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.
The LLP consists of 26 acres nestled on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon, and includes part of the River Ashburn which runs through the woodland valley where the Barn Owl Trust offices are set. Creating rough grassland, re-creating hedge banks, planting an orchard, building a wildlife tower and stone banks, plus two wildlife ponds has hugely increased the biodiversity of this varied landscape.
Find out how we look after our Barn Owl habitat and follow our monthly highs and lows of wildlife sightings, unpredictable weather and practical conservation work.
More about our Wildlife Diary.
Intensively grazed sheep pasture transformed into Barn Owl Heaven!
This Roe Deer was spotted grazing in the undergrowth on the 1st.
When we bought the land in 2001, almost 20 years ago now, the woodland floor was bare, with virtually no understorey. This was due to the sheep and cattle regularly sheltering under the trees. One of the first things we did was to fence off the woodland and in the area known as ‘Corner Wood’ we began to manage part of the land specifically for Bluebells which were there, but rarely flowered. This year, by the 5th they were reaching their peak.
The Hawthorn in the North Park hedge was starting to blossom by the beginning of the month and by the 5th there were the first signs of the wild bird food crop germinating. The large Great Sallow (Willow) branch which had been caught up in the Hedge above the Corner Wood gateway was pulled down with the tractor during April and cut up on the 5th. The wood was piled up to biodegrade beside the path.
On the 11th a brood of 7 Nuthatch were ringed in their usual box near the top bridge.
On the 17th we found a dead duckling on the Apprentice Path by the river. We weren’t sure of the species but had briefly seen a female Mallard on the pond earlier in the month. However, our neighbour reported several sightings of a female Mandarin duck around so we will check the duck box on the tree over the river for signs of nesting. Great Tits are nesting in the duck box on the tractor shed.
On the 17th and the 18th there were great views of a female Roe Deer sitting in the grass near the pole box by the Kiln close hedge. We think she may have had a fawn nearby as she ‘stayed put’, just watching us as we walked down the long path.
The first Cuckoo was heard on the 25th and on the same day 5+ Swifts arrived over the field.
We’ve been recording the weather here for 16 years and May was definitely the coolest and wettest we’ve seen. We had rain on 24 of the 31 days giving a total of 187.6mm, the average here is 74.5mm, and a mean temperature of 10.1°C compared to the 11.7°C average. Many plants are late appearing and at the end of the month the ‘May’ Hawthorn blossom was still stunning. The colder weather does mean that many of the flowers have flowered for longer and the paths are yellow with Buttercups. The ‘crop’ growth has been very slow so far.
Germander Speedwell, Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Common Fumitory, Common Vetch, Early Purple Orchid, Pink Purslane & Wood Speedwell on the LLP.
The 1st of April brought the first Chiff Chaffs of the year to the LLP. During the first week of the month the wild bird food Crop area was mowed to prepare for ploughing on the 9th. A flock of 50+ Linnets’ were still around a couple of days afterwards. On the 3rd the first Stitchwort was seen in flower along the Pennsland hedge in North Park, where the Primroses are also putting on a good show, and on the 8th the first Bluebell appeared in Corner Wood. The 6th saw the arrival of the first Swallows of the year and on the 10th and 11th the harrowing of the Crop area brought in 100+ gulls including at least 3 Lesser Black Backed who soared noisily over the field behind the tractor.
This was the first opportunity to use our two vintage harrows, bought during lockdown. The disc harrow prepared the ground after ploughing, then the seed was sown by hand and the chain harrow covered the seed. The seed mix was Spring Barley/Wheat/Triticale, White/Red/Japanese Reed Millet, Fodder Radish, Dwarf Sorghum, Linseed, Gold of Pleasure, Dwarf Sunflower and Quinoa (some Quinoa sown on its own in the corners). Also, Common Poppy, Corn Marigold, Cornflower & Corn Chamomile, sown as a nectar strip along the South & East edges. Up to 6 Pied Wagtails have been in evidence every day since.
On the 15th when the wild bird crop seed was sown, the mean temperature for the month so far was just 6.2˚C compared to the 15 year mean of 9.2˚C for April. We had also recorded just 2.mm of rain over 4 days and several overnight frosts. We really need some gentle rain and warmer nights now to facilitate germination.
The weekly Butterfly transect restarted on 19th April but numbers are low because of the unusually cold weather.
The long-awaited rain arrived on the 29th with just 3.6mm recorded on the last two days of the month. This gave us a total of 5.8mm for the month, just 11% of the average (54.7mm). Although we had more dry days (24) than a usual April and like most of the UK, more sunshine hours there was a record number of ground frosts and our mean temperature was just 7 – our average over 16 years is 9.15. All of this makes it not surprising that there is no sign of the ‘crop’ germinating yet.
A flock of 50+ Linnets was seen over the bird food crop on the 2nd with several small groups of 5+ flying out to join them. You can hear last year’s recording of 500+ Linnets here.
On the 3rd, Matt and Mateo cleared the abstraction pipes (that feed the ponds) in the river and began pruning the fruit trees in the orchard. Very unusually, a rabbit was seen in the scrub at the top of Corner Wood. We rarely see them here and usually the only evidence that they visit are droppings on the path by the Holly hedge on the other side of the land.
The first Skylark of the year was seen and heard flying over the the airstrip and then landing in in the rough grass on the 5th and again on the 6th, when a flock of over 80 Linnets were counted flying up from the crop. On the 11th the first Dog Violet of the year was seen in the North Park hedge. The pruning of the fruit trees was completed on the 12th and we discovered the stream bed between the two ponds was leaking – again! The skylark is being seen and heard most days and on the 15th a Roe Deer was seen running along the bottom of the main field along the roadside hedge.
Matt and Mateo burned up the branches on the 17th from the hedge laying of the North Park hedge over the winter. They also dug out a sickly Plum tree in the orchard and replaced it with a Black Mulberry. This King James variety has gnarled bark and heart-shaped leaves that turn yellow in autumn. Three Field Voles were seen under a sheet of ply at the edge of the bird food crop area (where the solar energiser that sources the electricity for the electric fence sits), there was impressive matrix of runs under there! Walking through the crop there were countless burrows, probably mice, some of which had been dug out by Foxes or Badgers. The birdsong this month has been delightful, a chorus of Linnets with Great Tit, Robin and Blue Tit, and then there is the Skylark – glorious.
By the 26th the Blackthorn in the hedges and the Plum trees in the orchard were starting to flower and by the 30th were in full bloom. The top of the field is a carpet of Celandines shining out in the rough grassland. Also on the 30th David started mowing the crop to prepare for this years ploughing and seeding. However a broken hydraulic hose on the mower called a halt half way through. The Skylark, Linnets and Meadow Pippets were all in evidence as was a light breasted Buzzard perched on top of the redundant electric pole. A Roe Deer was also seen.
We began the month with completely sodden ground and the river level fairly high. We are having to clear the pipes in the river that feed the ponds, almost daily as they are blocking with leaf debris. When the water level drops we plan to clear them more effectively. On the 2nd, Mateo brush-cut more of the scrub in Corner Wood to enlarge the Bluebell patch and on the 3rd we found the first Primroses flowering on the woodland path. Between the 8th – 10th we had a mean temperature here below freezing and the biting north easterly wind dried out the ground for the first time in ages. By the 13th the rain was back and the ground became soggy and slippery again.
By the 20th more Primroses were in flower and the first Celandine was seen. The Bluebell leaves were also starting to appear in Corner Wood. No Linnets have been seen for a few days but there have been frequent sightings of Meadow Pipets flying up from the rough grassland. A Roe Deer was seen on 21st. The abstraction pipes in the river are still needing to be brushed off every day !
On the 25th, the first signs were seen of hatched tadpoles in the Flo Pond, although most of the spawn is yet to hatch. A Peacock butterfly was spotted along the Pennsland Lane Hedge. It was seen again on the 26th and 50+ Linnets were seen flying over the bird food crop and along the hedgerow.
We had 18 days with rain in the month, less than the last two years and below the mean. Total rainfall was 123.69mm (above the mean 113.69mm). The mean temperature for the month was 6.5˚C ( mean 6.97˚C) with a high of 14.2˚C and a low of -2.6˚C.
We started this year cold, with the highest temperature recorded (by the 6th) as 4.1˚C, compared to previous years’ average high of 12.94˚C. The mean for this year so far, is 2.6˚C whereas the mean for previous years is 6.23˚C, so a lot colder than usual at this time of year. At least its not raining and the ground is beginning to dry out after a very wet November and December. The Cattle left on the 31st December and the goats, Annie and Clarabell, were shut in Kiln Close on the 1st to browse that part of the land.
Despite the poor crop this year (winter bird food) we have seen Linnets most days and on the 5th we saw a flock of about 50 flying around the field.
On the 6th, the mobile aviary that had blown over during Storm Bella on the 26th December was pulled upright by the tractor. The clearing up outside the office was completed. This was needed after the tree surgeons came on the 14th December to reduce the crown of the Oak hit by Storm Alex on October 1st. It had been started but delayed due to the Christmas break. Another job awaiting completion is the clearing of the abstraction chamber which feeds the ponds, this has been silted up by the heavy rains in November and December.
Also on the 6th, the Heron was seen flying up from the Orchard ponds. Another LLP first happened on the 8th when two Herons were seen flying from the Orchard. The arrival of the frogs must be imminent as the Herons are regularly visiting, as evidenced by the droppings around the pond on the 13th.
The first frog spawn was seen in the Flo Pond on the 14th and in the Oakley Pond on the 15th. At least one Heron is visiting everyday and sightings are frequent. The amount of spawn by the 18th was much less than usual. We have no idea yet whether this is due to the Heron picking off the frogs before they spawn, that there may be more to come later or just that it is not such a good year. Time will tell as spawning dates here vary between the 8th January and 9th February.
On the 17th the first Primrose in flower was recorded in the Pennsland Lane hedge of North Park.
Frog Spawn dates
- 14th January 2021
- 8th January 2020
- 20th January 2019
- 21st January 2018
- 30th January 2017
- 24th January 2016
- 27th January 2015
- 24th January 2014
- 30th January 2013
- 19th January 2012
- 4th February 2011
- 9th February 2010
- 28th January 2009
- 23rd January 2008
As you can see from the graph the trend is for the spawn here to be earlier every year.
We had good views of the Heron throughout the month and the amount of spawn in the ponds gradually increased. On the 27th Mateo cut the scrub encroaching on the Bluebell patch in Corner Wood and did some clearing around the ponds and both ponds were absolutely teeming with frogs. That evening we went out with a torch and camera. The following day the amount of spawn in the ponds had increased dramatically.
We had 20 days of rain in the month, a total of 144.4mm just less than the average since 2007. The mean temperature was 5.6˚C, the average for January here is 6.19˚C