Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Dormice at Trench?

Andy, James and I undertook a nut hunt at Trench Wood on 11th December but, in spite of carrying our searches of 5 x 20m squares of suitable woodland, we didn't find any dormouse-eaten nuts. However, as we didn't find many nuts at all, it's likely that, in this instance, this method for detecting thes presence of dormice was not so effective. Next year, therefore,  we'll instigate a tube survey to ascertain whether dormice are really absent from this woodland.


Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Natural History of Christmas

Dr Michael Leach held us all spellbound at last night's local group meeting in Worcester.  He started off by giving us a real insight into life as a wildlife cameraman (it takes at least 3 weeks to get a decent 8 seconds of wildlife film. A half-hour episode could take 4 years to film).  Then he explored the natural history of Christmas with so many stories and anecdotes we only just managed to leave the building before the caretaker locked us in!

He's now off to film wolves, some have been tagged to help in tracking them...I wish I’d had the courage to ask if he needed an assistant! 

Personally I'm really pleased to now have another autographed natural history book (I collect ‘em, and, YES, I have David Attenborough, Bill Oddie and Chris Packham).

Looking forward to seeing some of you in the New Year when we'll hear about garden plants for wildlife from Howard Drury on 1st Feb.  Until then have a lovely Christmas and all the best for 2012.

Sandra, Worcester local group

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Mammals of Malvern

Johnny Birks, an excellent and well-known speaker, gave an extremely informative and often amusing talk entitled ‘Mammals of the Malverns’ last week, illustrated with his own beautiful photographs from the field. This was a much-anticipated talk with a turn-out that filled the hall at the Chase 6th Form annexe.

Although British mammals are some of our most loved (and most hated) animals, they can often be elusive and difficult to see. As a true mammal enthusiast, Johnny explained that following their traces through the art of field craft is often the only way to study them. Many species are nocturnal and wary of humans as a result of thousands of years of persecution. 

The Malverns have a rich mosaic of rough grassland, scrub and woodland providing important habitats for over forty species of mammal. The woodland around British Camp has recently been found to support one of the largest colonies of lesser horseshoe bats and the even rarer barbastelle. Bat boxes put up as additional roosting sites are helping to boost population numbers and also reveal the presence of other nationally scarce species such as the dormouse.

It is also the presence of some of the most well-known and common mammals that has the most noticeable ecological impact. Rabbits are now doing well after the effects of myxomatosis in the 1990s and have resumed their important role as grazers of rough grassland, keeping the scrub at bay. Grassland is essential habitat for ground-nesting birds, butterflies and other small mammals such as field and bank voles. In these grassland areas, field voles in particular can have very high population densities providing the food source for kestrels and adders, both of which are in national decline.

As part of his work for Vincent Wildlife Trust, Johnny was instrumental in documenting the return of the polecat to the county. As the natural wild form of the domesticated ferret, these nocturnal and historically much maligned carnivores have been expanding their range from Wales, having been persecuted almost to extinction in the early 1900s. Radio tracking and the mapping of road-kill individuals have given fascinating insights into their behaviour. Due to their tendency to live in farmyard haystacks, the accumulation of anticoagulant rat poisons via their rodent prey is an issue for their conservation.

Other larger mammal species such as red deer are found mainly on the Eastnor Estate, with the smaller muntjac being more widespread. It is likely that over the next twenty years deer numbers will increase and it is possible that wild boar will move in from the nearby Forest of Dean. 

The next meeting is on Thursday January 5th. Rob Havard, Conservation Officer of the Malvern Hills Conservators, will talk about flora of the Malverns. It starts at 7.30 pm and is held at the Chase Academy Sixth Form Annexe, Geraldine Close, Barnards Green WR14 3PF - we look forward to seeing you there!

Derek, Malvern local group

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Dormice at Grafton?

On a somewhat damp and misty Sunday morning (20th Nov), I trekked over to Grafton Wood with James, Andy and Veronica to search for hazel nuts eaten by dormice. 

After searching through five 20x20m patches of mature hazel coppice for dormouse-gnawed hazel nuts we had to admit that, despite an intensive search effort, we hadn't found any.. However, we discovered many nuts eaten by voles, wood mice and squirrels.  We even think that some of the holes had been made by a nut weevil!

Grafton is ideal for dormice so we'll put up tubes there next year to confirm whether or not we've got dormice at Grafton.

I'd like to thank John Tarburn for making some lovely dormouse nest boxes for my surveys at Hunthouse Wood.

We also came across lots of fungi including candle snuff fungus, green wood cup, deceiver and amethyst deceiver.


Monday, 21 November 2011

Autumn at Feckenham

Our Galloways have been working hard in the meadows since July and have munched their way through the late flush of growth. They are currently in the southern end of the reserve and will probably stay there over winter before being moved into the meadows again for a short spring graze. We are hoping to have more cattle on site next year which will enhance our grazing programme. 

Our volunteers have also been busy - starting our winter work program with some much needed coppicing of alders next to the dragonfly ponds. This will enable more light to get to them and avoid the dreaded leaf drop each year. We will be doing more coppicing, pollarding and tree maintenance during the winter and into 2012. We also hope to have another stretch of the Moors Lane hedge laid/coppiced by Mervin Needham and his excellent team who did a great job last year. I must also mention John Holder and his team who built our new bothy during the summer. We are now completely spoilt in having a large tool store and somewhere to sit/shelter when it's too wet to work. 
The surface water levels have been significantly lower this year but now, after some rain, they are getting back to normal. We have been fortunate with good levels in all of our new dragonfly ponds and the main pool mainly because these are deep enough to maintain water during summer. As you can see from the pic of the reed next to our dipping pond, the autumn colours are brilliant. 

Last week we decided to take a walk down the lane rather than across the reserve. On the way down I noticed there was a particular abundance of sloes on two of the blackthorn that we had planted a few years ago to fill a gap. They would appear to be a different variety than what we expect to find on the reserve. One of my volunteers, Jenny Tonry, suggested that we might look for brown hairstreak eggs on them ... lo and behold we found 14 new eggs. Following this excitement we went to the regular egg spot and found a further 10.  This total of 24 is our best since finding the first eggs 2 years ago. As there are two large ash trees along our hedge near to the new find we will actively be looking for BH activity next year and hopefully one of these will turn out to be the elusive assembly tree.

Paul, Feckenham Wylde Moor

Monday, 14 November 2011

Hearing about urban wildlife

Thanks to everyone who came to our talk in Bournville on Friday night.  Brian Draper gave a fascinating talk about urban wildlife.  Brian's got quite a following and it was lovely to see some new faces. 

We're already looking forward to our next talk in December - Wild Bees & Wasps by Celia Davis on Fri 9th.

Pat, South Birmingham Local Group

Friday, 11 November 2011

Urban Wildlife

We're really looking forward to Brian Draper's talk to South Birmingham local group tonight.  This ever-popular speaker will be talking about the hidden wildlife of a city - a subject close to many of us on the urban fringes of Birmingham.

Tonight is also a great opportunity to come along and find out more about the group.  The current committee members are standing down in April after many years.  We're looking forward to supporting a new team of people to take over the organising of indoor talks and running of the group ... but we need you to be part of that new team.  If you've got a few hours a month to spare and think you can help out then please get in touch.  We need everything from a chairman for the group to people to help out at the talks themselves.  You don't need to know an awful lot about wildlife, you just need to have the enthusiasm to help run a group and spread the word.

Our talk tonight starts at 7.30pm at Dame Elizabeth Hall on Oak Tree Lane in Bournville.  Some of the current committee members will be there to chat about the roles.  Or you can call Wendy or Zoe at Lower Smite (Mon-Fri 9-5) on 01905 754919.  Or check out our website for more information about the roles.

We're looking forward to hearing Brian and perhaps meeting one or two of you tonight!

Pat, South Birmingham local group

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Reptiles in Malvern

Nigel Hand, the well-known reptile ecologist, gave a fascinating insight into the reptiles of Herefordshire and Worcestershire when he gave a beautifully illustrated talk to the Malvern local group last week.

Nigel became interested in reptiles as a youngster in Stourbridge where they were common along the canals and local brown field sites. His passion has taken him around the globe to study them. Closer to home he's monitored reptile populations on a number of sites for many years and has built up an impressive photographic database of individuals.

There are four kinds of reptiles in our area: adders, grass snakes, slow-worms and the common lizard; the latter belying its name as it's becoming quite rare. Neither of the two other UK reptiles - the smooth snake and the sand lizard - are found here.
Adder (c) Peter Preece
Adders are rarely seen and are non-aggressive. Sadly, stories and folklore misrepresent them and exaggerate the dangers of our only venomous snake - they're sometimes deliberately killed. About 40 to 100 adder bites are recorded each year in the UK; the last recorded death was a child in 1975.

Adder populations tend to be in small isolated pockets, leading to inbreeding. Nigel is involved in a project with the Zoological Society of London to collect adder DNA samples; scientists will then compare the samples to see if the smaller clan groups are genetically impoverished.   Adders are born live during August and September and can live for up to 30 years. Pregnant female adders will feed only after giving birth. Their main diet is voles and they consume between 4 and 12 of these a year. Adders are quite small, being only 50-60cm long.

Grass snakes (c) Rosemary Winnall
Unfortunately, grass snakes are often confused with adders and suffer the same undeserved fate at the hands of people. They are more common and  considerably bigger (up to 1m long). They are non-venomous and the young hatch out from eggs, often in compost heaps. They're good swimmers and can travel several kilometres along waterways. If cornered or disturbed they will play dead and if that doesn’t deter a potential predator they can release a foul-smelling fluid.  

Slow-worm (c) Nick Button
Most of us are familiar with the slow- worm. It's a legless lizard about 30-38cm long and can live for around 50 years. Malvern is ideal for slow-worms as one of their preferred habitats is stone walls. They're of great benefit to the gardener as their main prey is slugs!

Nigel concluded by showing two exotic pet snakes (a corn snake and a milk snake) from his private collection. This was a thoroughly enjoyable and informative talk, emphasising the beauty of reptiles and how they deserve our protection, not our dislike. 

Our next indoor meeting will be held on Thursday 1st December when Johnny Birks will give an illustrated talk entitled The Mammals of the Malverns. The meeting starts at 7.30 pm at the Chase Academy Sixth Form Annexe, Geraldine Close, Barnards Green WR14 3PF and we look forward to seeing you there.

Derek, Malvern local group

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Chance Wood - a new year of work parties

As work party co-ordinator for Chance Wood my year starts now and runs until spring; we tend to leave the wood alone during the nesting season and late summer apart from the odd ad-hoc session pulling balsam and any other maintenance tasks that arise.

A couple of weeks ago three of us walked the wood and drew up a list of tasks for this season’s work parties.  We’ve decided to try running our meetings on a different day of the week in order to meet the needs of the majority of our members; we’ll see how it goes!

The first, urgent task for this month was to remove the large numbers of sycamore seedlings before they lose their leaves and become invisible

and before they develop into young trees in subsequent years.

This gave us a relatively easy start to the year’s work, although a couple of us worked at digging out the larger specimens by the roots; quite hard work but the soil is very dry and sandy so it could have been worse!

As we worked we were accompanied by parties of foraging tits, the buzzard mewed above us and a pair of ravens ‘cronked’ as they flew overhead; returning from dragging a pile of brash to our pile I almost came eye to eye with a sparrowhawk strafing the small birds.

Some might say that we put rather too much emphasis on the party part of ‘work parties’ but we do like a piece of cake!

Roger, Chance Wood