Making the Best of Things, the Rakes Progress

A much damper feel to the day today and as a result it felt colder. The regular Tuesday Farlington volunteer team were in action once again and we had two new recruits making eleven in all, a really good turnout. Since the powerlines were cleared I have been pondering what to do with the area under them, if we let it grow back we will have to endure another visit from the flail machine in three years time, so we decided to look at maintaining the area as a ride cut on a short rotation to keep a mix of grass, herbs and low brambles. The shelter from the trees should make for good habitat for insects and other creatures, I especially hope to see common lizards move in, they certainly used to be very nearby a few years ago. Having decided to make a virtue out of the extreme clearance we needed to make the ground surface suitable, this meant raking off the deep layer of woody debris forming an effective mulch over the whole area and this was todays task. By the end of the day an impressively large area had been raked clear and we now wait to see what the spring will bring.

volunteers raking under power lines

volunteers raking under power lines

Once again I had to go elsewhere on various errands so did not get to take any useful part in the work, before I left I spotted an interestingly perforated wooden electricity pole.

electricity pole with holes

electricity pole with holes

I am pretty sure the culprit was a green woodpecker from the size of the holes. Many years ago I remember seeing green woodpeckers near South Stack on Anglesey in the breeding season, there are no trees out there and I wondered where they nested, until I spotted a telegraph pole and the question was answered. In some less treed parts of the country this is a common problem and one that has resulted in some interesting solutions being tried. One is the use of plastic model black woodpeckers attached to the poles, it seems green woodpeckers avoid their bigger relative even though they would never have seen one as they do not occur in the UK. Black woodpecker is one of the species that has long been hoped for by British twitchers, they can make sea crossings and breed right to the Channel coast, so there may be one someday. The models have resulted in at least one scare with one being reported as the longed for “First” a couple of years ago, until the strange immobility of the bird aroused suspicions!

The area under the lines has a number of pools, I hope that with extra light they will develop a flora to match some of the small pools in the Aerial Field as well as being used by breeding amphibians and dragonflies.

water plants

water plants

It might seem odd that we have decided to change our management of the area under the power lines as a result of the action of an outside agency. After all Farlington Marshes is a protected nature reserve, it should be safe from such outside impacts, shouldn’t it? In fact this is just another in a long line of changes forced upon us since the reserve was founded in 1962. Nature reserves are far from safe, in fact they almost seem to attract intrusion, they are undeveloped spaces and so ideal for using for infrastructure projects.

Shortly after the reserve was set up the A27 Havant bypass was built as a two lanes each way dual carriageway through the northern part of the reserve, cutting off two areas, one of which was taken out of the reserve for good. Since then the road has been widened to four lanes each way and a cycleway added on the southern side. We have also had the power lines, a gas main, the radio aerial and the waste water transfer tunnel. So far from being inviolate we have been a veritable magnet for major engineering projects. We can rage against it, the Wildlife Trust has raised objections to these developments and managed to get some amended to reduce impacts, but in the end we have had to find the best way to live with the modified site we are left with.

It has often been said that we cannot rely on our nature reserves to save nature, usually in the context of them being too small and islands in a developed desert, which is often true, but it is actually worse than that, they are just cannot be relied upon as being safe. We do need them, they are important for conservation and will remain so, but we will also need to constantly look out for other opportunities to incorporate wildlife rich habitats into our everyday environment. We will get development but we should also expect that this will include real efforts to make places for wildlife as well as people and commerce. That way reserves can sit within an environment in which they are wildlife hotspots in a rich and varied environment, not islands in a desert.

I end with yet another picture of the dark-bellied brent flock in the Hayfield, I make no apology, they will be going soon, large departures usually happen by the start of March, so this might be one of the last large flock I see on the Marsh until next winter.

brent in the Hayfield

brent in the Hayfield

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