Juniper scrub prospers well on rocky screes, exposed to the light, away from heavy grazing activity. Matt Pitts, Meadows Adviser at the Salisbury-based environmental charity Plantlife, showed us striking photographs of sites in Cumbria and the Caledonian forest where juniper growth has persisted since the last Ice Age. Closer to home we heard about Plantlife’s project in the Wylye Valley and the Chilterns where they are regenerating juniper on chalkland downs. Not only will this conserve the habitats for the 50 species of insects and 40 of fungi which solely rely on juniper, but it will also contribute to the biodiversity of species on these sites.
Historical records of land usage show that juniper started to disappear when the downlands were fenced and the shift in grazing patterns caused an impact, with some land also being lost to arable, particularly after the Napoleonic War and World War II. Despite this, Juniper went through a mini regeneration during the myxomatosis period 1960-80 as it no longer had the threat of thousands of rabbits nibbling its young shoots.
We learned a striking fact that the berries have a low fertility with only 1-5% viability, so gathering viable seed is difficult. The Juniper project team is aided by the Millenium Seedbank which stores seed and checks on viability. Plantlife mainly use two methods of cultivation: they grow from seed and store young plants in a nursery for several years until they are strong enough for planting out and they also scatter seed on prepared scrapes of chalkland. Locally they have extensive scrapes on the Fonthill Estate in the Wylye Valley where they are trialling juniper regeneration.
Patience is definitely required because juniper takes a long time to establish. We saw photographs of a scraped chalk fenced area over a ten year period and only by year 3 were tiny shoots in evidence. By year 10 there were 688 clumps of juniper growing well, with a multitude of chalkland orchids, kidney vetch and other flowers naturally seeded.
Matt advised against buying juniper from nurseries because firstly, it might not be a native plant and secondly it could be infected with phytophthora austrocedi, a pathogen which kills our native juniper trees. This fungus-like pathogen is difficult to detect without proper laboratory investigation and it is likely to be carried in the compost, so to preserve the strength and integrity of our native juniper we better leave the juniper regeneration to the specialists.
More information about Plantlife’s juniper project is available on their website.
Talk on Thurs 16th March at 7:30pm: Revitalising Wiltshire's populations of Lowland Juniper
Matt Pitts, Meadows Adviser at the Salisbury-based environmental charity Plantlife, is coming to give us a talk on his project to reinvigorate juniper’s growth after its significant decline and protect the wildlife that depend on its presence.
Over the past 60-70 years there has been an 80% loss in the area of chalk grassland in Southern Britain. Fragmentation of the habitat and a reduction in extensive grazing has resulted in a loss of plant species and of biodiversity more widely.
Juniper is a specific example that faces extinction in southern Britain. Across our downlands, this iconic shrub has failed to regenerate for the past sixty years. As bushes reach the end of their lives, whole colonies are dying out; it has been lost from nearly 50% of its historic range. If this trend continues, over 100 specialist invertebrates and fungi that depend on the juniper to survive will disappear too.
But although juniper is the focus for Matt’s project, the work is benefiting chalk grassland conservation overall.
Since 2009, Plantlife has been trialling in-situ techniques to regenerate juniper from seed. 10 out of 14 trial sites now boast healthy populations both of young juniper bushes and populations of other wildflowers and plants. Focusing on the themes of nature conservation and connecting people with nature, Plantlife are now working to reinstate lost juniper landscapes on a larger scale, initially in the Wylye Valley and on the Berkshire Downs.
The Victoria Hall, High Street, Tisbury and its bar, will be open as usual from 7:00 p.m (cash & card payments). 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 for guest tickets!
Tree care this Saturday in Tisbury
We are meeting on Saturday the 4th of March at 10.30 am in the field behind King George's Field and the Skate Park for some winter
We have done two hedgelaying sessions earlier this year; this time we will be looking at how the trees we planted in years past are doing, removing any grass from inside the guards, adding woodchip, replanting gaps with hedge trees, replacing missing stakes and guards...
You are welcome to join us. The best place to park is the Nadder
Centre car park, from where there is less than a 5 minute walk to the field:https://goo.gl/maps/NwoqRXzTFBxWC3hGA
Talk notes: Why hedgerows matter
Sarah Barnsley, of the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, (PTES) presented a talk on 16th February entitled ‘Why Hedgerows matter’.
Sarah talked about some of the wildlife that lives in hedges, illustrated with beautiful slides, and how it is beneficial for them to cut hedges as late in the winter as soil conditions allow, to preserve the fruits as long as possible. She followed on to describe different hedgerow structures which result from different management practices, and how ideally the hedge will have a blended edge of scrub leading further out to long grass.
Hedges can be assessed as to how healthy they are, in terms of how many woody species there are making it up, how well connected it is with others or woodland, its width, and how well it’s been managed. Sarah pointed us to the Great British Hedgerow Survey on the PTES website, which scores the overall health of an individual hedge, and provides management advice accordingly.
She explained how under-managed hedges can eventually go through the process of succession to eventually turn into a row of trees, whereas an over-managed hedge, cut hard every year to the same height and width will become gappy and open, eventually disappearing. Sarah then described a hedgerow management cycle, which when done properly, rejuvenates the hedge so it keeps its structure and species diversity.
This involves the hedge being cut every three years approx. 10 cm longer, along the top and sides, than the last cut. The hedge therefore continues to expand for some years (Sarah suggested between 10 and 40) before being laid or coppiced. Laying involves thinning out and cutting the individual trees near the base and bending them over.
Sarah showed us several slides illustrating different styles of this ancient craft before revealing that the most favoured one in her view is ‘conservation’ hedge laying where very little of the hedge is thinned, so it is all laid to form a wide dense well-structured hedge.
After the very well presented talk full of fascinating facts and advice Sarah took questions from the large audience (52 in the hall and 11 on-line).
Hedges are well loved by the community and some of the questions reflected the concern about the over management of many of our hedges. Sarah fielded them well and the audience, which included at least 6 landowners who went away with plenty of food for thought.
by Peter Shallcross
The Nurturing Nature Project
You may have received information by email or seen the leaflets about the wonderful new project called Nurturing Nature, organised by a collaboration between the Cranborne Chase AONB team, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, Wiltshire & Swindon Biological Records Centre (WSBRC) and the Chase & Chalke Landscape Partnership.
They want to train 100+ people who have little or no experience in wildlife surveying to help them record wildlife, build understanding about the current biodiversity in the Chase & Chalke area and identify places where habitats could be improved. We hope that many of our members will want to take part.
Full details about the courses available within this free training programme are listed on the Chase & Chalke Nurturing Nature Project pages and you can also sign up to the Cranborne Chase enews here.
Another way to find out more about volunteering and the types of training on offer is to meet the Nurturing Nature team for Coffee and Cake on Thursday 16th February at the Salisbury Orangery [102 Crane St, Salisbury SP1 2QD] between 10am-1pm. Register your interest by emailing email@example.com
You can download the Project leaflets here: Coffee & Cake Mornings and The Nurturing Nature Project. We'll be adding Nurturing Nature Project links to our Resources page too.
Our AGM will start at 7.00pm for a brief run through of the minutes of last year’s meeting and the 2022 accounts. We urge as many members as possible to come along. The hall should be open half an hour before we start, so this year you can even enjoy the proceedings with a glass of wine in hand.
The talk will start at 7:30pm and we shall hear from Sarah Barnsley on 'Why hedgerows matter'. Sarah is Hedgerow Officer for the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, and a huge hedgerow enthusiast, working to promote these humble countryside heroes.
Hedgerows form a key component of our natural heritage and provide many vital ecosystem services and functions. They connect up our countryside and provide essential food and shelter for much of our wildlife. From nesting birds to hibernating hedgehogs, well-managed hedges can provide abundant resources for animals, birds and all manner of insects. Yet, to maintain a healthy hedgerow network into the future, we need to manage hedgerows according to their natural lifecycle.
Oysters Coppice (Focus - February)
Readers will have seen regular notices in Focus about workdays at Oysters Coppice. With spring approaching, this small but valuable woodland is ready to come into its own. In February and March, the wild daffodils come into bloom. They look wonderful in early spring sunshine, as drifts of their small, pale yellow trumpets nod in the breeze below the hazel catkins. The wild species is probably the flower about which Wordsworth was writing in his famous poem.
Soon after the daffodils come carpets of bluebells one of the beauties of a British woodland in spring. But the wood is full of other plants and wildlife by virtue of being an ancient woodland. This is the term used to describe an English woodland that is shown to have persisted since 1600 which is when maps became fairly reliable. Ancient woodland is rare, covering only 2.5% of the country. A map from around the turn of the 19/20th Century shows a wood with the current outline, and even depicts a footpath through it running along the same line as today.
Having retained woodland cover for so long, ancient woods develop and retain rich communities of plants, animals and fungi not found elsewhere. These are lost when land is cleared for agriculture, and most will not return if a new wood is subsequently replanted on the same site.
The wood is on a gentle north facing slope dropping about 45m from top to bottom. The top (southern) end lies on sandstone but most of the wood lies on mudstone and muddy is what the wood gets in winter when the springs and flushes run with water. Where the ground is drier oaks can grow but much of the wood is dominated by hazel, ash, and the damp-loving alder. It is probably the dampness of the ground combined with the north facing slope that saved the wood from clearance for agriculture. Oysters Coppice is just one of several interconnected ancient woodlands in and around Gutch Common, probably all surviving for similar reasons which, combined, provide a significant area of valuable habitat.
Coppicing is a woodland management system which crops relatively young growth from regrown stools on a regular rotation, while retaining some longer growing standard trees above. Over centuries this would have provided an annual crop of poles for a variety of uses as well as maintaining woodland cover. This provided a relatively consistent environment within the wood, although the amount of sunlight reaching the woodland floor would vary according to how recent an area of the coppice had been cut. Ash, hazel, and alder respond well to coppicing the latter doing well in the wetter parts of the wood. The coppicing is now undertaken by volunteers to let light in and create the temporary clearings which are so beneficial for wildlife.
There is a circular path around the wood which volunteers also maintain. While visitors are welcome at any time, the owners, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, ask visitors to keep their dogs on leads and not to stray off the path. In so doing they can minimise disturbance to the wildlife communities that have taken centuries to develop.
by Andrew Graham
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!
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!
Non-native flatworm in the Erigeron
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 "
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.