Category Archives: News from the Reserve

Regular update on what’s happening on the reserve

Next Event 21st April – Bird Song Walk 6:00am

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 ( 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.

Middle of March on the reserve

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 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.

Hunting for Spring and Summer

Well despite the sunshine today the cold wind meant that it did not feel to much like spring up on the reserve today and I had to look further afield for encouragement that warmer days are on the way. A pair of Magpies and the songs of Skylarks in the field along the western boundary of the reserve were the highlights of today’ s diagonal dog walk from the village to the gate out onto the path alongside Walcott estate wall. A few daffodils in flower along the tree lined avenue on the road between Southorpe and Ufford Bridge (an old picture of the station here was uncovered during the winter trawl of the archives) and a pair of hare’s “boxing” in the fields to the east of the village provided some welcome signs of things to come.

For those of you puzzled by the featured image on this post the following is a clue. As we look forward to the spring and summer I thought some of you might be interested  in an orchid checklist for your visits in 2017. Here is a complete list of orchids seen on the reserve and the date (where known) when last seen. That is unless anyone has information to the contrary?

Bee Orchid (2016)

Common Spotted Orchid (early 2000?)

Early Purple Orchid (2016)

Early Spider Orchid (1650) {the year not 10 minutes to 5 o’clock}

Fragrant Orchid (2016)

Frog Orchid (2016)

Green-winged Orchid (1995)

Man Orchid (2016)

Pyramidal Orchid (2016)

Twayblade (2016)

So for a challenge this year how about undertaking a series of orchid hunts? Please do stay primarily on the main paths as nearly all can be seen from these without venturing into the vegetation that may contain other smaller plants and flowers.    See how many you can tick off and definitely let me know with photo’s if you see the return of the Early Spider Orchid or any others!

First signs of Spring?

With the meteorological beginning of spring only 5 days away it is worth looking out for those first signs of spring around the reserve. The violets should soon be showing their brave colours closely followed by the first cowslip buds. The start of the butterfly transects is only just over a week away. This is officially designated as week minus 3 showing the effect of climate change on the timing of natures events since the transects started being recorded.

This all seems a little distant today with storm Doris battering the reserve with such ferocity that even my chocolate Labrador was questioning why were out walking this lunch time. Perhaps optimistically I did note that the two flocks of Fieldfares, I spotted in the fields to the east of the village, were heading north. Maybe a sign of warmer weather or perhaps just the only option given the strength of the wind!

Please do let me know via when you first see particular plants, butterflies, invertebrates and migratory birds on the reserve. That will help me keep other visitors to the site advised on what there is to see during their visits.

I am hoping to complete the update to the reserve database very soon. Adding all the information uncovered during the winter searches of the archives and the 2016 site visit records provided to me. Target is to finish this before the temptation to be out and about becomes too strong. So please look out for an update on the contents of the database in the next month.

Mid-winter on the Reserve

It is not the most popular time to explore the Hills and Holes and generally it is just the hardy dog walkers, forced out on the cold damp days, that occupy the reserve along with the sheep this year.

However, there are benefits to walking the reserve in the winter. It is a great time to get the bigger picture and see the underlying structure and general layout without having the distraction of the amazing flora and fauna. You can also look out for tracks in the current muddy patches (rare on the hills and holes for most of the year.)

Dog or Fox? Whichever it seems to have mastered walking on tiptoes/claws.


The Silver Birch still provide decoration with their amazing bark colours and the contrast in the texture and colour of the barks on other tree species is worth exploring. See how many you can identify without the assistance of the leaves. Plus the skyscapes, moon, sun and cloud forms on the brighter days can be a reward as can the frost patterns on those bright crisp morning walks. A trip out on the coldest and windiest days is always rewarded by the return to a now much warmer and cosier feeling house and far cheaper than turning up the central heating!

I am currently using the dog walks to track down the monitoring plot markers (small yellow boxes embedded in the ground)

Survey Marker

which are generally more visible at this time of year than when the grasses have grown up.  It is also interesting to walk the route of the butterfly transect and see the same environment in a totally different form.

Both these act as reminders that it will not be that long before the monitoring and surveys for 2017 will start up. For those of you who made the AGM this year you may have noticed that the 2016 records were not as comprehensive as previous years and whilst missing one year is not a major issue if the gaps in the data grow to large it has less and less value. So if you are interested in finding out more about how you can help and even volunteer to participate please do get in touch via

I have found some historic records for lichen, mosses and fungi in the archives so if there are any experts or budding enthusiasts out there who would like to let me know what is on the reserve in 2017 it would be interesting to compare the data.


October update from the Reserve

As autumn really takes hold on the reserve, the summer flowers become a distant memory and the final few weeks of butterfly monitoring pass by (Yes they continue through October!) work starts to prepare the reserve for 2017. Whilst visitor numbers drop the maintenance activity on the reserve increases. The Peterborough Conservation Volunteers (PCV) have been on site removing some of the scrub from compartment 3.imag0670imag0669

Whilst the PCV team are working hard tackling some of the larger scrub the sheep look very relaxed in their complimentary efforts .


The sheep have been busy though with there own clearance work removing vegetation to allow the weaker plants to thrive and add colour in the spring and summer. Without these different management techniques the reserve would quickly return to scrub and loose its wonderful spring and summer displays of flora and fauna.


Before being grazed                                           After grazing

As funding for Natural England becomes ever tighter and their time presence on  our reserve becomes more restricted, the support of volunteers to enact the maintenance plans and perform surveys becomes even more important.  If you are not a member and would like to join “the Friends” then please do contact us or if you want to know more about the work of the Peterborough Conservation Volunteers and even join them in their work on various local nature reserves then please visit their website at .

Also if you are able to help with maintenance tasks on the reserve please do get in touch with us.

Whilst there are a few cold months to pass before we can all enjoy the benefits of this work a big thank you to the team from PCV for their efforts which make a significant difference and also to the sheep for their hard work!


Chris Gardiner

Many of you will have met Chris at either one of the organised events, at the Friends AGM, or just on the reserve during a visit or a hosted walk. Particularly perhaps  on one of the many Glow Worm walks he has led over the many years he has been directly involved with Barnack Hills and Holes on behalf of Natural England/English Nature/……… the many other names the organisation has had in the 30 years Chris has worked for them. What has remained constant is Chris knowledge and willingness to share this with others and his tireless work at Barnack and Castor Hanglands NNR plus other local reserves that has left us with such a rich and diverse environment to enjoy today and for many more years to come.

It is therefore with much sadness  to us, that Chris has finally decided to retire (We know many of you will have said a personal farewell to Chris) but we felt it appropriate to publicly wish him well for the future. A future we hope that will still involve regular sightings on the reserve.

All the best and thanks for helping us get established.

The Friends of Barnack Hills and Holes

PS Chris avoided any pictures and to take credit for his efforts so the image I think is one he would like to be remembered for his part in creating.

Sheep return to Hills and Holes

 Please note that the sheep will soon be present on the reserve. We would like to provide a reminder that it is extremely important that dogs are kept on leads during the time the sheep are grazing on the reserve. Even the most well behaved dog can cause stress and disturbance to these animals and a dog off its lead will also encourage others to think this is acceptable for their dog. These animals provide a very special service in helping to manage the reserve. Particularly this year with the lush growth present in many areas it is important to graze as much of this as possible. I am sure that you have noticed the different densities of grass and other vigorous plant species in certain areas of the reserves with many paths disappearing this year under the dense vegetation. Without grazing this will only extend in future years and reduce the profusion of flora we see on the reserve during the spring and summer. The effect of successful long term grazing can be seen in the South West compartment (furthest from the two roads which border the reserve) where over 50 years of consistent management has produced an environment supporting the largest populations of Pasque flowers and Orchids plus the broadest range of flora on the reserve. With the help of the sheep this is gradually being extended into the other quadrants so please assist them in their work by leaving them undisturbed and untroubled.

Mid-July on the reserve and some historic notes

At least some dry weather has arrived and the flowers are doing there best to put on a fine display even if the grass and vegetation is rather lush following the consistent rainfalls throughout spring and early summer. One slight benefit has been probably the latest record of a Pasque flower in bloom during a visit by a Warwick Natural History group to the reserve on 12th July.  I would be interesting to hear ( of any later recorded dates from previous years? The warmer drier weather has also brought out the butterflies in reasonable numbers with Meadow Browns, Ringlets and Marbled Whites vying for the top spot on the transect walks. The latest walk added Gatekeeper, Comma and Green-veined white to this years records. Look out for the Chalkhill Blues (pictured above) that are expected to be flying in the next week or so.

With the general floral display probably at its peek now is a good time to visit the reserve and brush up on your flora identification but also keep a look out for Grass snakes (Tim has recently seen a large specimen on site).

I also promised earlier in the year some extracts from the historic Summer Warden reports so here is a taster from 1977 just one year after the site being declared a National Nature Reserve.

“The grassland belongs to the Tor-grass Brachypodium pinnatum Upright Brome Zerna erecta type and contains the whole range of species characteristic of this association. The Man Orchid Aceras anthropophorum is locally abundant and several other orchids are present. The Pasque Flower Anemone pulsatilla occurs frequently and this reserve is one of its main strongholds. The Mountain Everlasting Antennaria dioica is primarily a northern species and is represented on the Hills and Holes by one small patch in the Northants Naturalists area. (Note added: Now designated compartment 1 – South west quarter). This area has the most varied flora which must be partly due to scrub clearance carried out by Trust volunteers.

The last sentance remains true today – (more or less forty years on) and just shows how long term any management strategy needs to be. Perhaps in another forty years the clearance in circa 1999 of the turkey oak trees and scrapping back to bear limestone waste in compartment 4 (South-east quarter) adjacent to the wooded area will show the same benefits. The survey data also shows how management of the reserve (probably consistent annual sheep grazing) has led to a dramatic reduction in the amount of Tor Grass on the reserve with  72% of quadrats surveyed found to containing it in 1978 compared to only 16% in 1996.

Update from the Reserve

Whilst it may seem far from summer with the wet weather the reserve is still putting on a fine floral display with the added benefit since it is so well drained of not remaining too wet underfoot to enjoy it. With the Pyramidal Orchids joining the Bee Orchids, Fragrant  Orchids and the Man Orchids still holding on it is a bumper time of year to see Orchids on the reserve and the wet weather has enabled some pretty impressive flower spikes to grow this year. Not so good, due to the wet weather, is the butterfly display. A transect walk today yielded disappointing numbers but did add Speckled Wood and Meadow Brown to the list and a later walk with the dog added the first Marbled White to my own list. Unfortunately not the first reported observation of the year as that went to Tim and Steve the Wardens who saw one earlier in the afternoon! The late afternoon walk also provided the call of a Cuckoo possibly the last of the season given their imminent departure for warmer climates. The bright yellow flash and prominent call of a year round resident,  the Yellowhammer reminded me how lucky we are that, whilst numbers to me have been well down in recent years,  you can almost guarantee seeing one on the reserve, or certainly in the surrounding field hedgerows. I was reminded that we are fortunate in this by a recent conversation with a visitor to the reserve from Derbyshire and also a total absence of them during a holiday in Pembrokeshire last week. It is surprising how easily we take for granted what we can see every day on the reserve, perhaps unfortunately not appreciating it until after it has gone. So I encourage you to get out on the reserve, during the few dry spells and enjoy the flowers of summer, the migratory birds and of course the butterflies.

PS: One other benefit of the cooler weather has been the lizards are taking longer to warm up on the fence posts so provide more opportunities to spot them. Every cloud has a silver lining.