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Come on You Reds

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What absolutely fabulous, beautiful animals – but unfortunately in any future life I don’t want to become one, I don’t like nuts. However, in the real world now, I believe that the red squirrel should become Britain’s national animal. England’s choice of a lion for some sporting events can be understood historically – but let’s live in the here and now – the red squirrel is beautiful, but its plight brings home the message that the environment is important and what better way to make people aware of today’s problems than by introducing them to the red squirrel.

I saw my first red squirrels in my early teens when two of my uncles had a shoot in the Breckland (the Norfolk/Suffolk border) on forest land owned by the Forestry Commission. There were many red squirrels at that time – what a pleasure. My pleasure turned to anger one day when the “guns” and beaters were resting under a large oak tree and one of the guns suddenly aimed above us and shot – a red squirrel tumbled down dead. “I thought it was a grey”, he said – if that was true he should have gone to Specsavers and he certainly should not have been carrying a gun. His colleagues were absolutely furious I am glad to say – but fury and humiliation did not bring the squirrel back to life.

My next big squirrel memory is from the Breckland again many years later. I was presenting a countryside programme for Anglia TV; it was so good that I have forgotten its name. Under the great producer, Bill Smith we filmed a feature on a group of scientists re-introducing red squirrels to the Thetford Forest? A good idea? Yes – but appallingly carried out. It is one of the reasons why I do not always believe scientists. Grey squirrels had not been removed from the area and sadly grey squirrels carry “squirrel pox” which is virtually harmless to greys but fatal to reds. Consequently the beautiful, healthy red squirrels transported in from Kielder Forest caught squirrel pox from the greys and quickly died. It was such a waste and was quite disgraceful in my view. So am I sceptical about some aspects of science and scientists? I most certainly am.

But – I have happy memories of red squirrels too. In my early twenties, with little money and an old car – a geriatric Hillman Minx – I drove up to the Scottish Highlands hoping to see red squirrels and ospreys. Money was so tight that I slept in car – now in my early ‘seventies I am almost back to the same situation – never mind.  I woke up on a cold early dawn – what a commotion – red squirrels were everywhere and chasing one another in dizzy circles up and down the trunks of Scots pines right next to the car. Only one word can describe it – wonderful.

Arguably my most important red squirrel encounters came in 2011 or 2012. A tremendous lady, Alison Mountain, was considering giving the Countryside Restoration Trust her farm, on the edge of the Ashdown Forest –  a stunningly beautiful place – and the bluebells are probably flowering as you read this – almost unbelievable.

Well, on the way to see Alison, I would pass a place that struck me as “different” – the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey – only just – very close to the West Sussex border.

One day out of curiosity I stopped at the Centre; what an amazing and pleasant surprise. I met David Mills – a farmer, who had turned his farm into the British Wildlife Centre – it was a Livingstone/Stanley moment and we became good friends instantly. David took me into his fantastic walk-through red squirrel enclosure – what an experience – brilliant. I had red squirrels hanging from my jacket, diving into my pockets looking for hazelnuts; it was one of the most memorable animal experiences I have had. I am pleased to say that David is now building a number of walk-through red squirrel enclosures – the one due for Kew Gardens sounds very special.

This meeting with David and his red squirrels then led to a very cunning plan. Islands are one of the safest refuges for endangered species. So that set us thinking and squirrel expert Dr Craig Shuttleworth carried out a survey for us on Tresco Island in the Isles of Scilly; it sounded almost perfect, with no grey squirrels, too many exotic pines but it had promise. We spoke to the Duchy of Cornwall, the owner, to Robert Dorian Smith, the tenant, to Mike Nelhams, the Curator of Tresco Abbey Gardens and to the Royal Navy Air Squadron at Culdrose in Cornwall to see if they could drop twenty young red squirrels off at Tresco while on a training flight. They could – they did and what a success that has been – the squirrels like it; visitors love them – so far so good.

 

Robin Page

Riverflies Monitoring at Lark Rise

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This Saturday, 26 May we shall be repeating our Bourn Brook riverfly survey, sampling at the riffle in Telegraph field close to the radio telescopes from 2pm onwards. We have nets, trays and waders if anyone wants them, though it is fairly shallow and wellies will suffice.

The idea is to repeat the standard riverfly survey which gives an indication of change in water quality. We identify the insect larvae to basic groups rather than trying to get to species level so it’s fairly simple.

Cheers

Vince

Bluebell Paradise

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It is proving to be a strange and busy year this year. Not only do I have my own small farm to worry about – and be pleased about – according to the ebb and flow of farming, but as this is the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Countryside Restoration Trust, and I am Chairman – I must also keep familiar with the CRT’s properties – all fifteen of them.

Then I must also keep in touch with our Silver Jubilee Patron – Dame Judi Dench. What a woman; and how do I keep in touch with somebody who is so busy at the age of 83 – I’ll tell you about that in The Lady in July.

For the time being, I am trying to go to all the CRT’s Open Days – as well as various country shows where we intend to have our very attractive exhibition trailer. Recently I had a fantastic day at one of our smallest but most beautiful properties – Margaret Wood at Upper Denby in Yorkshire, between Barnsley and Huddersfield – The Last of the Summer Wine Country.

The wood along with its 31 acres of trees, streams and meadows, were left to the CRT in 1991 by a very generous man – Duncan Elliot, an engineer. It was a beautiful wood, surrounded by a fine stone wall, but it was also very quiet and dark. Since then our volunteers and part-time woodman, Edward Noble, have worked hard and transformed the place. With careful felling, sunlight has been allowed in and with it, the bluebells have multiplied and with light and bird nest-boxes birdsong has arrived – blackbirds, blackcaps and great tits in full voice and one or two songs I am not familiar with – possibly that of a wood warbler.

Edward Noble

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All photos courtesy of Julian Eales Photography.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a day Lulu and I enjoyed with a heady mixture of dazzling bluebells (a good ten days later than at one of our southern farms), scent and birdsong. Breath-taking does not do it credit and then there were the beautiful shades of fresh greens from the new leaves of birch and beech. Among the bluebells was the stunning “yellow archangel” looking like an attractive non-stinging nettle – showing that the wood retains remnants of the flora of ancient woodland – and then slot marks (footprints) of the elegant roe deer, my favourite deer. Next year I will try to forewarn readers so they too can experience this fabulous wood with me – it deserves more admirers.

Oh and I must tell you – for many years Edward was a volunteer Lifeboatman – almost in the dead centre of England. So did he go west to the sea of did he go east? He went to the east to Filey – a journey of eighty-five miles, taking over one and a half hours to get there – just in time to help get the boat out of the water again. Last of the Summer Wine? Margaret Wood and its band of helpers are much better than that.

Robin Page

Executive Chairman

First Lapwing Hatchling on Lark Rise Farm

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Quick couple of photos taken before mum returned to the nest.  Beak is in the centre of the nest area. Feathers still wet from being in the egg. Should be running around with its siblings in the sunshine today!

Good news for Lapwing pair 1 in Blackthorns field, the female was sitting in the same spot as last week despite all the disruption from field drilling activities all around her on the 26th April. Checking the contents of the nest we found 3 eggs and 1 chick this afternoon. The chicks are usually timed to hatch together so we would expect the other 3 some time today/tomorrow, and after that they will all start to follow the parents around looking for food. So counting them from now on will get very difficult until they are big enough to see above the crop. This is the first Lapwing to hatch on Lark Rise Farm.

Hurrah!

Vince

Dr Vince Lea, Monitoring Officer

Pied flycatcher Update

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Good news!  I recorded a male pied flycatcher in the old quarry woodland at Turnastone Court Farm on Thursday during a nest box check.  I have never recorded this vulnerable species on the farm before.  It was alarm calling so I don’t know if it may have a nest in a tree hole, but everything is late nesting so it could have been prospecting!  I recorded it close to an empty box … so fingers crossed.

 I have carried out management work with the volunteers including brushcutting the bramble understorey (PFs do not like lots of scrub), got in a contractor to spray the tall nettles that usually grow on this woodland site, and put up boxes.  There are only 3 boxes in the wood; the other two have tit nests in them, so I will be wanting to buy a few more bird boxes for this welcome visitor.

 Viv Geen

Monitoring Officer for Herefordshire

 

Winter food sources

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During some tree planting along a coppiced hedgerow at Turnastone Court Farm in February this year, signs of feeding activity of small mammals were recorded.  During the winter months when food is scarce for small mammals like voles, they resort to eating the bark from twigs and branches of trees.  I came across the stripped hazel twigs of equal lengths on a coppiced stool.  Although this feeding station was evidence of bank or field vole, water voles also do this during the winter months along the banks of watercourses, but on a larger scale.

Coppiced Hazel where voles have been feeding

Vole feeding remains

Twigs with bark removed by voles

 

Viv Geen

Monitoring Officer (Herefordshire)

20/03/18

Kestrels at Awnells

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It was wonderful to see a male kestrel hunting over pasture at Awnells Farm yesterday.  Kestrels have not been recorded on the farm for a couple of years.  This species has been in decline over the last 30 years and is listed as an amber data book species of conservation concern.  The kestrel population has been stable in some parts of the UK, but has declined in other areas.

The exact cause of the decline is not known but loss of habitat is possible, along with a lack of suitable nest sites, and a decrease in prey populations as a result of agricultural management.

A kestrel box was put up on a mature oak tree on the farm in 2015, but unfortunately, this tree was felled by the strong winds we experienced last winter, and the box needs to be placed in another suitable location with foraging habitat.

 

Viv Geen

Monitoring Officer (Herefordshire)

Mayfields Green Roof News !

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Our fantastic Mid-Norfolk conservation volunteers rose to new heights at Mayfields last week to plant 104 wildflower plugs onto the new green roof for our potting shed! A mix of native sedum and other wildflower species selected for us by the folk at British Wildflower Plants…we’re now excited to watch the green roof grow, spread and provide another fantastic little pocket of wildlife habitat in our education garden.

British Wild Flower Plants is the largest grower of UK native plants and sells over 300 different species to all sectors. Connect with @Wildflowers.uk or check out their website http://www.wildflowers.co.uk