If you are interested to learn a practical skill and to help conserve the landscape around you, you may be interested to hear of courses in hedgelaying being offered at Church Farm in Semley over the next few months.
Day-long courses, aimed at beginners and free to participants, though limited to half a dozen people at a time, will be led by Anthony Brown, a man of considerable experience and skill, on five days between now and next February:
Saturday 12th November, Friday 25th November, Saturday 10th December, Friday 20th January and Friday 3rd February.
If you think you may be interested then please use our contact form and we will forward the email address to you.
Andrew Graham and Peter Shallcross will lead our final excursion of the summer, an outing to the Bulford Ranges Training Area on Salisbury Plain.
Members of the public are permitted to use Rights of Way that cross the training area when firing is not in progress and the plan is to walk along these established footpaths through this gently undulating landscape of downland and mixed woodlands. As the area lacks the field boundaries and enclosures that exist across most of the rest of the countryside, it looks and feels quite different from what we are used to, and remote.
It is hard to forecast what effect the recent drought will have had on what there will be to see, but we are hoping for late summer downland butterflies and birds. With migration starting, one never knows what birds might turn up.
Though we will be following well established paths and tracks, the parched, unforgiving ground means stout shoes or boots will be advisable. We will probably walk 3 to 4 miles; please bring refreshments and any snacks you may need, though the plan is to return to Tisbury by late lunchtime.
As there is only limited parking at the start point, we ask everyone wanting to join the outing to meet Andrew and Peter at the Nadder Centre car park on Weaveland Road, Tisbury at 09:30. If you are setting off from a different location, please car share. The meeting place is at What3words: starfish.bleat.idea off the road between Bulford and Tidworth. At this location for 10:30 am. https://what3words.com/starfish.bleat.idea
Members - please reply to the Treasurer's email sent on 28th August so that we know how many people to expect.
Non-members (Guests) can join us for £2 per adult. Any Guests wishing to join this field trip must please contact us in advance.
We have an update to our Talks listing with Dr. Ed Treasure of Wessex Archaeology, Salisbury sharing his specialist work in the analysis of environmental evidence.
Rewilding is a form of ecosystem management that has arisen out of our need to conserve biodiversity and work towards a more sustainable future. It refers to the repair or restoration of ecosystem services through the introduction, or rather re-introduction, of selected species and allowing nature to take its course.
Rewilding is not without controversy – how do we define appropriate restoration baselines? What species should we conserve, which should we remove and which should we reintroduce? What timescale are we working with and how big should our projects be? How do we establish appropriate management strategies? How effective can rewilding be in human dominated landscapes that have been shaped by millennia of farming?
This talk will show how archaeological and palaeoecological datasets can be used to inform rewilding processes and conservation management. Archaeologists, and researchers in related areas, can provide unique long-term perspectives on changes to the environment, and crucially provide information on factors which have shaped present-day biodiversity patterns – we can place conservation management practices within a wider historical and ecological framework, by understanding the relationship between past vegetation changes and human impacts on past environments.
If you haven't already signed up to the talk at the Victoria Hall, Tisbury and want to come, please either reply to the Treasurer's email sent out on 28th August or let us know via the Contact form. We can also send out Zoom links for those who prefer to stay at home. Guests welcome for £2 per ticket.
Peter Shallcross will be leading a river walk from Wylye to Fisherton de la Mere this coming Thursday, starting at 7pm. The distance along the footpath beside the river is around a mile each way, pretty flat and sound along its length, so not particularly onerous.
Members don't need to register but if you'd like to come as a guest please let us know via the contact form.
To share car spaces and conserve fuel, meet at the Nadder Centre car park at 6:30PM or alternatively make your own way to Wylye for 7:00PM.
The rendezvous point is a layby immediately after the river bridge on the main road north of Wylye, after passing the Bell pub on your right: see https://goo.gl/maps/9jAP7xYZqvhWn3Qp6
And you may care to bring with you a picnic to enjoy in the churchyard before heading home again.
Last Saturday, a select group of our members had a fantastic, guided visit to Underhill Wood Nature Reserve (UWNR).
UWNR is a private reserve in East Knoyle, owned by very enthusiastic nature lovers, Jonathan and Keggie. Jonathan takes part in a fantastic programme of nature education, the John Muir Conservation Award, but also has a group of home education students coming to learn about nature at his reserve. The reserve is worth a visit for its lake, barn owl boxes, woodlands, bird of prey feeding stations, beehives and a lovely education building full of animal tracks and signs.
We are hoping to organise another visit on another occasion for those who could not make it.
You can have a look at some of the pictures on our Instagram and UWNR Twitter. The highlight was Arthur (age 10) finding this finch head in a Barn Owl pellet. Birds make up less than 1% of BO diet, so what a find!
The attendants got a copy of Jonathan's book, "How to rewild", with lots of useful tips. If you missed this, you can get the book on the website. You can also find additional reading in this recently published piece that includes references to UWNR: Creating a New Eden — The Beautiful Truth. You may also want to watch this webinar Rewilding Network Webinar - Smaller Scale Rewilding at Underhill Wood NR (vimeo.com). And if you want to keep up to date with the news from UWNR, get in touch with Jonathan to follow his blog.
Many thanks to Jonathan and Keggie for their guided visit!
by Inés López-Dóriga
Mark Elliott of the Devon Wildlife Trust gave a fascinating talk to the Society’s February meeting on the reintroduction of beavers into the UK, based on his experience as leader of the Trust’s project on the River Otter in south Devon.
As he explained, beavers are a species native to Britain that were hunted to extinction roughly 400 years ago. As they are no longer regarded as ‘ordinarily resident’ they can only be released into the countryside with a licence; but things are changing now, as a result of the success of the Devon trials. Last August DEFRA confirmed that the River Otters trial had been sufficiently successful for the beavers to stay indefinitely, and support will now be provided for similar managed projects elsewhere.
This outcome could not have been foreseen at the start of the Devon programme back in 2015. Mark showed us how these semi-aquatic rodents had interacted with the environment on the Otter, showing how the population had grown and migrated along the river catchment over the period since then. From two founding family groups the number had grown to around 13 territories in 2019.
At the outset Mark dispelled the popular misconception beavers eat fish; they are strict vegetarians. And he showed the results of work carried out by the Universities of Exeter and Southampton to measure the beaver’s impacts on fish and other wildlife. The increased variety of habitats that result from the beavers’ dams (that periodically get washed away and then rebuilt) have led to enhanced fish populations of all types and sizes, and the wetlands that result are ideal breeding and feeding grounds for frogs and for wildfowl.
The water storage capacity of the river catchment has increased, and water quality downstream has improved, with lower levels of sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus downstream of the beavers than in the upstream input, and an increase in the concentration of dissolved carbon.
He didn’t disguise occasional problems that have resulted from damage to crops of sweetcorn and flooding of adjacent grazing land, but showed how these can be managed effectively.
Overall the experience in Devon is that the beavers are popular and, if the initial introduction is managed wisely, can exist alongside the human population to provide benefits to our environment.
You can read more about the Devon beaver population and Mark Elliott’s ongoing work by visiting: www.devonwildlifetrust.org/what-we-do/our-projects/river-otter-beaver-trial
Our 40th Annual General Meeting starts at 7:00pm in the Victoria Hall, Tisbury. All are welcome to attend.
The talk starts at 7:30pm. If you haven't already signed up to the talk and want to come, please let us know via the Contact form. We can also send out Zoom links for those who prefer to stay at home. Guests welcome for £2 per ticket.
Our speaker, Mark Elliott heads the project being carried on by Devon Wildlife Trust on the River Otter that has led beaver conservation in the UK for more than ten years.
He will be able to describe their work, what we have learned as a result about this amazing animal, how they can benefit us and the landscape around us, and how we can manage potential conflicts with land owners and residents.
Photo credit: Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber). Per Harald Olsen, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Congratulations to our chair, Peter Shallcross, Vice Chair of the Nadder Valley Farmer Group, on being short-listed for his disease-resistant elm project in the Conservation Project of the Year category of the 2022 Wiltshire Life Awards.
With 6,000 elm trees delivered nationally, Peter’s work over the last five years has made a significant contribution to the re-establishment of elm trees in our landscape and the conservation of species which rely on elms to thrive.
Here are the photos of our trip to the Harnham water meadows on Saturday. It was a very successful morning. The weather was perfect. We brought a group of 26 + people including several children and Hadrian Cook, gave us an excellent guided tour of the meadows explaining and demonstrating the drowning process which probably started in Harnham in about 1660.
The natural water meadows were made from the 13th C when mill ponds, drainage channels and hatches were constructed to create a controlled system to irrigate the meadows.
A regular flow of nutrient rich warm water from the stream or river nearby was diverted onto the meadows. This water was flowing gently, so not stagnant. This was controlled by hatches in channels which were lifted to allow the water to flow from one area to another and the hatches lowered to stop the flow after about a week.
This resulted in this early ‘bite’ for sheep. The grass was much earlier and richer than that found on the downs at that time of year. This process would be done during January and maybe throughout the summer. When the numbers of sheep decreased in the first half of the 20th C as a result of mechanisation and wartime the practice of water meadow irrigation ceased.
However, a Trust was formed in 1990 to restore and preserve this internationally important heritage site in Harnham. It is managed mainly by a team of volunteers and Rose Cottage by the Town Path was purchased in 2006 by the Trust. It is a meeting place for all activities connected with the meadows including public walks, educational visits and lectures. It has an exhibition inside showing historical and scientific details about the meadows and photos of work done and recent events.
The Trust welcomes visitors and school groups and also volunteers.
More information is available by email: email@example.com or there is a website www.salisburywatermeadows.org.uk
Bob Gibbons gave us a marvellous talk last week, illustrated with his own spectacular photographs of some of the fascinating species found in Purbeck. Explaining that a great percentage of the area is subject to national and international designations because of the habitats and wildlife found there, he suggested that it is possibly the most wildlife rich area in the UK if not Europe.
The appellation “Island” is thought to have come from earlier times when the marshes of the Piddle and Frome valleys to the northwest combined with Poole harbour to partially cut the area off.
Of particular value is the way the mosaic of habitats grade into each other over large areas without hard boundaries. Another factor which explains the great diversity of species is the poor quality of the soil – either inherently poor podzols of the heaths or the chalk and limestone soils which have been impoverished by centuries of grazing. These poor soils made agriculture difficult which held back development as did the “Island’s” status as a hunting forest and this allowed wildlife to survive into the present era.
As a result of an unusually complex underlying geology the area holds many habitats within a relatively small area: heaths, bogs, chalk downs, limestone grassland, Poole Harbour and its islands, commons, coastal cliffs, and dunes. The only thing in short supply is natural broad-leafed woodland.
Another crucial reason for Purbeck’s uniqueness is its position in the centre of our south coast where it enjoys lots of sunshine. It is as sunny as areas further east and warms up in spring as quickly as areas further to west. This seems to result in it being in a “sweet spot” which has produced an amazing assemblage of species, including many on the edge of their range. As a result, in Purbeck you may find species more usually seen in Cornwall alongside others more usually seen in Sussex, and it is a stronghold for many species, particularly insects.
I suspect many who enjoyed Bob’s talk and photos will be planning a visit to Purbeck this summer. The Society is planning a trip to Tyneham in July.
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.