Working on Hookheath


Shame to see these guys off the site, they were a happy bunch. Hope to see them back next year

There has been quite a bit happening on the reserves recently. It’s a busy time of year, with a strong changeover in our activities. Spring and Summer see monitoring and reserve infrastructure taking precedent, followed by grassland management near the end of the summer. Autumn and winter see us stepping up a gear and munching through our wooded areas and scrub – as mentioned in past blog posts.

It also means the removal of our cattle. Most of our sites lay very wet over the winter so to stop any lasting damage occurring to the ground and soil structure, all cows need to be taken to a comfortable dry site for winter. So, October onward we see a steady reduction of numbers until all are off around mid November.



Hookheath Meadows was our first site to see cattle removed. This requires a TB test to be undertaken so we had to get all five into the holding pen, including the lovely Curtis, our British White Bull. This was then followed up three days later with another test to see if they were clear. Thankfully they were.


Lots of work clearing, but pleasant in the woods

We have recently acquired a new felling licence for the site so we have started work thinning some of the woodland to open up the meadows. We need to do this before it gets too wet to access it, as being what is ultimately a flood plain or wet pasture, it gets a little soggy underfoot.


A coppiced hazel stool. This now has to be protected from browsing deer.

We started on Tuesday, thinning out some woodland areas and coppicing the older hazel stools. This revitalizes the tree, and what looks like a destructive act actually benefits the tree, with coppiced stools lasting much longer than un-managed individuals. It also grows back and produces a thick mid-layer throughout the woodland, favoured by species like Marsh Tit. This allows connectivity to be maintained through the meadows, joining the neighbouring areas of woodland. We also have to consider the canopy level, with important butterfly species and bird species predominately existing in this layer. Therefore connectivity is important, allowing these species to maintain a diverse and extended population.


Thousands of ladybirds were at Hookheath on Tues. They mostly ended up in our truck

Whilst working we found a huge veteran willow tree, not something that you see too often as they tend to collapse at an older age. There was also a lot of fungi around, it seems to be a good autumn for it.


Sightings for week ending 23rd Oct

Some more migrants starting to come through. Redwing and Fieldfare being the mostly notable and in steadily increasing numbers. Redwing can be seen at Swanwick Lakes and regularly flying over at Hookheath.

Southmoor produced a lot of birds on Friday morning and remains an excellent site at low tide. Widgeon and Brent Geese occur in the hundreds, feeding on the waters edge. Lots of nice wader species are mingled in with them, including a number of Greenshank, Bar Tailed Godwits  and Common Sandpiper. Dunlin and Redshank also numbered in their hundreds.

There was a large number of Skylarks going over and other species like Brambling and Grey Wagtails were also regularly passing.

Farlington had the usual high number of roosting waders with Black Tailed Godwits, Dunlin and Redshank proving the most numerous. At the latter end of the week a Curlew Sandpiper and  Little Stint turned up on the main lake. Peregrine is also a regular feature with a Marsh Harrier moving through earlier in the week.


dsc_0020It is officially Autumn. The brisk mornings have brought in the time of year that is scrub bashing. This fills up so much of our time with our volunteers and is an extremely important part of what we do. No matter what, nature wants to move through its successional changes until forest is achieved. This is why we implement management strategies such as grazing, to mimic natural processes that hold the dreaded scrub at bay. Depending on what model you adhere to, before humans were around it is likely that much of northern Europe was high forest. However, with grazing pressure from large herbivores there would have likely been open areas of grassland and a fluid mosaic of scrub, especially if you consider the fact that Europe had species such as elephants to really break up the forest.

Nowadays we have to try and mimic these natural processes as closely as we can and in some instances micromanage to make the most out of our little islands of nature in a big landscape of urban development. With that in mind we have been working our way through a lot of scrub on a number of our sites to help improve the structure.

dsc_0034Fragmentation is a bad word in conservation. When looking at our landscape, fragmentation refers to the braking up of continuous habitat and stopping the flow of species through, especially those that can’t fly. It doesn’t,however,  always have to be a bad word. On a local level, it can be a good thing. For instance at Farlington we have been working intensively in the area we call the bushes (imaginatively named for the large amount of scrub there in). Over several years of little management the small blocks of gorse, hawthorn and bramble have steadily merged into large, unbroken patches that cover much of the site. This has a negative effect, steadily reducing diversity, especially with the all important edge habitat or if you’re posh, an ecotone. This allows a multitude of species to co-exist as it provides several habitats in regards to structure, vegetation and food resources. dsc_0040

What we are trying to achieve in many of our reserves is a patchwork of scrub that mingles seamlessly with the woodland, grassland or whatever habitat we have, providing excellent nesting habitat for birds or sheltered perches and glades for butterflies. Unfortunately for us, this means spending a lot of time fighting bramble.



Sightings for week ending 16th Oct

So, I’m going to try and post weekly updates on what is around at the moment on the Solent reserves. I don’t get a huge amount of time to go birding unfortunately but I shall try my best. I’ll also relay any other sightings that get passed to me.


Excellent at the moment around high tide, looking out to the harbour from the sea wall. Large numbers of Brent Geese, I counted over 500 today. Also large numbers of Wigeon, Shelduckl, Curlew, Oyster Catchers and Redshank. There was lower numbers of Grey Plover and a solitary Common Sandpiper.

Within the sea wall there were a good number of Linnets and Snipe throughout the site.


Again, excellent at high tide at the moment , with most of the birds loitering on the main lake. Large numbers (around 100+) of Grey Plover, even larger numbers of Redshank, Black Tailed Godwits and Dunlin.  Mixed in there are also Greenshank, Ringed Plover and plenty of Lapwing. Also a number of Harbour Seals have been around.

csc_0011Out in the marsh there is still a few Yellow Wagtails around and quite a few Grey Wagtails. There has been reports of a Marsh Harrier as well, and the Peregrine is a regular visitor.

The Bearded Tits can be seen in the reed bed on a still day, especially up by the building and Water Rail are starting to call quite a lot.

Solent team off on a jolly

img_0960We have had a busy time of late. We have joined up with the Isle of Wight team to do some collaborative working, to really hit some areas hard. This has meant that we have been over to the IOW a number of times to work on Sandown Meadows, a wetland area that was in need of some Willow clearance. As a big team we were able to run several saws and knock out some big trees that were choking up a nice ditch system that has a lot of potential for Water Vole. It was also a chance to see some of our other teams sites and have a change of scenery.


The ferry rides over were interesting. Most were flat calm but on one trip there was a mass movement of Swallows. Several hundred were whipping past the ferry with a few other species mixed in such as Yellow and Grew Wagtails.


The ditch work was quite taxing. There was a lot of Willow growing along the banks that despite our best efforts tended to fall into the water, to then be manhandled out. Sandown Meadows was a lovely site to work at. We had sightings of Raven, Marsh Harrier and several Whinchats whilst we were there.


We were joined by some of the cattle that they use to manage the site, including this fine chap.

Winter is coming!!

We’ve spent a couple of days logging up and chopping firewood down at Swanick in order for the education center to remain toasty throughout the coming months. It’s quite a satisfying task, when at the end of the day you’re left with a nice neat stack of cut logs.


A whole load of logs to get through

We have a huge amount of cut logs at Swanick. This is produced through the management work that has to take place on site. We have been thinning Oaks and Birch throughout the site for a few years, especially in the north east meadow. This has produced the lovely wood pasture that we now have.

We do however have a huge amount at the moment and we are looking at selling firewood at a fair rate in the near future if there is an interest.


A decent load of logs


A satisfying days work


Wader Ringing

We spent a late night the other evening down at Farlington Marshes trying to catch some waders. The hope was for Common Sandpipers and Greenshank which have a colour ringing scheme here (as seen in previous blog posts). Unfortunately the night didn’t turn out to be very fruitful but it wasn’t a complete loss. wp_20160916_19_39_07_pro

Placing the nets over the scrape was a little tricky but the aim was to catch the birds coming in to roost when the tide came in.Spread across the whole scrape gave us the best opportunity of catching any incoming birds.


We managed to catch several Dunlin throughout the evening. There was considerable variation in the size of their bills and overall body size.


We also managed to bag one Black Tailed Godwit


Studying a Dunlin in great detail. Unfortunately not a Curlew Sandpiper.


All together a very poor show that evening, though conditions were against us. Overall numbers aren’t actually too bad on the marsh at the moment. There have been several good sightings. The Wryneck was reported last week, still lurking in the bushes. As was a Barn OwlPeregrines and an Osprey have been seen regularly over the harbour. Today the water on the lake was quite high after the rain, therefore most of the birds have been roosting half way up the stream, providing excellent viewings of the Curlew Sandpipers which are still around and up to 20 Greenshank. Whilst ringing there was a Spotted Redshank temptingly close to the nets.