Monday, 16 December 2013

The natural history of Christmas, by Michael Leach.

Michael, a zoologist, wildlife photographer and author, recently made a short TV film on the natural history of Christmas. His researches led to his 27th and latest book and this illustrated talk, in which he examined some of our long-held beliefs about the origins of our Christmas customs.
Robin © Jason Curtis

Every winter we stir puddings, send cards, decorate our homes for Christmas, eat mince pies and Brussels sprouts, but just where do these customs come from? Michael explained why holly and ivy are associated with Christmas, the pre-Christian roots of hanging up mistletoe and that turkeys never did come come from Turkey. He told us why our favourite Christmas bird is the robin and looked at the origin of the Yule log.

Holly and ivy's connection with winter dates back ten thousand years. As they were the only trees in the woodland to retain their leaves it was believed that they harboured the last remnants of the sun and were taken indoors to protect the precious light through the dark winter days.

After the winter solstice the lengthening of the days and the return of the sun were marked by many festivals, the chief of which in Roman times was Saturnalia. This festival was used as a 'cover' by the persecuted early Christians for the celebration of the birth of Jesus on December 25th.

The relatively recent ideal of a white Christmas is believed to originate from Dickens' novels because before he was sixteen, Dickens experienced an unusually high proportion of white Christmases due to climatic conditions at the time.

The Father Christmas legend is thought to have originated in Scandinavia. "All Father" would enter smoke holes in huts and leave food for the people who were struggling through the long, cold winter. Flying reindeer may have resulted from hallucinations caused by the supplementing of a meagre diet with magic mushrooms.

Michael's thoroughly entertaining, topical and thought-provoking talk provided a welcome start to the Christmas season.

The next meeting is on January 2nd at 7.30 pm at the Lyttleton Rooms, when Alan Shepherd will give a talk: Amphibians of Worcestershire and beyond.

Malvern Local Group

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Hedge laying at Hill Court Farm

Last month members of the Hill Court Farm volunteer work party got stuck into the task of clearing / laying / coppicing a long length of hedgerow.  The weather was kind to us & in our beautiful location, surrounded by bird song & watched (rather suspiciously!) by rabbits we had a great day. Massive thanks to all those who helped!

Clearing the hedgerow was a job in itself as it was pretty choked by thick bramble in places, but thanks to a determined and enthusiastic team the bramble was defeated and the hedgerow was liberated! We were then to have a go at laying the top end of the hedge and I think the results are looking good - well worth the toil. 

Clearing the hedge ready for laying

The start of the hedge laying - looking good

There is still much work to be done, so if you have a couple of hours spare and fancy lending a hand at this month's work party on this Saturday 30th November we'd love to see you. There will be plenty to get stuck into at whatever pace suits you and the opportunity to learn the art of hedge laying for anyone who'd like to have a go.    Although the work seems almost brutal at times, the hedgerow will be enhanced as a habitat when it grows back thicker, healthier and stronger next year and this in turn will be beneficial to wildlife for shelter / nesting, as a food source and as a 'corridor' across the Reserve.  It should prove to be one of those tasks which gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside as you see the results over time. 

Contact Naomi or Rob for further details on 01905 754919.

Sara, Hill Court Farm warden

Friday, 22 November 2013

Native Owls by Gilian Hales

We were delighted to welcome Gillian Hales and eleven lovely owls to our Worcester local group meeting this November.  Gillian was keen to share her extensive knowledge of owls and we had an enthusiastic audience of almost 50 people who were keen to meet them!  Her love for owls goes back to childhood and now she rehomes badly treated, injured and unwanted owls of all ages from chicks to maturity. 

After an enjoyable illustrated talk, we were introduced by name to each of the owls along with a life history synopsis and how they came to be in Gillian’s care. Species included barn, tawny, burrowing,  little and the magnificent brown wood from Sri Lanka. 

No one could deny their unique personalities especially when Chip, the brown wood, snuggled up to Gillian and the 13 year old barn owl wagged his tail as he lapped up the applause at the end of a most enjoyable evening! 

Caryl, Worcester Local Group

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

New work party at Hollybed

Sunday 3rd was our Taster Day at Hollybed Reserve. We had a strong turnout in beautiful weather and got to work putting up bird nest boxes. Our new volunteers managed the smaller ones really well but the huge owl boxes tested even the most experienced of us. By lunchtime we had them all in place.
After lunch we did a tour of the reserve led by myself, the volunteer reserve manager and I described our plans for our future development of the reserve and explained some of the work we have already completed.

We spent the rest of the afternoon coppicing an area overgrown by blackthorn trees to let more light into an area on the edge of the reserve.

A big thank you to all the volunteers who took part in the day, including many who have already completed valuable survey work and know the reserve quite well. Please come back and join us for our next day at Hollybed in Sunday December 1st when we will be planting new fruit trees in the old orchard.

Andrew, Hollybed reserve manager

Monday, 4 November 2013

How the years roll on!

Recently 'three generations' of Reserve Wardens met again at Feckenham Wylde Moor some 31 years after they first met together on the reserve in 1982. 

In the first picture are, left Andrew Fraser bending, Geoff Trevis our first Warden from 1982 to 1990 and to his right Michael Bretherton Warden from 1990 to 2008. 
The person that you can't see in this first gathering is myself, Paul Meers current Warden/Manager who was behind the camera. We met in May 1982 to survey the site to determine the best place to dig out our main pool. During that evening in May we took core samples and decided that the best position was where the clay was nearer to the surface and would therefore give us the best results when digging a pool. The clay would provide a natural 'base' for the pool enabling water to be retained without the need to 'puddle'. A few weeks later as fast as the digger took out the spoil the area filled with water and the natural high water table has provided a constant volume in the pool even in the driest years, which haven't been many over the past 31 years.

On that evening we first herd Snipe 'booming' on the reserve and this is a sound that has remained in our memories ever since. I still hope to hear that magical sound again after all those years have passed every year when our Snipe return.

I took over as reserve warden/manager from Michael Bretherton in 2008. and still have the honour of holding the position today.

The second photograph, taken a couple of weeks ago shows from the left Geoff Trevis, myself and on the right Michael Bretherton.
We believe, unless anyone else can beat it, that this is a unique photograph of '3 generations of Wardens' ! ! !

Sadly Andrew Fraser is not with us today and he I know is sadly missed by us 'older' Trust members who remember him as a founder member of the Trust, a hard worker and a pioneer in terms of setting the standards by which we all work to today to ensure that Worcestershire reserves provide secure homes for our flora and fauna.

Paul, Feckenham Wylde Moor.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Creating ponds at Hill Court Farm

When our family moved out of town and into the countryside 10 years ago I didn't fully appreciate how much I would love living close to Worcestershire Wildlife Trust's Hill Court Farm and The Blacklands Reserve.  It has enhanced my enjoyment of countryside living immensely to be able to watch the wildlife attracted to the Reserve and observe some of it spilling over into neighbouring fields and even our own garden.  So when the opportunity to join the Hill Court Farm volunteers came along I jumped at it!  It gave me the opportunity to take a closer look at the Reserve, which isn't currently open to the public, and a chance to give something back to the place that has brought so much pleasure to us over the years. 

Since joining up I've got involved with all sorts of things I would never have imagined myself doing, like cattle checking, hedge laying and pond digging.  I've learned an awful lot about wildlife and habitats and seen some amazing and fascinating things.  It's something we have been able to get involved in as a family and has also been a great way of meeting like minded people - people who listen with enthusiasm if I gush on about things like finding myself only a few short feet away from a hare, or seeing a barn owl fly from an ancient oak. 
Robin's pin cushion

Now eighteen months in I find myself unexpectedly, but very enthusiastically taking up the role of volunteer task leader for the Hill Court Farm volunteer work party, which meets on the last Saturday of every month (except December).  The tasks the work party tackle are varied and have recently included hedgerow clearing and the creation of a woodland pond, both of which we've been able to step back from at the end of the day and say 'Wow!  Just look at we've achieved'.  As the pictures of the pond task below demonstrate the work is immensely rewarding and it certainly gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside knowing everything we do is going to benefit the wildlife on the Reserve and further enrich this very special place. 


 Work in progress.... 

Almost there!  Once we get a decent amount of rain the pond will fill & it will attract a whole range of invertebrates & amphibians which will in turn attract a variety of birds & mammals.

Tasks planned for the next few months include hedge laying and coppicing, tree planting, ditch clearing and seed collection / spreading.  Plus there will be the chance to undertake some wildlife monitoring / surveying.  The next work party is on Saturday 26th October.

If you would like to get involved, either on an ad hoc or regular basis, please contact Naomi or Rob on 01905 754919, or email  You'll find us a very welcoming bunch! 

Sara, Hill Court Farm

Monday, 14 October 2013

Mushrooms and Toadstools

When we arrived at the Lyttelton Rooms on Thursday we were confronted by the most amazing array of fungi laid out on a large table, all beautifully labelled with common and Latin names. Diana Bateman from the Worcestershire Fungus Group then gave us a fascinating and at times humorous talk on fungi in general; her enthusiasm for her subject was infectious.

We all come into contact with fungi every day of our lives, whether we like it or not. Bread contains yeast, even fabric conditioner contains fungal enzymes. Fungi are often useful, breaking down detritus or having beneficial medical effects. Some are edible and some are not; Diana emphasised the importance of being absolutely 100% sure of identification before eating any mushroom! Fungi divide into several distinct groups, for example the amanitas (agarics), the chanterelles, the boletes, puff-balls, and Ascomycetes (including truffles). The fly agaric with its striking red cap and white spots has become the typical mushroom of fairy-tales. Our most poisonous fungus, the deathcap, is also an amanita, and is said to have been the cause of the death of the Emperor Claudius.

In the lively question and answer session which followed, there was much debate why we have rather lost touch with mushrooms in this country, unlike our fellow Europeans who are much more fond of collecting wild mushrooms and eating them. Perhaps it is the connection with witchcraft handed down from medieval times. There is even a theory that ergotism (poisoning caused by the consumption of infected bread) was behind the mass hysteria of the Salem witch trials.
Fly agaric on Peachfield Common, Malvern.

On Chase End Hill and Midsummer Hill at the moment, there are masses of parasol mushrooms, some of them the size of dinner plates. There is a lovely patch of fly agaric on Peachfield Common. Appreciate their beauty  -  and don’t kick them down!

The next meeting of WWT Malvern Group will be on at 7.30 pm on Nov 7th at the Lyttelton Rooms, when the biking birder, Gary Prescott, will talk about his visits to all the RSPB reserves in Britain.

Alison Uren, Malvern Group

Monday, 30 September 2013

Updates from Feckenham

This summer has been a good one for Feckenham Wylde Moor. In particular and probably most importantly we have had a hay cut. Yes I can hear you all gasping with amazement but it's true.

Half mown....
The long dry spells enabled us to make the cut on August 21st when the ground had been dry for some weeks. Those of you who remember last summer and the reserve will know how wet it was and we had to revert to plan B which was to blitz graze the un-cut meadows with 20 plus Herefords. They did good job considering but nowhere near as good as having the meadows mowed, baled and removed.
...full mown...

So, after the initial cut the hay was left to dry out for a few days over a hot weekend and then baled up and stacked on the drier part of the reserve adjoining Moors Lane.


All we need now is to get the cattle onto the ground for a couple of months to munch through the new growth.

...and ready!
There is a slight problem there in as much that our grazier can only move cattle once TB testing has been done and no reactors found and the paperwork issued This takes a while and therefore we are still waiting but hope to see either Herefords back on or there is a chance of some hardy Jacobs sheep. Whichever it will be very welcome and will significantly benefit the reserve for next year and the future.
 On another note, we have had good numbers of butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies and Brown Hairstreak eggs have once again been found in reasonable numbers on the reserve so that bodes well for next year.

Paul, Feckenham Wylde Moor reserve warden

Monday, 23 September 2013

Hedgehog talk by Terry Green

The autumn season of indoor meetings got off to a great start for Worcester Local Group last week with an illustrated talk by Terry Green on Hedgehogs. These prickly little characters proved to be a great crowd-puller with almost 50 people turning up to share a most enjoyable evening. Terry has just retired as an animal care lecturer at Pershore College, and with his experience of looking after hedgehogs, was able to entertain us both with his scientific knowledge and his stories, including the one about a hedgehog being rescued from a washing machine by the fire brigade! It was also good to hear that many people in the audience have hedgehog visitors, and Terry gave us lots of tips on how to help them.

Hedgehog © Rosemary Winnall
To add to the success of the evening, we were delighted to be able to give Terry a donation of £50 for the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

Sandra, Worcestershire Local Group.

A coffee cup of beetles

My wife and I were on a walk through the Forest of Dean recently and I a spotted a large plastic coffee cup about two meters from the path. As it was upright in the grass I thought "that could be dodgy if some poor creature fell in it", so I went over to it. To my horror the bottom 25 mm of the cup was a mass of various black and violet beetle remains and motionless on the top was a type I had not seen before. I was shocked. We thought they were all dead but when I tipped them out to look at the contents more closely the big fella on the top slowly moved. We felt that he possibly survived by eating all the others. Upon returning home I looked him/her up. He/she was unmistakably a Burying Beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides . This lead to me reading up about Burying Beetles – fascinating. Obviously I removed the cup.

Roger, Droitwich Community Woods.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Colchicum flowers in full bloom

The last week of August saw the peak flowering of Colchicums in Trench Wood and a detailed count showed a 50% increase on last years numbers so the management regime is working well!

John,  Trench Wood warden

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Himalayan balsam

As readers of the blog know I take a particular interest in the eradication of Himalayan balsam.  10 years ago, when I started looking after Droitwich Community Woods, HB was widespread along our section of the River Salwarpe and from Copcut Park all down our sections of the Pulley Brook. It’s taken a long time and much sweat and swearing but my team of volunteers and I have at last got it down to an odd one here and there – which, of course, are removed asap.
Of course I find it painful to see how much there is elsewhere on my travels and never cease to be amazed by its abilities. At Kinver it started by the River Stour 1-2m high and progressively 'climbed' Kinver’s dry sandstone ridge right up to the church where it is only 10 to 15 cm. high.  At Hardcastle Craggs near Hebdon Bridge in Yorkshire I took photos of it growing all over the flat roof of a garage where the adjacent woodland was full of it. 

In Slovenia they encourage it to grow to the total detriment of their native wildflowers because a major industry is making and selling all kinds of honey products so they prize this bee-attracting plant.  And I'll bring this to a close two weeks ago when we were holidaying in can imagine my horror when, stepping out of our Amboise hotel, we were confronted by a planter full of HB!  

Yes, I do have nightmares about it!

Roger, Droitwich Community Woods

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Coronation Meadow...

Want to know what our volunteers were up to on Worcestershire's Coronation Meadow at Hollybed Farm this week?  Then head to the Coronation Meadows blog...

Wednesday, 10 July 2013


Dr Daniel Allen gave an extremely informative and thought-provoking talk on otters to the Malvern local group recently.

There are 13 otter species and his particular interest is the relationship between man and otter, which differs markedly around the world. Some communities have discovered that otters can attract tourists to their country while others use tethered otters to help them to catch fish. Traditionally, otters have been valued for their skins and sensitive education is required if this activity is to be reduced.

Daniel's talk concentrated mainly on the one UK species; the British Eurasian otter. He described how our attitudes to the otter have changed over the years. They had traditionally been seen as vermin and there was much organised otter hunting between 1830 and 1880 - this led to the animal being raised for the hunt. Undoubtedly, this kept otter numbers up until the 1960s when the hunting community observed that, probably because of river pollution, numbers were depleted and there was a call to protect them. It was not until 1978 that the otter was designated a protected species in the UK.  Following this, conservation and river clean-up measures have pulled them back from the brink of extinction. Unfortunately, there are now many instances of otters raiding garden ponds and some of the angling fraternity would like otter numbers to be controlled.

Determining the number of otters in the UK is extremely difficult. They are rarely seen and one has to rely on signs such as spraint (poo), fish remains or road kill. Between 1979 and 2010 the number of these signs has increased but because otters can travel 50 – 60 km, even over land, it is difficult to relate signs to individuals without DNA testing. It is estimated that there are around 7000 otters in Scotland and 3000 in England & Wales.

Our next meeting is on September 5th at 7.30 pm, location TBD. Howard Drury will talk about The Wildlife Garden.

Derek, Malvern Local Group

Thursday, 18 April 2013

A house, a garden & a village

To most of us, insects are just irritating pests but after Bill Indge’s most enthusiastic and enlightening talk his audience was converted. Compared to mammals and birds, insects are relatively easy to find and study but there are around 23,000 species in the UK, many of which don’t have common names. Using excellent photographs, Bill took us through the seasons, concentrating on insects that can be seen in and around Alfrick.

Pied shieldbug
In winter one is mainly limited to studying insects that reside in buildings such as cluster flies, mosquitos, green lacewings, harlequin ladybirds, daddy long legged spiders and silverfish. As the year progresses and the weather warms insects become much more prolific and it is noticeable that certain insects are attracted to particular plants. Hogweed attracts earwigs, thick-kneed flower beetles, soldier beetles and many spiders including the crab spider while nettles are the favourite of moths, aphids, hoverfly larvae, bush crickets and nettle weevils. It has been shown that some plants benefit from the insect’s presence: the teasel produces a greater mass of seed the more insects that it traps. In autumn, insects cause tree galls, particularly on oak, and the horse chestnut leaf miner causes early leaf degradation in those trees as well as smaller seeds (conkers) with poorer germination potential. At this time of year, shield bugs and crickets become more common.

Dung fly
One tends to think that insects have it all their own way but that is far from the truth. Many are parasitised by the larvae of other insects and many suffer from fungal infections, particularly if they cluster together. Insects also provide the main diet of certain bird and mammal species.

The next meeting is on May 2nd at 7.30 pm at Malvern Evangelical Church. Dr Daniel Allen will talk about otters and we look forward to seeing you there.

Derek, Malvern local group

All photos (c) Bill Indge

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Why Do We have Nature Reserves?

I thought the Chance Wood volunteers need a bit of a treat this month so I arrived an hour or so early, photographed the area we were going to work on and started to cut back the rhododendron.  I soon produced a pile big enough to start to cut into the small straight pieces that are essential to get a fire going; my aim was to present them with a small fire that they could soon enjoy enlarging to get rid of the rest of the rhododendron we were going to clear. Despite realising I’d forgotten the kindling, I soon had a small blaze going ready to hand over to Carl, our ex-scout and fireman.

After a couple of hours clearing, burning and cake-eating we settled down to watch the fire burn down.  We got to talking about the reserve and how long some of us had been using it.  One volunteer mentioned how, many years ago, they had often come to sit in the reserve and clear their head of problems and worries, they explained that they always felt there was a quiet spot to sit unnoticed and that they somehow felt safer in the reserve than elsewhere.  I was reminded of how surprised I was when an apparently very self-assured acquaintance confided in me that he always came to the wood to sit surrounded by ‘nature’ while he sorted out his problems.  I know of at least two other people who have told me that the wood helped them through difficult times and a couple who wanted their ashes scattered in the wood because it was so special to them.

The Wildlife Trust takes on the ownership of pieces of land and calls them nature reserves for a variety of reasons: most often to try to provide a haven for a particularly threatened species or assemblage of different species, ultimately with the hope that they may eventually return to the wider countryside. There are no rare or threatened species in Chance Wood; it does, however, provide a haven where people can regenerate and draw a little strength from the natural world, hopefully to go out and champion the natural world in their everyday lives.

...oh, and we cleared all that rhododendron too!

Roger, Chance Wood

Monday, 11 March 2013

On the Wild Side

It is easy to get excited about tigers, gorillas and polar bears but has it occurred to you that the wildlife in our cities can be just as enthralling? 

Iain Green has been a wildlife photographer for 15 years and has discovered surprises in the most unexpected places. Most of his talk was about the wildlife to be found in London. A few escaped rose-ringed parakeets in the 1960s have bred happily and there are now estimated to be 10,000 of them in the city. Over Rainham Marsh you can see owls, lapwings, kingfishers, large flocks of black-tailed godwits and even occasionally hoopoes. In Deptford Creek there are grey wagtails, black redstart and thousands of flounder fry in the water. Everyone knows that foxes flourish all over London but did you realise that south London is one of the best places in Europe to find stag beetles? Peregrine falcons nest in tall buildings, including one pair on Charing Cross Hospital. Dolphins, porpoise and seals are often seen in the Thames.

Most amusing of all were Iain’s fabulous photographs of the wildlife to be found in the garden of 10 Downing Streetducks have nested on the back lawn, two kestrels have made their home on a drainpipe and the fledglings oversee the politics of the nation, a fox regularly passes by the night policeman and takes no notice of him.

The next meeting is on April 4th at 7.30 pm at Malvern Evangelical Church. Bill Indge will talk about Alfrick, A Village and its Insects. 

Alison, Malvern Local Group