Managing our wildlife haven – known as the Lennon Legacy Project or LLP – for Barn Owls, has created diverse habitat for a wonderful array of native plants and flowers, insects, butterflies, birds and mammals.
Find out how we look after our Barn Owl habitat and share the monthly highs and lows of wildlife sightings, unpredictable weather and practical conservation work.
More about our Wildlife Diary.
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‘Transforming intensively grazed sheep pasture into Barn Owl Heaven’.
The electric fence was erected around the ‘crop’area on the 3rd and 4th in readiness for the cattle we are expecting to come in later in the month. On a walk around the field on Saturday 7th we could hear a group of Linnets singing from an Ash tree in the Holly hedge. As we approached they took off in small groups and we counted 40+, the highest number so far this autumn. On Sunday 8th the goats, Annie and Clarabel, were let out of North Park where they normally live and given the access to all the land except the orchard, woodland and crop area. A dozen socially distanced volunteers came and planted 70+ young trees in our recently fenced re-wilding area. These included half a dozen Hollies that had rooted in the Oak root plate in Corner Wood that had collapsed the week before. We also found several young Oaks, Hawthorn and some Hazel coming up in the bramble which we cleared and mulched to improve their chances. During a dusk walk on the same day we saw a Barn Owl fly over the Orchard and it was seen again hunting at the top of the field half an hour later.
The cattle arrived on the 17th ( a small group of Belted Galloway’s) and by the end of the day they had knocked over the electric fence around the crop which didn’t seem to be working properly. After trying unsuccessfully to re-erect it in the dark, the following day, in seriously wet and windy weather, Matt and Mateo got it up and working again. However shortly after dusk on the 18th we discovered that one of the cattle had pushed against the gate into the orchard pulling the staple out and leaving it wide open! This adventurous cow had walked around the orchard and then traveled part way up the Apprentice path, calling for the rest of the herd to follow. Fortunately they arrived just after we did and we were able to encourage them out of the orchard with their adventurous friend, and tie the gate up. Since then they have been very well behaved and they look quite at home.
The Holly berries turned brilliant red this month and were still on the trees at the end of the month. Most of the leaves have come off the Blackthorn now, leaving a good crop of ripe Sloes on the branches. The Spindle in the North Park hedge produced a great crop of pink berries. There are still Parasol mushrooms in the long grass and the occasional Field Mushroom on the mown paths. The new path adjacent in North Park is greening up well, with a huge number of Great Mullein or Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) plants coming up.
On 13th two young Barn Owls were released from the mobile aviary in North Park. We had great views (and captured some video) of one of the owls released in August returning to the aviary on the 16th.
Volunteers Tony (licence holder) and Kim carried out a Hazel Dormouse survey on the 20th. They found 4 boxes with nests from this year’s breeding season and 3 other boxes with fresh green leaves that the mice use as bedding. They found 5 dormice in total! There were two pairs and one female on her own. All five were at very healthy weights between 25-32g. They also found a family of 6 Wood Mice all tucked up together in one of the dormouse boxes.
Towards the end of the month we discovered that the large, dead, ivy covered sycamore stump in the orchard above the ponds had fallen over. The stump had a Mandarin Duck box on it which was used by Hornets for nesting in 2019 and until we get around to moving it we can’t see if the box has survived.
September saw another flush of Parasol mushrooms in the long grass. We were having wonderful sightings of Roe Deer, usually single but occasionally two together. Southern Hawker dragonflies were being regularly seen around the ponds. We recorded a mean temperature for the month of 14.4° C just above the average of 13.99 over the last 15 years and just 21mm of rain over 11days.
The Hazelnuts had completely disappeared from the trees (Squirrels!) but the Holly, Sloes and Hawthorn berries were prolific.
The young rehabilitated Barn Owls released in August were seen frequently hunting over the field, and pellets containing wild food were found in the open aviary where we continued providing food for them.
During the Butterfly transection the 16th a Green Woodpecker flew out of the hedge by Pensland Lane and a Roe Deer was seen by the pole-box. On the 25th a Sparrowhawk was seen hunting over the crop, it was chased by a Goshawk over the larch plantation. On the 30th 30+ Linnets were counted on the crop and North Park Hedge.
On the 2nd, a fledgling Sparrowhawk was seen circling and calling over the crop and around the same time a family group was heard in the same area. On the 6th a huge flock of swifts was seen and heard hunting over the field, 100+. The largest display for sometime.
By the end of the first week semi-ripe Hazelnut shells were littering the paths as the Squirrels began feasting on them and the hedgerow Blackberries were green and swelling.
Some of the Sunflowers in the crop began flowering at the beginning of the month and by the 8th there were lots more but nothing like the density or the height of the plants last year. Corn Marigold is very much in evidence throughout the crop although seeds were only planted on the edge, last year we spread the seed throughout the crop but the Sunflower and Forage Radish dominated everything. The Creeping Buttercup is still flowering and seems to have been the plant that has benefited most from our ‘no-tillage’ trial this year, unfortunately it does seem to have suppressed a lot of the plants we did want to grow!
On the 13th the first Linnets of the season arrived over the crop. We counted 7 and a few days later there were 20. At dusk on the 15th we saw one of the two young male Barn Owls which came from the RSPCA at West Hatch and were released on the 9th. One Owl was seen on the 16th and both were spotted on the 19th, and then there were regular sightings up to the end of the month of single birds. The gradual method of release in good habitat worked really well for these two with the provision of food whilst they learnt how to hunt for themselves.
Silver-washed Fritillary butterflies were photographed on Hemp Agrimony on the 11th and by the 21st Parasol mushrooms were having their second flush of the year, with Field mushrooms appearing on some of the mown paths by the 26th.
Squirrels were making the most of the Hazelnuts in the hedges from mid-month as evidenced by the piles of shells found on the ground and the Sloes were also ripening, much earlier than usual.
During the later part of the month we discovered that the weather station rain bucket had blocked and so we hadn’t recorded some of the deluges we had during the month! However we did record the hottest August day here in 15 years at 29.3° C and a mean temperature for the month of 17.4° C significantly warmer than the average of 15.77° C for the past 15 years.
Groups of House Martins were frequently seen flying over the field at the beginning of the month. The low temperature and damp weather meant that the butterfly numbers were lower than usual at this time of year but some Marbled Whites and Meadow Browns appeared whenever the sun came out.
During the first two weeks of the month lots of tiny froglets were hopping around in the grass by the ponds and one was spotted in the long grass near the crop, a very long way from the ponds for such a tiny creature.
The grassland is full of Lesser Stitchwort and Germander Speedwell, with Mallow and Meadowsweet flowering in patches and the occasional Musk thistle.
Hazelnuts and Sloes were starting to become visible in the hedgerow and the Hedge Bedstraw was in full flower by the end of the month.
The mean temperature for the month was 15.6° C, this is 0.7° C lower than our 15 year average, temperatures peaked on the 31st at 26.1° C. There were a lot of overcast days and we recorded 14 with rain although the total was just 22.4mm, significantly lower than our 15 year average of 66.29mm.
1st of June saw the contractor arrive to start work on a new fence line between North Park and Corner Wood. His first job was to create a path across the steep slope for management of the new woodland edge. Most of this work was finished in a week and he also moved some rocks at the pond abstraction point in the river to replace those that had been washed away when the river was in spate last winter.
The first two days of the month were blazing sunshine, then on the 3rd some welcome rain arrived although so far probably not enough to give the parched grassland and crop the relief they need after such a dry Spring. We spoke too soon. By the 17th we’d had just one completely dry day and collected 61 mm of rain! This means that the crop is really starting to grow now and self-seeded Mallow, Slender Mullein and White Campion are flowering amongst it.
In the rough grass we are now seeing Birdsfoot Trefoil, Lesser Stitchwort and Germander Speedwell.
On the 9th an adult and a juvenile male Greater Spotted Woodpecker were seen together near the Ashburn in North Park.
A Kestrel was seen hovering over the field on 12th and 14th and then again on the 16th and 17th. The first sighting for sometime, giving rise to the hope that they have returned to the valley to breed again.
On the 16th the contractor arrived to repair the hole in the outlet of the Oakley Pond. The water has been running underneath the artificial stream bed between the ponds since last summer.
Two female Roe Deer were seen on two separate occasions grazing on the top of the field on the 17th. Two fish were spotted in torchlight in the Flo Pond on 19th and on the 21st (Midsummer’s Day) the first Marbled White butterfly was seen on the edge of the crop. By the end of the month they were being seen frequently.
On the 28th we discovered another first for the LLP when we noticed a different plant on the edge of the crop, it was later identified as Chicory. We have no idea how it arrived but it was quite stunning.
The mean temperature for the month was 14.5° C, just below our 15 year average of 14.59° C. We recorded a total of 116.4mm of rain over 22 days, the mean for the 15 year period is 65mm so it was significantly wetter than most years.
The Bluebells in Corner Wood are magnificent this year. Our usual patch of mixed white and blue Bluebells appeared again on the slope outside the wood. Unusually high numbers of Stock Doves have been seen regularly on the Crop area of the field, 28 were counted on the 2nd with a pair being seen around the Wildlife Tower for the first time. Stock Doves are an Amber Listed Species of conservation concern. On 9th May a pair of Skylark flew up from the ground. During the first two weeks of the month at least 2 pairs of Meadow Pipits were being seen regularly. Early in the month two Brown Trout were seen in torchlight in the Flo Pond, this is the first time for several years we’ve seen fish. The pond water levels are very low at the moment due to a leak in the at the outfall of the Flo pond and because the abstraction from the river isn’t working at the moment. We’re hoping that both problems will be sorted before mid-summer.
The winter wild bird food crop is starting to grow but having to compete with a dense carpet of Buttercups.
The Flo Pond was visited by a pair of Mandarin Ducks on the 17th with the male being seen alone on the 20th. The following day a pair of Mallards appeared and were seen for three consecutive days, probably feasting on the tadpoles, in both ponds.
On the 18th May one of our non-furloughed staff, Mateo, worked with a volunteer (socially distancing) to erect a temporary electric fence and remove the posts and wire separating North Park from Corner Wood. This is so we can allow the steep scrub area of North Park which is incredibly difficult to manage, to become woodland, thereby creating a larger carbon sink. We have a contractor coming to erect a new fence later this month and he can now reuse the wire. Mateo said; “It felt great taking down the fence and liberating the woodland which will allow it to spread”.
The Met Office has announced that “It has been the sunniest Spring on record for the UK and all the home nations and the driest May on record in England”. Here we recorded just 12.2 mm of rain in the month over 5 days.Our highest temperature was 24.3° C – we did record higher slightly higher temperatures here in 2010,2012 and 2018 but the mean temperature was only higher in 2008 and 2018 and in both of those years we did have more rain. We ended the month with extremely dry soil and the short grass on the mown paths turning brown.
The month started with an overnight temperature below freezing on the 1st and then began to warm up reaching a high of 22° C during the day on the 11th. Plants and flowers responded to the warm temperatures and we saw the plum and cherry trees in the orchard in full blossom. Celandine’s and Violets joined the Primroses and huge patches of Greater Stitchwort appeared in the rough grass. By the second week of the month the Bluebells in Corner Wood were starting to flower. By the 18th the apple blossom was starting. Thirteen Orchids were counted on the 12th.
The Pond levels have dropped to the lowest level for sometime as the abstraction point in the river needs attention, but they are both teeming with large Tadpoles. The ducks that usually visit to feast on them have been noticeably absent this year but there have been regular sightings of the Heron.
By the 12th the large Linnet flocks seemed to have moved off. On the 16th contractors came and sowed the seeds for this years bird crop using a minimum tillage method for the first time, this helps to keep the carbon in the soil. It was just in time for the rain which arrived on the 17th. On the 19th a flock of 25 Linnets were seen flying over the newly seeded ground.
By the end of the month the Greater Stitchwort was in full flower and the patches in the rough grassland could be seen from the other side of the valley. The Early Purple Orchid patch boasted 33 flowering plants on the 26th.
The weekly Butterfly Transect restarted during the 2nd week of April.
We had just 8 days with rain in the month and a total of 47.4mm . Our mean temperature for the month was 10.8° C. The last 3 Aprils have been 9.2 -9.9° C however we did record 11.9 ° C in April 2011!
A Skylark came out of the grass at the top of the field and gave a burst of sub-song as it ascended on the 2nd. On the 3rd two Mistle Thrush were foraging in, and calling over, the top field whilst a Grey Wagtail was in song down towards the Ashburn.
The number of birds in the bird crop had started to drop off noticeably by the start of month so that by the 6th there were only about 100 Linnet and a handful of Chaffinch, despite there being seed still available. We can only assume the birds are already moving onto territory after such a mild winter. However, it was quality not quantity, when a first winter male Yellowhammer was seen foraging in the grass adjacent to the crop on the morning of the 6th. This constitutes only the third record for the LLP after individuals in the crop in 2019, and as far back as 2009.
A count of Orchid rosettes was conducted, again on the 6th, in the small area of hay meadow management that has hosted a single flower spike until last year (see the April 2019 entry for how this increased to four!). We were utterly astonished this year however to count at least 35 plants. Not all will flower of course but it’s a huge increase and just goes to show what the right management can do at the right time in the right place.
Three Meadow Pipits were song-flighting in the top of the field on the 17th when there were still over one hundred mixed finches in the crop.
Because of the Corona Virus Pandemic the Barn Owl Trust office was closed on the 23rd March and most of our staff were furloughed. However during our permitted exercise walks we continued to see large flocks (120+) Linnets flying over the field. Primroses have been flowering in Corner Wood and on the slope beside it.
We recorded a Mean temperature for the month of 7.2° C with a high of 14.2° C and 18 days with some rain.
By the end of the first week there were subtle signs that the number of birds in the crop was beginning to decrease, with only about 400, mostly Linnets, recorded on the 7th. By the 21st there appeared to have been a clear-out as only about 60 birds were apparent, although that count may have been prejudiced by a male Sparrowhawk that spent much of the time making fly-pasts and sitting in a nearby Ash.
On the 19th a small group from Plymouth University students helped burn up the brash from the North Park hedge-laying.
A pair of Mallard was on the pond on the 21st as a Skylark flew overheard calling, both constituting first records for the LLP this year.
The first frogspawn was noted in the Oakley Pond underneath the Kingfisher Wall on the 8th, some 19 days earlier than the average date for the last 12 years.
The second Winter Bird Walk on the 9th was blessed with perfect weather for a change! In warm, dry, still, sunny conditions 16 interested visitors walked around the LLP, stopping at the bird crop to marvel at the sheer spectacle of the large finch flocks flying around. An estimated 500 Linnets, 50 Chaffinches, at least 10 Greenfinches, 5+ Goldfinches, 3 Reed Buntings, 20 Blackbirds, and several Dunnocks and Wrens were backwards and forwards in and out of the North Park hedge adjacent to the crop the whole time the group were there. In addition 2-3 Green Woodpeckers were heard yaffling up and down the valley, with Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch in adjacent woodland. There were also 5 Redwing and 6 Starling overhead, and 2 Red Admiral were on the wing in the Spring-like conditions.
Peak counts of 70-80 Chaffinches and over 30 Greenfinches were recorded in the bird crop on the 17th, along with 300+ Linnet, 3+ Reed Buntings (2 females, 1 male) and singles of Goldfinch, Robin and Blackbird, whilst a male Sparrowhawk kept the flocks busy.
After several postponed attempts due to the wet weather the first hedge-laying took place on the 22nd, when about 7 yards of the North Park hedge was laid.
As the month drew to a close there were at least 500 birds still frequenting the bird crop.