First Event for 2017 – Monday 20th March

A brief post to let you know of the first opportunity to meet up in 2017 and help with the maintenance of the reserve.

Tim from Natural England will be leading a working party on the Hills and Holes to undertake a variety of tasks to prepare the reserve for the season.

The group will meet at the main car park at 9:00am and if you are willing and able to join us then you would be very welcome. Work on the reserve will continue throughout the morning and into the afternoon so please feel free to join us whenever you can and for however long you can.

Whilst any required tools will be provided please come with appropriate gloves, footwear and appropriate clothing for the weather. Depending on how long you are able to join us please also ensure you bring relevant refreshments for yourself. (Although I suspect if you want to sneak off to The Millstone at lunch time that will be permitted).

F.B.H.H. Database

Work over the winter has seen many of the historic records of surveys of the reserve added to the F.B.H.H. database. The records are of somewhat varying age and detail but in general they give a comprehensive record of what has been seen and when on the reserve.

Currently, and allowing for some duplication due to species name changes and re -classifications, errors in recording  and simple transcription errors the database contains the following information

Flora – 363 entries

Lichen – 57 entries

Mosses – 71 entries

Fungi – 77 entries

Moths – 104 entries

Butterflies – 36 entries

Molluscs – 31 entries

Spiders – 10 entries

Myripoda – 5 entries

Other insects – 390 entries

Birds – 111 entries

Mammals and Reptiles etc..  – 6 entries (not including humans, dogs or cats!)

So there is plenty to look out for and please do let us know preferably with a photograph attached of anything unusual you see on the reserve so we can add it on to the database.

Also we would welcome hearing from anyone carrying out a survey or maintaining a list of what they see during 2017 so we can update the records with current sighting dates. (Current database indicates Turkey Oak has not been seen on the reserve since 2014 perhaps a slight oversight  they are not that difficult to spot!!!)

Outcomes from Committee Meeting

The committee met last night (thank you once again to The Millstone pub for hosting us).

The major issue we face is finding a secretary, somebody (or bodies) willing to help coordinate event dates, record simple action lists and meeting notes from the two/three committee meetings a year. We have plenty of support from Natural England and financially are secure at present but we do need another volunteer if the group is to function effectively so please consider getting in touch. (

Other opportunities are  to seek funding from a local government initiative to help improve the site and to manage a specific improvement project again please let us know if you are able to help.

On a more positive note we have made some progress in arranging events for 2017 and as dates and timings are agreed please look out for these on the website or on Facebook (and also unfortunately for updates due to weather!)

A final request for membership fees to be paid and a big thank you for the circa 25 members who have already renewed.

A final thank you to the sheep who have completed their many months of conservation work on the reserve and have now left to enjoy a well earned “holiday”. It always seems a shame they do not get to enjoy the rewards of their labour but I know we will this spring and summer with another fine floral display.

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.

History of the Reserve and earlier times

The first floral display of 2017 has appeared on the reserve. Whilst demonstrating the problems of having a nature reserve right on the edge of the village (these snowdrops are almost certainly a garden escapee) they do at least bring the promise of spring or at least the end of winter.

Over the last month I have taken the opportunity provided by wet and cold weather to look through the archive materials and scan and make copies of various documents related to the reserve and the sites history before it became a nature reserve. This includes old newsletters from 1990 -2002, extracts from various articles and a copy of entries in the Phytologia Britannica –  year of1650, along with many other items. Those who attended the AGM will have seen the range of aerial photographs of the reserve dating from the 1940 up to 2010.

As well as these historical records of man’s interaction with the site through both quarrying and conservation, the summer warden reports from 1970-1990’s have interesting details of the “recreational” interaction with the reserve. Among these are comments on flower picking (135 incidents reported in 1977), motorcyclcs on the site, and hill sliding on cardboard and metal sheets. All thankfully rarer activities these days.

A few other snippets picked out as I scanned through the articles are a survey of Muntjac deer pellets, the site being used from 1907 to graze retired draught horses brought from London and then when recovered sold on to local farmers, a 1960 visit by the Botanical Society and the use of Barnack ragstone for a 13th century tombstone.

There is plenty more if someone has an interest in writing up a comprehensive history of the “Hills and Holes”. One area that would certainly add to the records is anecdotes about use of the area in 20th century (1900-1970’s) any local recollections gratefully received. Also there is little information currently in the archives for 1500-1900’s so that could be interesting to research. When and how did it become part of the Burghley estate and how was it used?

If there is anyone or a few people who would be willing to pull together the historical information then please do get in touch


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.


Report on AGM held 16th January

A small group  met on Monday  16th for the A.G.M. and a very interesting talk about the history and current management of the Castor Hanglands / Ailsworth Heath reserve by Chris Gardiner. This particularly included information on the flora and fauna that you can expect to see in the different areas of this very diverse site. There was some encouraging news on the return to the site of several species of butterflies in numbers sufficient to make it a realistic  possibility of spotting one during a visit.

The business part of the meeting saw the majority of the committee happy to continue in their roles and a new chair Chris Evans elected. A unanimous big thank you to Alyson our outgoing Chair for all the work she has undertaken over the past three years. Our finances are in a healthy position with a slight increase in available funds at the year end. That only leaves us needing a volunteer to pick up the role of membership secretary to keep up to date our records of the 40+ members. Please do contact us if you are able to help with this vital but not too onerous task.

A full programme of events for 2017 is being planned so please keep checking the website and our Facebook page for information on these as the arrangements are confirmed.

AGM this Monday at 7:30pm in Barnack Village Hall

A final reminder that the AGM for the “Friends” is being held this Monday 16th January at 7:30pm at Barnack Village Hall. Please come along and after a short business meeting hear about the near by Castor Hanglands reserve from Chris Gardener.

There will be the opportunity to browse through old newsletters, review the survey results for 2016 and examine how the reserve has changed over the last 80 years as recorded in various aerial photographs and images. You may also be interested in finding out how you can help with bringing up to date our fixed point photography records to illustrate the changes in more detail.

There will  be the opportunity over light refreshments to discuss the events being planned for 2017 and how you could contribute to the purposes of the organisation as described in recent posts.

Finally it provides you with the ideal opportunity to pay your 2017 membership subscription.

Purpose of the Friends – Promote Understanding of the Reserve

To maintain the quality of the flora and fauna and therefore the status of this very special place as a National Nature Reserve it is essential that the broad community of visitors understand the significance of the “Hills and Holes” in conservation terms.

Therefore the primary aim of the group is to inform and engage visitors and potential visitors with the significant aspects of the reserve. Especially how the reserve needs to be managed to ensure the fantastic diversity and significant populations of rare plants is maintained over the years and hopefully made more robust for future generations to enjoy.

This aim can be achieved by organising and providing  good publicity of events (e.g. annual glow worm walk, guided walks etc..). By good use of this website and facebook page and many other mechanisms that are available.

The organising, publicity and communication element of this is a key contribution you could help make to the success of the group, so please do get in touch with your ideas and offers to help or come along to the AGM on 16th January to find out more.