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.
A very big thank you to Sarah and family for providing a very informative and educational walk around the reserve this afternoon (Saturday 29th).
A Bank holiday weekend was unlikely to provide glorious sunshine and unfortunately this Saturday was no exception. So there were no Green Hairstreaks on display (in fact no butterflies at all). Just a single Green Carpet Moth representing this area of interest.
The Pasque flowers, Cowslips and Early Purple Orchids delivered as usual and in some magnificent clusters. Supported by the identification of Early Spring Sedge and Rare Spring Sedge in close proximity, which allowed us novices to finally see the difference. Many other plants, just showing their leaves or first flowers, were pointed out to help us identify them later in the year. The walk also showed how, even on a relatively small reserve like this there are different areas supporting very different plant populations and the impact of management of the reserve.
The entomologists were able to catch and show us many insects the majority with names far to complex for me to recall or even attempt to remember. I do recall a very decorative Crane fly and St Mark’s flies of both genders ensuring the existence of the next generation. To help increase my knowledge of bees (a target area for me this year) Ashy Mining bees, Hawthorn mining bee, Common Carder bees and Nomad bees all but in a very visible performance.
The highlight for me was the first Glow Worm of the year spotted by a sharp eyed Mike without the aid of darkness and the characteristic glow which will come later in the year.
A dry day, some very knowledgeable experts, a wonderful group of interested visitors and of course a very special and almost unique reserve provided an ideal way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Do keep an eye out for future events both on this reserve and other local sites and do come and join us. The next stars to appear should be the Man Orchids with Pyramidal and Fragrant Orchids close on their heels.
The Pasque flowers have timed their appearance this year to perfection and are in full bloom across the centre of the reserve in some impressive banks of colour. Matched by the profusion of cowslips all across the reserve and the first Early Purple Orchids in bloom on a south facing bank just alongside the main path across the reserve the flora is doing its best to attract visitors.
These visitors include many insects and on a disappointing day for butterflies I was able to learn something about the bees and flies present on the reserve with the help of Albert and a lovely lady from Anglia Ruskin Life Sciences department. I now know how to tell the difference between a male and female Ashy mining bee (present along the path through the woodland adjacent to the wall), how to spot their nests in the soil along the path and technical terms such as “curly hairy things” to aid with bee identification. There were certainly plenty of other mining bees, bumblebees and flies around the apple blossom so if insects interest you as much or more than flowers then there are plenty to try and identify.
If you are looking for something a little bigger then Willow Warblers and Blackcaps have returned to the reserve after their winter breaks and Blue Tits can be observed nesting in the wall on the southern boundary. We still await the first Cuckoo call to be heard and Whitethroat to be seen. If you are interested in birds a reminder that we have planned a bird song walk at 6:00am next Friday 21st April please let us know on firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to attend so we know who is coming.
Please do let us know what you see on the reserve this week with an e-mail to email@example.com so we can let others know what is emerging onto the reserve.
With a few days of warmer weather everything is suddenly moving forwards. The violets and cowslips have been joined by the first Pasque flowers. These currently take some effort to locate, I found five flowers on a south facing slope enjoying the Thursday afternoon sunshine in compartment 1 (adjacent to the path approaching the northern most gate in the fence between compartments 1 and 4). Within another one or two weeks depending on the temperature any stroll round the centre of the reserve near the large gate between compartments 1 and 2 (south west and north west) will spot these lovely flowers in all their purple and yellow glory. Perfect timing for Easter.
The visit on Thursday also added my first Brimstone butterflies of the season as well as Peacocks, Comma’s and small tortoiseshells. Keep a look out for the first Orange Tips which should be on the scene soon along with Holly Blues.
All these signs of spring mean the birds are also becoming more active and vocal and Tim Sutton has kindly offered to lead an early morning walk meet at the main car park at 6:00am on Friday 21st April to help identify their calls. This will obviously be weather dependent so please do let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like to attend and I can keep you informed on the arrangements. Whilst not specifically renown for its bird life this walk should allow us to recognise many of the birds by their calls and therefore equip us to pick out and look for more unusual species. This event will be free for members and a small charge of £2 for non-members or you can join on the day for £5 and enjoy all other FBHH 2017 events for free.
This week has seen some lovely weather and spring really does look like it is getting its skates on now with a lot of plants starting to show through the dry grass and winter debris on the reserve. The cowslips are now clearly visible and on a walk on Thursday I spotted the first flower bud tentatively showing yellow. Also violets are now in flower across the reserve. I suspect the Pasque flowers are still three or so weeks away depending on the weather but for the botanists among you there is plenty of new plants showing through that I am confident you can identify and they are easier to locate at present before the grass starts to really grow.
Butterflies are also emerging primarily along the road side adjacent to the village. So far I have seen Comma, Peacock and a Small Tortoiseshell on the reserve and several Brimstones around the village itself.
The birds are definitely pairing up and bird song is increasing every day. Our next event is likely to focus on this with a guided walk by Tim (Reserve Warden) on 21st April starting at 6am (weather permitting) and a follow up on 12th May at 6 am if there is sufficient interest. Please do let me know at email@example.com if you would like to attend and look out for more details and updates on this website.
This year we are intending to reproduce a set of images from around the reserve based on images originally taken in 1977. So if you see puzzled people walking around the reserve trying to match black and white images, often full of trees and bushes, with pieces of open grassland you know why! The difference the scrub clearance work has made is clearly evident and an encouragement to those able to join us on Monday to continue this vital role.