Category Archives: News from the Reserve

Regular update on what’s happening on the reserve

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.

Update from the Reserve

As the dramatic display of Pasque flowers starts to come to an end and the spring showing of cowslips draws to a close the early purple orchids have taken over with a strong showing of some fine specimens and in some impressively large groups. Also the time has arrived for the more difficult task of tracking down Man Orchids. There are several now just coming into flower across the reserve. One splendid specimen can be found within a foot of the northern most gate between compartments 4 (wooded) and 1 (South west), assuming it is still there as a number of discarded Orchids around the reserve indicate some picking of flowers still occurs!

The butterfly counts continue to rise on the sunnier days with Dingy and Grizzled Skippers both photographed recently.

A Whitethroat nest in a bramble patch and activity along the Walcott wall by both Blue Tits and Great Tits also show that spring is progressing  and the mobbing by six rooks of a passing Buzzard shows that feeding territories are being defended. The regular sighting of Buzzards and Red Kites over the reserve (something the summer wardens of 1980’s would have been amazed by) makes up a little for the marked drop in other bird species to be seen. More  to follow as the summer progresses, comparing the summer warden reports in the archives to today’s flora and fauna.

Peterborough Conservation Volunteers

Our friends from the Peterborough Conservation Volunteers will again be on site this autumn on Sunday  4th October  helping with scrub clearance and other important tasks to maintain the rich diversity of flora and fauna we enjoy on the reserve. Please feel free to join in on the day for as much or as little time as you can spare. They meet at 10:00 am and weather permitting work after a well earned lunch break to about 3:00pm. Please visit their website ( ) for further details or contact the friends via

Sheep Present on the Reserve

We would like to provide a reminder that the sheep are again present on the reserve. These animals provide a very special service in helping to manage the reserve to encourage the profusion of flora and fauna we see during the spring and summer. Those who took part in the Ragwort pulling will testify that  keeping the vegetation under control would be a far more difficult task without them. In the past few years we have not had any serious incidents between dogs and sheep although a few incidents of disturbance and distress have been noted. We would therefore kindly remind all dog owners to continue to keep their dogs under strict control at all times whilst on the reserve and it is essential that, however well behaved they are, they are kept on leads in the paddock where the sheep are present. This helps ensure the sheep remain stress free and can continue to help manage the reserve for the benefit and enjoyment of all.


Autumn on the Hills and Holes

With Autumn comes the sheep, who keep the coarse grasses and weeds growing on the nature reserve in check. And that means another hazard to avoid – sheep poo! Happily, sheep poo is not offensive (unlike the dog mess left behind by some irresponsible dog owners). Sheep only digest about 50% of the plant material that they eat, so their poo is mostly cellulose. Did you know that it can be used to make paper? A firm in Wales sells it – I don’t intend to try making it myself though!

Many of the plants that grow on the Hills and Holes have now produced seed, and are dying down for the winter. Why not see how many different kinds of seed head you can spot? Other plants overwinter as flat rosettes, which allows them to avoid getting eaten by the aforementioned sheep.

Woody plants are also closing down for winter and trees will be losing their leaves. The silver birch leaves often turn a rich yellow before they fall. This is due to the breakdown of the green pigment chlorophyll, which is triggered by the change in day length. Once the chlorophyll has been withdrawn, other pigments in the leaves can be seen – carotene is the one that gives the yellow shades.

Trees and shrubs may also produce fruit. Elder is a common plant on the reserve, and elderberries are eagerly taken by small birds. That’s why our cars get purple splotches on them! Blackberries can also have this effect. Rowan berries are bright orange and are loved by blackbirds. There are apples on the reserve, both native crab apples and trees that are derived from cultivated varieties.

In the scrubby parts of the reserve you might see long strings of red berries draped over the vegetation – these are probably the fruits of a Bryony, either White Bryony or Black Bryony. Don’t eat them, they are poisonous.

spindle-04555Along the western boundary you might find the fruits of the Spindle, which are striking in pink and orange. Over in the wooded section, there is a walnut tree, and you may be able to find a hazel bearing its distinctive nuts in green wrappers – quite rare on the reserve, although common in hedgerows in the area. These are very popular with squirrels and other small mammals.

Funnel-04550Autumn is the season for spotting fungi. We have very little information on the fungi present on the reserve, so if you do see any while visiting, please let us know through the Contacts page or on Facebook.

I hope you can come and enjoy the autumn at Barnack Hills and Holes very soon – there is always something to see!