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Not bad for an Octogenarian…

27 May

June article for the Cliffhanger.

The national treasure that is Sir David Attenborough has been very busy of late. Not only has he been ‘tweeting’ every day on Radio 4 (tweet of the day) with one bird being discussed every day for 2 minutes with some 265 episodes, he has just launched a major review of the state of our environment entitled State of Nature covering the UK and our overseas territories.

As you may expect, the report makes quite mixed reading with some birds, animals and plants doing well with others almost disappearing from our countryside. On the downside

  • Turtle Doves have declined by 93% since 1970
  • Hedgehogs have declined by around a third since the millennium
  • The small tortoiseshell butterfly has declined in abundance by 77%in the last ten years

And we have seen this in the village withy, for example, Hedgehogs being really quite scarce. One species of plant, the Corn Cleaver, used to occur in arable fields but efficient farming methods, including herbicides, mean this plant is only found in three locations in the UK.

It’s not all bad news and there are two great examples in the village. Around the village there seem to be increasing numbers of House Sparrows. They have declined by some 70% but around the High Street and nearby they do seem to be in greater numbers. This year, for the first time as far as I am aware, there is a colony of Starlings nesting in the Blackthorn on the Cliff. The noise from these gregarious birds is quite something when they fly in to feed their chicks.

We are also fortunate that some of the more cryptic species (I mean that they are hidden) seem to be holding their own. Slow Worms, for example, seem to be around the village in reasonable numbers. These legless lizards often occur in gardens and burrow into the soil in search of slugs and worms. They have a number of quite amazing characteristics – they give birth to live young, they can discard their tail if attacked and then grow a new one and can live up to 30 years in the wild. Their main predator are cats against which they have no defence. They can be seen in gardens and in grassy areas but can be very hard to spot The photo was taken on the Cliff in May this year and I have seen them on the steep parts of the Cliff.

Slow Worm on Sherston Cliff May 2013

Slow Worm on Sherston Cliff May 2013


Overall the State of Nature report makes quite difficult reading and it makes a very valid point that different parts of nature need different types of help. If, for example, we want to help Barn Owls we can put up more nesting boxes as the lack of suitable nesting sites can limit their ability to increase in numbers. Helping migrating birds or insects is much more complex as it may, for example, be really important to protect sites in west or North Africa where they stop over while migrating.

So what can you and I do to help? The first place to start is to get out and understand what we have around us. Join The Wiltshire Wildlife Trust or Butterfly Conservation or Buglife or the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers – they all offer ways of helping make a difference either through physical activities or more sedate one such as helping raise funds or helping in visitor centres.

We do have fantastic local wildlife which can be really quite surprising – just look for slugs mating at this time of year – quite amazing (if somewhat gross….)



Wild side resolutions – Cliffhanger January 2103

1 Feb
Wild side resolutions
With the new year just starting it’s a great time to think about New Year resolutions. While it’s easy to think of many resolutions for yourself (must get fit, go on a diet, grow more hair etc etc) how about one or two to help local wildlife, and may help you get a bit fitter, such as:
  • Taking your children/grand children out walking (or even just watching your bird feeders) and have a little competition as to how many different birds they can identify. There are lots of easy to use guides from the RSPB and Wiltshire Wildlife Trust – some simple identification cards or guides you can download
  • Ask your local school if they would be interested in Wiltshire Wildlife Trust visiting to run a workshop
  • For adults, how about getting a copy of the Sherston walks guide (available from the Post Office) and walk some of the footpaths. Take your time, ideally with some binoculars, and it’s amazing what you can see – Deer, Foxes, Hare, Kestrels, Little Egrets, Lapwings, Badgers (maybe not at this time of year!), Kingfishers etc
  • Visit some of the great local wildlife reserves – easy to find on the web. Maybe even help out as a volunteer at the Cotswold Water Park
  • Keep your bird feeders topped up and, when it’s freezing, make sure there is water available for the birds.
2012 was a very mixed year for local wildlife primarily due to the very wet late spring, summer and autumn. This resulted in some quite odd sightings such as a young Hedgehog being found wandering around the village in late November. Luckily it was taken in, fed and given to a local wildlife rescue center to keep over the winter and build it’s strength. On a personal note both writing this column together with my blog ( has made me take time to better understand the fantastic wildlife we have almost literally on our doorstep.
Looking forward to 2013 is really exciting. Hopefully the spring and summer will be warmer and drier to encourage all the birds and insects which didn’t thrive in 2012. A number of scarce birds and animals were seen in or around the village including Red Kites and Otters and, with good weather many of the butterflies and insect eating birds will make a great recovery.
If you do see anything of interest please do let me know –


Where have they all gone?

24 Nov

In the 1950’s there were some 30 million Hedgehogs in the UK. Today there are about half a million!

Apparently there has been little research into the reasons why but there are some obvious causes.

As we all know Hedgehogs are often killed on the road, killed by dogs and maybe killed by eating slugs who have themselves eaten Slug Pellets (although there seems to be limited evidence for this.

With the changes to the way in which  our countryside is being managed means there is less food for them but there has also been a rise in their major natural predator – the Badger. With very strong claws and being carnivorous they can easily kill and eat a Hedgehog.

Even in the past 10 years the times I have seen Hedgehogs seems to have reduced (when was the last time you saw one?)

One appeared in the drive in May, the last one before that was about 2 years ago when I found one in the garage in some distress not being able to walk so I took it to a wildlife rescue center in the Cotswold Water Park.

Hedgehog in Sherston – May 2012

While it’s really concerning that numbers have dropped so much, it’s hard to know quite how to help which is frustrating!


Couple of new sightings…

3 Sep

Just saw a Spotted Flycatcher on the Cliff flying to and fro from a telegraph wire – photos to follow … and I saw a Grey Squirrel on the High Street at the end of Swan Barton – how odd !!

Where is Ratty?

16 Apr

I was talking to someone on the Cliff a few days ago and mentioned I had seen Water Voles a few times over the years and it struck me that I haven’t seen any for probably 2 years. Water Voles are never easy to spot – all you typically see is the splash as they dive when they see you.

Water Voles (aka Ratty in The Wind In The Willows) only live around 5 months although they can live over 2 years in captivity. They dig quite extensive borrows along river banks and are quite prolific breeders.

Overall they are in long term decline and have disappeared from some 94% of their original range. The main culprit is the introduced American Mink which a voracious hunter and quite capable of getting into the Water Voles burrows. The Mink combined with damaged river banks and lower quality water have all contributed to a drastic decline in this wonderful little animal.

If anyone does see one please do let me know. The last one I saw was just downstream of  the pond on the Cliff.

Foxes are out and about

6 Apr

Over the past few days I have seen foxes out and about both at night ( as you would expect) and during the daytime.

The fox attracts fierce argument from both camps – Fox Hunters and their opponents. It may surprise you to know that the fox is the most widespread carnivore cross the entire northern hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to North AfricaCentral America and Asia. Its range has increased alongside human expansion, having been introduced to Australia, where is has caused lots of damage to the native wildlife.

They mated around Christmas  and their litters are being born around now so if you are careful you may see young ones in a few weeks.