Monday, 4 October 2010

My new life starts here...

So, at the end of September I started a degree course in Conservation and Environment [Biological Surveying and Habitat Management] at Writtle College, just outside Chelmsford in Essex.  We've had two weeks so far of induction to college life and the course modules.  Part of my course is practical experience and on Thursday last week we went out to Hoppit's Meadow to cut it back.  We met at the Countryside Skills Centre and walked the 30 minutes to the meadow.  We used a number of tools  to cut the meadow by hand:
  • long-handled slasher
  • grass hook
  • hay/pitch fork
  • rake
When we cut the meadow we separated out the undesirable plants such as the nettles and thistles, these would be added to the grass pile to rot down.  Desirable species were piled up ready to be strewn later.

The reason for removing the cut plants from the meadow is to prevent them breaking down and adding nutrients to the soil int he meadow.  Also, we removed the thistle and nettle to try to reduce the number growing in the meadow to allow more chance for the other meadow-specific species.  The desirable meadow flowers prefer fewer nutrients in the soil.

Once we had finished cutting down the plants we scattered them over the cut area - a process known as "strewing".  This process allows the seeds from the plant to gradually return to the soil and start new plants, thus spreading the desired meadow flowers around.  When strewing care should be taken to spread the plants thinly as to dump them thickly would allow them to rot down and provide extra nutrients for the soil.

The types of plant found in this meadow included:
  • Hedge Woundwort [Stachys sylvatica]
  • Yarrow [Achillea millefolium]
  • Small Scabious [Scabiosa columbaria]
  • Common Knapweed [Centauria nigra]
  • Red Campion [Silene dioica]
On Saturday I volunteered at Langdon and the task for the day was to cut back the strip of meadow runnning alongside the lake.  The method of doing this was somewhat different  to Thursday's work.

I used a brushcutter to cut it all down.  Using machinery for something like this certainly speeds up the process and takes less manpower.  However, since it was just me it was more work!

Once it had all been cut all the cuttings were raked and stowed under the hedgerows where they could happily rot down.  We did not strew any of the meadow plants around the cut area.  Carrying out the same task in the same week but by different methods has allowed me to appreciate how labour-intensive it can be  but also to see how machinery has assisted the process.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Work at Langdon Reserve - September

A couple of work parties at the end of August and beginning of September:  in August we cleared lots of scrub to clear a path towards the railway line so that a tree survey could be undertaken.  We spent the morning clearing bramble and blackthorn and small trees and reached a boundary fence much closer to the reserve than we anticipated, which meant that the trees overhanging the railway line were the responsibility of the railway company and not the council/wildlife trust.

The following day Joel and I took a walk round the reserve visiting the site of the work and of some of the things we had discovered.

Unidentified fungus

Unidentified skull

Unidentified skull
Just some of the area we cleared in a morning!

[Polygonia c-album]

Green-Veined White
[Pieris napi]

Views from Langdon Reserve

Views from Langdon Reserve

The following week in our work party we started to lay a hedge alongside the lake. We did this by thinning out the trees, and selecting the straightest trunk from one or two trees either side of the designated fence line. We then trimmed off all the excess branches and used an axe to cut away one side of the trunk to allow it to be bent over without snapping. This allows it to be part of the hedgerow and carry on growing and keep the fenceline alive.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Creatures in the house and garden

Just a few of the creatures that have appeared in our house and garden over the summer that I've been able to get close enough to to photograph.

Yellow Shell
[Camptogramma bilineata]
Spider's web

possibly Copper Underwing
[Amphipyra pyramidea]

Silver Y
[Autografa gamma]

Silver Y
[Autografa gamma]

Friday, 24 September 2010

Revisiting La Brenne & Le Veudre July 2010

At the end of July we took the eurotunnel and drove down to La Brenne, in the Indre-et-Loire area of France. It was to be a re-visit to the place of my conservation trip last October and a first visit for Joel. Our accommodation in the village of Rosnay was equisite and I would recommend to anyone. Tres chic et rustique!

Our accommodation was situated opposite the church and there were barn swallows [Hirundo rustica] nesting everywhere and darting about. Also noticed a few bats at dusk flying around the courtyard, but as I don’t yet have a bat detector I don’t know what they were.

Over the course of the next few days we visited a variety of places; Le Blizon, Chérine, La Maison de la Nature, Maison du Parc, Bellebouche, Le Blanc and Mézières-en-Brenne. We saw a huge variety of wildlife during our 4 days in La Brenne:

• Eurasian Jay [Garrulus glandarius]

• Grey Heron [Ardea cinerea]

• Common Buzzard [Buteo buteo]

• Rat [Ratus ratus]

• Mute Swan [Cygnus olor] & 4 cygnets

• Carrion Crow [Corvus corone]

• Comma [Polygonia c-album]

• House Sparrow [Passer domesticus]

• Northern Lapwing [Vanellus vanellus]

• Great Cormorant [Phalacrocorax carbo] [drying it’s wings and 5 fishing]

• Castle Egret [Bubulcus ibis]

• Mallard [Anas platyrhynchos]

• Great Crested Grebe [Podiceps cristatus]

• Eurasian Coot [Fulica atra]

• Juvenile Great Crested Grebe [Podiceps cristatus]
• Purple Heron [Ardea purpurea]

• Little Grebe [Tachybaptus ruficollis]

• Red Admiral [Vanessa atalanta]

• Common Chaffinch [Fringilla coelebs]

• Scarce Swallowtail [Iphiclides podalirius]

• Small White [Pieris rapae]

• Black-veined White [Aporia crataegi]

• Green Frog [Rana clamatins]

• A variety of unidentified lizards

• Blue-tailed Damselfly [Ischnura elegans]

• Gatekeeper [Pyronia tithonus]

• Brimstone [Gonepteryx rhamni]

• White Admiral [Limenitus camilla]

• Common Swallowtail [Papilio machaon]

We then travelled a couple of hours east to Joel’s family’s lake near le Veudre in the Allier region. We spent the next 5 days relaxing, Joel fishing and me scurrying about trying to find nature in every nook and cranny. I was surprised by how much I found. It was a butterfly and dragonfly haven. I also saw a red underwing moth on my last day which was amazing. It was resting on the side of the lodge and I was intrigued by it because it was so large. Then, disturbed by me and my camera, it took off to reveal the red underwing. It was beautiful.

• Black-tailed skimmer [Orthetrum cencellatum]

• Barn Swallow [Hirundo rustica]

• Green frog [Rana clamatins]

• Northern Lapwing [Vanellus vanellus]

• Common Swallowtail [Papilio machaon]

• Common Buzzard [Buteo buteo]

• Common Blue [Polyommatus icarus]

• Brimstone [Gonepteryx rhamni]

• Grey Heron [Ardea cinerea]

• Common Pond Skater [Gerris lacustris]

• Blue-tailed Damselfly [Ischnura elegans]

• European Goldfinch [Carduelis carduelis]

• Meadow Brown [Maniola jurtina]

Map Butterfly [Araschnia levana]
• White Admiral [Limenitis camilla]

• Gatekeeper [Pyronia tithonus]

• Ringlet [Aphantopus hyperantus]

• Small White [Pieris rapae]

• Slow Worm [Anguis fragilis]

• White-tailed bumblebee [Bombus lucorum]

• Common Coenagrion [Coenagrion puella]

• Red Admiral [Vanessa atalanta]

• White Stork [Ciconia ciconia]

• Red Squirrel [Sciurus vulgaris]

• Red Underwing [Catocala nupta]

• Kingfisher [Alcedo atthis]

• Magpie [Pica pica]

• Tawny Owl [Strix aluco] [heard]

• Barn Owl [Tyto alba] [heard]

• Lizard [unidentified]

• Bat [unidentified]

• Map Butterfly [Araschnia levana]

You can view all my pictures at:

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Blog Help!

If anyone knows why my photos keep jumping out of their borders, particularly since I changed the design template I'd be grateful to know!  Thanks x

Monday, 5 July 2010

Kissing Gates and other things

The last 3 weekends spent at Langdon involved some clearing back overgrown paths and finishing fencing and kissing gates.  The weather has been ridiculously warm as well which means that digging holes has been very hot work.  The meadow was considerably more grown than in previous weeks and at last the grazing cattle has arrived.  10 young cows are now resident in the meadow: 5 steers and 5 x.  After finishing the kissing gate I went to meet them.  I found all of them together resting in the shade of a small oak tree.  They have all been hand fed so they are relatively relaxed around people.

Spotted a few types of minibeasts at the reserve and at home in the garden:

  • buff-tailed bumblebee [Bombus terrestris]

  • oak bush-cricket [Meconema thalassinum]

  • ringlet butterfly [Aphantopus hyperantus]


Sunday, 20 June 2010

A weekend of volunteering

Sunday, 30th May 2010
It was a beautiful sunny day when I returned to Langdon today to finish the fence we had started putting up around the lake.  Mick, Dave and I completed the fence posts round the picnic table and then attached the wire backing along the length of it.  We attached it by hammering metal staples across the wire and into the posts.  It was a day of heavy duty hammering but by the time it was finished the fence looked excellent and would keep the dogs safe from the blue-green algae.

Monday, 31st May 2010

The next day I had my first experience of education volunteering.  I had applied for a part-time voluntary role as a Young Person's Discovery Zone Volunteer with the RSPB at Wat Tyler Country Park in Pitsea.  I was given an RSPB t-shirt and the most exciting bit of all was my badge!

I spent the day with Maria inviting people into the Discovery Zone to see what was going on.  The activities on offer all had a 'Springwatch' theme and I worked from 10am until about 4.30pm introducing kids to tadpoles, wildlife trails, a pond-dipping competition and the delights of owl pellet dissection. 

The tadpoles were kept in a big basin and there were hundreds of them.  They had already started to develop their back legs.  The kids were allowed to handle them, and I showed them how to gently scoop them up in their hands, and when to put them back carefully.  They were wriggly blighters.  I was pleased to see that pretty much every child that came in knew what a tadpole was and what it grew into. 

Unfortunately the nearby ponds are in need of a bit of work and the RSPB is trying to raise some money to do this, so our pond dipping activities were restricted to a kiddies paddling pool filled with cut-outs of animals and some fishing rods of bamboo construction complete with magnets. 

All the activities were free and there were small prizes given out for the pond dipping and also for successfully completing the nature trail.

During my lunch break I took a stroll round the garden and admired the flowers and investigated the nature trail that we were encouraging people to follow. 

I got slightly carried away taking pictures of flowers, as usual.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Recent outdoor exploits

Evening stroll

A walk round the local playing fields on Wednesday night resulted in us spotting 12 ducklings in the little pond.  They were very young and fluffy and sped round the lake after their mum.  The pond has quite a bit of litter but there are always ducks and geese around and are clearly thriving there.  We wandered round the pond and up over the small hill.  On the other side of the hill there was another small pond with a couple of coots swimming about, and a beautiful old tree leaning out over the water.  Unfortunately I ended up with 6 bites from hanging around the waters edge looking at the ducklings!

Volunteering at Langdon Nature Reserve

After a long break from Langdon I returned on Saturday to do a spot of volunteering.  It was a beautiful morning and we set out through the reserve towards the lake.  Mick and Dave had been building a fence around the lake to help to prevent dogs swimming.  Unfortunately the lake contains blue-green algae which is harmful to humans and can be lethal for dogs.  We had a new volunteer as well so the four of us set about digging holes for the fence posts.  We were using spades and giant tongs to lift the soil out.  The soil was clay and wasn't too hard to dig out, although it did take Shelley and I some time to complete the first hole!  We dug four or five holes and then had a break.  We sat on the bench and enjoyed the sunshine and looked out across the lake where we saw 6 Canada Geese goslings.  They were swimming all over the lake, sometimes following a parent, sometimes leading the way.  We also saw a Holly Blue butterfly in the meadow.

We hammered on the posts with some very large nails.  Eventually it will have wire tacked along the back to prevent the dogs running straight under it.  Walking back through the reserve we saw several more butterflies and it felt good to be back!

Another visit to Langdon

Sunday was another gorgeous day and I really wanted to spend some time by the lake at Langdon.  I also wanted to show Joel our beautiful "rustic" fence.  We wandered through and saw a little green caterpillar [as yet unidentified], some sort of shield bug, goslings, ducklings, coots, moorhen, spawning carp, holly blue butterflies, a comma butterfly and a swift. We then stopped off at Ian's Garden [next door to the visitor centre] and checked out the vegetable patch and the pond.  There were some beautiful dragonflies on the pond.  We enjoyed an exceptionally delicious ice-cream and I went a bit daft in the gift shop!

A lovely nature-tastic week. :-)