Talk notes: Managing the NT hillforts and chalk grasslands for both archaeology and nature conservation
Clive Whitbourn, National Trust Ranger, started his talk with a focus on Hambledon Hill, the 47 hectare hillfort which came to the National Trust in 2014. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a photo from 1940 showed how bare the hillfort was 80 years ago. Now the hillfort is managed lightly, with scrub kept low and any erosion kept at bay with terrace reshaping to preserve the profile of the ramparts.
Clive showed us the methods they use with wooden frameworks buried deep to support hessian bags full of chalk, which bulk out any damaged areas, with turf from the ditch placed on top. The chalkland grasses grow through and thrive. He mentioned that the south and south-west ramparts of Hambledon Hill are best for butterflies.
Cattle scraping for minerals – they can go on binges to self-medicate - and visitors wearing down paths, all play their part in erosion. Roboflail, a mechanical AI cutter, is being used on some of the NT sites to great effect to keep the scrub low and save the man hours for other tasks. The NT relies on volunteer help on many of their conservation projects.
Hod Hill is Dorset’s largest Iron Age hillfort and is unusual because it has a Roman fort nestled within, built at a time when the invaders needed to defend their capture of this Durotriges stronghold. Clive showed us how the framework and hessian bag method was also used to repair a bridleway here.
In terms of nature conservation, Texel sheep are good grazers and White Park cattle are brilliant for rough pastures. Yellow Rattle, which suppresses coarse grass growth, is doing well at Winn Green and there are plans this year to brush-harvest the seed from there and broadcast it to the newly purchased Clubmen’s Down, a 30 acre piece of arable.
Across Clive’s patch and the various Downs and hillforts, uncommon species are being noted: Bee and the Great Butterfly orchids, and the unusual Autumn Lady’s Tresses; Waxcap fungi; Marsh, Silver-spotted and Danville Fritillaries, Grizzled Skippers, Small Blue and Adonis Blue butterflies; Great Green Bush-crickets and Glow worms.
Clive’s talk gave us plenty of inspiration for visiting these places, particularly in the spring and summer!
We shall be showing "My Octopus Teacher", a feature documentary that tells the story of how Craig Foster, following a daily routine of diving in freezing kelp forests off the tip of South Africa, discovers an unusually curious octopus that becomes a major force in his life.
Shot over a full year, this beautiful record of the octopus’s entire life explores the habits and personality of a strange, undulating creature and shows us things never before recorded by science or on film.
Beyond intelligent, dextrous, and resilient, the cephalopod shares its secret world, redefining our understanding of the creatures we share our world with.
Entry, free for anyone under 21, otherwise £1 for members and guests, payable at the door. Victoria Hall, High Street, Tisbury (opposite Tisbury Motors).
We are fortunate to have a range of lakes and pond in the vicinity of Tisbury. These make popular destinations for walks, are great places to look for birds and at this time of year attract increased number of wildfowl which overwinter there awaiting a new breeding season.
Fonthill Lake is the largest and close to a score of waterbirds may be seen there in winter. We are all familiar with the Mute Swans, Mallard, Coots, Grey Heron and Tufted Duck which may be seen all the year round. But it is only in the winter months that the Goosanders arrive. These are quite large diving ducks of the sawbill family (so called because of the serrations on their bills used for catching fish). The male is a very handsome black and white bird with a glossy dark green head which contrasts with its bright red bill. They appear to be quite gregarious so if there are any present, they are generally all in a group rather than scattered across the lake like the swans for example. Their numbers are increasing throughout the country so we might be seeing growing numbers at Fonthill in winters to come.
Another handsome bird is the Mandarin. Although the female of this neat little duck is largely brown and grey with a distinct white eye stripe, the male is much more striking with multicoloured plumage. It has a red bill, broad white eye stripe, orange ruff like feathers on the side of its neck, more orange sail-like feathers sticking up above its back and patches of purple and dark green elsewhere. If you catch a view of one in bright sunshine it looks terribly exotic. It was introduced from China (hence the name) and has naturalised after escaping from private collections. It likes lakes and ponds with lots of overhanging vegetation and can sometimes be seen sitting on branches above the water.
We are becoming used to seeing Little Egrets (a small white heron with bright yellow feet and a black bill) on local lakes, ponds and watercourses so it is surprising to think that they only started colonising the UK in the late 1990s. Far less frequent but occasionally to be seen in the Nadder Valley and its waterbodies is the Great White Egret, another relatively recent colonist. It is possible to confuse these two Egrets when apart, but the Great White is much larger – the size of a Heron – and has black feet and a longer, yellow, dagger-like bill. A third species, the Cattle Egret, has also expanded its range across Europe, and first bred in the UK on the Somerset Levels in 2008. Who knows how long it will be before they are seen around here?
In contrast to the Goosander, some other duck species favour salt water and winter off our coasts. However, when there is a particularly bad storm some of these might be driven inland and can turn up anywhere, so it is always worth having a close look at the wildfowl around us in winter especially after really bad weather.
by Andrew Graham
Talk on Thurs 19 Jan at 7:30pm: Conserving the wildlife and landscape of local National Trust properties
Our first talk of the year will be given by National Trust Ranger Clive Whitbourn. Clive has responsibility for the day-to-day management and nature conservation of a number of the Trust’s properties near here with great landscape, archaeological, and biodiversity importance, including Hambledon Hill, Hod Hill, Fontmell Down and Melbury Down, Turnworth Woods/Ringmoor and Win Green.
He will describe some of the things that make these sites so special, and also some of the challenges of managing them, both for conservation and for the enjoyment of the visiting public.
The Victoria Hall, High Street, Tisbury and its bar, will be open as usual from 7:00 p.m. Members and those under 21 have free entry and we welcome any visitors to join us and pay a guest fee of £2. Please bring cash!
How stunning it was to see our members' photographs up on the large screen, nattily disguised for the voting protocol by alphanumeric codes. With the delicious plum gluhwein and mince pies from Debbie and Andrew Carter, plus Izzy Fry's talk on bird-ringing, our Christmas event was highly enjoyable. Thank you for your contributions!
The winning photographs for each category are shown below:
Birds - Lapwing by Izzy Fry
Invertebrates - Adonis Blue by Peter Shallcross
Mammals - Fox by Andrew Carter
Fungi - Chicken in the woods by Jasper Bacon
Landscape - Ashcombe Bottom by Andrew Carter
Plant - Lichen by Andrew Graham
*please note that it hasn't always been possible to show the full parameters of each photo in the upload.
There was no overall winner due to the wide range of votes. Two other members also deserve special mentions with runner up scores: Debbie Carter (Tawny owlets) and Claire Cartwright (bumblebee).
Izzy Fry gave us a fascinating talk on bird ringing last week at our final meeting of the year. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) regulates bird ringing in this country and Izzy has built up a huge amount of experience over the last 4-5 years in a range of locations and with different mentors, and even at night for the nightingales and nightjars, as she works towards a professional qualification.
As always Izzy's photographs were beautifully clear and expressive, and we were treated to a panoply of stunning close-ups of birds and saw how the fine meshed nets, which gently capture the birds, were stretched out near field boundaries. The birds go still in these nets and don't flap, so there is no harm to them in the process. Tall ladders (12 feet or more) can be set up for inspecting raptor nests and there are even ring sizes for baby birds which are delicately handled by those who have a special licence.
We heard how the ringing of birds has helped to further our knowledge about migratory journeys, when the codes from the leg rings of captured or dead birds are reported back to the BTO from overseas. The practice of doing regular bird-ringing in the UK also contributes to our understanding of the populations of species around the country, as it provides valuable longitudinal data sets for the BTO.
Thank you to those who have submitted their photos for the competition which we'll show at the Christmas meeting this coming Thursday 15th December at 7pm. Mince pies and mulled wine will be served!
We would like some more photos if you can get them to us before end of Sunday 11th Dec. The email address for submissions was included in the Treasurer's update email, otherwise please use the contact page and we'll send the info to you. We don't publish email addresses on this website due to spam prevention.
There are 6 categories for the photo competition. Please submit only one photo per category:
Izzy Fry, our Young Nature Watch co-founder, will also be giving a talk about her experience of "Bird ringing: How, what and why" which will start at 7:30pm.
A cutting of Erigeron daisies taken from my courtyard released a curious flatworm later in the day at its new home. Thankfully it was spotted and isolated, while the two thin red stripes and features were pored over. The RHS later had to come to our rescue with the identification (thank you, Lynne, for your help with this) and this is what they said. It's worth knowing about in case other people make similar discoveries, because these flatworms should be destroyed.
"I think that it is likely that the flatworm you have found is Kontikia ventrolineata. This is a non-native flatworm, with origins probably to Australia and/or New Zealand, whilst some records indicate also the Indo-Pacific region. It is a small flatworm with a dark coloured body. This flatworm species is thought to have been introduced in 1840 and has several UK records. It can feed on small invertebrates that it can catch, including small snails but it also appears to be a scavenger.
Once it has arrived in a garden there is really nothing effective that can be done to reduce their numbers. Destroying any that you find hiding underneath pots or stones will remove a few, but this is likely to be only a small proportion of the population in your garden. There are no pesticides available that will control flatworms.
Kontikia ventrolineata, is listed under Schedule 9 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 with respect to England and Wales and it is an offence to release it or allow its escape to the wild. You should endeavour to avoid spreading the flatworm to new areas that are as yet free of flatworms. They spread to new areas through the movement of growing plants, compost or soil, so you should be careful about giving growing plants to other gardeners.
More information about flatworms can be found at https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=975 "
One of the joys of a still December’s day is the plaintive winter song of the robin ringing out across the garden or woodland. This is softer and lest assertively sung than in spring and summer but may be heard at any time of day especially dawn and dusk. Both male and female sing as they hold separate territories during winter: the male defends the breeding territory, while the female of the pair moves a short distance away to hold an area with good feeding opportunities.
A small, neat bird, the robin is a relative of the chats, redstarts, and flycatchers. It is common throughout the country, and resident across the whole of the British Isles mainland but for the mountaintops of the highlands.
It must be one of the few birds which everyone will recognises, with its distinctive orange-red breast the colour of which also extends up to the bird’s “face” around the bill and eyes. This very visible plumage is used in display when birds are defending territory. The bird thrusts out its breast and fluffs up its feathers to make the show of red as prominent as possible. You may see two birds facing off against each other seeing which can display most impressively before a chase ensues. The red breast provokes such a strong response that they sometimes attack their own reflection in a window. However, as male and female have the same plumage, the red breast has no courtship role. In the languages of several continental countries the bird’s name also refers to the red breast and British colonists took the term robin with them so that birds with red breasts in both north America and Australia are referred to as robins, even though they are not from related families.
We take for granted that robins are quite comfortable near humans and will hop around us looking for food items disturbed by our gardening. This appears result from people’s longstanding affection for and protection of the bird in this country. In contrast, on the continent where some huntsmen have a propensity to shoot anything that moves – including robins – they are considerably more wary.
The birds are quite short lived, many fledglings fail to make it through their first winter because, in common with all small birds, robins will lose body weight very quickly in extended chilly weather. This is when garden feeding can be critical for their survival.
Even those that survive usually only live on for a couple of years. So, although we may regularly see robins in our garden, over the years they are likely to be a sequence of different birds rather than the same ones. They are sedentary, rather than migratory, so vacant territories will likely be filled by locally bred birds, perhaps the offspring of the previous territory holder.
by Andrew Graham
At our Christmas meeting on Thursday December 15th we will be holding a competition to find the best photos taken by our members.
There will be 6 categories:
Members will receive an email with the details of how to submit your photos. You can also contact us for the relevant details via the Contact page.
Maximum of one photo per category per participant and the deadline is Sunday 11th December.
The photos will be displayed on the screen at the front of the hall before the talk starts, judging will be by the audience and the results will be posted on Facebook and on this website.
Photo: Barn owl
The headers display photos taken by our members. Do get in touch via the Contact Form if you'd like to submit a photo for selection.