On 20th April we had our final evening talk given by Simon Martyn with photos provided by his wife Mandy.
Simon was the European Director of Earthwatch, an International NGO which started out in Boston, USA over 50 years ago but is now worldwide with offices in Australia, UK, India and Japan.
Earthwatch sets up projects both for Wildlife and Archaeology with scientists running the projects, helped by a workforce of volunteers. They carry out research and provide essential statistics to establish conservation schemes for threatened species or habitats as they work alongside local people.
The talk was ‘Glimpses of Wildlife Behaviour’ and was divided into sections.
Firstly, we were shown various habitats and their wildlife such as the much depleted herds of bison in Yellowstone Park, the plains of Africa with the wildebeests and various antelopes, plus the harsh, freezing environment of the Arctic.
Secondly, the emphasis was on territory and, especially during the breeding season. Male lions guarding their prides and fighting off the opposition were illustrated. We saw how Roe and Red deer will also become very aggressive fighting off other bucks and male tigers will kill another male tiger’s cubs in order to mate with the female and pass on his genes. We saw a grisly photo of this. (NB. Badgers also do this, as I can witness).
The effects of climate change were visible in the photos of droughts in Africa, drying up the rivers and water holes, causing many animals to die and causing mayhem at the water points with competing animals.
Thirdly, Simon showed us photos of how many species co-operate with others for the benefit of both. For instance, egrets and finches will hitch rides on buffaloes to eat the ticks and crocodiles will stir up the water and expose the fish for the storks on their backs. In India the Langhur monkeys work as lookouts for the Spotted deer when a tiger is about, shrieking in terror.
Finally, we were treated to humorous photos of various animals and birds in compromising and amusing positions including a harassed mother Brown bear trying to control her three naughty cubs. One was up a tree, another near the river and the third heading up the mountain.
It was an entertaining and illuminating evening with superb photography and a nice change from all things local.
by Debbie Carter
At the last of our indoor events this year, we shall hear from Simon Martyn, a former Europe Director of Earthwatch, that, for anyone unfamiliar with it, is the international NGO founded over 50 years ago to connect people with scientists worldwide, conduct environmental research and empower them with the knowledge they need to help conserve the planet.
In this talk, Simon will share with us, along with pictures taken by his wife, Mandy, some “Glimpses of Wildlife Behaviour” in many different species, gathered from their own travels across many different countries, over many years of living, working and conservation-related travel.
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 contact us if you'd like a visitor ticket.
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.
The full programme for 2023/24
You can now find the full listing of our Talks and Field Trips for March 2023 to April 2024 on the relevant pages of this website or as a pdf to print out. Members will receive email newsletters with more details closer to each event and Blog posts will follow as reminders. We look forward to your company!
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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!
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
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.
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!
Talk notes: Bird ringing: how, what and why.
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.
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.