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