Monday, 6 October 2014

Encouraging Otters at Hill Court Farm

‘It’s been a glorious Summer at Hill Court Farm.  The weather has been unseasonably wonderful, there have been new and exciting species records made and the volunteer team has had some really enjoyable jobs to get stuck into.  Despite the lack of rain the scrape has retained water for birds to enjoy, the meadows have been alive with insect and mammal life and all in all the site has really been a joy to visit.

Holt building (c) Sara Burton

As always, the volunteer work party has been hard at work and we have carried out a variety of tasks including wildflower seed collecting / spreading across the meadows, willow weaving to camouflage a bird viewing point and, perhaps my favourite task yet, building an otter holt!  Ever since reading Tarka the Otter as a young girl it’s been an ambition of mine to see an otter in the wild, and while otters have yet to be seen at Hill Court Farm there have been some tantalising signs, such as tail slides, that they might just be visiting.  So, on an extremely hot day in July, we set about creating the type of home that would surely tempt an otter to spend a little time on the Reserve.  All the materials were sourced on site - willow logs to create the walls, poles from the wooded area to hold everything in place and lots of scrub to create the roof - and not a single nail in sight.  It really was very satisfying to stand back at the end of the day and admire what we’d created from scratch.  We’ll be monitoring the holt over the new few months to see if we spot any footprints, etc.

The volunteer work party is always happy to welcome new members.  We carry out a variety of tasks throughout the year on the last Saturday of every month (except December).    If you fancy getting involved in some practical conservation in a beautiful location with a group of like-minded people then contact for more information.  Our current volunteers come from all sorts of backgrounds, our ages range from 17 to 60 something and we have varying degrees of experience from volunteering newbies to dedicated regulars.   All tools and full training are provided for each task, so it’s a great opportunity to learn new skills. If you have some spare time and think this is just the thing you’d like to get involved in, either on a regular or occasional basis, then we’d really love to hear from you. 

Sara, Hill Court Farm

A Year at Broadway Gravel Pit

9 of us enjoyed the last couple of work parties at Broadway Gravel Pit tackling such jobs as path clearance, removal of derelict blackthorn in readiness for replanting with new hedging, pollarding an overgrown goat willow, cutting back brambles to encourage damson trees to flourish and pulling up huge swathes of nettles between the hide and the first pool.

Emperor dragonfly (c) Mike Averill

As I write we have clocked up over 530 volunteer hours so far this year and still managed to host some extraordinary wildlife. Again as I write we have had four visits by a kingfisher, regular attendance by grey wagtails, grey heron, buzzards, bullfinches, treecreepers etc. Grass snakes, smooth and great crested newts are all breeding successfully, we have had various moths, bees, dragonflies and butterflies including the rare hornet clearwing, emperor dragonfly (a mature male). Greylag goose was a new record this year when two pairs dropped in. Stoat, badger and roe deer are all notable residents/visitors.

The reserve bird list for 2014 currently stands at 47 species with the best single day count being 23 species on 6th July.

Mark, Broadway Gravel Pit

Monday, 23 June 2014

The lead up to summer at Hill Court Farm

April and May have been busy, but very productive months for the Hill Court Farm Volunteer Work Party.

In April we spent a day at the main viewing point on the reserve, which is close to the scrape.  Our task was to collect willow on site and weave a screen to remove visitors from the birds eye line and prevent them ‘going up’.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable day as we had a brilliant view of the birds on the water as we worked.  We spotted coots, Canadian geese, mute swans, lapwing, little egrets and shelduck among others and at one point a skylark flew directly above our heads.   I’m pleased to say our screen does seem to be doing its job and we can look forward to completing the other side of the viewing point at a later date.

In May we returned to a woodland pond we have been busy creating over the period of two or three years now.  When we began the task the wooded area was pretty much just a smelly, boggy, tangled mess and it took quite some time just to clear a way in and decide where best to locate our pond.  By September 2013 we had managed to dig the pond out and we just had to hope that we had chosen the right spot and that it would fill with water.  Returning to it, we weren't quite sure what to expect as the wood had completely flooded in all the rain earlier in the year, but we were absolutely delighted by what we found.  Our pond was filled nicely with water and already it was teeming with life.  We spotted water beetles & smaller water fleas whirling about in the water, plus skaters skimming around on top.  In the earth mound next to the pond we found a female smooth newt.  We also spotted larvae in the water, and are hopeful that the pond will soon attract damselflies and dragonflies.

Our task for the day was to expand the pond and clear a wildlife corridor between it and a close by water channel.   Digging out the new pond was hard going, but we now have a smaller satellite pond that we’ll join up to the bigger one once it has filled and naturalised a little.  We also used some dead wood we had to clear away to create a log pile which we hope will provide a nice habitat for hibernating amphibians.

As we worked we were serenaded by a cuckoo and all around the yellow flags were flowering.  All in all it was a beautiful setting for a day’s work.

If all this sounds like something you’d like to get involved in, we are always happy to welcome new volunteers to the team.  We meet once a month on the last Saturday of each month (except December).  Whether you could spare just one Saturday every few months or would like to become a more regular volunteer, we would be delighted to have you along.  You don’t need any particular wildlife knowledge and tools for each task are provided.  For more information contact Naomi on or 01905 754919.

June’s work party will be this Saturday 28 June and we plan to do some seed collecting and spreading to benefit the meadows on the reserve, which in turn will benefit our pollinators.

Sara, Hill Court Farm

Monday, 12 May 2014

Management of the Malvern Hills

A talk by Jonathan Bills, Conservation Officer of Malvern Hills Conservators

We are extraordinarily fortunate to live in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Whether we use the hills for walking, cycling, horse-riding, hang-gliding, grazing livestock, or just for admiring from our living room windows, we have a duty to look after the Malvern Hills for ourselves and for future generations.
Malvern Hills 2007 © Richard Sheppard

Jonathan Bills outlined the history of the Conservators, starting in 1884 when the Malvern Hills Act established them as a body to counteract the negative impact of tourism, enclosure, and encroachment of commons. Quarrying went on for a long time after that, and was only finally stopped in 1962. A photograph taken in the 1930s showed how different the Hills looked from nowadays, with hardly any erosion on the tops, and far fewer trees.

He talked in great detail about the character of the hills, and how decisions these days have to take into account the conflicting interests of all the people using them. Commoners’ Rights, the Highways Act, SSSI regulations, and the Wildlife and Countryside Act may all conflict. The Conservators aim to manage through partnerships with the graziers, farmers, contractors and volunteers who work on the hills, and also with social groups like the Malvern Hills Gliding Club. At present they are developing a Land Management Plan, considering what is important and what they want to achieve over the next 30 years.

The question of the cable car was raised and those present had the opportunity to voice their opinions. In the meantime, we were reminded that the Malvern Hills Act promises to “keep the hills open, unenclosed and undeveloped”.

The next meeting of the Malvern Group will be at 7.30 pm on September 4th, at the Lyttelton Rooms in Church Street. Harry Green will talk about Insect Curiosities of Worcestershire.

Alison, Malvern Local Group

Thursday, 24 April 2014

It's all hatching out at Feckenham Wylde Moor

Our brown hairstreak eggs have almost all hatched and according to previous records ours are the earliest recorded in Worcestershire. I also managed to find a couple of caterpillars however many of the eggs have hatched before there is any blackthorn leaf opening so we don't know how many have survived or been predated. We are hoping to find more in the next week or so. It may be possible that a species of small spider that is prevalent on the blackthorn could predate on the very small caterpillar. 

The small caterpillar below, burrowing into the leaf bud isn't a brown hairstreak, we think it might be one of the sawflies but await ID from an expert.

We also had a green-brindled crescent moth hatch...

...and our first orange tip eggs have been found on this lady's smock bud.

I also recorded our first Damselfly of the year, a nice bright Large red, which is also quite early.

The first brood of mallard chicks have hatched and there were 14 but we did have a visit from mink and so there may be less in the next weeks, however there is a mother sitting on a nest on the front island so hopefully they will be ok.
Our coots are still in mating mode and displaying. They are also being very aggressive to one another so it may be that they don't nest unless one pair move off, they don't like competition. Little grebe have disappeared but may well be back and our pair of grey lag are still around. They laid a couple of eggs but did not tend them and so they were predated.

We have suffered roe deer damage to a number of blackthorn suckers and as many will know deer damage is becoming a concern as it can kill young saplings.

Cowslips are now in full bloom and the meadows are looking healthy.

Paul, Feckenham Wylde Moor

Friday, 28 March 2014

Spring arrives early at Feckenham Wylde Moor

Now that Spring has arrived and the weather has become warmer there is quite a lot of activity on the reserve.

On the pool we have pairs of little grebe, tufted duck, coot, mallard, canada geese and this splendid pair of Grey Lag geese.

The tufted probably won't stay to breed as the coot that 'owns' the pool is constantly chasing them away. The issue seems to be that the tufted ducks want to make a nest where the coot usually does and he isn't having any of it. I doubt that the grey lag will stay either and the canada geese don't look like nesting again this year which to be perfectly honest is a bit of a bonus. We have had up to 14 on site and whilst they do a good job in grazing the pool banks they make a lot of noise and mess! Reed buntings are around and looking for nest sites in the tussocky areas left of the pool. I also put up six Common Snipe last week from the same area.

We were treated to a sighting of this female roe deer. She spent some time grazing the new growth to the left of the main hide, where we had random patch cut last year.

Our frogs are also getting together and we watched them leisurely swimming up and down the pool margins. No sign of our toads yet but hopefully we will have the same large numbers as we did last year which was a record for the reserve.

Not only has the wildlife been busy, my volunteers have too. We have been creating raised paths where the existing paths have become very boggy with deep mud which makes walking round very difficult. We have piled willow brash from pollards on top of dead sedge and then another layer of this on top. Hopefully it will make a difference but I suspect that once the cattle come back in they won't take long to trash it. We have also experimented with putting down logs and sedge around one of the kissing gates, again in the hope that it will raise the path above the mud.

It's a shame that our paths get so boggy but it is a wetland reserve and so we should not be surprised.

We have once again an excellent show of coltsfoot in front of the main hide and by the time you read this the first cowslips will be in flower and hopefully our next spring plant will be the lady's smock which for me is a certainty that spring has arrived and with it the orange tip butterfly.

With the warm weather I would not be surprised to see some warblers arriving and it won't be long before the cuckoo returns.

Paul, Feckenham reserve manager

Friday, 21 March 2014

Hedgerow success at Hill Court Farm!

At the start of the Winter volunteering season we had one, long, unruly hedgerow, choked by brambles and looking very sorry for itself.  The Hill Court Farm volunteers have slashed, chopped, sawn and dug away and the result is a hedgerow that can breathe, with lots of newly planted trees, which will offer a fantastic habitat for a diverse range of wildlife.   

After  clearing out the bramble and removing dead parts of the hedge we laid as much as we could, leaving some nice tall standards such as Ash to attract a greater variety of birds.  Then, with a some much appreciated help from the Roving Volunteers, we planted hundreds of new trees including hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, holly, dogwood, guelder rose, spindle, service, rowan and field maple.  

Some benefit to wildlife of a nice, thick, diverse hedgerow are obvious - eg. as a great source of food, shelter and nesting sites for birds. But hedgerows have a myriad of other perhaps less obvious benefits. For instance in Spring, when queen bumblebees are looking for nesting sites, they tend to favour vacated mouse, vole and shrew nests and hedgerows are a great place for her to find just such a spot.

Looking ahead to our Spring tasks we will be undertaking a variety of jobs such as ditch clearing, development and monitoring of a woodland pond that we created last year and collecting and spreading wild flower seeds. I look forward to sharing news of these tasks as we tackle them.

This month's volunteer work party at Hill Court Farm on Saturday 29 March coincides with our volunteer taster day  so if you'd like the opportunity to experience some practical conservation work then we'd love to have you along.  We will be working on some fencing to protect our length of hedgerow.  No previous experience is necessary and all you need to bring along on the day is a packed lunch/drink and some gardening gloves (if you have them). Contact Naomi on 01905 754919 or email her at for more information and to book a place. 

Sara, Hill Court Farm