Laying down on the job

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Making a start. You can see how thin this hedge is

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The finished product. A very thick hedge

We spent a merry day yesterday with the Beechcroft team at Swanwick Lakes doing a spot of hedge laying. This is an old technique used before fences were available. It’s a very satisfying job and has some huge benefits for wildlife.

There are many styles of hedge laying that have developed regionally around the UK. These are generally tailored to the type of livestock that are prolific in that area. For instance the midlands style is designed to be strong, with a double layer hedge and a topper to prevent cattle escaping. The style that I learnt, Lancashire, was designed to keep in sheep whilst utilizing the thorny, often stunted and gnarled hedges of the moors and hills.

It is a style that I really like as it is simple, you remove less brash and it results in an extremely thick hedge within one year, so the benefits are almost immediate. Those benefits are that of safety for nesting birds. With an unmanaged hedge, it is generally quite spindly and nests can be predated very easily by species like magpies. In a hedge that has been layed, it is so thick it helps to protect them as larger predatory species find it difficult to reach nests deep within. It also acts like coppicing and helps prolong the life and vitality of the hedge. It looks awesome as well.

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The stems are cut through and laid down against the others

The process of laying it is quite simple. You cut through the stem of the tree, normally using trees/shrubs with and inch or two diameter, applying gentle pressure you snap the tree so it splits down the middle of the stem. This retains some of the cambium layer on the bottom that sustains the tree and is a process called pleaching.

The traditional tool is a bill hook which is used to cut through the stem and lever it over, creating the hinge and the split. It is important to remove the remaining stump so as water does not collect in the cut bit and rot.

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A billhook, this is a Yorkshire style one.

Once laid you have to then put in stakes. I put these in every metre on opposite sides of the hedge. This uses less stakes, which you have to save from coppicing work done last year or earlier this winter. Other styles use more stakes in a straight line and this is then strengthened with binders that weave along the top. This looks really nice but is a bit more labour and resource intensive.

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It takes a little while but it all starts to come together

All in all hedge laying is a traditional skill that would be a great shame if we lost in the countryside. Some hedge rows have existed for hundreds of years and been repeatedly laid. This steadily increases the diversity of the species in and under the hedge rows. It also helps link areas of woodland, providing safe highways for small animals to travel without getting predated.  It’s also quite a satisfying job with a great deal of problem solving and artistry needed to achieve a good job.

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Tad-ah. A thick hedge that will carry on growing and it looks pretty good too. 

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Weeding for Terns

Hello blog fans! Sorry its been such a while since I have put finger to key on these pages. February is a hectic month to say the least. All our winter vegetation clearance & tree works need to be completed by the end of February so as a result we are all busy out on the reserves getting our practical work done, with little time for blogging or in fact much else.

But now we are into March we can afford to breath a little sigh of relief and look forward to spring and all the good stuff associated with longer warmer days.

Bakers Island, Langstone Harbour

South Binness, Langstone Harbour – looking out east towards the gull colony

Today we headed out in to Langstone Harbour with Wez, the Site Manager for the RSPB’s Langstone harbour islands. The aim of the day was to make space for Little terns and their nests.  Little terns are notorious for being fussy at where they nest; they need little disturbance, so an island is ideal but they also like to nest in finely graded shingle. Our job today was to do the yearly weeding from this fine substrate to make space for these stunning little birds.

Busy weeding in the tern stronghold

Busy weeding in the tern stronghold. Electric fencing is used to protect the ground nesters from predators.

Along the way out to the island we saw several Red-breasted merganser, a pair of Gadwall, a Greater black-backed gull and Cormorant. The islands are not only home to Little terns but also Sandwich terns, Black-headed gulls, Oystercatcher and Mediterranean gulls. There was still no sign of Sandwich terns but the Black-headed and med gulls had already started to take up residence on the islands. We also managed to get a quick glimpse of a Slavonian grebe. I fired off a burst of photos and this below is the best of the lot unfortunately – taking photos on the high seas with long lenses in poor light is not ideal!     

Slavonian grebe - Turns out taking photos with long lenses on boats is tricky..!

Slavonian grebe

Med Gull

Med Gull

Oystercatcher

Oystercatcher

Count the Med Gulls - The main colony on South Binness

Count the Med Gulls – The main colony on South Binness

Great black-backed gull

Great black-backed gull

To capture us in the thick of weeding I thought Id try another time-lapse. I had visions of catching the clouds moving and the tide going in and out but the end result wasn’t quite as polished but you get the idea of what we got up to and the area we cleared.  Here it is; best to click the little cog in the bottom right hand corner and select 1080p HD.

Not a Usual Day

One of the things I like the most about my job is that there isn’t such a thing as a usual day. Every day tends to be different – on different sites doing different things, learning different things or meeting different people. Yesterday was no different. I spent the morning helping out our Marine Team with their newly gifted boat, which needed towing down to Gosport in order to be put in the water to have a few tests done to gain a certificate of seaworthiness.

Tim - Head of our Marine Team and their boat.

Tim – Head of our Marine Team and their boat.

It was such a calm day and perfect for running the boat through its tests. Unfortunately there was very little interesting bird life down around the slipway of Portsmouth harbour. A few Black-headed gulls but that was it. So after a spot of lunch and taking the boat back to our headquarters I headed to Farlington to look at a few jobs. Being such a bright day there were plenty of people walking around the reserve, taking in the good weather and the plentiful supply of high tide roosting birds. Looking out over the deeps there were good numbers of waterfowl but also great numbers of Dunlin. In amongst them were surprising amounts of Ringed plover. I counted 92 concentrated in one area on the tightly Wigeon grazed grassland.

Ringed plover flock on The Deeps

Ringed plover flock on The Deeps

Out on Bakers island a Peregrine was sat on a post, keeping a close eye on the small bird roosts no doubt. Out in the stretch of water between Farlington and Bakers Island were 2 Red-brested merganser, 6 Great crested grebe and 2 Goldeneye kept the Drake Velvet scoter company.

Velvet Scoter

Velvet Scoter

Velvet Scoter

Velvet Scoter

However my day didn’t end when the light faded at Farlington. In the evening the Trust was invited to the Hampshire Ornithological Society’s launch of their new Bird Atlas.  It was a well attended event from all those who had made a contribution to the book, celebrating all the hard work that had gone into it. The Atlas is a fantastic book and a welcome addition to any bird watchers book case – if you’ve not got a copy already more details can be found at http://www.hos.org.uk/index.php/atlas

Unwinding with a Flapjack

Yesterday evening saw our third annual summer volunteer BBQ celebration held in the beautiful surroundings of Swanwick Lakes. It was well attended by 34 volunteers coming from a mix of five different volunteer groups we have in our region of South East Hampshire. Across these three teams we have a variety of volunteer roles; Education, conservation and cattle lookers. Without these people the Trust could simply not function with the same output. The evening was a chance to say thanks for their committed hard work but also to have a social and share stories. Many tasty foods were enjoyed including lamb from our very own St. Catherines hill nature reserve and enough cake to keep hungry volunteers going for a few months.

BBQ in full swing

BBQ getting into full swing

The people that make it all happen

The people that make it all happen

Today at Farlington was far less hospitable through the heavy rain showers and thunder and lightning. However the hardy Thursday Beechcroft team, revved up from the previous evenings lamb baps and flapjack pieces were ready to do battle with more Thistles on the main marsh – not even the weather could put them off! We made some great progress and between the rain, thunder and thistles we managed to see some good birds. Steve managed to find an Osprey in the harbour, a way off in the drizzly murk. It was sat on a low post on one of the small islands to the south of North Binness, spotted looking out east from the eastern seawall. 2 Juv Little Ringed Plover were on the stream, 3 Wheatear in south marsh, a Whinchat on the fenceline to the south of the lake and several stunning Grey plover and Dunlin in summer plumage were roosting on the lake. Not bad for a grey rainy day!

Stormy Farlington

Stormy Farlington

Just in: The Spring Collection

Sorry blog fans it’s been a busy few days with lots happening and little time to put fingers to key to tell you all about it.

Bird news;

We’ve had a good number of spring migrants coming through the Solent reserves.  I saw my first Swallow at Farlington on the 9th, a day later I caught up with my first Wheatear in the main marsh and then later in the day a Yellow Wagtail at Southmoor. The terns have started to make their arrivals to the harbour, Sandwich were the first to arrive around the 7th then Common and now Little. All of which can be seen fishing off the sea walls of Farlington and Southmoor.

Quick phone snap of a wheatear.

Quick phone snap of a wheatear.

Mandarin on the Stream

Mandarin on the Stream

With recent favourable southern winds, the numbers of spring passerines has been high with Wheatear numbers fluctuating wildly (highs of 15 birds one day to none the next), presumably stopping off for a quick feed and then shooting on northwards. Other notable Farlington sightings have been Mandarin Duck on the stream (on the 14th), Ring Ouzel (female) (23rd) and 5 Little tern seen from the Farlington sea wall (also on the 23rd). More recently a Cuckoo has been spotted around the point field area and also on Tuesday I caught a glimpse of a Whinchat on the fenceline between the main marsh and mudlands.

Winchat along the main marsh fence line

Whinchat along the main marsh fence line

Spring hasn’t all been about the birds though. A good number of Butterfly species are on the wing now, with all the spring species being in abundance. I also spotted my first Large red damselfly at Swanwick last Thursday as well as seeing a pair of Blackcap.

The Monday Beechcrofters try out the newest bench on the seawall looking onto the North Marsh.

The Monday Beechcrofters try out the newest bench on the seawall looking onto the North Marsh.

We have also been busy on the reserves with the volunteer teams doing a selection of tasks. The Beechcroft team has been busy controlling Spear thistles at Southmoor, Farlington and Swanwick and installing a bench on the seawall of Farlington. The Farlington team has started giving the hut a good spruce up on Tuesday giving it a lick of paint both inside and out, and carried out repairs on our fences before the cattle return later in the year.

Farlington volunteers painting the hut

Farlington volunteers painting the hut

Butterflies and Buzzards

Last week we started our winter work properly. For most of the days we were busy freeing grassland from the threat of bramble invasion!

Monday the Beechcroft team were busy on New hill at Swanwick clearing back areas of grassland that have been encroached by bramble and scrub. In clearing the scrub we are not only trying to get more flowering plants in the grassland, which are an important nectar source but also create lots of micro climates by shaping the bramble. The idea is to cut a wavy edge to the bramble clumps resulting in more scrub edge = more space for flowers, fruit and areas for birds to nest.

On Tuesday, joined by the Farlington volunteers, we did similar in the Point field – Knocking back bramble scrub to reclaim grassland but create bramble blocks with plenty of useable edge.

Raking up Juncus at Hook Heath

Raking up Juncus at Hook Heath

On Wednesday I used the tractor and topper to cut both the meadow closest to the road and also the drier area of the SSSI grassland at Hookheath meadows. I concentrated mainly on cutting the areas of rushes or sometimes known collectively as Juncus. This left lots of cut material which needed to be raked off and removed. This was done on Thursday with the help of the hardworking Beechcroft team. It wasn’t just a day of raking and forking, we spotted 2 fresh Clouded yellow butterflies, a Speckled wood laying her eggs on some rough grass and two Buzzards were never too far away, looking for a voley dinner no doubt.

Speckled Wood Eggs

Speckled Wood Egg

Over the weekend the Trust collectively celebrated the hard work of all our Volunteers with an event at Testwood lakes. It was great to see over 100 people from every corner of the county and the island, all sharing their experiences. All volunteering roles were well represented from education to practical conservation to cattle lookers. The Trust couldn’t function without the 900 volunteers – so thank you to all those volunteers who are reading this.

Volunteers at Testwood Lakes

Volunteers at Testwood Lakes

Five Volunteer Groups in Two Days!

It has been a busy couple of days with volunteer work parties at Swanwick and Farlington. In fact yesterday we had three groups at Swanwick at the same time. The regular Monday Swanwick team were with Emma constructing walkway and putting up a new sign board. Rob was with the Beechcroft team clearing the slope on the western side of New Lake to keep the habitat suitable for the insects that like this open sunny slope. Meanwhile I had a group from NATS working on some new boardwalk sections on the path on the eastern side of New Lake where we had to close the old path due to the bank slipping.

NATS volunteer team

NATS volunteer team

Although the day was busy I did see a little wildlife, a kingfisher was on the Centre Lake and near our work site there were quite a few fungi, including this sponge cap.

sponge cap species

sponge cap species

We were lucky with the weather, it was dull at first but then the sun came out and we had a very fine autumn day.

New Lake, Swanwick Lakes, in the sunshine

New Lake, Swanwick Lakes, in the sunshine

Today we were at Farlington with the regular volunteers, this was my last outing with them and perhaps my last full day on the Marsh. As I arrived there were 22 bearded tit high-flying over the reeds and in the Bushes I saw whitethroat, blackcap, chiffchaff and a sedge warbler. Overhead 2 grey wagtail flew over as did a single tree pipit, both species identified first by their calls.

The volunteers were cutting and raking the islands in the Scrape and doing preparation work for the replacement of further sections of the fence along the back of the reedbed. I was driving the tractor for most of the day, trying to get the topping completed before I move on.

volunteers clearing the islands in the Scrape.

volunteers clearing the islands in the Scrape.

It was easier than usual to get out to the islands as the water level is very low at present and it was possible to walk out there without even wellingtons.

cracked mud in the Scrape with bird footprints

cracked mud in the Scrape with bird footprints

As we had lunch a hobby flew over reedbed causing consternation among the small birds, amazingly this is the first one I have seen at the Marsh this year. There was then a really big disturbance in the Harbour with waders flying all over the place, an osprey was flying about over the RSPB islands.

The regular team was not the only volunteer group working on the Marsh today though, we also had a group from the Access to Nature project, which gets young people out doing conservation tasks, in this case replacing one of the small bridges over the ditch in the Bushes.

I will try to make one or two more posts before I pass things over lock, stock and blog, to Rob. In the meantime, someone asked why the 108ft blog, I may have said before, or I may not, but it is the approximate height difference between the highest point of any of the reserves we look after in our team and the lowest point. The highest point is more or less exactly 100ft above sea level at Hookheath and the lowest about 8ft below sea level at Farlington.