The log pile laid down last winter, has its first fungus just taking hold and a puff-ball, still emitting a cloud of spores when knocked, despite its obvious maturity, were the mychorrizal highlights, whilst the more popular subject matter, the birds, were notable by their absence. Neighbouring fields held a few Redwings, but the large numbers of Fieldfares foraging on the berry supply of the tall hedgerows and mature hawthorn trees around the meadow in November, have now disappeared. Most of the hedges visible from Lings Lane are now cut annually and resemble suburbia. This obsession with tidiness has come about since the availability of the tractor-mounted flail and has meant a massive reduction in the food supply of wintering thrushes, which used to forage the hedgerows for the first part of the winter and resort to the fields when the berry supply had been depleted. It is recommended that hedges are cut on a three year cycle but I see little evidence of it being applied.
Extensive margins of a seed-bearing crucifer in a field nearby have attracted a large flock of mixed finches and buntings, including a male Brambling plus Linnets and Yellowhammers.
The first flowering plant was, as expected, Celandine which first opened on 26th January. Kingfishers have been notable by their absence recently; this is perhaps explained by the prolonged periods of high flows during January, and I guess they have temporarily relocated to ponds and gravel pits. Those flows have given the brook’s margins a battering in places with several cubic metres having been eroded away at one location where a willow is impeding the flow. The relentless rains also caused the old meanders to fill to an unusually high level and it was evident that there is quite a gradient still existing. This has raised the possibility of building some dams or sluices to try to hold back the flow and keep standing water in the ponds for longer periods.
Along the path into the meadow, I found two used harvest mouse nests recently. This came as a great surprise as I’d recognised the potential habitat and searched thoroughly (or so I thought) during the late summer and I had concluded that the steady disturbance by visitors and dogs would have been too much for them.
Willow Tits, Bullfinches, Kestrels, Buzzards and Tawny Owls were recorded during the month either in the meadow or close by and surveying for the new BTO winter atlas has now recorded 45 species.
During clearance of some of the elders from the west facing bank, intended to allow better light penetration and encourage flora, it was noticed that the great show of Dog-violets there a few years ago, appears to have been swamped by the spread of ivy. Attempts will be made to reverse this but Celandines and Violets are in flower elsewhere.
Willow Tits, Bullfinches, Kestrels, Buzzards and Tawny Owls were recorded during the month either in the meadow or close by and surveying for the new BTO winter atlas has now recorded 45 species. Around a thousand Fieldfares and a few Redwings still frequent the nearby fields and the single male Brambling was seen again.
We would like to see more use of the meadow by schools and groups. Some basic equipment and ideas are available for use to make visits both enjoyable and educational.
The first returning summer migrant was a chiffchaff singing in the meadow on 30th March and there were small tortoiseshells on the wing locally with frogs croaking in the full meanders on the same day. Plenty of Buzzards were gliding and enjoying thermals around this time, too, following the cold windy weather preceding.
The Meadow Open Day will be on Sunday 18th May. A gazebo will provide shelter from the sun (or rain) and wardens will be on hand to show off some of the flora and flora along with captured exhibits. We’ll be there from 11 till 4.
The spring sees the meadow at its best and it’s a great place for a family picnic; a walk down provides exercise, saves the carbon involved in driving up to Derbyshire and introduces the kids to the meadows delights: Don’t forget the pond net and jam-jar!
The old meanders remain full to the brim in early May but as soon as a prolonged summer dry spell prevails (if it does) the level will drop rapidly and by July, what are now deep ponds, could be as dry as a bone. It is tempting to think that ponds should have water in all year round for them to be of benefit to wildlife but surprisingly that is not so. Newts and frogs especially, can benefit from such ephemeral habitats as it ensures there are no fish present to predate on their tadpoles. There is also a type of tiny shrimp called Chirocephalus which tolerates prolonged dry conditions and which proliferates in early spring when the ponds are full. These are closely related to Artemia that are sold dry in toyshops as “Sea Monkeys”.
I’ve said many times that the meadow is important for Turtle Doves but their absence (and that of Cuckoo) is worryingly in tune with their national decline and yet Willow Tits remain regular here.
The Open Day attracted more than thirty visitors, which made it worthwhile. Thank you for coming and thanks to the helpers too! The full day spent there confirmed the absence of Turtle Doves; their gentle purring on early summer days could now be gone from the meadow forever unless there is a change in their fortunes: this would be assisted by a cessation of the widespread shooting and trapping of this species in Malta, which has been illegal since their accession to the EU in 2004 but not enforced. A recent ruling by the EU ordered the enforcement of the law but, it seems, too late for our birds and it remains to be seen whether the Maltese government acts with sufficient toughness on the hunters.
Holly Blues are having a good season; I saw one in the Meadow in late May which I think was my first for the site.
The British Trust for Ornithology launched its new atlas fieldwork last winter. Volunteers are asked to conduct two winter and two summer surveys and these are now completed for the the “tetrads” – the 2km x 2km squares, that incorporate the meadow and the village. There have been no surprises (apart from the disappointing news on Turtle Doves mentioned last month) though non-ornithologists may be interested to hear of the more uncommon birds that breed locally. These include Kingfishers near the meadow, Goldcrests in the village, Lesser Whitethroats (and the more frequent Whitethroat) in the Lings Lane area and the meadow and Tree Sparrows somewhere locally, judging by the family party I came across in late June. The Atlas results are entered online and anyone can add to the results with “Roving Records” so if you know a species has bred nearby you can check on whether I missed it by going to the website www.bto.org/birdatlas.
Plans to make the meadow stockproof to allow limited grazing have been scuppered by our neighbours, Mr and Mrs Butterfield of North Lodge Farm because they say they want to be able to access the brook personally. I had imagined that with several hundred acres at their disposal they would have looked charitably on the temporary sequestration of a narrow strip of uncultivable riverbank for the benefit of nature and the people of Keyworth but that's not so. Funding for the proposal had been gained in full from Severn Trent Water and Rushcliffe Borough Council, but without the Butterfield's agreement we can't proceed. Such mean spiritedness beggars belief and means that the voluntary wardens will have to continue to try to rake and burn the field off each autumn. This has always been a tricky undertaking as we've been at the mercy of the weather and without a reliable dry spell when labour is available, attempts are abortive. This means the thatch gets left in to rot down and replenish soil fertility, making the rank grasses lush and the species richness poorer.
Moth trapping in the meadow at the end of August produced a few new species including Swallow Prominent, Dusky Thorn and Centre-barred Sallow. I was accompanied throughout by the calls of teenagers having fun by the brook on what was a dry and balmy night.
Grey Squirrels have only recently been added to the species list for the meadow and while talking to someone recently it occurred to me that squirrels seem very uncommon in the village – at least where I live. I have well-stocked bird feeders out most of the time and I’m never troubled despite there being an old hedge and mature trees adjacent. Is everyone in Keyworth as free from this “welcome entertaining guest/ furry-tailed rat pest” (Delete as appropriate) as me? If so, it would be intriguing to understand why, for I’m sure that less-wooded areas are well populated by them. I did have one in my garden once, about twenty years ago, which I take to have been a dispersing juvenile.
Winter work parties resume in November through to around the end of March. We usually work Sunday mornings from about 9.00 till noon, but this can be flexible if you’re keen but unable to make that commitment. Foul weather is avoided! Tasks planned are siding off the hedges, widening the pinch-point on the brook-side path, clearance of willows in the brook channel, clearance of elders in the top bank and if resources permit, the clearance of the mass of brambles in the small meadow and the re-creation of wetlands there.
There is no commitment to turning up every weekend and the tasks are undertaken at a leisurely pace with time for a chat in between. It’s also a good and rewarding way to keep fit, so if you’re tempted, give me a ring on 0115 9144896. You will need to supply strong boots, jackets and gardening gloves; we’ll provide the tools (including chainsaw for the bigger stuff).
Grey Herons are seen infrequently at the meadow and are easily flushed accidentally before a prolonged view can be enjoyed. This was the case in late October when a bird that was clearly in the process of depleting the chub stocks, spread its great wings and with dangling legs and ungainly neck, became airborne. The water levels in the brook were low and the water clear, so the fish were rather at the mercy of this specialist predator with only the roots and shade of a bank-side hawthorn as defence.
Apart from chub, the only other species of fish in the brook are Three-spined Stickleback and Stone Loach. Years ago, I’m sure there were Minnows too and a more concerted effort would be helpful in confirming them or otherwise. Old reports of Trout are obviously in error as the stream is not sufficiently oxygenated for them to survive.
I’ve never seen a slow worm in Nottinghamshire. In fact I’ve only found them in Essex woodlands and Dorset down-land, though they are apparently not uncommon in gardens in the southern counties of England. Keyworth Meadow would appear to be ideal habitat for them, especially the tussocky small field but the placing of roofing-felt refugia, failed to attract any. They have certainly been seen nearby at Wysall though I don’t know if they are still present. There is a policy of not introducing any fauna or flora that has not been previously recorded from the meadow but we are prepared to make an exception where the habitat appears so suitable but no natural method of colonisation exists through the mostly intensely farmed land around. If you know of any, and they seem threatened through cats (frequent predators) or land management please let me know, with a view to relocating them. (We will of course need a licence to do so). Tel 07981 928402