Category Archives: News from the Reserve

Regular update on what’s happening on the reserve

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!

The sheep are back

Sheep-04409The sheep arrived back on site Tuesday 9th September to carry out the essential grazing management that helps to keep the wild flower grassland in 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
  • Stray sheep
  • Damaged fences or signs, open gates
  • Loose or uncontrolled dogs
  • Leaking or dry troughs

The additional ‘eyes and ears’ that you provide can assist us greatly in managing the grazing season without incident. The grazing will start in paddock 4 (South-East corner near the Cricket Club) and continue over the rest of the Reserve for 6-8 weeks.

Chris Gardiner

Senior Reserve Manager

August – late summer purples and yellows

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. harebellThe 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.

July, the best of times

chalkhill blue
Chalkhill Blue © Petersrockypics from Flickr Group

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 News

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.

Early Purple-02124
Early purple orchid

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.





Orangetip on bluebells
Orangetip on bluebells

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.

Spring is Sprung

Der spring is sprung
Der grass is riz
I wonder where dem boidies is? (anon)

DSC01798-1Well, I don’t know about boidies but the first Pasque Flowers are appearing together with a great many cowslips. There are quite a lot of butterflies around as well.

Ella’s Diary

A dog’s view on sunshine and hail


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)

March News

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.

Clumps of Dog Violets

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.

A Guide to Common Violets 
(pdf file opens in separate window)


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

This may not work on tablets and smartphones. Use the mouse to drag the view left or right and the  Esc key to return to this page.