The small field adjacent to the main meadow has not received much management over the years except for boundary hedge planting. On its west side, the brook is eroding the bank away and on the east the brambles have been slowly encroaching, so work has begun on taking most of the brambles out. This will allow access and light to the old meanders that have been hidden from view and which still hold water for part of the year. The value of the nature reserve is in its wetland habitats more than any other and since brambles are a widespread “species” they are not a valuable asset (except in the autumn when replete with juicy berries!). Species is in inverted commas above, because there are actually 325 named microspecies in the genus Rubus. There is a common species of moth the Bramble-shoot Moth (Epiblemma uddmanniana), the larva of which, “mines” the interior of the leaf in a characteristic wending way, before it pupates and flies off to find a mate in June/July.
I hope you like the bramble clearance which is now finished for the winter. Thanks to Peter Stafford and Geoffrey Littlejohns for their help. I was sent a photograph just after we’d finished this, showing a family visiting the brook in the 80s. Clearly a late spring day, it is very noticeable how devoid of overgrowth the stream was on its bank-sides and how much more attractive it was then for picnic parties. It must though, have contained a lower diversity of fauna and there are no plans to change the nature reserve to a soccer pitch! I have put the photo on the web site. If anyone else has photos of the meadow from times past, we would love to see them and, with your permission, publish them on the world wide web! Extensive, lying snow can be good news for voles for the barn owls will struggle to locate them as they live their lives beneath a protective, insulating and opaque screen. Up to 12 Fieldfares made short work of my remaining windfall apples during that period.
A Woodcock was a new species for the bird list, although they have been seen nearby on several occasions. Reed Buntings and Tree Sparrows were also present and Grey Partridges were seen locally: these are all UK Biodiversity Action Plan species because of their declining numbers and their presence supports the status and purpose of the nature reserve. There were about 20 Yellowhammers present too, however visits were spoilt by the regular blasts from gas-driven bird scarers; it would be interesting to know what effect these have on birds (and mammals) that are not the intended “target”. They certainly scare the wits out of me when on a country stroll and one goes off without warning!
Another new species of bird was added to the reserve list when a couple of Redpolls were spotted feeding on the willow flowers. They bring the total number of birds recorded there to 70 which is a respectable number for a site that just a little over a hectare. A Tawny Owl was roosting there on the same day and the warmer March days saw Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies on the wing.
At one corner of the reserve, a sizeable Elm tree stands in the shelter of a bigger Ash. Hedgerow elms normally die off from Dutch Elm disease when they are about 4 metres tall but this one is substantially taller and has not succumbed – yet. I’m hopeful it may host White-letter Hairstreak butterflies one day as they are said to be found away from woodland but they can be notoriously difficult to see.
Make a note of the Open Day which is on 17th May from 11.00 till 4.00. There will be a gazebo for shelter from the sun! And wardens on hand to show you around.
In the 25 years since the meadow was acquired by the parish council, there have been just two managers: Ken Jackson took over from Tony Gough about fifteen years ago, but a slow recovery from an operation has meant that he cannot be as active as he would wish and he has now decided to retire. Anyone who has enjoyed the reserve in Ken’s time as manager owes him a big thank you; myself included. Thanks Ken! I was invited to take on the role and I was very pleased to accept. I don’t wish to give anyone the idea that the reserve is managed single-handedly though: A management group meets several times a year, a handful of devoted wardens keep a regular eye on the place and keep it tidy and the more able-bodied, pull together at work parties with the more demanding tasks.
There is a web site that gives more information about the reserve, hosted by www.ourkeyworth.co.uk and this includes more information about the wildlife and history including recent and not so recent photos. If anyone has old photos of the local countryside I would love to share them through this site or a new one. If you could loan me the prints, I will scan them in.
Little Owls were being harassed by Carrion Crows close to a nest box that we’d put out for the Tawny Owls that often roost in the meadow. All went quiet subsequently but one was later seen close to a natural tree hole so maybe they relocated. Howard Broughton of the Rushcliffe Barn Owl Project has told me that there are now two pairs of Barn Owls in the village and the species can be seen gracefully quartering the meadow on frequent occasions. If you’d like a copy of Howard’s book, The Barn Owl Diaries, which documents the highs and lows of this fantastically successful conservation work, give me a ring on 0115 9144896. Price is £5 (plus £1 postage if you’re outside Keyworth) and all the funds go straight back into running costs.
Two Turtle Doves, Tree Sparrows and a Cuckoo were present during May; these are all species that have suffered dramatic declines in their populations nationally.
There is a patch of grassland that has lots of Pignut (a little umbellifer) and its associated, day-flying, moth, the Chimney Sweeper, that is being colonised by the undesirable Meadowsweet and which will need some control soon. The rest of the meadow has become dominated by Cow Parsley because of the lack of resources in managing the site as we would wish, but the brook mostly maintains its tranquil character.
I spotted my first Painted Lady on 21st May and at the time I was unaware of the massive migration of this enigmatic butterfly northwards from its wintering grounds in North Africa. By the 28th May this movement had reached Keyworth and hundreds were passing through, some purposefully heading northwards and others stopping off to feed. By early June their numbers were dwindling and I suppose they had laid eggs and died, exhausted from their 1,300 mile journey that began in March. Their numbers seemed to be increasing again from early July and I take these to be home-bred insects that will visit the buddleia through the late summer and then die here in a vain attempt to survive our winter as there seems to be no evidence of them making a southward journey.
The Meadow always holds a lot of the so-called micro-moths which are easily disturbed by day. These can be truly tiny with a wing span of just 8mm, but nevertheless, with the aid of a hand lens, some are truly beautiful. A common one during July was the Diamond-back which, amazingly, is also a migrant, with sometimes thousands turning up at coastal migration watch points such as Dungeness and Portland.
In laying the old hedge on the path a few years ago, we cleared the blackthorn to ground level and the response has been for it to grow back with a vengeance! Whilst it provides good wildlife cover (and the fruits for the Sloe Gin this Christmas!) it is impeding the track. Also the hedge on the other side is now of a height that it can be laid and this will be a far easier task then before since it is 30 years old and will be much more pliant than the thick old trunks.
For these tasks we need you! Hedge laying can be undertaken when there is an R in the month so from September I would like to commence work parties on Sunday mornings. Your commitment need not be binding (a hedge laying pun!) but our active volunteers have reduced recently and we would love to have some new faces along. None of us are skilled hedge-layers but we reckon we can make a decent job of this one and pass on some of the experience we have gained from past efforts. Please give me a ring on 0115 9144896 if you would like to give it a try.
What a disappointing July! At least the brook was freshened up from the rain and was babbling away nicely by early August but insect activity was generally reduced and the opportunity for surveys was severely impeded. A new bird species was a couple of fly-over Mute Swans but the rain wasn’t sufficient to create conditions suitable for them. Thankfully!
Access to the meadow this coming winter will be a lot less hazardous and may be accomplished without wellington boots for the first time, thanks to a donation through the County Council’s “Building Better Communities” initiative. Cllr Linda Abbey presented the bid, which was approved by County Councillor John Cottee and around 100 metres of the most poorly drained section of Lings Lane was improved at the end of August. Sections of the lane had been very bad for many years but the repaired length had muddy pools nearly a foot deep for prolonged periods in wet weather.
The area of brambles in the small field, which was cleared last winter, has not been managed since and the bramble re-growth is competing with the grass that had previously been shaded out. If I were a Harvest Mouse, I think I would consider this paradise and if I don’t find any of their breeding nests there when the grass dies back I’ll eat my hat.
A large flock of over 100 finches brought back memories of when this was commonplace. The calls sounded like they were all Linnets but there were a lot of Goldfinches amongst them too. I don’t suppose they’ll remain for long as today’s arable fields are too barren to provide sustenance. Look out for Jays making excursions from their woodland homes in search of hedgerow acorns this month.
The final cut of the year has tidied up the field but a lot of work is still necessary to control the path-side vegetation. The prolonged dry autumn has reduced flows in the brook to a trickle and in places the brooklime has grown right across the channel. The meander ponds are totally dry and it is easy to think of this as devastating for the wildlife that uses these ponds, both invertebrates such as dragonflies and vertebrates such as fish and newts but they seem well adapted. I have found Migrant Hawker nymphs in these ponds (which dry up most years at some time) yet these have a two to three year aquatic stage so they must survive drought; Indeed I cleared out my garden pond in October and found the nymph of a dragonfly under the dry earth at the edge of the pond, though this behaviour doesn’t seem to be documented. Newts, of course, are now hibernating away from the water, but dry spells when the tadpoles still have gills presumably spells disaster whilst the sticklebacks that occasionally populate the pools must get there when the brook floods.
Those calm, Indian Summer days were great for watching the Buzzards which are now so commonplace that they barely get a second look and yet they were rarely seen till about ten years ago. Now it seems to be Ravens that are making a return – I’ve seen them from Lings Lane and over the village twice recently.
Whilst raking the meadow on a cloudless, calm morning, my bored dog was spotted investigating one particular location which upon investigation proved to be a nest of what I take to have been field voles. Still blind, their blunt faces and short tails and the nest, composed of short shredded lengths of grass that fell apart easily when handled distinguished them from harvest mice (whose nest would have been built off the ground – but it could have fallen when the meadow was mown) but I can’t be sure that they weren’t bank voles. Unless trapped for specifically, vole sightings are normally restricted to brief glimpses at best and their status in the meadow is uncertain to me. One of the babies was clearly dead but I don’t know if it was my raking or the dog’s inquisitiveness that caused it. I returned the survivors to the nest expecting them to succumb. Next day I re-located the nest expecting to see several corpses but the nest was empty and since the nest material was undisturbed I can only think that the mother returned and carried them to safety!
We’re hoping to get Higher Level Stewardship from Natural England which will contribute substantially to fencing the meadow and allow aftermath grazing. If there are any botanists wanting a long-term project, this would be a great opportunity to document the effect of this management.
We now have an extra seat in the meadow which we have placed near the “picnic area” close to the brook. Also the rather well worn one on the top path has been replaced with something a little more durable. They are both “cast-offs” from the village but I’m sure they’ll be highly welcomed after the trek along Lings Lane and I hope will make finding “time to stand and stare” more comfortable.
During morning walks to the meadow and back during November, I thought it would be interesting to make a note of all the bird species recorded. On the six occasions when I did this I managed a total of 41 species with a maximum on one occasion of 31. The best of the bunch were Kingfisher and Tree Sparrow, but Bullfinches continue to be remarkably prominent and were recorded on 5 occasions and even Buzzard managed to show on 3 mornings.
A cock Pheasant has taken up residence in my and neighbours’ gardens. It was present along with six Woodpigeons at one time; a clear reflection of the times for I’m sure that not so long back they would all have been in the pot long ago.