Tuesday, 13 April 2010

EuCAN Weekend, The Kingcombe Centre, Dorset – 9 – 11th April 2010

Nigel and Kathy from EuCAN [European Conservation Action Network] invited me back to Dorset to take part in the April preparation weekend for their 2010 trips. It was a wonderful experience to go back to where a lot of my new-found passions started.

The Kingcombe Centre is an outdoor recreational facility set in beautiful Dorset countryside – much of the surrounding land managed by the DWT [Dorset Wildlife Trust]. It is the sort of place I would have adored going to on a school expedition – but a slightly classier establishment!! It’s a place of wellies, waterproofs, bright sunshine, binoculars, education and fun. Not least a place of culinary delights – venison and rabbit on the menu and a selection of cakes that make you want to stuff yourself silly and to hang with the consequences.

On Saturday we spent the morning taking a walk around the immediate area with Neil Croton from DWT during which he told us about the management of the area and showed us the recent hedge laying that he had been doing. We saw a peacock butterfly [Inachis io] whilst we were walking and heard a variety of birds, which included one of the first willow warblers [Phylloscopus trochilus] of the season. The scenery was beautiful and the geology was greensand and chalk. There was quite a bit of mud which was satisfyingly squelchy. I learnt something new about gorse [Ulex europaeus]…. that it smells of coconut! Having grown up surrounded by gorse in my local parks I am astonished that I did not know this, or even notice this a long time ago. It really was a beautiful scent that reminded a lot of us of summer.

We headed back to the centre and since it was such a beautiful day we had tea and cake outside in the sunshine. Kingcombe is renowned for its fabulous food, particularly the baking.

We spent some time with Neil whilst he did some bird ringing. The birds caught in the mist nets were predominantly Great Tits [Parus major] and Blue Tits [Cyanistes caeruleus], but he did ring some Chaffinches [Fringilla coelebs], Goldfinches [Carduelis carduelis] and a Nuthatch [Sitta europaea]. It was very interesting to watch and although it is something I would like to get involved in ringing it can be quite difficult to find a trainer as it is a two-year commitment. We had lunch at the centre and then in the afternoon we split into two groups. Our group headed on to Lankham Bottom to conduct a butterfly transect. It took us about an hour and a half [although we did get slightly distracted looking for signs of Marsh Fritillaries [Euphydryas aurinia]]. We were lucky enough to spot a few Small Tortoiseshells [Aglais urticae] and a few Peacocks as well. In addition to that we were lucky enough to find some caterpillars of the Marsh Fritillary.

Saturday evening was spent eating a delicious dinner and enjoying a presentation from Hungarian, Gabor Sramko about the habitats of the Carpathian Basin, followed by a demonstration of, and participation in, some Hungarian folk dancing. It was very entertaining.

Following a good night’s sleep it was up to start a day of physical work at one of the Butterfly Conservation’s sites at Alners Gorse. We were clearing scrub and conifers to return the land to its original grassland state. We had 3 bonfires to burn the scrub and branches but stacked the logs into piles. The logs would be sold later. We cooked some potatoes in the fire for our lunch and at 1pm stopped to eat. We continued working in the afternoon until 3pm when we stopped work and went for a walk through the woodland. I found a broken egg, possibly belonging to a Blackbird [Turdus merula] on the ground. Then we headed back to the minibus and back to the centre. We had a final round of tea and cakes and said our goodbyes. Nigel then drove us to the station. It was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend which inspired me to learn more and to get back to Langdon for the next work party.

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