Category Archives: News from the Reserve

Regular update on what’s happening on the reserve

May on the Reserve

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.

Peterborough Local Group of the Wildlife Trust Walk

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.

What to look out for this Easter on the reserve (Bird Song walk 21st April)

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 records@fbhh.org.uk 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 records@fbhh.org.uk so we can let others know what is emerging onto 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 (records@fbhh.org.uk) 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 records@fbhh.org.uk 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!         records@fbhh.org.uk

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 records@fbhh.org.uk 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.

Footprint

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 records@fbhh.org.uk.

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 .

imag0675

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.

imag0673imag0665_burst002

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 www.p-c-v.co.uk .

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.