BBC Gardeners World this week (broadcast on 22nd June) features an item recorded by Adam Frost on the Hills and Holes which shows what a special place we have on our doorstep. It broadens the value of the reserve as not just for those interested in wildlife, particularly wild flowers, but as a source of inspiration in garden design. It is also well documented that open spaces and contact with nature is good for our mental health. Therefore with ever increasing visitor pressure on the reserve it is more and more important that we look after the site this summer if we are to retain and even enhance its beauty (Orchids are just starting to establish in the vicinity of the area cleared of trees and scrub in the early 2000s). You can help by keeping to the established footpaths, not leaving behind any litter and taking care not to damage any flowers or plants that appear adjacent to the footpaths. There has been significant improvement, since waste bins were introduced, with the problem of dog fouling but it has not been eliminated so please remember if you do bring along a dog to pick up and deposit in the bins provided all dog waste. If you want to participate actively in preserving the reserve for future enjoyment then donations following the instructions on the signs at the entrances or consider joining in with the organised working parties to keep the scrub at bay. Your assistance in ensuring this reserve maintains its status as an outstanding National Nature Reserve (with 8 red list species) and does not become just a “great place to walk the dogs”, is very much appreciated.
Whilst the Pasque Flowers and Cowslips are coming to an end and the Early Purple Orchid display is peaking, it is still not too late to enjoy them and you will not be the only ones. As illustrated in the photo kindly provided by Anna R. the insects are now busy on the reserve this also includes Green Hairstreak butterflies.
The first Man Orchid spike has been reported so the succession of plants and flowers to see continues and this activity will continue to build over the coming months.The number of Mistle thrushes seen and heard on the reserve this season seem particularly high and the summer warblers are in good voice and backed by Skylarks singing above the fields to the west of the reserve boundary.
Hopefully we will see the return of the sunshine in the next few days to add to the pleasure of a walk round this very special place.
As always we ask that you take care on the reserve and if you bring a four legged friend you keep it under control and clear up after them using the bags and bins provided.
Natural England have been in touch with the police regarding the number of break ins to cars in the main car park so please do take care not to leave any valuables on display when leaving your car.
At the guided walk yesterday the presence of the sunshine and the first Pasque flowers confirmed that spring has finally arrived. The cowslips are slowly developing what looks like it could be an impressive display this year and the Early Purple Orchids are appearing in significant numbers. The call of a Willow Warbler, a Mistle Thrush filling the air with its song and both Blue and Great Tits spotted with nesting material all show that everything is heading in the right direction. In the afternoon the appearance of Brimstone, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies added to the encouraging signs and despite a slight step backwards with extensive cloud cover the warmer temperatures today and forecast for the rest of the week means we can expect rapid developments across the reserve.
At last a few days without snow and some colour has appeared on the limestone grassland. The first patch of violets have quickly come in to flower. Also the early orchids have started to bravely put out some leaves, I hope they do not regret it with the forecast showing potential of some snow next weekend! The cowslips are even trying to catch up, this time last year they were in full bloom across the reserve now it is still hunt the emerging plants.
The work of the N.E. team and volunteers has certainly cleared out the old windmill car park scrub area and opened up the views from the centre of the reserve into compartment 4 (south east quarter).
One interesting side effect is this weeping Silver Birch stump. Last week an icicle was present down the side and this weekend it is just streaming sap.
With the sheep now present on the reserve it is the time of year when we can lend them a hand with their vital task of managing the sward by removing more established scrub.
In the coming month there are three opportunities for you to help keep the reserve in good condition for the rarer flora which the reserve supports and provides such a wonderful spring and summer show of colour and interest.
On Sunday 24th September 10:00 to 14:00 and over the same time period on Wednesday 27th September the summer warden will be facilitating working parties on the reserve to clear some of the smaller scrub starting to take over in many areas of the reserve. This will be a gentle and easy opportunity to cut back the many small hawthorn and turkey oak plants which have emerged over the past 12-24 months. Please feel free to join us for as long as you can on either or both days.
For those wanting to participate in more major scrub clearance then the Peterborough Conservation Volunteers will be on site on Sunday 10th September. Everyone is welcome to join them and lend a hand in clearing one of the more overgrown areas.
For more details or to let us know you will be coming then please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barnack Hills and Holes National Nature Reserve is not only a local beauty-spot, it is both nationally and internationally important for its wealth of rare wild flowers. Natural England manages the Reserve for the benefit of its flora.
It is that time of year again when plans to introduce livestock onto the reserve are being made. Whilst I understand many of you, especially dog walkers (including me), find it frustrating, it is an essential part of the management of the reserve to control the sward and maintain the rich diversity of flora and fauna that we all enjoy. Without this grazing the rare orchids and pasque flowers that are highlights of many visits to the reserve will be significantly reduced, if not lost completely, from the site and therefore the local area.
The original plan to use ponies this year to try to improve the effectiveness of the grazing has had to be abandoned due to concerns about loose dogs on the site. This is an annual issue with irresponsible dog owners allowing pets to chase and “worry” the sheep every year. Even if sheep escape uninjured, they may miscarry their lambs as a result. Dogs must be on short leads in the vicinity of livestock. Sheep worrying is a crime and we would encourage anyone seeing such behaviour to immediately report it to the police by calling 101 and also to Natural England by calling 07979873504 or e-mailing email@example.com.
We do thank all those responsible dog owners who always have their dogs on short leads where livestock is present and also keep their dogs under strict control on all parts of the reserve (whilst all attempts are made at keeping the sheep in one area and the signage up to date please be aware that sheep cannot read). We do want to continue to allow free access to all parts of the reserve even when livestock are present and would encourage everyone to help us maintain this critically important reserve management tool (there really is no other practical option).
Thanks to the sharp eyes of the seven people who attended the annual glow worm walk this year we not only found 13 female glow worms (plus three on the roadside on the way home) but also a male. The latter find proving that being able to glow in the dark does work to attract a mate!
If you were unable to tear yourselves away from the tennis (or the pub) last Friday evening then there are still a few more weeks when a walk on the reserve on a warm evening after dark should be rewarded with one or more sightings of a small green LED like lights.
In daylight warm sunny days should be rewarded with numerous Marbled Whites. Apparently the first Chalkhill Blues of the season and the second flight of Brown Argus butterflies have also been sighted. Gatekeeper butterflies were relatively numerous on the latest transect walk at the end of last week along with high numbers of Meadow Browns, Ringlets and a few Skippers. Whilst the orchid season is coming to an end there are many more flowers in bloom so a trip to the reserve at anytime in July always has something to discover.
Note also the signs that ponies are going to be used for the first time this year to graze and help manage the reserve. This activity is essential to help maintain and potentially improve the biodiversity. Their heavier trampling of the vegetation and greater stress resistance to the presence of people and particularly dogs (although please do ensure you keep them on leads in the area where the ponies are loose) should help ensure the autumn management aims are successfully achieved.
Whilst the Man Orchids and Fragrant Orchids are now starting to fade the Pyramidal Orchids are coming into bloom and a couple of Bee Orchids have been reported so the display of Orchids continues and is supplemented by more and more other flowers coming into full bloom.
The warm weather has also brought out more butterflies with largish numbers of Meadow Browns, some Ringlets and Skippers seen on the recent transect along with the first Marbled Whites. Numbers still seem lower than previous years but at least they are now in double figures!! The transect was walked accompanied by a seemingly rather late but persistent calling cuckoo.
The walk was not quite the spectacle of close up encounters with Swallowtails on the Norfolk Broads earlier in the week but you do not have to travel far to get close to nature. A “well earned” cup of coffee in the garden was rewarded on Tuesday by a Red Kite descending into the neighbour’s garden, ten feet from where I sat, to grab a frog based snack from the lawn.
Hopefully you will get the chance during the month to visit the reserve and get close to nature be it reptilian (common lizards are out and about), avian (yellow hammers and skylarks are singing above the reserve supplementing the cuckoo) or enjoying the flora that at least stays still once you locate it.
Well a gloriously warm and sunny week at the end of May has certainly brought along the flora and the ground is starting to show lots of different species in flower including the first signs of Fragrant Orchids joining the Man Orchids.
The weather has also finally brought out the Green Hairstreak butterflies in significant numbers particularly on the Apple and Spindle trees along the path running parallel with the western boundary of the reserve in compartment 1 (South West quarter). Common Heath moths have also become numerous in the open grassland and a few Red Admirals have brought their bright colours. Adding to these the general increase in moths, bees and beetles, with specifically a Longhorn moth – Nemophora degeerella and a Rosels-bush cricket nymphe (Thanks to Ian, visiting from Norfolk, for identifying these and providing the Green hairstreak photo) the reserve really has come alive.
Unfortunately a downturn in the weather over the weekend and a traditionally wet Bank Holiday Monday has limited the enjoyment and opportunities to spot new arrivals. Hopefully if the weather turns dry as promised and the temperature stays up for next Saturday, the Man Orchid count should provide a great opportunity to add to this years sightings so please join us if you can.
As the Pasque flowers loose their bright purple and yellow colours (final picture to remind us of this year’s display) and show off their “fluffy” seed heads an encouraging find was a small population of plants in the middle of Compartment 4 of the reserve. This is close to the area “scraped back to quarry rubble” in the early 2000’s so this hopefully bodes well for increasing the area across the reserve where these flowers are well established. Circa 15 years after the major conservation work this area is starting to really show some interesting potential which shows how patient we have to be with some conservation efforts.
A walk across the reserve last week seemed like an update on’ Wind in the Willows’. A mole seemed to be taking a break from decorating and wandering across the reserve in search of ‘Ratty’. Quite a journey required to find a Water Vole near Barnack but Toad was seen later. Unfortunately out on one of his adventures he had come across an Adder and was not looking too good as the snake shot off into the undergrowth. This to my knowledge is the first reported sighting of an Adder on the reserve for several years.
Despite a few days of warmer weather the butterfly transects still fail to record any encouraging numbers of the early butterflies. A walk on a warmish and sunny Wednesday this week failed to reach double figures for either Orange Tips or Brimstones. A second Dingy Skipper of the season providing at least some encouragement to continue with the transect walks.
As the Pasque flowers finish their display and the Early Purple Orchids start to pass their best, the first Man Orchid flower spike has been found. With an extended warm spell of weather we should be seeing them (if we spend time looking for the green flowers in the green vegetation) in reasonable numbers across compartments 1 and 2 in the next few weeks.