Spring jobs

IMG_7464Lots to do at the moment at Farlington. We have to prepare for several things throughout the spring. One of the big events is the return of the cows. These come on in April and we need to make sure all the fencing is up and ready to go. Bits that got broken last season and things that have weathered over the winter need to be fixed and replaced and given that there is several miles of fencing at Farlington, it is a continuous loop of replacing posts and old barbed wire.

This year we have added some electric fencing into the mix, just to complicate things a little. I’ve never used electric fencing and so it has been somewhat of a learning curve. Thanks to a few colleagues and many YouTube videos, I think that I now have a fair idea of what to do. The plan is to install an electric line on a temporary basis through the bushes. This will allow us to graze the stream edge but leave the rest of the site until later. I hope that this will benefit the invertebrates a lot more within the scrubby area but maintain the stream edge as a potential nesting area for lapwing and more importantly as a wader and gull roost which is what is mainly used as. Come July we shall take the wire off and the cattle will have free roam of that whole compartment. We grazed it very late last year and I enjoyed seeing all the butterflies that were using that compartment. The new set up will mean a slight rejig of the path at one end. We hope to install a viewing platform to improve the view.

The other section is behind the lake. An area of very rough grassland, it has seldom been grazed. This is partly because there is no way to stop the cattle going into the lake and reedbed and causing havoc. We are therefore putting another electric line through to allow us to graze effectively. This section will only be lightly grazed as its an important area for redshank to nest who like it a bit longer.


The other big job on site at the moment is the preparations for breeding terns. We have a couple of areas at Farlington that we’re hoping to attract them onto. Each area needs a little TLC each year. Last Monday we re-shingled the raft off the point field. It had lost all its shingle over the winter and the storms. Unfortunately I did not check the forecast and the storms last week have emptied the raft. So we shall be back again.

I am currently putting together some speakers that will [play common tern calls and hopefully call the birds in and make them aware that there is good nesting habitat at Farlington.




The Importance of Partnerships


our volunteers launching the rafts at the Oyster Beds

It’s great to get out and help other groups in the county and every year we normally do some partnership work with a few other organsisations on exciting projects. I really like working with other groups and conservation organisations because you get to do something different and its usually on a project that has potentially big benefits for targeted species or habitats. During last winter and the end of this winter, in my patch,  we have worked with the MOD, Hampshire County Council and the RSPB, delivering conservation work or giving advice.

Across the whole of HIWWT we have worked with many more organisations such as HOS, producing work on other reserves as well as other organisations helping out on ours. Its great to bring fresh eyes and a new perspective onto our reserves.

Over the last couple of years we have delivered some work for the RSPB in Langstone Harbour. This consisted of some habitat management work on the islands and most importantly launching their raft at the oyster beds and bringing it in and storing it for them at Farlington Marshes. This is an extraordinarily arduous job but one that has had tremendous results for the common tern breeding success in Langston Harbour. We are lucky to have wonderful volunteers that can deliver very complex tasks.


Nightingale and Nightjars



A brand new glade at Botley Woods

Recently we have partnered up with Hampshire County Council to help them at the vitally important woodland site, Botley Woods. This is a wonderful woodland and easily one of the most important woodlands in Hampshire for biodiversity. This is in part due to it’s size. Combined with neighboring Forestry Commission land, it forms quite a significant chunk of wooded area. This isn’t all great quality as some of it is plantation but on the whole, its a fantastic woodland, with some ancient areas.

It also has a number of very important and very threatened bird species and this is what we have been helping with, doing some habitat management for nightingale and nightjar. There are a number of hidden glades in the woods and these have historically held both species. they have got a little overgrown over the years so we met up with a couple of the HCC rangers and their volunteers to have a couple of days cutting back and coppicing around the edges. In turn they will come over with their volunteer groups and give us a hand with a few jobs on our sites, so it all works very nicely.

The overall aim it to maintain the glades for the nighjars, keeping them cut back but also allowing a thick edge to develop which allow the nightingales to nest safely. Its really important work and the HCC team do great work over there, despite having a huge amount of sites all over the county. We are based very locally so are happy to help out when we can spare the time as Botley woods, for both these species, forms one of the most important sites in Hampshire.There has been a dramatic decline, especially in nightingale and last years survey was pretty stark in its findings. Very few birds turned up last year, all over the county. We also lost some very important sites in Hampshire so hubs of nightingale activity are very important.

Hopefully in a couple of years we can go back to these glades and hear the warble of the nightingale and the churr pf the nightjar, as well as many other species that will benefit. Willow warbler and blackcap will all utilise this habitat and butterflies will find the sheltered glades extremely beneficial.

Discovering the Lost City


The Farlington team have been working over the northern side of Farlington recently. this is a much less trafficked area than the rest of the marsh and can be somewhat neglected by us. It has its value but when compared to the rest of the site, comprising probably 80% overall and the harbouring the most important features, its very easy to overlook the northern side. Nonetheless it is a lovely spot.

We started last year  in the wooded compartment, clearing the access track which stayed permanently wet all year as it was so overshadowed. It dried out nicely over the summer and I could get the tractor through and cut much of the thistle in the end meadow.

We started this year in the same spot but headed under the power lines. Over three sessions the team cleared a huge area which was essentially one giant block of bramble. A few years ago the power company cam in and did their usual thing of mulching everything in site, damaging some fences along the way.  That shan’t be happening again so we try to stay on top of this. The plan is that we shall create a nice meadowy glade there, with scrub either side, transitioning into the woodland. There are a couple of nice ponds and so the whole chunk should be just lovely for butterflies and dragonflies.


The interesting part of the site was uncovered on the last day. Like explorers, we hacked our way through the undergrowth and like stumbling on a Mayan temple, we uncovered the remnants of the bunkers used to store ammunition in the war. Engulfed in bramble and trees, you would never know that they were there. I had never seen them, nor the ponds so after a few years working a site, there are still plenty of surprises to be had.

A History of Farlington Marshes

I’m very fortunate to work with a wide range of excellent volunteers. Many of them work hard on projects outside of the usual conservation work parties and wardening roles that we have. There is lots of survey work, and a small group are currently inputting years and years of data. One of my vols, Carole, has put together a wonderful document looking at the history of Farlington Marshes and I thought I’d share it.


A History of Farlington Marshes


Today Farlington Marshes with its mix of pasture, salt marsh and lagoons attracts thousands of wildfowl, waders and other birds plus large numbers of people keen to enjoy these birds and the beauty of the area itself but how did it develop into the area we now know and love?


Farlington Marshes is situated at the north end of Langstone harbour where archaeological evidence from the Stone Age through to modern times has been found.  Many archaeological sites and features have been exposed in the area as the islands, foreshore and saltmarsh has eroded and the sediments have shifted. Finds and sites on the islands include the Saxon log boat excavated in 2005, Bronze Age burial urns and large quantities of worked flint.

We know the Saxons landed in Hampshire in the 6th Century and founded a number of villages including what we now know as Farlington which they called Fern leah inga tun, which meant the estate or village belonging to the people of Fern clearing. By the 12th century Farlington was a royal manor with the lands being leased out by the king to various tenants. It continued in this way passing through the hands of many families sometimes with more animosity than others until 1348 when the manor passed to the prior and convent of Southwick. The manor remained in the possession of the prior and convent until the Dissolution of the Monasteries when in 1540 it was granted to William Pound of Beaumonds. In 1684 Captain Thomas Smith became lord of the Manor of Farlington and it remained in the Smith family’s hands until 1764 when it was bought by Peter Taylor.

Peter Taylor wanted to create pasture for grazing animals and so between 1769 and 1773 he set about the reclamation of salt marsh, islands and mudflats to create the Farlington Marshes we are familiar with today. Several small islands including Binners Island and inlets were filled in to create the Marsh. They were first surrounded by a wood and clay retaining wall, then the area within was drained presumably through purpose built channels. Traces of earlier sea defences or attempts at reclamation mean he was not the first to attempt this. The sea wall was originally constructed of clay faced on the seaward side by flint and chalk rubble held in place by timber.

In 1774 Peter Taylor became a member of parliament for Portsmouth but he appears to have made limited impact in this role. He died in 1777 and his youngest son Charles inherited much of his father’s land. By the start of the next century he had sold off at least some of his land in Farlington and Drayton to Admiral Keith.

It now becomes very difficult to discover exactly who owned Farlington Marshes and whether the whole Marsh we know today plus the areas now occupied by St. John’s playing fields and the Holiday Inn (which all formed part of the original marsh) were owned by the same person but it is very likely they were not.


In 1740 George II had granted Thomas Smith the then Lord of Manor of Farlington rights to supply Portsmouth and surrounding district with fresh water and when he died these rights were passed on to the new owner Peter Taylor. I have been unable to discover whether Mr Taylor took up this right but early in the 19th century two companies the Portsmouth Water Company and the Farlington Water Works Company proposed to use small springs from the chalk on the marshes to supply Portsmouth with water. The Farlington Water Works engineer devised a scheme which consisted of 2 reservoirs about 600 yards apart on the marsh. By the 1840‘s the companies had amalgamated but during a great storm the sea wall was partly destroyed and sea water flooded the reservoirs and made them completely useless. Although repairs were made these were ineffective and the Farlington site could not supply sufficient water so a new pumping station was opened in Havant and the Farlington pumping station remained empty and was demolished in 1928.


As well as being used as pasture for grazing and the location of reservoirs part of Farlington Marshes became the home and work place of the Russell family. In 1815 Mathew Russell bought the freehold on a small islet on the south eastern point of Farlington Marshes. He started a business with his eldest son David becoming an Oyster merchant in Langstone Harbour. By 1819 he had built a house on the island, it was of very basic construction.  The 1841 census shows Mathew Russell living there at New Milton as he called it. He owned 18 acres of mud flats including Crastick creek which he called Russell Lake which stills bears this name today and this is where he grew oysters.

During the 1830’s other oyster merchants accused Mathew of trying to have a monopoly on oyster fishing in Langstone Harbour by using underhand methods to out produce his rivals. He refuted the accusations and no action appears to have been taken by the Fisherys Board. Mathew died on 11th December 1846 and he left his freehold house and all his land to his eldest son David and the business thrived under his leadership. David and his family took up residence on the island and the 1851 census indicates two families living at New Milton, David with his family of six and Charles Fleet with his family of five. Whether the Fleet family were in a second dwelling is uncertain. David died on 28th September 1875 and left his fortune of £7,000 to be divided between his six children.


The Russell family still occupied the Oyster house into the 1900’s. However the demand for oysters from this area stopped abruptly after the famous incident of the death of the Dean of Winchester in 1902. At a mayoral banquet in Winchester, the Dean and two other people died after eating contaminated oysters from Emsworth.  The oyster industry in Emsworth suffered an almost overnight collapse and the close proximity of Langstone Harbour meant oyster producers there suffered too. On April 22nd 1913 the Russell’s house and the 18 acres of land were put up for sale as a freehold purchase. It appears the property did not sell and the house stood unoccupied for a long time.


Photo at http://www.portsdown-tunnels.org.uk/surface_sites/qsite_p2.html


Towards the end of the 19th Century whilst the Russell family were still farming oysters at the southern edge of the Marshes there was an exciting development at the northern edge, a Racecourse opened with a spring meeting on 26th June 1891 on a 230 acre site. There was a large grand stand which included a Royal Box and it was a very impressive building. According to Anthony Triggs in his book “Portsmouth History in Hiding” Portsmouth Park could have become one of Britain’s greatest racing centres.  Despite he says financial success all the way along the line it only lasted 24 years. Mr Trigg asserts transport facilities could not have been better, the railway company ran special trains from London and Brighton and patrons walked from Farlington station straight onto the course. The course was a broad straight mile and was once described as among the best in the world with generous stables, paddocks and stands. Another account attributed to “Volume 2 of Racecourses Here Today and Gone Tomorrow” paints a slightly less positive picture saying  “while it was anticipated that the crowds would roll up in their thousands to the launch meeting on Friday 26th June 1891, in the end the management were disappointed.” The same source says  “The meeting was backed by such high profile supporters that it should have been a spectacular success, but the location was described as dreary, the access challenging, and the position isolated.”


Photo at   https://www.google.com/search?q=farlington+Race+course+pictures&client=firefox-b&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjtxuHyxv_fAhXnYd8KHc04CR4QsAR6BAgFEAE&biw=1920&bih=944


As is usually the case when presented with two such opposing views the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Mr Triggs assertions about rail links is certainly true as Farlington Halt station was built to serve Portsmouth Park opening as Farlington Race Course on 26 June 1891 for the opening meeting. It was situated roughly where the road bridge is today so race goers would have been able to walk straight from the train onto the course. On 23 July 1894, the station was the scene of an accident when a brake van next to the engine hauling the 6.35pm from Havant derailed causing the first two coaches to overturn killing the guard and injuring seven people one seriously.


Photo at    https://www.google.com/search?q=farlington+railway+station&client=firefox-b&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjFypSYx__fAhUFGt8KHYkUCoEQsAR6BAgFEAE&biw=1920&bih=944


The extent of the success of the race course may be debatable but it was still in business in 1915 when the War Office commandeered the land and used it as a site to dump ammunition. The station was initially retained to serve the ammunition dump but closed in 1917.It was re-opened in 1922 and closed for the last time in 1937.


After the end of World War One the Race Course owners wanted the course back but the War Office were unwilling to move as they were using the area to render ammunition harmless. In the end the War Office bought the land by which time it was one of the biggest ammunition dumps in the country. In early 1922 they disposed of 3,000 tons of ammunition a week for about 8 months and the loud noise very much disturbed local residents. The Course remained derelict for a further 6 years until in November 1929 the War Office put the site up for sale by auction and Portsmouth Council snapped up the land at £65 per acre.


An article in the News of July 1977 written by Arthur Garrett concerning conflicting interests for the Farlington Marshes suggests that what happened to the Marshes in the first half of the 20th century was a matter of luck.  He says in the early 20th century there were plans to make Langstone Harbour a commercial dock complex but Southampton’s rapid growth put a stop to this. He also asserts that in the late 1930’s Portsmouth had hopes to establish a base for Empire Flying Boats on the Marshes, Southampton had similar ambitions but jet airliners ousted flying boats. Whether either of these projects would have happened even without competition from elsewhere is arguable, we must be grateful that for whatever reason they did not.


World War Two saw Farlington Marshes playing an important role again. A secret department was formed at Britain’s Air Ministry to co-ordinate a strategy to defeat German bombing by deception. With the help of leading technicians from the film industry this campaign of illusion was masterminded by an engineer and retired Air Ministry officer, Colonel John Fisher Turner. To reduce the impact of the bombing, an ingenious system was devised to fool enemy aircrews into dropping their bombs where they could do relatively little damage.

One of the Starfish sites as they were known was designed to protect Portsmouth. A series of fires would be lit across Farlington Marshes, parts of Hayling Island and on the small islands in Langstone Harbour to give the impression that here was a city under attack. Other structures were lit which looked like light was coming from chinks in blackout curtains that were supposed to keep the city dark. Most of the fires were oil-fuelled and all were ignited from a central Starfish control point. This worked amazingly well on the night of 17th and 18th April 1941 when 200 bombs that were intended for Portsmouth were dropped in this decoy area instead. The master control post was at Fort Purbrook, sub-control points were also erected including Farlington Control No1 and the building complete with rusty box which was once the observation hatch still exists today.


Photo at http://www.portsdown-tunnels.org.uk/surface_sites/qsite_p1.html


According to Mr Garrett in the 1950’s there were plans to develop the Marshes as an airport for land based planes but at the time over 20 city organisations demanded it become a nature reserve. He says it had been designated under the National Park and Access to Countryside Act 1949. The News of 28th October 1949 reports on a proposed 5 year scheme to create playing fields over 112 acres of Farlington Marshes with the site being shared by Education and Parks.


I have been unable to discover exactly what happened to the Marshes in the 1950’s but by the 1960’s it was a nature reserve as according to a “Farlington Marshes Nature Reserve guide by D A Thelwell” Farlington Marshes was first managed as a nature reserve by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Naturalists Trust in 1962 at first under an agreement with the owner.


The Journal of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Naturalist Trust Vol 2 , Nov 1967 reports that in December 1966 two men with one gun were arrested and charged with armed trespass on the Marshes and attempting to kill protected wild birds, each was fined £15 plus costs. Also in the same report it says that Farlington Marshes Nature Reserve was closed for about 10 days in mid January 1967 because of a foot and mouth disease outbreak in S.E Hants. All cattle on the Marsh were slaughtered as a precautionary measure.

The News of 24th November 1970 headlines “City buys Farlington Marshes” and goes on to say “Farlington Marshes, the largest area of land north of Langstone Harbour has been bought by Portsmouth Corporation which intends to preserve it as a natural open space. Austen and Wyatt Estate agents told the News they were negotiating the sale which belonged to the estate of the late Mr G. A Cooper.”

A spokesman for the Corporation said they were buying about 300 acres of land which would be used for open space purposes and they were considering an application from the Hants and Isle of Wight Naturalists Trust for a block to be used as a nature reserve. According to “The Portsmouth that has passed” by William Gates the City Council bought the area for £43, 500 under a compulsory purchase order.


I Googled G A Cooper and found an article in the News of February 2014 which had been prompted by an aerial photo in an earlier News. The article said the Cooper family lived at Paulsgrove House ( which was demolished in February 1970)  and owned farmland around the area. Michael Cooper ( George and Lily Coppers grandson) contacted the News and said

“My grandfather was a butcher, farmer and racecourse owner, he owned Paulsgrove Race course”

In the same article

David Horne Paulsgrove Councillor said” 225 acres of arable land and pasture on the slopes of Portsdown Hill and marshes on the foreshore were all owned by the Cooper family at one time. Of course the Paulsgrove fields were bought by the Council for housing and Farlington Marshes also owned by the Coopers was gifted to the city.”


Whether the Marshes were gifted to or purchased by Portsmouth Council I do not know but  they were declared a Local Nature Reserve in 1974 and designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1985. Today Farlington Marshes is still owned by Portsmouth City Council and leased to The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. The Trust expertly manages the site ensuring the Marshes are a haven for a huge variety of flora and fauna and a wonderful place for people to visit.


Carole Roberts January 2019

I have done my best to ensure what I have written is accurate and below is a list of the sources I used many I found at Portsmouth History/ Records Centre at the Central Library thanks to the helpful staff.

As I do not have permission to copy photos I have just put in the links



The Purbrook Heath Story by Andy Cragg

The News Archives

Farlington Marshes Nature Reserve Guide by D A Thelwell

Anthony Triggs  “Portsmouth History in Hiding”

Volume 2 of Racecourses Here Today and Gone Tomorrow”

Farlington marshes History and Development essay by Helen M Grant 1975

Local Pamphlets- 639.41 Russell Family – Oyster Merchants by Allen Musselwhite

The Portsmouth that has passed by William Gates

Secret Portsmouth by Steve Wallis

Journal of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Naturalist trust vol 2 Nov 1967



Allen & J Gardiner (eds), 2000. Our Changing Coast; a survey of the intertidal archaeology of Langstone Harbour, Hampshire. 124 edn, CBA Research Report, no. 124, Council for British Archaeology, York

Reed Management

IMG_6178We have recently been cutting a lot of reed at Farlington. It’s a particularly big job but one of some urgency. Reed beds are one of my favourite habitats. Supporting a range of very interesting bird species they are also excellent refuges for many mammal species such as water voles and harvest mice.

We are lucky enough to have an excellent reed bed at Farlington, bisecting the site along the stream. It supports a fantastic populations of bearded tits which belies it’s size. It has to be one of the best places around to see them. The reed we are cutting isn’t in the main section. It is actually in the Hay Field in the north east of the site. As the name suggests, it was was once (and the lower section still is) a hay meadow. Quite flower rich and excellent for invertebrates, it is an important part of the site.


Unfortunately over the years it has steadily become inundated with reed and this is because of several reasons. The main problem is that we believe that there is a leak in the sea wall, well actually two leaks. This means that there is far more water in this section of the reserve than ever before. It is great news for snipe who love wet grassland. The problem is it is also great for reed and over the years an established reed bed has developed on what was once a very productive hay meadow. We are now working with the Environment Agency to get the leaks sorted but that is only the start of the solution.



Nice neat rows

I wrestled with the idea of what to do with it for a while. I love reed beds and they have such value but at the end of the day it comes down to a simple scale. What does the reed bed support and what would the grassland support? The answer is that this particular bit  of the reed bed supported some reed warblers (green listed) and one, maybe two reed bunting (amber listed) territories. The previous grassland supported a number of breeding lapwing (red listed), countless numbers of overwintering snipe (amber listed) and a great floral diversity. So in the end it has been a simple decision, the weight of the more endangered species out weigh the other. It is also worth bearing in mind that some of these species in the reed bed will just be displaced to other areas in the site or will carry on in the periphery of the the Hay Meadow, breeding in the remaining reed or scrub.


Tools of the trade. The wonderful BCS

So the task of restoring this reed bed to grassland has started this winter. We first have to cut the reed so that it is not high enough for nesting birds in the spring and summer. It is hard work cutting reed and you have to burn the the cut reed in long piles. This is difficult as in the slightest wind the flames raise alarmingly. The fear is always with you that the whole reed bed could go up.

Once we have cleared the area we then have to go and re-cut in the spring and the summer. Hopefully this will suppress the reed and over time should revert back to grassland. Combined with some perimeter tree work, we will hopefully bring lapwing back to the hay meadow in the near future.img_6546




Surveying Brent Geese

We have been undertaking some survey work at Farlington for the last couple of winters. This is to look at numbers of our primary species and their site usage, in particular brent geese. We not only want to know how many there are, a useful reflection on the health of the overall population locally, but where on the site they prefer. This can then influence management of the site.

For instance, last year it was quite obvious what areas the brent geese preferred as through the winter, these areas were logged and a picture could be built up. It tends to change throughout the winter as they eat the grass in certain areas but particular areas are definitely preferred. This could be for a whole number of reasons. Are the areas more open and therefore have better visibility for predators? Is the grass particularly lush in one area? A number of studies have shown that the geese can recognize lusher areas of grass and especially areas of protein rich clover. Is one area too full of undesirable plant species such as thistle or dock?



Key locations of brent geese at Farlington in January 2018. They have followed almost the exact same pattern this year so far.


The fact that we know where the geese preferred meant that we could prioritize those areas and get them cut first, so if we ran out of time, had issues with machinery etc. (which we did this year) we could at least get the good bits cut.

Many, many factors influence the choice of feeding area for the geese and as creatures of habit, they can be tracked quite effectively throughout the year and over the years. It is important for us to record this so as we know that what we are doing is working.

Geese on site have shown a decline over the years. Historically we have seen 4000 geese on Farlington, the site acting as one of the most important inland feeding areas in the whole of the three harbours. Why has there been a decline? It’s not a question that is easily answered but may be as simple as the sward isn’t as good as it used to be or there in more scrub obstructing the views. It may be other more complicated issues such as nutrient value of our grassland or the composition of the grassland itself. Perhaps there are too many thistles?


It could be that the geese over the years have learn’t to preferentially choose winter crops on Hayling or nutritious grass on playing pitches in Portsmouth. A lot of research has shown strong positive correlation between grassland that is fed fertilizer and the number of geese. It produces sweet, tasty grass, like candy to a brent goose. The geese are very site faithful and use learnt behaviour to govern where they go, passing the knowledge on through generations. Perhaps they are simply deciding to use other sites for now.

Could it be that the local population has decreased or changed its habits? Overall, the population of dark bellied brent geese in the UK has risen. It is well studied in the UK but along its entire flyway, from arctic Russia, there is less information. Perhaps birds from our population aren’t making it all the way down, especially with these current warmer winters? That said, Hayling, Portsmouth and Gosport all see good numbers each year. In the end, as long as there are the same amount of geese and they are feeding, does it matter?

It is therefore important that we monitor our site. It is my hope that improvements in the sward, combined with the the scrub management we have done over the last couple of years will open the site up to more geese. Farlington is one of the safest sites for geese to graze in terms of disturbance from people. It tends to attract predators which can be an issue but overall it is not going to be developed. It is therefore important that it can be all it can be.

On the upside, there has been more juveniles around this year. Last winter was quite bad in a string of bad breeding seasons. It looks like that there was some bad weather in summer in the breeding grounds, possibly meaning that for the lack of young. This should boost the numbers and hopefully, if we see the same trend as last year, we should get another thousand geese on the marsh by February.

Winter 2018/2019

img_6250I’ve not blogged in quite a while but as part of the New Year a resolution has been set to put aside time to write, one that will no doubt be swiftly forgotten by February. So enjoy it whilst it lasts!

The Solent team has been busy over winter so far and how it has sped away! Winter is our busiest time as we can get in and cut away scrub, trees and whatever else we feel like, without fear of harming nesting birds. We build up to it each year with excitement, get to Christmas and realise that we’re half way through and very far behind.

Farlington has been host to much of our work this year. With a strong argument for being our most important site, it requires more care and attention than others. It also has the added complication of winter being its most important time for wildlife. Where other sites bed down in October, ready to sleep away the winter months, shedding leaves or grassland going over, Farlington ramps up the volume of birds and attracts in all the waders and wildfowl. So far it has been slow but has recently picked up.

Many of my wonderful wardening team have taken on the mantle of expert bird surveyors as well as their usual tasks and we can see that the brent geese are following the exact same pattern as last year (I’ll do a separate blog on it later). We have seen a pick up in numbers this month, with 1500 brents on site. Hopefully this should grow by another thousand by February.

Due to its importance in winter, Farlington receives a lot of work to create opportunities for our wintering birds. We have been very busy this winter around the perimeter of the site, reducing scrub cover. This looms over the birds and blocks potential predators. The geese and waders get very anxious if vegetation gets too high and will abandon sites if it gets out of hand. This transfers nicely into the spring, when breeding lapwing use the same areas and are also put off by large areas of scrub. Over the years the bramble on the perimeter ditch has got away. our volunteers set to rectifying this.


looming in the morning smoke. Vols hard at work on the eastern sea wall


Tackling the western side of the marsh. Intertwined scrub and fence. Not easy to deal with

Over several weeks they hacked away with brushcutter and hedge trimmer and we have cleared a large section of the eastern sea wall and along the western boundary with the reedbed. I also had a contractor in to deal with the inner hedge. A flail arm achieving the work of several volunteer work parties in a day. Very nice if you can get one.

Normally I do not like flail arms doing hedge work but due to the fact that this isn’t a hedge per-se, more a very long line of bramble, I made an exception. We left the hedge on the inner side as it is still an important nesting space for species like Linnets. It is just reduced in height. I did however remove it on the southern edge so as to hopefully persuade Lapwing to return to a previously held territory. I am glad to say that the geese were straight in. The day after the hedge was cut we had geese right up close to it, something that I haven’t seen in my time at farlington.


Flail arm in action

We have also been busy in the reedbed in the hay field. This isn’t supposed to be a reedbed but over the years, the water in this field has increased and therefore so has the reed. It is now encroaching into a species rich grassland and having a detrimental effect. We have therefore started cutting this winter to make sure that there is no high reed in the summer.We can then re cut it in the summer, without fear of nesting birds, and try to suppress it and return it to grassland. It has the added benefit of creating excellent habitat for Snipe. Flooded, slightly rough areas of grassland with with shorter areas for foraging , attract large numbers. Our last count turned out 50 odd and a few jacks.

It’s quite an exciting job, reed cutting. We cut the reed, rake it into long ‘sausages’ and set fire to it at one end, working against the wind to limit the spread. Reed in the winter burns extremely hot, rearing up in the slightest of breezes. It burns so hot and quickly that it doesn’t seem to have much effect on the ground.


cooking ‘sausages’


snipe heaven

The less exciting job was sorting out the drainage on site prior to this work. The beechcroft team gave a valiant effort in quite adverse conditions, digging through years of accumulated silt to free up water movement through the hay field. There were some old water control structures there that have, over the years, become redundant due to the increased water on site. We have removed them and will be seeing what we need to do in the spring to retain the correct levels.


A messy job but somebody has to do it (not me, I was holding the camera)

Earlier in the winter we did some scrub management in the point field. Over the years it has spread out and out and so we just did a little bit of cutting to keep the rough grassland in tact so as to keep the short eared owls interested. They have been a little bit hit and miss the last couple of years but that’s owls for you.


scrub bashing in the point field

All in all, a very busy winter so far at Farlington. The rest of the winter will be spent mopping up the last few pieces of scrub that need dealing with, the reed still and a big area of work north of the road, tackling some scrubby areas that haven’t been touched in quite a while.