At the start of our visit at Ryewater Nursery in June we were allowed into the tropical butterflies breeding room, door closed to prevent any escapees, where Ed Whittingham explained the breeding life cycles of these beautiful exotic butterflies as they whirled around us amongst their favourite food plants. These butterflies are specially bred for butterfly world garden centres around the country and so it was fascinating to see them at this early stage. Uniquely the population of butterflies in the greenhouse are self-sustaining.
Under construction is a lake which will become a reedbed for warblers. It has a raised plank path 'sweetway' leading to and from a reed-roofed building housing a 6,000 year old bog oak sculpture.
Ryewater is a stunning haven for wildlife, not open to the public, unless for small groups by pre-arrangement and their full time ecologist Wren Franklin showed us round. Areas for ecological nurturing such as a pond with protective hedgerows for great crested newts and a rounded, ancient looking cool house to encourage nesting bats were complemented by large sculptures and artfully designed structures embedded into the landscape. Here was a land that was bursting at the seams with wildflowers and habitats for wildlife, to protect their way of life with a creative passion that was so unusual to see. We felt very fortunate to have spent half a day there.
We were very fortunate with our visit to Martin Down and Vernditch Chase. Sunshine and dry weather with only a light breeze were ideal condition for seeking out butterflies and not only did we see a long list of species, we saw many of them in good numbers.
Once we had achieved a safe crossing of the A354, we were soon amongst the butterflies, especially Gatekeepers, which were nectaring on the brambles in the sheltered track heading north towards the old Roman Road. The latter was covered with flowers which were attracting Meadow Browns and Marbled Whites.
Following the track through the banks of scrub we found further areas with rich herb floras and plenty more butterflies. As well as the brambles, thistles, scabious and ragwort were favoured by the butterflies but some of the more exciting species, such as Dark Green Fritillaries and White Admirals were much more mobile but still relatively easily viewed.
After a lunch break on a very pleasant sunny bank overlooking a swathe of flowers, we pressed on into the woodlands proper of Vernditch Chase in search of the last few target species. We eventually were lucky enough to find one large, sheltered bramble clump in full sun and here had good views of the handsome Silver Washed Fritillary as well as Large Skippers which had until then eluded us.
Our final butterfly species list for the outing was:
Come and join us on Sunday 9th July for a stroll through Vernditch Woods and across Martin Down National Nature Reserve with the knowledgeable butterfly enthusiast Andrew Graham. Please send a message via the Contact form.
If weather permits, the focus will be on butterflies but there will be ample opportunity to look at the flora as well. No dogs.
Meet at the Nadder Centre car park at 11:00am or at the Martin Down car park, SP5 5RQ beside the A354, at roughly 12:00pm.
Distance, Difficulty and Footwear. Approximately 4km/2.5 miles on flat, mainly grassed, paths and tracks. Stout shoes should suffice unless wet. Bring a packed lunch and refreshments.
There are still a few spaces for this trip organised by Peter Shallcross. Please use the Contact form if you'd like to come. Ryewater Nursery is privately owned and not open to the public, so this is a wonderful opportunity to visit Clive Farrell's creatively designed wildlife haven.
Meet at Nadder Centre car park ready for departure at 9:30am on Fri 23 June or at the Ryewater Nursery DT9 5PL, at roughly 10:30am. Note, Ryewater Nursery is on the east side of Broke Lane, approximately 7km/4.5 miles south of Sherborne. The postcode is shared with Ryewater Farm that is on the other side of Broke Lane.
Distance, Difficulty and Footwear. Approximately 4km/2.5 miles on flat, paths and tracks. Stout shoes should suffice unless wet. Bring a packed lunch and refreshments.
The focus will be on butterflies but there will be ample opportunity to look at the varied habitats of this former nursery, now managed for conservation, with a butterfly house and gardens of around 20 acres. No dogs.
Meet at the Nadder Centre car park on Sat 3rd June at 10.30am or approximately 1 hour 15 minutes later at the Westhay Moor Reserve BA6 9TX. The car park is at OS ST 456 437, just north of the junction between Westhay Moor Drove and Dagg’s Lane Drove, between the villages of Westhay and Godney.
Distance, Difficulty and Footwear: Approximately 5 km/3 miles on flat gravel paths which may be a bit muddy if there has been recent rain. Good stout shoes should suffice rather than wellingtons. Bring a packed lunch and refreshments.
This Field Trip has limited numbers. There may still be places if you've not yet signed up and want to come. Equally please let us know if you're on the list, but can no longer make the date. We are now using the email address email@example.com for organising lists for events, so please contact us there.
Head over to the Field Trips page to download a document we've prepared about meeting places, distance, difficulty and footwear for all the main Field Trips this year. There's a wonderful line up of outings, both day and night, to experience the wildlife world of nightjars, otters, beavers, migratory birds, ancient trees...and the list goes on! The first one will be on Mon 1 May 2023 for a guided bird walk at Wallmead Farm with ecologist Nick Adams, starting at 5.30pm.
Please note that the Young Nature Watch Activities are listed on the main Calendar and details about them will be communicated on the YNW Blog and via email.
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!
Rebecca Twigg started her talk last week by stressing the relative unimportance of honey bees compared with wild pollinators such as solitary bees, bumblebees, moths, butterflies, hoverflies and beetles. She gave several examples of solitary bee species that are commonly found in gardens such as the Ashy and Tawny mining bees, as well as the recently arrived Ivy bees, and explained interesting details about their lifecycles and habitat requirements. Later, she gave us examples of the best garden flowers for pollinators, natives as well as exotics.
She stressed the importance of having flowers blooming all year round, with Heathers from late winter, Lungwort in early spring and continuing right through to early winter with Mahonia, for example. Rebecca explained how she restocks her garden by swapping plants, growing from cuttings and collecting seeds rather than buying from
Rebecca pointed out how planting in drifts is so important, so the bees don’t have to waste energy flying between individual flowers, making sure there’s a variety of flower types, e.g., Foxgloves for long-tongued bumblebees and daisies for short-tongued hover-flies.
Rebecca then spoke about creating different habitats in gardens, to provide for the diverse requirements of different pollinators. Drilling holes between 5 and 8mm and pencil length into wooden panels, logs or posts placed in warm, sunny situations can provide valuable nesting sites for solitary bees. The importance of having areas of short and longer (flower rich) grass in a lawn to cater for mining bees, which need warm soil to complete their lifecycle, was emphasised.
We recommend walking the Salisbury Bee Trail which Rebecca is responsible for laying out and for which she won an award.
by Peter Shallcross
This month we welcome Rebecca Twigg, founder of Salisbury's Secret Garden.
Rebecca is an organic gardener with a passion for the natural world who received a DEFRA award for the Salisbury Bee Trail project. She has now started a new community garden at the Five Rivers Health and Well-being Centre and an additional ‘green space kick start’ scheme for those wanting to take on a patch of ground themselves.
“Exploration outside is absolutely in my heart, there is something magical about immersing yourself in nature …these interactions shape our values and abilities to manage in an ever-changing world too.”
As last month, the Victoria Hall bar will be open from 7:00PM to serve wine, beer and soft drinks before the meeting.
We plan, as usual now, to live-stream Rebecca’s presentation over Zoom for anyone not able to attend in person; I’ll send out the Zoom link to members a few days before.
Attending our meetings is free for members and anyone under 21; adult visitors are asked for a £2 contribution. If you are not a member but would like to come along, please get in touch via the contact form. The Victoria Hall is on the High St, Tisbury, opposite the garage.
16 members gathered on a predictably hot day at The Learning Centre at Durlston Country Park near Swanage. Dorset Council ranger Paul Jones gave us an introductory talk about the different habitats and the wildlife that we were likely to see. Had we visited earlier (say early June), we could have seen, heard and smelt the colony of guillemots nesting on the cliffs and seen the numerous different species of orchids flowering in the meadows that Durlston is well known for.
However, there was still plenty to see. Paul led us to an old quarry where, on hands and knees, he showed us the rare bastard toadflax (stars-in-grass is his more preferable name for it). He led us to meadows where we quickly saw brown argus, common and holly blues, meadow browns and a single grayling butterfly and, later on, a clouded yellow.
From the cliffs we spied a flight of cormorants and a few lucky members saw peregrine falcons and a white-tailed eagle (They have been re-introduced on the Isle of Wight).
After a fascinating 1.5 hour guided walk we bade farewell to Paul and most of us made our way to the cafe in the castle where, to top things off, we were treated to fly-by from a Lancaster bomber off Old Harry’s rocks as part of the Swanage Festival.
by Peter Shallcross
Photo: Avocets (Izzy Fry)
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.