Archives for category: wildlife

How time flies. We apologies for the lack of blogs latley. It is a busy time here as all our houses and gardens open. Now however, Mark councludes his short blogging stint by telling you how you can become a volunteer shepherd.

We have very recently set up a scheme for visitors to Reigate Hill in Surrey to help the wardens check the sheep and cattle that graze here.

The sheep and cattle help us by grazing the rare chalk downland habitat and stop it reverting back to scrub and eventually woodland. On the steeper slopes of the hill they are invaluable as it’s impossible to get any machinery on the slopes to clear the regrowth. We use Belted Galloway cows and Black Welsh Mountain sheep as these breeds thrive on grazing the poorer types of habitat found at Reigate and are also very friendly to visitors.

One of our newest recruits, Antonia, wanted to share her reasons for volunteering:

“I spend a lot of time looking for my Border Terrier Loki. I sit and wait patiently while he counts the rabbit population on the side of Reigate Hill and checks whether any small holes are really too small for a dog of his size and doubtful intelligence. It was on one of these occasions that I spotted the pink poster asking for volunteer stockpeople for the National Trust. I have a secret yearning to be a vet but haven’t the sheer animal vitality (excuse the pun) not to mention the brains to embark on the years of training. I’ve volunteered for animal charities but they always involve domestic pets. Here was my chance to get up close(ish) and personal with cows and sheep. The top of Reigate Hill is so beautiful whatever the weather and now I have a perfect reason to push myself up the side, rewarding myself with a brief one-sided chat with Billy and the girls, while I run an eye over them. It’s a great opportunity to get to know the animals and feel I am doing something worthwhile whilst enjoying myself.”

So if you interested in becoming a volunteer shepherd or even just want to find more about the scheme them please email Marc Russell at marc.russell@nationaltrust.org.uk or telephone us on 01342 843 225. No experience is necessary and basic training is given. You can volunteer as often as you like – even if its just every now and then – anything is a great help.

Hello. This week David Elliot shares more about the design and materials for the new environmentally friendly building that Ben Law is helping the National Trust to build at Swan Barn Farm.

We have decided to call the new building Speckled Wood, after this butterfly that likes to frequent woodland rides and glades. They seem to be doing rather well here at Swan Barn Farm, thanks in some way at least to the work we have been doing here for the past few years.

Speckled Wood butterfly

Speckled Wood butterfly

The building will be based on a roundwood cruck timber frame. This construction technique produces attractive, functional buildings that can be sourced from the local woods. Exterior walls will be made of straw bales which will then either be rendered with lime or protected with oak boards. Interior walls will be wattle and daub with earth plaster. The roof will be made of chestnut shingles. We are very proud that pretty much all of the materials used in the building will be sourced in a sustainable way from woods within a couple of miles of the project site.

Sketch of new building

Sketch of new building

Above is a sketch of what the new building will look like, we have had a long haul to get the project off the ground and are still working hard on funding. Meanwhile we are also working hard in the woods getting the materials we will need for the project ready.

Felling chestnut

Felling chestnut

Here we are working in Ridden Corner Copse on Black Down felling and preparing the Sweet Chestnut which will be used for the timber frame of the building. The process becomes really fascinating when you start to think about which parts of the building the tree’s you are working with are going to be used for.

Working on oak

Working on oak

Above you can see me working on an oak in Witley Copse at Swan Barn Farm. The tree I am working on in this photo is destined for interior floorboards for the building. It will be sawn into planks and then air dried for a number of months before a final short spell of kiln drying.

Most of the timber for the building is coming from coppice woodlands. Coppicing is a traditional (and sustainable) form of woodland management which dates back many hundreds, if not thousands, of years. In a coppiced wood an area of the wood is felled each winter, but the trees don’t die, instead they re-grow from the cut stumps, the re-growth from the stumps can be harvested many times without any affect on the tree’s ability to grow again. Coppicing provides wood which is useful for a variety of purposes, but perhaps even more importantly it also provides the alternating cycles of light and shade, as well bare ground and dense shrubby thickets which are so vital to much of our precious woodland wildlife. Wild flowers grab the opportunity to grow and set seed in the light when the coppice is cut and woodland birds love to nest in the thickets as the woodland regenerates. There is nothing quite like a walk through a well managed hazel coppice in the spring, it is a vibrant place, bursting with life.

If you are interested in finding out more about this project you can visit the speckled wood blog at: http://swanbarnfarm.wordpress.com/

I am writing it as way of keeping a diary of progress on the project, telling its story I suppose, as well as letting people locally know about some of the other things that are going on at Black Down.

The project has been really interesting so far, and we are only just getting going, we have been lucky to have lots of local support and interest and we hope this will continue.

We have a busy year ahead of us, so wish us luck! If you are here in Haslemere this summer why not call in and see the building going up, there is easy access to Swan Barn Farm from the High Street, and the main footpath goes right past the project.

In this week’s blog David Elliott, National Trust Head Warden for the Black Down Estate, starts writing about the Speckled Wood project at Swan Barn Farm.

Swan Barn Farm is a National Trust property next to the small town of Haslemere. Being right on the town’s doorstep it offers a real opportunity for people to get involved in the countryside. It is made up of about 100 acres of ancient woodland and meadows as well as a small orchard and a number of ponds and streams. It is home to the Black Down wardening team as well as to Hunter Basecamp.

Hunter Basecamp at Swan Barn Farm

Hunter Basecamp at Swan Barn Farm

The basecamp, pictured above, offers accommodation to volunteers who come for week long working holidays and work on a number of NT properties in the area. It is also the site for an exciting new project; a project that aims to extend the basecamp facilities by building new accommodation for long term volunteers.

View across the estate

View across the estate

From our base at Swan Barn Farm the Black Down countryside team manages hundreds of acres of woodland, heathland and meadows. This countryside and its important wildlife are much loved by local people. We want the new building to reflect this landscape and to be constructed from materials sourced on the estate in an environmentally friendly manner.

Woods near Swan Barn Farm

Woods near Swan Barn Farm

The woodlands on the estate are managed primarily for public access and nature conservation. Large areas of them are traditional coppiced woodlands. The cyclical cutting of coppiced woodland provides ideal conditions for a wide range of woodland wildlife as well as providing timber for use on the estate, including our new building.

Chesnut coppicing on the estate

Chesnut coppicing on the estate

We have been working with local designer and woodsman Ben Law, who you may have seen building his house (shown below) on the Channel 4 programme Grand Designs. Ben is working with us to design and build an environmentally friendly, locally sourced building which we can construct with the help of our volunteers.

The house Ben Law built

The house Ben Law built

Next week David will share more details about this project including what work has been carried out so far and the design of the building.

Well, the end of the year has come and gone. The end of “International Year of Biodiversity”. (IYB, no less) Please don’t say you missed it!

I realise that there is a “year”, “week” or “day” to “celebrate” almost everything. I believe that there is even some sort of celebration of that most pernicious, disgusting and, frankly, evil member of the planet’s flora – the Brussels Sprout. But even this object of torture that torments us from childhood to the grave has its moments. If you cut out the middle man/woman and chuck them straight on the compost heap they can benefit any number of microbial species and will no doubt nourish our earth worms. The worms will go deeper into the soil as the surface temperatures drop, but a compost heap is likely to be warmer (as a result of all that decomposition). I have sometimes put a bit of old carpet on my heap to speed up the rotting process. If you do this, then roll back a bit of the carpet in cold, snowy weather you are likely to find birds aplenty descending on it to find worms and other invertebrates.

One species you are likely to see is the Robin. This charming little bird (as seen on a Christmas card recently, no doubt) is actually a bit of a brutish thug at this time of year, engaged in some aggressive activity to defend its territory. Robins have no doubt been put off vegetarianism by the thought of sprouts, and prefer to eat meal worms from bird tables. They are the gardener’s friend – I have a “pet” on my allotment (whom I have imaginatively named “Robin”) who follows me up and down the plot as I dig.

Talking of aggressive, largely (but not solely) male behaviour, at the end of IYB…. There are other parallels in the generally mindless, drunken lechery and aggression that is sometime referred to by us humans as “celebrating” New Year’s Eve. As the New Year begins you can see some of our early breeding birds coming into full breeding plumage. Try and see through the apparently sordid mating scenes of the Mallards on your local Trust pond. Admittedly the females look battered and scarred and can sometimes be drowned by the “over-amorous” behaviour of a group of drakes, but this seems to be the way they work and you may wish to concentrate your thoughts on the male’s plumage. The head which may look, at first sight, to be dark green can shimmer as it moves from a sort of luminescent turquoise to blue and purple. And look at the colours of Starlings too. Close up that apparently dull dark brown/black also goes through all sorts of shades of deep purple – showing the sort of subtle “make up” and glamour that nature can produce but us humans may struggle with as we prepare to go out for New Year.

Mallards on frozen water at Petworth Park

After dark you will still hear the ducks (carrying on all night!), and last night I listened to a coo-ing collared dove sitting on a snow covered chimney in the cold and dark. But daytime also brings sounds of impending spring. If the sun manages to poke through you will here the “squeaky wheelbarrow” call of Great tits and the chirpy and generally “happy” sound of Chaffinches as their minds turn to finding a mate and getting down to the business of…well… life

So IYB comes to an end as 2010 closes, but I am glad to say that there is a sequel … well there is in my book. If “biodiversity” is simply our variety of wildlife, then every year is one in which to celebrate it, fancy logo or not.

A new year starts here – get out to your local Trust property and enjoy it…Ravens and Peregrines on the White Cliffs; orchids on the North Downs (and Bee Orchids in Batemans car park); Dartford warblers (have they survived the cold?) on our Surrey and West Sussex heaths; “mad” March Hares on the lawn at Uppark; Serotine bats at Polesden Lacey; dragonflies gracing ponds at Nymans, Ightham, Hatchlands and Sissinghurst and, best of all in my book, nearly 2,000 hectares of Trust woodland to explore in Kent, Sussex and Surrey.

Early morning, afternoon tea time, or after dark… get out there and enjoy it.

Nature Conservation Adviser, Crispin, Scott, looks at what goes on under ground and after dak. In particular, the ant hills that cover our many acres of parkland.

The snow comes, it goes…it comes back again…. The ice man cometh …and much of our wildlife will be struggling. Particularly since the cold weather arrived so early in winter. There could be three months of this ahead of us. Of course while many animals are struggling for food and warmth the fairly steady temperatures may also benefit those that hibernate or just slow their metabolism down. At least they know where they stand.

While the rest of us battle in and out of overheated shops fighting for the last orange flavoured Christmas pudding on the shelves or shiver in front of those horrid chiller units as a family from Billingshurst stockpiles white bread just in case it snows again, we could learn a thing or two from the Yellow meadow-ants in our parks. These wonderful little creatures create their own micro climate within their raised ant hills, which heat up nicely in summer. The ants are another of our “after dark” brigade, preferring to build the anthills (by bring fine soil particles to the surface) at night. But in winter under a layer of snow and ice the ants have gone deeper into their homes and are feeding on their own stockpile. The anthills are also home to root-dwelling aphids which feed on sap from plants and exude a “honeydew” fluid which the ants “milk” for food. In the winter, as everything slows down and times get tough, the ants often resort to eating the aphids, rather than their honeydew.

Snow covered ant hills at Petworth Park

Snow covered ant hills at Petworth Park

Lets hope for the sake of the Chalkhill blue butterflies on some of our downland sites that the ants do not resort to devouring too many of their larvae. The symbiotic relationship between this now scare butterfly and the ants is crucial – the ants get food and the butterfly larvae get underground protection…. So long as the ants do not decide, under their duvet of snow, to scoff the lot. And as for the Green woodpeckers…. These ants can make up 80% of their winter diet, but they will struggle to get their sharp bills into the frozen ground. Fortunately this member of the woodpecker family is not averse to coming to bird tables for nuts and meal worms, so all may not be lost.

In the meantime, after dark you may hear the soft “tseep” call of migrating Redwing. These charming members of the thrush family move south, mainly from Scandinavia when the weather gets cold, hoping to feed on berries, as well as worms and insects. They can be distinguished by a red patch under the wing, as the name implies – but I prefer to look for the elegant cream stripe above their eye – Thrushes with style!

You are unlikely to be “antwatching” in this weather, but the anthills that are such a feature of many parks such as Knole or Petworth look amazing under a covering of snow. Midwinter approaches – get out there and enjoy our countryside come rain, shine, ice or blizzard.

Find out more from Crispin Scott in our next  post.