen and Mark’s fundraising challenge and they begin their adventure departing from WWT Steart Marshes in Somerset. Day 8 will end at the three project sites of Project Godwit: WWT Welney, RSPB Ouse Washes and RSPB Nene Washes in the Cambridgeshire Fens.

WWT Welney is where all the head-starting happens, thanks to WWT’s highly skilled and experienced aviculturalists: godwit eggs are incubated and chicks are reared in specialised pens before release at fledgling age, to get them through their most vulnerable time of life. 112 godwits have been head-started and released since the first year of the project in 2017, to boost the number of black-tailed godwits breeding in the UK. RSPB Nene Washes is a befitting end point for Jen and Mark to cross the finish line, as this is where the eggs are sourced each breeding season. Collecting the eggs early in the season encourages the adult breeding pair to lay another clutch, thereby preventing any net loss to the source population.

Jen & Mark’s route from Somerset to Cambridgeshire, via 11 nature reserves

Itinerary of ‘Godwit Stops’ 

Sun 23rd – WWT Steart Marshes, Somerset
Mon 24th – Titchfield Haven NNR, Hampshire
Wed 26th – Kent WT Oare Marshes
Thurs 27th – RSPB Old Hall Marshes, Essex
Fri 28th – Suffolk WT Trimley Marshes & RSPB Boyton Marshes
Sat 29th – Norfolk WT Cley Marshes & RSPB Titchwell
Sun 30th – WWT Welney, RSPB Ouse Washes & RSPB Nene Washes, Cambridgeshire

We will be following Jen and Mark along the route and reporting their progress via the Project Godwit social media channels. We’ll also be detailing in the next blog (and on social media) which head-started godwits have been spotted at these sites in recent years, before they migrated to West Africa and Europe for the winter.

Coastal and wetland sites provide crucial fuelling areas for migratory waders before they depart on their long journey. As well as raising funds for wader conservation and highlighting the plight of godwits as a Near Threatened species (with fewer than 50 breeding pairs in the UK), Jen and Mark also want to shine a spotlight on the importance of having a network of well managed coastal and wetland sites in the UK, to enable birds like godwits to survive migration.

Jen and Mark also want to raise awareness of the challenges faced by godwits and other waders beyond the UK at key migration sites – such as the Tagus Estuary in Portugal, where 80,000 godwits gather in spring and where an airport development has been proposed (see Graham Appleton’s Wader Tales blog)

Jen and Mark in their godwit cycling jerseys – raising funds for Project Godwit and the International Wader Study Group.

If you can spare a donation to sponsor Jen and Mark on their fundraising challenge and support Project Godwit, please visit the ‘Funds for Waders’ JustGiving page

Panniers packed and ready to go – good luck Jen and Mark!

Although experienced cyclists who have been training for some time for this event, Jen and Mark have never attempted a long-distance multi-day ride before – but are looking forward to the challenge! This will be a socially-distanced event, so sadly there won’t be crowds of supporters gathering along the way. There will, however, be plenty of support and good wishes sent from afar to spur them on when the muscles in their perpetually peddling legs begin to ache. Here’s hoping Storm Ellen has also passed over before Sunday.

Go Jen and Mark!

Project Godwit

 

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

 

Vincent Wildlife Trust’s Back from the Brink (BftB) Pine Marten Project is facilitating and monitoring the natural recovery of the pine marten as it moves over the border from Scotland into northern England. Working with volunteers, landowners and land managers, we are surveying woodlands in Northumberland and Cumbria to collect information on the presence and distribution of these elusive mammals. We are also enhancing woodland habitat for martens by installing artificial den boxes to provide resting and breeding sites. In the long term, increased connectivity between woodlands will help pine martens re-colonise suitable areas.

Kevin O’Hara, VWT’s Pine Marten Project Officer (BftB), provides an update on the project following the COVID-19 lockdown.

Well here we are, easing out of lockdown, and I hope everyone is in good order and hopefully looking forward to getting out and about, whether it’s just enjoying being out in the countryside or whether it is volunteering and looking for pine martens once again here in the north of England. The good news is that we can continue to monitor the presence of pine martens as they make their own way from Scotland into northern England. We are also actively pursuing a legacy project to help maintain the momentum we have gained through the BftB project, thanks to the dedication and commitment of volunteers and local communities who have done so much and have helped to put the region and the species on the map.

As a quick recap, it’s worth considering what everyone has achieved during the BftB project. We captured, using trail cameras, the very first pictures and videos of naturally colonised and wild living pine martens in England. Since then, we have identified the presence of pine marten in northern England (in Northumberland and Cumbria) with over 60 records so far. We have also been able to identify several individual martens, from camera trap images, that appear to be resident across the region, and we have shared these findings with many people through social media and through the press. Through these findings, we have ultimately brought the presence of pine marten into the public eye and have been able to open the discussion on their presence in the environment.

As the lockdown measures start to ease, we are now in discussion with Forestry England and other partners on how best to get volunteers safely back into the locations where we know there are martens, and we hope that very soon, we will be operating as normally as possible. We are also hoping that this will include a final set of scat surveys to complement the rest of the work that everyone has done. So, it is a big Thank You to everyone for their patience and for their efforts prior to lockdown, and we optimistically look forward to a continued pine marten presence in the north of England.

Cheers, Kevin

 

Back from the Brink is the first time ever that so many conservation organisations have come together with one focus in mind – to bring back from the brink of extinction some of England’s most threatened species of animal, plant and fungi. Natural England is working in partnership with Rethink Nature, and the entire project is made possible thanks to funding from the National Lottery.

 

 Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

While the black-tailed godwit breeding season has (sadly) come to an end, some birds may venture over to coastal wetlands around the UK before migrating south to wetland sites in Spain, Portugal and West Africa for the ‘non-breeding season’ in autumn and winter.

The team at Project Godwit is always eager to receive sightings of project birds, as it really helps our conservation efforts. Project Godwit has a unique colour ringing scheme, whereby all birds are ringed with a lime colour ring on the right leg with the black letter ‘E’ stamped on the ring. Colour ringing helps us better understand the movements of these migratory birds and the incredible journeys they undertake. Reporting a sighting can be done through the Project Godwit reporting page.

Project Godwit birds have a lime colour ring on the right leg with a black letter ‘E’.

After no sightings for almost two years, Caramel was spotted at RSPB Ouse Washes in June. The last time this two-year-old head-started female was seen was in autumn 2018 in Portes-en-Ré, west France! This is the first record of this godwit back in the Fens of East Anglia since being head-started at WWT Welney and released as a chick in June 2018.

Caramel, pictured as a chick in a rearing aviary at WWT Welney in June 2018.

This head-started godwit has been getting around a lot lately. Male godwit Morgan has been spotted at Pagham Harbour in Sussex, Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve in Hampshire and RSPB Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire in July – all within a fortnight!

These records are thanks to members of the public reporting sightings of Morgan’s colour rings to Project Godwit.

Morgan as a chick in a rearing aviary at WWT Welney, June 2018.

Some of Project Godwit’s head-started adults to have successfully bred this year include female Anouk and male Delph (both head-started in 2017) fledging one chick. Head-started female Lil (another 2017 bird) paired with a wild-reared male and fledged two chicks. These pairs nested on the Ouse Washes at WWT Welney (as opposed to Lady Fen, Welney), making this the first year godwit chicks have fledged from this area of the reserve since 2006.

Other head-started godwits to have fledged chicks this year include female Earith (also head-started in 2017), who fledged three chicks at the RSPB Pilot Project site, adjacent to the Ouse Washes, having paired with a wild-reared male again. Most godwits begin breeding around the age of two and although some have been known to breed successfully at that age and even younger, more experienced adults tend to have greater breeding success.

The absence of flooding on the Ouse Washes in the spring was conducive for our breeding godwits, however predation of eggs and chicks is still a problem for these vulnerable ground-nesting birds. Furthermore, it is essential the UK has more wetland habitat for black-tailed godwits which is well managed for wildlife and better joined up. Creating and managing ideal wet grassland habitat for godwits is a key element to Project Godwit and is paramount in securing the future of these special migrant waders in the UK.

Anouk at Wieringerwerf, Netherlands March 2019 (Credit: Otto de Vries).

As with so many conservation projects to have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, many Project Godwit activities could not take place as planned this year. This includes the head-starting and release of godwit chicks – meaning there will be no ‘Class of 2020’. Due to the Government restrictions on movement during the lockdown, the team were also unable to conduct much monitoring of the godwits this season, therefore we do not know how many young birds as two-year-olds may have returned from their first migration and joined the Fens population of black-tailed godwits this year.

Needless to say it’s been a challenging year for the team, however we look forward to next year and hope for good health, better prospects and that normal programming will resume soon so we can continue making gains for the conservation of black-tailed godwits.

 

Project Godwit

 

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

 

During lockdown the National Trust has reported that emboldened wildlife, from raptors and warblers to Badgers, Otters and even orcas, appear to be enjoying the disappearance of humans from its gardens, castles and waterways across the UK.

Reports from rangers and gardeners include Peregrine Falcons nesting in the ancient ruins of Corfe Castle in Dorset, English Partridges rootling around an empty car park near Cambridge, and a Cuckoo calling at Osterley Park in west London, having not been heard there for 20 years.

The team at Colour in the Margins has had emails from our volunteers as well as members of the public wanting to get in touch and tell us their stories about rare arable wildlife making an appearance. Elaine Parkin is one of those people and sent this wonderful story capturing the magic of seeing arable species that aren’t so frequently seen.


Skylark - RSPB Images

“I'd like to mention our encounters with a Skylark from far below it! We were on a footpath to West Harting that leads off the South Harting to Charlton road in West Sussex. We had walked about a mile through woodland, going uphill all the time and at the top, whilst walking adjacent to open fields, we heard the skylark. It must have been very high as we couldn't see it, but loved hearing its sweet, earnest song as it circled high above us. It reminded me of hearing them over open fields in Idsworth near Rowlands Castle and again in Somerset’s Quantock hills, where we heard several.

Like other beautiful birdsong, the lark's sweet voice resonates of something timeless, encapsulating the beauty of the countryside from high above, whether it's in sight or not. Simply hearing one gives a sense of reassurance, of quietude and permanence that is hard to describe. On hearing it, you must stop, be still and reflect on the beauty of its song. We certainly did on our walk and look forward to hearing one again!

A friend who works near this site saw a leveret right outside her cottage; a Stoat then appeared, and they stared at each other. I don't know the outcome, but since crowds of people have not been around during lockdown, she's also noticed deer and hares coming in much closer; the Hares even sit happily outside her home! These animals may not be able to venture so freely in 'normal' times due to the presence of people and noise, but it is reassuring and very pleasing to know that they are out there and still part of our much-loved natural environment and rural heritage”

Many thanks to Elaine for getting in touch and telling her about this encounter. If you have seen any of the rarer species during this quieter time, why not get in touch and share your story?

Get in touch with ColourInTheMargins@plantlife.org.uk to tell us what you’ve seen.

 

 Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.


An attractive spray of arable plants. Photo Jess Brooks

 There is only so much that an individual land manager, acting in isolation, can achieve on their own. By working together in a group or ‘cluster’, helped by a chosen advisor, farmers can work more cohesively together in their locality. This enables them to collectively deliver greater benefits for soil, water and wildlife at a landscape scale.

The Martin Down Farmer Cluster was formed in the Cranborne Chase area of Dorset and Hampshire in 2016 and is one of three Farmer Clusters surrounding Martin Down National Nature Reserve. Together, this ‘supercluster’ cradles the nature reserve, covering an area of 236 km2.

Map of the Martin Down supercluster

43 farmers across the three clusters have united in their aim to protect and enhance the iconic and threatened wildlife of Martin Down and the farmland wildlife of the surrounding land. The three groups share many target species and priorities, including Turtle Dove, Hedgehogs, soil organic matter and arable flora.


Rough Poppy surrounded by Stinking Chamomile at the edge of a Spring bean crop. Photo Jess Brooks

A rich community of arable flora is an asset that many of the members of the Martin Down Farmer Cluster are proud of. Not only are they a part of our agricultural heritage and important in their own right, but they also play a critical role in the arable farmland food chain and are a key part of conserving our target farmland bird species.

Before we started surveys in 2017, next to nothing was known about the arable plants in the cluster area. But after walking field margins and other likely areas, we have found 26 notable plants present across the farms surveyed – including Fine-leaved Fumitory, Prickly Poppy, Venus’s Looking-glass, Corn Parsley and Night-flowering Catchfly. Despite this number being a good start, it’s very likely that there is more to find in the soil seed bank. We’re just waiting for Pheasant’s-eye to pop up somewhere – it has been spotted nearby on the Allenford Farmer Cluster!


Pheasant’s-eye has been found at two sites in the neighbouring Allenford Farmer Cluster. The hunt continues across the Martin Down Farmer Cluster – it’s got to pop up somewhere! Photo: Pete Thompson

So, after totting up our species list after three years of surveys, we have found that most of the cluster area is of National Importance for rare arable flora according to Plantlife’s Important Areas for Arable Plants (IAPA) scoring system.

In order to encourage these rare species, every farm in the cluster has some management in place that is sympathetic to their establishment and life-cycle – be it a lapwing plot, a cultivated margin for arable flora, or wild bird seed mixtures. Almost 30 hectares of new habitat from which arable flora will benefit has been created in the last three years.


A cultivated margin for arable flora, rich in Dense-flowering Fumitory and Broad-leaved Spurge. Turtle doves have been spotted here, feeding on the Fumitory and Black Medick seeds. Photo Jess Brooks.

Some of our cluster members have gone the extra mile, though. On one farm, after a brand new network of perennial wildflower margins was created as part of a stewardship scheme, lots of rare arable plants were turned up during cultivation presenting a bit of a conundrum. Do we want a perennial wildflower habitat corridor linking up two SSSIs, or do we want to encourage these important arable plants? Admirably, the farm manager decided to take a hit, and take out two metres of his crop in multiple fields in order to cultivate margins for arable flora between the crop and the perennial wildflowers (as shown below). Now, we’ve just got to hope that some of the rare plants crop up in this new margin, to reward the effort!

Let’s hope we make many more discoveries in the years to come across the Martin Down Farmer Cluster!

Keep up to date with us on Twitter @MDSuperCluster

 

Jessica Brooks

Facilitator, Martin Down & Allenford Farmer Clusters

Farmland Biodiversity Advisor, GWCT

 

 Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

Our family run farm in Wiltshire has been my home for all my 14 years of life. For as long as I can remember, I have loved anything and everything to do with nature. Four generations of Lovell’s have farmed here, and although the farm is only small, 120 acres, it has an amazing amount of wildlife and wildflowers packed into its margins and barley covered hills.

We live next door to my Grandparent’s on the farm, and my family’s passion for wildlife and farming has shaped my life, with generations before me whose work or hobbies involved different aspects of nature and agriculture, from both my Mum and my Dad’s side of the family.

As a young girl I seemed to always be happiest in a meadow full of wildflowers, snuggled in the grass checking out all the bugs and beasties! Many beautiful memories have been made on the farm, from walking through the barley, with it tickling your fingertips and playing hide and seek in the tramlines, to blackberry picking every autumn, eating more than we brought home with purple stained hands!

But there is always one time of year that that sticks out more than ever in my memories - harvest. The heat, the dust and the barley hales that seem to get stuck everywhere no matter how hard you try to get rid of them! Harvest is a focal point in a farmer’s calendar: the whole year leads towards it. It is the point when they get to see if their hard work has paid off. Over harvest a transformation takes place, changing the landscape from once a golden, sea like moving mass of barley, to an empty, stalky, but still beautiful, stubble field. The plain field makes a great bicycle track, where my siblings and I all learnt to ride our bikes. I love to sit on the bales of straw with our dog and watch the farm machinery roll past, whilst giving a cheery wave to whoever was driving it.

                                           

My main job at harvest, other than shaking out occasional broken bales, is to serve the tea and cake! Me, my mum, and my granny take the truck out, loaded up with scrumptious treats and drinks, which are gratefully received by the busy farm workers!

Lockdown has affected life in many ways with not going into School or running around busily to and from evening activities. But in other ways farm life hasn’t changed at all, the animals still need looking after and the barley has kept on growing steadily, unaware of the chaos in the world at present. We have laughed more, and sometimes argued more too! But I feel that the chance to slow down has changed us for the better. It is often too easy to take the farm for granted, and it is in times like these that you really appreciate the space we have. We have had time to watch the seasons change. As spring unfurled into summer, the hedgerows and field margins have come to life, with delicate wildflowers and birds and insects and bats darting in and out of the hedgerows.

We so often seem to get caught up in the fast pace of the world that we forget the little things. In this period of lockdown, we have been able to watch the barley grow inch by inch, and the bird’s nests with their beautiful eggs turn into fluffy chicks, and then fledgling birds. We made a simple pond and watched as water beetles colonised it, and dragonflies began to visit. The birdfeeders also bring us the simple pleasure of watching the birds feasting, and then splashing in the cool water at the edge of the pond. I don’t know if this much nature was always here, or I’m just noticing it all so much more this year.

Before lockdown, I was vaguely aware of the wildlife projects that our family were involved in, but I was so busy with lessons, and homework and clubs, that I didn’t have the time to really understand the details of what was happening right on my doorstep. Walking or cycling round the farm daily, quickly became part of our new lockdown rhythm, and we got into the habit of looking with new eyes at the beauty all around us. We love watching the Corn Buntings fluttering in and out of the barley, and the
Swallows chittering in the barn, and swooping at high speed after insects. We have had the most beautiful walks in the cool of the evening with the sunset turning the barley almost orange as we went rogueing the wild oats out of the crop.

My Dad is involved with the local Wallop Brook Farmers group who are finding ways to look after the environment whilst still producing good crops. One of the projects we have been part of is sowing some rare wildflower seeds in corners of the field. I loved it when Cath Shellswell came to have a look at what was growing here, and she taught me to identify lots more wildflowers and how to do a quadrat survey.

I still love to sit in patches of grass and wildflowers as much as when I was young, and hope I can keep learning more, and that this is just the start of a lifelong love for nature and the world around us!

By Katelin Lovell

 

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

Waiting for Godwits

While many of the project team are either still furloughed or working from home under house arrest, it’s been more challenging for the project this season than anyone could have predicted. As with so many of our activities which sadly either had to be postponed or cancelled altogether, monitoring of godwits had to be scaled back to a bare minimum. Subsequently, the project had to rely on the site managers of WWT Welney, RSPB Nene Washes and RSPB Ouse Washes to monitor the godwits when they could, on top of their already very busy workloads.

29 head-started godwits are known to have returned to the Fens this breeding season and four spotted on the Continent, thanks to reports of sightings of colour rings. A question that many godwit aficionados out there may have is ‘How many head-started godwits from last year have returned this year?’ Young black-tailed godwits often don’t return to the UK from their first migration until the age of two – but some do venture back earlier.

Class of 2019

Tam

One of the 2019 head-started birds to have returned this year is Tam. This one-year-old male has been at the Ouse Washes since May this year, moving between WWT Welney and RSPB Ouse Washes nature reserve.

Tam was named in honour of the Scottish prisoners of war brought to the Fens of East Anglia in the 17th century. These soldiers built the New Bedford River and many of the drainage works that created the landscape of the Fens as we know it today. Jean Rees-Lyons, Artistic Director of The Word Garden helped name some of the head-started birds of 2019 as part of ‘the ‘Origins Project’, remembering the Scottish Soldiers.


Tam pictured here as a chick in a rearing aviary at WWT Welney in June 2019.

Omaha

Head-started female Omaha has been back at WWT Welney since May. She was named in honour of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Omaha Beach, Normandy was one of the five designated beaches that were used during the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944 during the Second World War.


Omaha in a rearing aviary at WWT Welney in June 2019.

Barker

Barker was released as a chick at WWT Welney in June 2019. She returned to the Ouse Washes in May and has been spotted a number of times since then, in June.

Did you know ‘Barker’ is an old name for a godwit, along with blackwit, whelp, yarwhelp, shrieker and Jadreka snipe?!


Barker as a chick last June at WWT Welney.

Cloud

Although not in the UK, Cloud was spotted in the Netherlands near Westkapelle in May. She may return to the UK at the usual breeding age of two next year, or she may join the Dutch breeding population of black-tailed godwits and return to the Netherlands each spring.


Cloud in a rearing aviary at WWT Welney in June 2019.

What about head-started birds released in other years?

Strider

Strider was released as a chick at RSPB Nene Washes in June 2018. After spending much of the second half of 2019 in west France, Strider (sex unconfirmed) was spotted in Dellmensingen, south Germany in May. Six weeks later in mid-June, this two-year-old was spotted at RSPB Ouse Washes!


Strider at Dellmensingen, Germany, taken by Tobias Epple.

Due to the lockdown, it is unknown exactly how many pairs have bred at each project site this spring. Nonetheless, we are aware of some pairings. 2017 head-started godwits Anouk and Delph paired and bred at WWT Welney; two-year-old Morgan paired with a wild-reared female at the RSPB Pilot Project site (adjacent to the Ouse Washes); and three-year-old Lil bred at WWT Welney with a wild-reared male.

Earith

After pairing with a wild-reared male, 2017 head-started female Earith bred at the RSPB Pilot Project site this season. Of the four chicks which hatched, we believe three fledged.


Earith at the RSPB Pilot Project site, Ouse Washes. Taken by Jonathan Taylor.

Tom

Tom was spotted in May at WWT Welney. Before then, he was last spotted in March 2019 at the Giganta ricefields near the Tagus estuary in Portugal.


Tom in a rearing pen at WWT Welney, June 2018.

Hurricane

Another young godwit that was in the Tagus estuary in February is two-year-old Hurricane, now back at WWT Welney since May. Hurricane spent last spring near Valencia, Spain, therefore this is the first time he’s been back in the UK since being released as a chick at RSPB Nene Washes in June 2018.

Maris 

Maris was first spotted in the Netherlands in May 2019 in Aldwaldmersyl, then she returned to the Netherlands again – this time to Zuiderwoude in May this year. The fact this godwit is spending another spring here suggests she has joined the Dutch breeding population of black-tailed godwits.

Désirée

Meanwhile, after not being seen for almost two years, Maris’ brother Désirée was reported from IJzervallei, near Woumen in Belgium in May and appears to be breeding at a nature reserve there.

Désirée and Maris are part of the ‘Muddy Potato’ posse, so-called because they were amongst many eggs in the spring of 2018 that were so muddy, they resembled potatoes. These eggs were rescued from arable farmland when the godwits’ main breeding sites at RSPB Nene Washes flooded that spring, forcing the adult breeding pairs to lay their eggs elsewhere.


Desiree in Woumen, Belgium. Taken by Wim Debruyne.

Fascinatingly, Désirée and Maris’ brother Jersey has been spotted in Bavaria (May 2019), suggesting this brood seem to have a penchant for spending the breeding season outside the UK. Intriguing!

 

Rebecca Pitman

Senior Project Manager - Project Godwit

 

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

 

Despite the problems lockdown has presented, it has led to some good news, as this blog by Mike Coates, RSPB’s Farnham Heath Warden (and star of Springwatch 2019) explains:

This spring should have seen another translocation of Field Crickets to sites on two RSPB reserves, at Farnham Heath and Pulborough Brooks. Unfortunately, the Covid 19 lockdown put paid to any hopes of carrying out this work.

However, RSPB site staff were able to continue with monitoring visits. It was expected that there might be fewer crickets around on the main site at Farnham as a result of the wet winter, and, sure enough, numbers recorded in May and early June were down on 2019, but still pretty respectable, with 135 calling males at the peak.


Field Cricket Release April 2017 Farnham Heath 

What was NOT expected (although it was hoped for) was to hear calling males at both the translocation sites. This is brilliant news as it suggests very strongly that the crickets released in 2019 successfully bred! If we had been able to release crickets in the spring, there would always have been a slight doubt that any we heard calling were the “new” ones, but, thanks to lockdown, we know that there are the beginnings of not one, but two, new breeding populations of this threatened insect.


Field Cricket (c) Rowan Edwards

Gilbert White, the “Founding Father” of British natural history writing, mentioned Field Crickets several times in his book “The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne”, published in 1789 and still in print. He seems to have had a soft spot for field crickets, so it’s fitting that the future of this charismatic little beastie gets such a significant boost in the year that marks the 300th anniversary of Gilbert White’s birth!

 

Mike Coates – Warden, RSPB Farnham Heath

 

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.