The sheep arrived back on site Tuesday 9th September to carry out the essential grazing management thathelps to keep thewild flower grasslandin good shape.
If you take your dogs onto the reserve PLEASE keep them on a lead where there are sheep and under close control at all times.
Last year for the first time in several years we avoided any sheep fatalities caused by dogs, and are keen for this to continue.
As always visitors’ vigilance and co-operation are appreciated in keeping an eye out for any problems. Let the Reserve Manager know by email, or for less urgent matters via the contact form, if you see any of the following:
Sick or injured sheep
Damaged fences or signs, open gates
Loose or uncontrolled dogs
Leaking or dry troughs
The additional ‘eyes and ears’ thatyou provide can assist us greatly inmanaging the grazing season without incident.Thegrazing will start in paddock 4 (South-East corner near the Cricket Club) and continue over the rest of the Reserve for 6-8 weeks.
In keeping with the drowsy heat of a humid August, the Hills and Holes are now painted in their late summer palette of bright purples and yellows set against the pale brown canvas of the drying grasses. The purple knapweed is particularly prolific, much to the delight of feeding insects, accompanied by good numbers of field scabious, clustered bellflower, harebells and, in places, thick banks of richly scented wild marjoram. Scattered amongst them are the bright yellow flower heads of the much-maligned ragwort (now greatly reduced thanks to the efforts of the volunteer ragwort-pullers) and the paler clusters of the wild parsnips. Most of the orchids are gone, leaving only dried out husks, but, surprisingly, a few of the frog orchids are still making a brave show of it. While you are on your knees, look out for the froth of small white flowers of the parasitic common dodder clustered together in patches on the gentler slopes. As for the insects, the chalkhill blues are now coming into their own with large numbers rising in clouds from the grasses on the hot afternoons and plenty of the crimson and black 5-spot burnet moths competing for attention. In the right places, there is a scattering of whites, speckled woods, gatekeepers, small coppers and peacock butterflies to be seen. Down by your feet, the grass is alive with grasshoppers and crickets while, further up on the ragwort, there are quite a few of the yellow and black striped caterpillars of the cinnabar moth still munching away.
Arguably the best time of all to visit the Hills and Holes: a profusion of pink, white and yellow wild flowers, swarming with clouds of butterflies – on some days it really has to be seen to be believed. July is the peak month for orchids, with the ever abundant pyramidal orchids being joined this year by good numbers of fragrant and bee orchids. Even the frog orchids got in on the act, the extra summer rain adding to their stature if not their numbers. It’s not just about orchids: the rock rose, bird’s foot trefoil, scabious, ox-eye daisy and clustered bellflower all clamour for attention. Look more closely and you will see some of the more delicate blooms – the blue flowers of milkwort or the tiny white petals of fairy flax.
Much bolder than any of these are the stiff orange-brown spikes of knapweed broomrape, a strange parasitic plant that draws all of its food from the roots of knapweed. And all around them are the busy wings of butterflies, bees and hoverflies seeking nectar. Marbled whites (a Hills and Holes speciality) are everywhere, joined by their rather duller brown cousins, the meadow brown, hedge brown, and ringlet. A glint of sky blue is sure to be a chalkhill blue, first emerging in July but these will continue well into August.
May is surely one of the best months on the Hills and Holes – the pasqeflowers out in their full glory, set off by bright yellow cowslips and this year a good show of early purple orchids.
As the month progresses many other flowers come into bloom, including one of the site’s great rarities, the man orchid. A count of this species has been organised for 24th May, when we hope as many Friends as possible will join us.
May is also a good month for butterflies – you should see familiar species such as tortoiseshell, comma, peacock and brimstone waking from their long winter hibernation.
They are joined by freshly emerged spring species such as orange tip, holly blue and speckled wood – this is likely to be seen in the wooded area next to Walcot Park.
One of the hardest to spot butterflies is the green hairstreak, whose green and brown colouration helps to camouflage it against the hawthorn and other shrubs where it flies. Birds are also busy at this time of year. Many of the birds breeding in the Hills and Holes are associated with scrub and wooded areas, including blue tit, great tit, blackbird, dunnock and willow warbler.
The strange need for humans to go out in the cold and wet on a Sunday afternoon saw me and the bloke I tolerate out on the Hills and Holes this weekend. The rain and hail has brought out all the scents and smells but as the website has not got these features enabled I’ll have to try my best with words.
The Common Dog-Violet are now flowering across the reserve. I am not sure why a flower with no scent merits the title “dog” but then many of the humans probably do not know they have no scent, the poor disadvantaged creatures that they are. Pairs of Great Tits are prospecting the hawthorns for potential nest sites and large plump Woodpigeons sit in the trees, feathers fluffed out against the cold wind bringing the ever changing weather across the reserve. The initial sunshine quickly disappears and has left the early Cowslip buds considering why they have made the effort to poke their heads out of the warmth of the grass sward. A blackbird’s shrill alarm call announces our progress into compartment 3 on the far side of the reserve. The piles of grey and black ash just beyond the gate where the scrub used to be provide evidence that the reserve needs man’s constant intervention to maintain its wide variety of rare plant life.
Not just nature’s signs of spring are present on the reserve. Man has also made his contribution with the arrival of rows of blue and black plastic sticks neatly attached by their “leads” to each other to stop them running away. Protecting this year’s wild flowers in the areas they zone off they help establish growing communities of the more endangered species so they can strengthen their foothold in this small reserve and spread more widely so all can enjoy them in the future. A fierce hailstorm sends me heading for the cover of the scrub along the boundary between compartments 4 and 3. Standing in this sheltered spot the few early white flowers on the Blackthorn add to the large number of white hailstones spreading across the surrounding grass.
As the sunshine gradually reappears the lazy flapping of a pair of crow’s heading to their roost and the rhythmic wing beat of a black headed gull high over head remind me it is time to head home for tea. The clump of invasive daffodils, the cherry blossom and breaking buds on the horse chestnut tree, on the opposite side of the road as we head back into the village, show that whatever the weather nature has decided it is spring.
Signed Ella (a young and enthusiastic Chocolate Labrador)
The first spring-like weather has brought a number of our resident butterflies out of their winter hibernation. Bright yellow Brimstones, and the familiar Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Comma butterflies, have all been seen. They are being increasingly joined by a few hardy Red Admirals – a species that used to arrive from Southern Europe as a summer migrant, but can now be counted as a permanent resident thanks to the vagaries of climate change.
All these butterflies look for early sources of nectar to feed up after their long hibernation. Some of the earliest flowers – snowdrop and daffodil for example – are introduced to The Hills and Holes and are a poor nectar source. More favoured is Blackthorn which was out in flower by late February. This is a vital food source for many insects, especially bees and hoverflies.
This month (March) should see the first pasqueflowers appearing if the weather remains kind, but the peak of flowering is usually late April. They will be joined by carpets of cowslips and less obvious patches of dog violets.
Visitors to The Hills and Holes over the Winter will have seen continuing work to clear overgrown scrub and bushes from the open grassland, to benefit the wild flowers.
This year there was also a thinning of the birch trees which were becoming increasingly tall and dominant in some areas, with significant shading and leaf-fall that was damaging parts of the flower-rich grassland. Some trees also had splits in the base and were removed to ensure public safety as the nearby hillocks are often popular picnic spots. However the trees are a familiar feature of the landscape and rather that clear too many, most were retained and dealt with by having lower branches removed to reduce their impact.
Panorama view in March
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The snowdrop adds a splash of variety in this rather dull month. It is not a genuine wildflower here but was introduced either deliberately or from dumped garden waste. It can be seen in profusion opposite the entrance to Millstone Lane and in clumps along Wittering Rd.