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WildSherston in review

26 May

The weekend of WildSherston went with a flutter, flap, a squeak and slither (and no bangs…) due to the bats, moths, owls and snails. The children made quite a lot of noise as well!!

The weather was superb with lots of display stands outside as well as in the large marquee. We were fortunate to have a number of really good speakers including Kelvin Boot on Friday night with his stories being a well-travelled naturalist. On Saturday there were 6 speakers on a whole variety of subjects from Wild Flowers to Birds and Rivers. The two stalls most in demand were the snail racing (which brought out the competitive spirit in many people albeit in slow motion) and the bats. It was a rare chance to see bats close up and many of the children were fascinated… the adults couldn’t get close..

On Friday night a series of moth traps were put out around the village and some very large moths were caught which were a bit scary. About 50 different species were found.

The Sherston mums did a fantastic job of setting up and running a whole series of activities for children including clay models, nature walks and a special thanks to Carron Watehouse for managing this.

Sunday dawned at 4.15am with a hardy bunch out and about for the Dawn Chorus and then a bird ringing exhibition, with breakfast, at the Vineyard. A series of fascinating walks followed looking at different aspects of nature including the river, birds, wild flowers and butterflies.

I suspect some people felt it was worth going just for the fantastic food alone, provided by “The Awkward Squad”.

Many thanks to lots of people and organizations who really made this a fantastic experience and to the main organisers Martin Rea, Jo Egerton, Pete Bishop, Carron Watehouse.

And of course the brain behind the idea, and general management of the event our thanks go to Geoff Carss.

Sherston Craft Club did a fantastic job with the legacy banner, and it was clear that the children loved getting stuck in.

Thank you to Sherston Church and Sue Robinson for organising the children’s and pets service on Sunday morning. The “Living Churchyard” proved to be somewhere a bit different to discover nature and wildlife.The Living Churchyards and Cemeteries Project (LCCP) was set up nationally in the 1990s with the aim of promoting churchyards and cemeteries as a valuable source of biodiversity.

We received funding from the Parish Council, Wiltshire County Council , MVCAP and support from N3 Graphic Displays (Nick Holland), The Post Office, Wentworth Jigsaws, Highgrove, Bugs Eye View, Whatley Manor, The Ship at Luckington, Sonardyne, Jeremy Nabarro and Carole Conyngham.

People clearly enjoyed themselves with some fantastic feedback including from Miranda Krestovnikov (presenter of BBC’s Coast programme and President of RSPB) who stayed for 5 hours and insisted she is invited again and will bring more people. The BBC, who broadcast the BBC Wiltshire Radio programme ‘Wild about Wiltshire” live from the event on Sunday mentioned it was the best ever live broadcast they have ever done and interviewed lots of people over the 2 hour programme.

The overall intention was to get more people, adults and children, interested in their environment and from the feedback it certainly achieved that aim.

We also had some great coverage in local newspapers:

http://www.thisiswiltshire.co.uk/news/11223099.First_Wild_Sherston_weekend_welcomed_by_sunshine/

http://www.wiltsglosstandard.co.uk/news/northwilts/11227383.Sherston_goes_wild_in_the_country/

http://www.wfcap.org/activities.aspx?start=22-04-2014

and there are some great photo’s on our facebook site:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Wild-Sherston/804443659581246

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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….)

 

June’s Cliffhanger Article

10 Jun
The recent bout of sustained cold weather (which is thankfully now over) caused great concern for the animal life in the village. I suspect many of the birds trying to raise their broods were really struggling to find enough food and some chicks could well have starved due to the lack of insects. Having said that from the number of birds mating around the village it looks like a second round of eggs are on their way!
The impact of the unseasonal weather got me thinking about the unintended effect we have on our local wild life. I have been talking to a number of people in the village who grew up here and are of a ‘certain age’. They made observations such as “We used to hear cuckoo’s every year – I haven’t heard any for a while”, “My father used to take me out to pick mushrooms – you just don’t see any anymore” and “There used to be so many wild flowers in the fields but they have all gone”.
If you walk around the footpaths, the fields appear to be heathy and they are if you need to grow grass for cattle, fodder etc but from a bird’s or butterfly’s perspective the fields are mostly deserts – the is nothing to eat! Farmers have had a very real need to, for example, fertilise grassland to improve growth rates etc to earn a living and we need to respect this. This does mean, however, that flowering plants in fields have almost disappeared as the grass out competes them as they need poor quality grassland to thrive.
The consequences of this are, for example, a 50% reduction in the total number of birds in the last 50 years, a very sharp reduction in farmland birds such as Yellowhammers, some butterfly’s becoming locally or even nationally extinct, many meadow plants almost disappearing from around the village (when was the last time you saw a wild orchid?) and no cuckoo’s. These are all very real, local consequences from our demand for cheaper food.
There are some great examples around the village of farmers putting some land into ‘set aside’. I saw one patch of this last winter near Stanbridge with literally thousands of Goldfinches, Greenfinches etc. It was a stunning and very noisy spectacle.
We need to make more space for our local wildlife to thrive and if we provide the opportunity it’s amazing how quickly, maybe with a little help, plants, insects, reptiles and birds can bounce back. And it’s not realistic or fair to expect farmers to do everything – it’s in all of our interests to improve our environment. Wildlife needs ‘messy’ places to thrive and, with the pressure to increase yields, ‘messy’ gets tidied up.
I have a number of ideas which I will exploring with various people over the next few months but if you have any suggestions please do contact me on geoff_carss@hotmail.com or via my blog – sherstonwildlife.wordpress.com
And isn’t it great to have the House Martins, Swallows and Swifts back flying around the village.

Expert guidance makes all the difference

25 Mar

On Saturday 17th March I was fortunate to be joined on a series or walks on Grove Wood by Martin Barber from Hullavington. Martin has an incredible knowledge of native plants and has a particular interest in aberrant forms of plants.

We wanted to know what was growing in Grove Wood and if the coppicing over the past few years had had any effect reflecting in a change of flora in parts that had been cleared.

Grove Wood grows on a north facing steep slope and the underlying rock is limestone making the soil quite alkaline. This effects the flora.

During the 3 hours in the wood martin identified the following plants growing in the wood:

Martin advised that the overall flora was in line with what he was expecting for such an environment and was interested to see which of the highly competitive plants (Dogs Mercury, Bluebell, Lesser Celandine, Brambles etc) start to dominate over the next few years.

By the way Dogs Mercury is strongly associated with land that has had a long continuity of woodland or shrub cover and is highly toxic.

Martin has offered to come back when the Bluebells are in flower – not least because he has a particular interest in odd forms of the plant….. so watch this space for a update in a few weeks.