Monday, 30 January 2012

Tasting Broadway

Sorry!  This is staff hi-jacking the blog again ... but this time it's about volunteers and volunteering!
Last Wednesday, 25th Jan, a group of 16 volunteers headed to Broadway Gravel Pit, a small 1.6 hectare wetland reserve just north west of Broadway village. The reserve is a seasonally flooded gravel pit featuring open woodland, scrub and carr woodland which has been colonised by plenty of birds, plants and animals since being used for gravel extraction. It's owned by Wychavon District Council but managed by Worcestershire Wildlife Trust.   
Mark Turner, the volunteer reserve manager for the site, has been involved in the reserve for over 23 years.  With his passion for the site and the need for more management, it was decided that we would run a volunteer taster day to raise awareness of the reserve and also to maybe start a regular work party.  The taster day gave participants the chance to get involved with some hands-on practical conservation. 
There are five species of willow on the reserve: white, grey, crack, goat and osier.  These help support a wide range of wildlife - over 150 species of moth are known to feed on the foliage, for example.  However, some of the large willows take up large amounts of water.  Those of you who know the site will have noticed how dry the gravel pits have been recently.  This is due to a combination of factors, such as the general lowering of the water table and the lack of rain, but it is hoped that reducing the amount of large willows will retain water on site. So we felled some of the large willows but stacked the large pieces of timber to form a valuable dead wood habitat.

We also constructed a woven willow screen adjacent to the hide to stop disturbance to the birds by passing visitors.  The willow weaving team did a beautiful job, as you can see from this picture.

We also planted some hawthorn and blackthorn saplings in the new hedgerow by the car park so there will be plenty of berries for birds to feed on throughout the winter for many years to come.       

 The weather held up for us, and we all have a rewarding and fun day.  A big thank you to all the attended and hopefully we will see you all soon.

Without our 450 Worcestershire Wildlife Trust volunteers across the county we couldn’t do the range of work we do.  From practical conservation to education volunteering, volunteers are involved with all aspects of our work.  It’s not just us that benefit, there can be enormous benefits for the volunteers too. It’s a chance to meet new people and learn new skills as well providing the opportunity to keep fit in the great outdoors.  If you’re interested in volunteering, whether at Broadway Gravel Pit or elsewhere, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Conservation Assistant and Volunteer Coordinator

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Birdsong at Chance

It's been a while since I described what has been happening in Chance Wood.  We've continued to work on rhododendron and sycamore control and eaten plenty of cake!

This January we've taken the plunge and started to repair the fence along the public footpath; every previous attempt to make temporary repairs has soon resulted in the wire being cut and little messages written on the posts to the effect that the wood should be open for mountain biking!  We've put off attempting more serious repairs until we've been able to gather enough material to make the new fence more difficult to dismantle.  John's masterpiece of posts, wire and woven dead-hedge looks pretty substantial but only time will tell if it will stand up to a determined attack.

Our Reserves Officer, Andy, joined us this month and checked the wood for any dangers, particularly in the form of dangerous trees over-hanging the pathways.  There is a little non-urgent work that we have now got planned for later this year.  As is often the case Andy commented that although Chance Wood is a small reserve it has a great variety of substantial trees, it's always worth taking the time to stand back to admire them.

Yesterday, after the rain, the wood was full of birdsong.  In particular two of the larger oaks held a flock of over 100 redwings making enough noise to fill the wood, then going silent before they changed trees, a process that was repeated several times.

There were good numbers of the normal woodland birds; blue, great, coal and long-tailed tits, nuthatches, a treecreeper, great spotted woodpeckers, goldcrests and a pair of colourful bullfinches. Blackbirds and robins were joined by mistle and song thrush, it was good to see a flock of 50 starlings just outside the wood and a number of chaffinches, which had a pretty bad year last year.

The snowdrops are appearing again in small groups and we look to see what effect the mild winter will have had.

Roger, Chance Wood

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Devil's Spittleful update

The Spittleful mound is starting to re-appear
Following John's blog earlier this week, I thought I'd hi-jack the volunteers' blog and give you a quick staff update on the work at The Devil's Spittleful - hope you don't mind!

I've been regularly visiting the site and, although the work appears extreme, it's great to see the Spittleful mound coming to light for the first time in many years.  Clearing the trees makes it much easier to finally see what the heathland is going to look like once it starts to regenerate.

The work will give the rare heathland's plants and animals a chance to recolonise and expand their numbers.  In time we hope that birds like woodlark and nightjar will return - they haven't been recorded on the reserve for many many years.  Even more well-known birds like green woodpeckers, stonechats, wrens, long-tailed tits and yellowhammers will benefit from the work.

We're already starting to see regeneration of heathland grasses in areas that we'd cleared last year - which is really good to see.  Some of the first colonisers of open ground (not just of heathlands) are foxgloves and mullien - both of which germinated last year and will be in flower this summer.

Mullein & foxgloves poking through
The work will take quite a while - we're expecting big machinery to be off site towards the end of February, which is when we'll start fencing.  We hope you keep returning to the Devil's Spittleful to watch the changes as they happen over the coming couple of years - we're sure you'll be impressed!

One of several stands of trees we're leaving - this has a mix of old trees, scrub and dead wood - great for a range of wildlife

For more updates, keep an eye on our website. 

Andy, Reserves Officer

Monday, 16 January 2012

Work at the Spittleful

Just been to the Devil's Spittleful where the Trust is undertaking a major piece of restoration work.  There's lots happening and the Spittleful mound is slowly becoming visible again.  The heathland landscape is re-appearing - the ground is frozen solid so it's easier to see what it'll look like later this year than if it were really muddy because of the heavy machinery.

John, The Devil's Spittleful

Monday, 9 January 2012

Flora of the Malvern Hills

Malvern local group's New Year began enthusiastically with a packed hall, mince pies and hot punch. Rob Havard (Conservation Officer of the Malvern Hills Conservators) gave a fascinating talk with many excellent photographs, focussing to begin with on the beauty of the Malvern Hills and the ever-changing colours of the plants and trees which grow there. I don’t think anyone would predict that a talk on flora would start with several pictures of sheep’s sorrel but when you see it mixed with heath bedstraw and masses of wavy hairgrass, you become aware of the deep reds, whites and pinks - all surprisingly beautiful. 

There is a remarkable diversity of plants on the Malverns, because of the mixture of acidic and alkaline soils, lowlands and uplands, tree cover and open grassland, wetlands and dry thin soil. Several species are common here but rare elsewhere like climbing corydalis on acidic soil and llime-loving spring cinquefoil. Yellow flags grow in abundance in the stream beds, foxgloves appear in exuberant swathes especially in the second year after a clearance or a fire and two kinds of gorse flower all the year round; the European and western kinds. In places there are thousands of orchids, mostly common spotted and southern marsh along with various hybrids.

It was interesting to see a photo of British Camp as it was in 1948 and to realise how it has changed since then. In 2001 the Conservators reintroduced grazing on to the Malverns and this has helped restore and maintain the balance between secondary woodland, bracken and open grassland. There has been a mixed public response to the gates, paths and fencing necessary for the livestock but on the whole walkers appreciate the reasons for them and the Conservators actively encourage dog training to reduce control problems. They are keen to promote all reasonable use and enjoyment of the land, maintaining harmony between conservation and tourism.

We are privileged to live near 3000 acres of beautiful open land, much of it designated SSSI.  The Malverns are a haven for reptiles, birds, mammals and flora and we need to continue to look after them and appreciate their beauty.  

The next meeting will be on February 2nd at the Chase 6th Form Annexe. Phred Newbury will talk about the unique wildlife of Madagascar.

Alison, Malvern Local Group