Our grazier brought in 5 Belted Galloway cows with their month-old calves on the 6th for a spot of late winter grazing. The breed is quieter, more docile and lighter than normal and we expect to have them for no more than a couple of months. This will help to poach the ground and reduce some of this year’s growth without damaging that all-important litter layer.
On the 7th the Plymouth University group visited and cleared out the brash from North Park hedge in the morning ready for laying in the New Year, and then laid some of the hedge behind the barn in the afternoon.
The flow through the ponds had dropped to a trickle so a smaller bore pipe with smaller perforations was fitted to the restrictor pipe. The flow then resumed to normal. Fingers crossed we’ve now got a self-managing system (or as close to one as we’re ever going to get . . . ).
Red Campion is in flower in the Pennsland lane hedge.
Holly was cut back from the orchard gateway and the Holly hedge on the 14th and used for the wreath-making workshop on the 16th. The berries had already been eaten by the birds but the participants were happy to use it anyway.
A further 2 duck boxes were erected in the orchard on the 16th; one went on the old Sycamore stump between the two ponds whilst the other went in the implement shelter.
One of our fantastic volunteers, Tony, holds a Dormouse licence. He checked our boxes and assessed their locations on the 20th. Of the 6 boxes, all had been used by small mammals, with variously, dried moss, leaves and grass inside. However, two of the boxes showed signs of possible Dormouse occupation, with fully formed nests of moss and leaves. One of these boxes also held a pair of Woodmice. Whilst checking the boxes, a Woodcock was accidentally flushed from right beside the track in Corner Wood and disappeared into the woodland.
On the 21st another 10 yards of the hedge above the barn was laid.
More hedge-laying of the hedge behind the barn took place on the 15th. Many thanks to Geoff for his tuition and advice, and to his trainee Frankie, who set an impressive example of what can be achieved with the right trainer.
A day later the usual Plymouth University group visited to finish clearing out the brash from the same hedge, ready for more laying before the Spring.
Not a great year for Sloes (Blackthorn berries) in our hedges, with what could by no means be described as a great crop. The Holly berries were good this year but have now all disappeared although there are still some Hawthorn and Spindle berries about.
A flock of Meadow Pipits are much in evidence at the moment and can been seen flying up from the grassland every day.
A brief bout of heavy rain prior to the 20 th forced the Ashburn into spate, resulting in the dam by the cattle drink washing away. This left the abstraction pipes high and dry, thereby stopping the flow through the ponds. Even after reinstating the dam with a few small rocks the flow didn’t resume so the pipes were cleared out. The flow wasn’t great so plans were made for enhancements to the system, to be fitted in December.
The month ended with a Red Admiral outside the office.
The LLP’s first record of Woodlark involved 4 birds flying north low over the field calling on the 10th, a typical time of year for the species to be on the move. Unfortunately they didn’t seem to stop, instead continuing over Pennsland Lane, our northern boundary.
Some areas of the slope by Corner Wood were brushcut on the 11th .
By the second week of the month we were starting to find ‘crunchy’ leaves on the ground as the large Sycamores by the Orchard began losing their leaves. We’ve also been finding Parasol mushrooms in good numbers in places we’ve never had them before.
Two Roe Deer were seen on the morning of the 26th heading from North Park into Corner Wood. They were still in the general area on the 31st.
There was lots of amazing fungi in Corner Wood as the month drew to a close.
Many of the apple trees in Forde Orchard have a good crop of fruit this year. Some have been encouraged to drop in order to straighten leaning trees. This is being left on the ground for wildlife to enjoy. It is a good year for Rowan berries; there are also a fair amount of Blackberries in the hedges although not the best year we remember. Sloes are starting to turn purple and although once again it’s not the most productive year for them it is certainly better than last year. The Elderberries are being eaten by the birds almost as quickly as they ripen.
Turf was collected for the new aviary from the top of the field on the 1st. This newly bare ground proved highly attractive to a passing Wheatear, which was seen three times in the immediate vicinity. A couple of fruit trees were re-staked the same day.
Blackthorn management for the benefit of Brown Hairstreak butterflies commenced on the 2nd with the remaining area being cut to the ground, after works were originally carried out to the adjacent area in 2013. This work needs to be conducted at the most sympathetic time for egg-laying adult butterflies, which target 1-2 year old Blackthorn growth. This was finished on the 6th and the remaining brash burnt up by the 7th.
The cherry and plum trees got their annual prune on the 7th, with a light summer prune for most of the apple trees at the same time. The pond fringes were brushcut, as were parts of the slope by Corner Wood.
The Kingfisher Wall pipes and nestboxes were filled with a weak sand/cement mix to encourage excavation. We now await interest with some anticipation.
A guided walk of the LLP was attended by 14 visitors on the 8th, who returned to enjoy a cream tea in the Norman Alderson Meeting Room.
As if from nowhere a stand of several hundred Canadian Fleabane ( Erigeron canadensis) plants appeared along North Park hedgerow. Every plant of this invasive species was pulled before going to seed on the 12th, hopefully reducing the chances of a repeat performance next year.
Hedge work started on the 14th with some overhanging branches removed either side of the remnant hedge. This allowed for the bramble that had crept out of the hedge to be flailed with the tractor. The paths and airstrip were also cut, attracting 3 Stonechat, a Wheatear and the LLP’s first Whinchat. A week later and there were still 3 Stonechat about; 2 adult males and an immature type.
On the 28th the first group of Plymouth University students cut brash out of the hedge above the barn ready for hedgelaying later this autumn.
August arrived with 17.6 ml of rain on the 1st, more than we recorded in the whole of July! However it wasn’t enough to soak into the very dry ground and the grassland is almost all a golden brown except where areas have been topped; there we are seeing some new green growth.
Further Creeping Thistle pulling took place on the 2nd in North Park with the help of volunteer Harry, who had previously undertaken his work experience week with us in July.
The now annual autumn Kingfisher records commenced on the 10th with one heard calling on the Ashburn below the office, and seen briefly the day after as it flew downstream.
Forde Orchard received its annual cut on the 12th with all but the immediate area around the ponds finished.
The LLP’s first evening Bat Walk event was attended by 5 lucky people plus Devon Consultant Ecologist and bat expert Louise Woolley on the 16th. The weather couldn’t have been much better with a warm day followed by a clear still night and an almost full moon. Common Pipistrelles were both seen and picked up on the bat detectors, whilst a higher number of Myotis species were recorded on the detectors. Pride of place however must go to the two passes over Corner Wood and the Holly Hedge by at least one Barbastelle, one of the rarer UK bats. If that wasn’t enough, and as the group walked down the long path towards Kiln Close a Nightjar floated past low over the grassland, visibility aided by the near-full moon.
Small froglets are much in evidence in the grass around the ponds and half a dozen immature Brown Trout, presumably washed in from the river some time ago as eggs or fry, were in the Oakley Pond on the 18th.
A juvenile Stonechat was on a clump of Cocksfoot at the top of the field on the 18th and it or another was in the same general area on the 31st, with a juvenile/female Redstart.
More than 40 House Martins, a couple of Swallows and a Swift were feeding over the field on the 11th when the RSPB Exeter Group enjoyed a guided walk followed by tea and biscuits. Fish (presumably Brown Trout) were seen in the ponds again, and the House Sparrows were still breeding in the barn.
A day later a Conservation Team Work Party started bashing bracken in the areas inaccessible to the tractor. The areas around the solar panel arrays and the top slope of Forde Orchard were completed, with about 75% of the slope by Corner Wood finished. This was a lot more difficult due to the profusion of Foxgloves and Marsh Thistle on site, which largely avoided attention by the broomsticks. Unfortunately, the Grey Wagtail nest appeared to have been predated again as the nest had been removed from the hole.
Peak counts of 155 Marbled White (and 77 Small Skipper) were recorded during Week 15 of the UKBMS on the 13th. This compares with 140 Marbled White in 2015 and 121 in 2014.
A butterfly walk was conducted for 12 members of the general public on the 14th. Along with the usual suspects 3 Silver-washed Fritillaries were on the bramble patch in Corner Wood.
Nine conservation trainees from Portugal, Britain and Spain visited the Trust on the 26th for presentations on our work and the LLP, followed by a tour of the premises. On the 28th, 5 of the trainees helped pull the areas of Creeping Thistle that were not sufficiently dense enough to have got some attention from the tractor topper the day before.
We had 12 days with rain during the month but the rainfall total was just 15.4ml making it the dryest July since 2006 when we started recording weather data.
On the 8th we saw a young stag (Roe Deer) grazing by the hedge bank at the top of North Park. It watched warily but stayed put whilst we walked through the gateway and down to the orchard. On the 13th a hind and a fawn were seen by the gorse patch in North Park, again they watched as we walked from the top of Corner Wood to the gateway out of the field.
A Conservation Team Work Party finally moved the pile of rocks in the orchard on the 14th.
On the 16th a female, and then later a male, Broad-bodied Chaser were around the Flo pond whilst work to unblock the pipes between the two reservoirs was undertaken. The new abstraction pipes in the river appear to be working faultlessly but debris that must have come in during works may be the culprit for the most recent blockage.
The family of Dippers that have fledged from under the top bridge were very vocal on the Ashburn on the 16th and again on the 17th.
Our Mid-Summer evening walk was blessed with good weather on the evening of the 16th after the rain and showers of the previous week and completed with tea and lemon cake in our Meeting Room.
Work to complete the Kingfisher Wall, which was made possible by legacies from Brian Mitford Campbell and Eileen J. Fradgley, continues. However, this has not appeared to deter a Grey Wagtail from building a nest in one of the alcoves deliberately created by leaving out the facing stone. The female is sitting so is presumably egg-laying. This may be the same pair that originally laid in the implement shelter and failed and which may have then started nest-building again higher up in the same building. Let’s hope they’re more successful this time.
The Dipper box was checked on the 17th and was found to be empty, with all 4 youngsters having fledged successfully. This constitutes the 9-12th successful Dipper fledgings since the nestbox was erected in February 2011.
The first Marbled White was recorded at lunchtime on the 21st, along with 3 Slow Worms under the top corrugate.
The female Grey Wagtail was off the nest in the Kingfisher Wall on the 23rd and appeared to have stopped incubating (if she had got that far this time!) but was feeding nearby. A Meadow Pipit was around the old dung heap with food in the form of a large caterpillar in its bill. It flew around in a tight circle, alighting on the hedge cuttings left over from the winter’s hedge-laying of the Kiln Close hedge. The feeling was it was almost certainly feeding young nearby.
A Pied Flycatcher was in song in trees just outside the LLP on the 3rd, with a presumed second bird singing audibly from the orchard until at least the middle of the month. This good news was rather overshadowed the same day by the loss of the Grey Wagtail brood in the implement shelter, which seemed quite fine mid-morning but whose nest had been destroyed by lunchtime.
A pair of Skylark was seen near the airfield on the 5th, with the male in song over the top of the field; they were still being seen until the middle of the month at least. A pair of Meadow Pipits was also in the same general area with the male also in song in various areas.
A vocal Tree Pipit was in the grass just outside the orchard on the 6th and 9th, but not since, so presumably a migrant. The works to the river abstraction and lower pond were finished on the 9th and the flow through the ponds finally restored. A small trout was then seen in the pond.
An Early Purple Orchid suddenly appeared in Kiln Close on the 12th. In actual fact, we now think this is a different plant to the orchid that has appeared nearby in previous years. Its sudden appearance can probably best be explained therefore by us looking in the wrong place for it! In any case, it was just in time for our Wildflower Walk on 12th, which was attended by 12 people in warm, muggy conditions.
After a slow start the grass in the field has really started to grow aided by the milder weather and the rain. The ‘airstrip’ is a carpet of Buttercups, the Greater Stitchwort is in full bloom and Speedwell is appearing in huge patches.
A deer was watched grazing in the Orchard, leading us to think it might be a good idea to consider protecting the fruit trees!
A Grey Wagtail was seen flying onto a shelf that had been put up in the implement shed on 13th, with evidence of nest building recorded.
A couple of days later a Barn Owl was heard to give a single screech over the field after dark.
The Skylark was still in song in the middle of the field on the 16 th but was watched flying way off site and landing in an adjacent field. What was thought to be a pair of Linnet was also seen flying out of the grass the same day.
A trail camera was fitted under the eaves of the wildlife tower on the 8th, in the hope of getting some footage of the Kestrel that appears to be visiting. However, ‘only’ copulating House Sparrows were recorded when the camera was checked a couple of days later, it has now been returned so fingers crossed.
On the 11th the long-awaited works began on the lower pond outfall, the Kingfisher/Sand Martin wall and the river abstraction system. By the 18th, both the lower pond and river abstraction works had been finished bar reinstating the flow. This won’t obviously be done until the Kingfisher wall is finished to facilitate its construction; by the 19th it was about half of its proposed 2m height.
A Grey Wagtail was found incubating eggs in the implement shelter on the 13th, and was still sitting tight a week later, despite the works nearby. Hopefully it’ll find the new wall a bit safer and more out of the way next year! Some small shelves were fitted to the beams to provided additional nest sites for other birds.
After a slow start the grass is beginning to grow and Primroses and Celandines are flowering and the first Bluebell has also been spotted. Hawthorn and Oak are coming into leaf.
The eggs in our first-ever Grey Wagtail nest have now hatched and we have a brood of 5 healthy-looking young in the implement shelter. By chance, the female was off the nest yesterday, allowing us to get in close and capture this image.
A peregrine was over the field on the 28 th.
An analysis of our trailcam images, which had been erected in the wildlife tower to record the comings and goings of a presumed Kestrel actually recorded the presence of a male Redstart in the entrance to the Kestrel provision on the 30th.
Another group of volunteers from Exeter helped lay some more of the Kiln Close hedge on the 2nd, with more being laid by the Conservation Team on the 4th and 18th.
Works to repair the leaks in the ‘Flo Pond’ and to sort the on-going abstraction issues in order to keep a constant flow of water in and out of the ponds have been scheduled for April. Whilst the contractors are on site they are also going to create provision for Kingfisher, Sand Martin and Grey Wagtail in the hope that we’ll have breeding of these species on site in future years. Funds from the legacies of Brian Campbell and Eileen Fradgley have made this extra work possible.
Primroses and Celandines are looking stunning in the sunshine we’ve had during the last week.
The duck box erected some years ago on a tree over the River Ashburn by the cattle drink was cleared out on the 22nd, having been adopted by bees for the past 2 years until their departure last summer. This appeared to be in the nick of time when a pair of Mandarin appeared on the ponds a couple of days later. However, they have subsequently been seen a number of times on the ponds, rather than in the general vicinity of the river or duck box so our optimism may be short-lived.
A bat was seen day-flying around the orchard for over an hour on the 25th though it was not specifically identified. A Dipper was seen on the river by the top bridge at the end of the month.
Work to fix the leaks in the Oakley Pond has been arranged for later in the year so the pond will need to be drained. Frog spawn which was getting stranded as the level dropped was moved up into the Flo Pond on the 2nd.
A stag and hind Roe Deer were in the field by the roadside polebox on the 3rd, with about 20 Meadow Pipits at the top of the field.
A big tree came down in extremely windy conditions along Riverbank Walk on the 10th by the top bridge and smashed some branches off neighbouring trees as it fell, eventually landing over the Apprentice Path and upper boardwalk. A near-miss for folk walking up the path five minutes earlier!
A group of volunteers from Exeter started laying the hedge that runs above the barn on the 10th. This bank was created and planted up in early 2004 and had not been touched since, so was ready for some management. They tackled the low section at the top by Kiln Close gate under the experienced supervision of our usual Devon Rural Skills Trust instructors Diana and Rachael. The original plan had been to start laying North Park hedge but on the day it was considered far too wet to risk damaging the high bank by climbing all over it.
The fallen tree that had been blown over the Apprentice Path in Riverbank Walk was actually half a large Beech tree that had split 20’ up. It was finally cut up on the 16th to facilitate access although the majority of the wood will be left in situ to rot down naturally and provide habitat for lots of species. Some repair is required on the boardwalk that was hit by the branches. The remaining part of the tree is still standing, with a small bird box still attached, but as it has a large vertical split so is unlikely to be there long-term. Fortunately that part of the tree is likely to fall away from the Apprentice Path.
A day later volunteers from Plymouth University finished cutting back encroaching bramble scrub on the slope by Corner Wood which had been too wet to manage by brush mower.
As the month ended a Kingfisher was watched hovering over the lower pond and then seen perched on branches over the pond for about 20 minutes one morning.
The new year began with continued rain. Unfortunately the weather station has stopped recording rainfall so we’re not sure how much, but the river level has continued to be too high for fitting a 90° bend to the pipes to see if this helps stop them getting blocked. The land is fairly waterlogged even on the top of the hill.
Lots of fresh, white bird faeces and about 6 Kestrel pellets were underneath the Kestrel provision in the wildlife tower on the 11th. A couple of days later a Barn Owl was seen to fly from the roof of the North Park polebox towards the tower in broad daylight at lunchtime, whilst later in the day the Kestrel was again seen hovering over North Park.
The first Primrose of the year was spotted flowering at the foot of the Pennsland lane hedge on 14th.
A Kingfisher was noted on the River Ashburn on the 12th and a Woodcock was along the Pennsland Lane hedgerow at dusk on the 14th.
A Conservation Team Work Party pulled and cut bramble on the slope in Corner Wood on the 19th to ensure that the Bluebells and Celandines can grow without being crowded out. A Kingfisher was on the perch on the island and a female Kestrel was over the roadside hedge.
The returning frogs were first sighted on the 24th with spawn the same day in the Oakley pond, the third equal earliest date in the last eight years;
- 27th January 2015
- 24th January 2014
- 30th January 2013
- 19th January 2012
- 4th February 2011
- 9th February 2010
- 28th January 2009
- 23rd January 2008
A couple of days later a volunteer group made 10 small bird boxes for the LLP in the morning, two of which were erected in the implement shelter in the orchard in the afternoon. They also cut back bramble from the slope outside Corner Wood which we haven’t been able to manage mechanically as it’s been so wet.
The Kestrel was again sighted over the field on the 27th.
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