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 enquiries@worcestershirewildlifetrust.org.  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