Sunday, 25 June 2017

To chop or not to chop - management on the small scale.

I have always taken a fairly hands-off approach to managing the small patch of wet woodland and meadow I look after. I've always believed in letting nature take its course and giving the plants and animals the opportunity to what they do best.

There are volumes and volumes available on habitat management and ways to improve the habitats but nature itself is capable of finding its own balance. Modern nature conservation requires habitat scale management in order to maintain species because quite often human impact has altered the balance of nature so much that more human intervention is needed to help them survived.

What we have ended up with is a range of heavily managed nature reserves that appear natural on the surface but in fact, the amount of work put into them illustrate that they are at least partially artificial. Do not get me wrong I am not knocking reserves by any means, they serve a very important purpose but in my situation, my small patch is not going to be a species specific site of intervention. 

The ethos of my patch is let it be free and do what it needs to. At first, I had attempted to control the spread of nettles on the site but soon found that once I had stopped that in wetter areas forget me not and willowherb out-competed them and elsewhere tall grasses and reeds have done the same. 

I must confess to some management. In the early days, I planted 20 trees of which today only 2 survive. I put up upwards of 10 bird boxes but these were nearly all predated by Woodpeckers or not used at all. There are more than enough natural tree holes for the bird species.

In the summer I also do some invasives management. The site is home to large quantities of Himalayan Balsam which spreads fast with its explosive seed pods it can cover riverbanks and crowd out native species. The problem I have with the presence balsam is how much the bees and hover flies like the nectar in the pitcher like pink flowers. Bees are in real trouble and so my approach is to cut the flower heads off after flowering and before the seed pods ripen. These seems to be controlling the balsam. Its is still present on the site but is not spreading.

Lastly, is pruning. By necessity, I have to get about the site and often I have to cut back the trees to keep the small paths clear. Yesterday I had to do this a willow that had split in a storm several years ago. Over time one of the branches has slumped causing an obstacle. Most pruning I do is just that, a quick trim, taking out the odd reaching branch but this one required the removal of a much larger branch. It took me awhile with my trusty hand saw but once it was done the path was clear. In line with standard practice, I have moved the fallen branches to one side where they can rot down and provide vital dead wood habitats. 

I guess what I am driving at here is that management needs to support wildlife, sometimes this means intensive direct action and in others little or no action. Ecosystems exist in a dynamic equilibrium and sometimes they need to be left to their own devices and sometimes we need to guide or support it. It is up to all managers to line up their management with their goals and find what works best for them, Sadly in the UK there is so little 'wilderness' or natural habitat that in most cases human intervention is needed to subvert the human impacts elsewhere.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

A short camera trap update

It's a little late this week but today's post looks at a couple of clips taken this week.

Firstly and most excitingly is the glimpse of one of this year's Badger cubs out with two of the adults.


Another regular - Half Tail the Fox has been about a lot this week too. He is looking in very good condition.



Sunday, 4 June 2017

General Election 2017

It is now just four days until the General Election and some regular visitors to this blog spot may have noticed a lack of election posts this time round and there is a good reason for this. Usually, I take some time to investigate the environmental policies of the various parties, but in the case of this election, none of the major parties seems to have developed any environmental policies worth discussing.
Here, however, I try to highlight the key policy differences:

Conservatives - Committed to expanding Heathrow
UKIP – Oppose Heathrow expansion in favour of enlarging smaller airports
All parties are committed to HS2 except Green Party and UKIP

Clean Air/Global Warming
Labour – New Clean Air Act to legislate against diesel fumes
Liberals – Diesel scrappage scheme, Binding target of zero net green house gas emissions by 2050, ultra-low emission zones in many cities
UKIP – Repeal the Climate Act

Labour – Ban on Fracking
Liberals – Oppose Fracking
Conservatives – Will allow shale gas exploitation but not fracking

Conservatives – Will offer a free vote on the Hunting Ban

THE LABOUR PARTY - Musings on the Wild Score: 7/10
The party manifesto has specific sections on Environment and Animal Welfare, however, a good chunk just says what the Conservatives have done wrong without outlining what they would do right. They talk enthusiastically about safeguarding wildlife and the environment but do not say how and in what way. Most promisingly they oppose changes to the hunting ban and would end the badger TB cull.

THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY - Musings on the Wild Score: 5/10
No specific sections in the manifesto. The party discusses the use of Shale Gas as a resource allowing non-fracking drilling accompanied with softening of the planning law. They will set up a specialist regulatory body and believe this will be a lower carbon resource than coal. 
Investment in developing low emission vehicles
In terms of the countryside, they want Natural England to offer more advice to farmers but do not say how they will fund this.
Disappointingly they will offer a free vote on the repeal of the Hunting Ban.
They do however offer to produce a 25-year plan for the environment to focus legislation.

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS - Musings on the Wild Score: 8/10 
The liberals have a dedicated chapter on the environment. They give detailed plans on reducing diesel emissions and reducing Greenhouse Gases such as the Zero Carbon Britain Act. They promote a greener housing programme with more efficiency standards. They are the only party to suggest more green spaces and a Nature Capital Act.They also have an ambitious plan to plant a tree for every person in the country. The Liberals will increase legislation on waste reduction.

I know the environment is only one theme people consider in an election but I hope that all people who vote on Thursday will factor these ideas into their decision.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

The Saxon Mill - A photo diary

Today I thought I would highlight some of my sightings with photographs to illustrate them.

As soon as I had locked up my bike I could hear the shrill call of a Great Spotted Woodpecker. I was very familiar with this particular call as I had heard it many times over the years. It was the cry of a juvenile woodpecker calling for its parents to bring it food.

I had suspected that there was a nest nearby because last week whilst I had a drink in the Mill I watched a pair of woodpeckers ferrying wood. With a little bit of searching and following my ears, I found the nest hole and waited for an appearance. No adult turned up but eventually, the youngster poked his head out.

You can tell that the individual is a juvenile due to the red crest on the forehead. By adulthood, this red patch will disappear and one will grow in on the nape of the neck.

Moving along my usual route I passed the Jackdaw tree where two sets of parents were busy feeding young. The warm and wet weather had caused the vegetation to grow greatly and I had to forge a path along the riverside through the nettles. As I moved I stirred up clouds of Banded Demoiselles that took to the air as I disturbed them. Each week I try to count them, a task which can be very difficult.

I counted 612 individuals all told and I am certain I missed many. Of those counted, 77% were male, resplendent in the deep blue coloration. After years of watching these delicate damselflies, this was the first time I spotted actual mating. The following three photos show the male in blue grasping the female in green behind the neck with his claspers. The grip is strong and the pair are able to fly in tandem. The male secretes a packet of sperm from one segment that he transfers to his penis in his thorax. The female then bends her ovipositor up to make contact and allow the sperm to connect with her eggs. This behaviour creates a wheel-like formation. This can last for up to 6 hours whereupon they will move to the waters edge and the female will deposit her eggs on reeds using her ovipositor.


I paused halfway along the river to sit and watch. Here the smaller woodland birds began to show, I saw a pair of Goldcrest, Blackcap, Great Tit, Blue Tit and Wren.

The little bird was singing intensely and was shifting its tail in agitation, in fact, they had the stiff upright tail pushed forward more than I had ever seen before.

Along with the Whitethroat in the meadow, I heard and then saw a Sedge Warbler, a species first recorded last year. Sadly it was too fleeting a glimpse to get a photograph, a task for next week I think.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Natures ups and downs

This week after some difficulty with getting data from my trail camera I have started to get data again and excitingly a new species has been captured.

At 20.47 on the 14th May, a Roe Deer made an appearance. I have seen very few of these striking Deer over the years and I was very surprised that such a deer was spotted on my patch.


The deer's slender legs and short body depth suggest that this is a young female, probably one of last years young. As a species, they prefer woodland and forest and field edges. In this part of Warwickshire, I have only seen them at Warwick Castle Park. I suspect this individual was moving along the railway line or perhaps came down from Gallows Hill.

On the downside, the swans that nested on my patch have lost their nest. Heavy rain during the week as suspected led to the nest being washed away. The two nests at St Nicholas Park also seem to have been abandoned although not as a result of rising water. On the canal however, the pair have successfully hatched 7 cygnets.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Not a good place to be a vole!

The Saxon Mill, whilst a haven for all kinds of wildlife is becoming a less and less secure place to be a vole.

My last post retold my sighting of a Grey Heron hunting and catching a Bank Vole. Today whilst down on my patch, I saw a male Kestrel appear carrying a vole of his own.

The Kestrel looks like a young male to me. He has excellent plumage but seems quite small. The vole he has caught is just under half his weight. Judging by the length of the tail in relation to its body length I think that he has caught a Field Vole, furthermore the brown upperparts and grey underparts further distinguish it from a Bank Vole.

As I watched I was surprised that the Kestrel did not just eat the vole. In fact, he just sat there. Occasionally he would pick it up in his mouth as if he was about to take flight but didn't. Acting on a hunch I moved away down the path and stopped observing him directly. The tree he was in has been used as a nesting site in the past and last week I saw a pair of Kestrel by the tree. Once I was a bit further away the male picked up the vole and swooped down to the trunk of the tree.

I could then hear all sort of squawking and then out flew a female Kestrel carrying the vole. She took a perch lower down a tree and then flew off, the male, however, did not emerge.

It is my guess that the pair of Kestrels are nesting in the tree and the female was sitting on eggs. He was out hunting to feed the female. He returned but felt uncomfortable entering the nest itself whilst I was watching. He took the vole in and took his turn brooding the eggs enabling her to feed.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

A Hunting Heron - Voles and Fish

Over the past several years I have been fortunate to see Grey Heron on many occasions. I have monitored a colony in Warwick and often see them at St. Nicholas Park and on my patch.

This morning I watched an individual Heron for some time as it hunted on the mill pond at the Saxon Mill. I watched as it stood stock still waiting for prey. It dived forward several times and failed each time, it got me thinking about what the Herons success rate was.
As I continued to watch a marveled at how controlled and stealthy such a large bird is. It places its feet carefully and lifts them to minimise splashes. It turns its head carefully watching multiple angles and once it detects a prey moves into position to start foraging.

The heron moved from the reeded central area where it was being unsuccessful to the bank side where over hanging trees might have improved visibility.

Whilst fishing here it saw something in the rocks on the bank side and quickly darted in to grab what seemed to be a vole. In the following sequence of photos you can see that it grabbed it with the tip of its beak and then rather than swallowing immediately it took it to the water and dipped it into the river. I do not think this was to drown the prey as it was too short a time but could have made swallowing easier as straight after it gulped the vole down.

The Heron grabs the vole side on from the rocks to the left

The Heron re-orientates the vole by gripping it by the head and neck
The Heron then dips the vole into the river
The Heron the swallows the vole whole, note the bulge in the neck as it passes down the crop.

Following this meal the Heron moved out of site under some low hanging branches. Here it spent 5 or 6 minutes before a splash could be heard and it emerged on the bank carrying a substantially sized Perch. Again the Heron did not immediately swallow its prey. Instead it moved swiftly away from the bank side and quickly flew across the river to thicker reeds where it then ate the fish. It was likely worried that another predator would try and steal his food and so relocated to better cover in order to keep it.

Interested by the herons feeding habits I found a paper in Bird Study which looked at how successful herons could be. The article indicated a basic frequency of prey at 1 per 55 mins with a 50% success rate.

I reckon I watched the heron for about 20 minutes and estimated it also to have a 50% success rate but a frequency of 1 per 12.5 mins.