Saturday, 11th July Coombe Bissett Down Nature Reserve Guided walk on the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust (WWT) Open Day
The Open Day has been cancelled because of Covid, but the reserve is open and you can of course visit independently, taking the necessary distancing precautions. Download the information leaflet here. (The photo is of a marsh fritillary, taken on our visit last year.)
But there’s a host of things WWT have set up for us to compensate. Ashley White (who came to talk to us, as you may remember, back in January) sent us a message to say that, instead, there will be virtual events to celebrate our chalk downland heritage at
11:00 a.m. every day from Monday 13th to Sunday 19th July, accessible live via the WWT Facebook page and YouTube and for a month afterwards.
The programme includes:
Monday 13th July -The chalk - oceans and life in a Greenhouse World Professor Andy Gale from the University of Portsmouth who has had a long career in geology with a specialisation in chalk and its fossils will look briefly at the world 100 to 65 million years ago to review its climate and geography, then move on to a describe how chalk was formed and what it can tell us. Tuesday 14th July - Gardening with wildlife in mind Elaine Hughes, a Royal Horticultural Society Gold Medal award winning Landscape Designer with a special interest in creating functional and beautiful spaces that are sustainable, wildlife friendly and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Wednesday 15th July -Future of farming Simon Smart, a senior consultant at Wiltshire-based Black Sheep Countryside Management, provides practical conservation advice to farmers as well as a to a range of private, voluntary and public sector organisations. His particular interests include chalk grassland management, farmland birds, soil health, landscape management for pollinators and habitat connectivity. Thursday 16th July – Folk tales from the chalk Kirsty Hartsiotis is author of Wiltshire Folk Tales that explores in depth the county’s lore and stories from prehistory right up to the ghost tales of the present day; hearing her talk live about these lively and entertaining tales should be a real pleasure for anyone over the age of 11 Friday 17th July – Nature photography workshop An online workshop on nature photography to be given by Stephen Davis, who was previously WWT’s Head of Conservation, and before that worked for English Nature and Natural England, living and working in nature conservation in Wiltshire for twenty two years. Stephen has a particular interest in butterflies, chalk downland, meadows and ancient woodland and is a passionate photographer. Saturday 18th July – Botanical illustration Professional illustrator Francesca Mclean, will run a workshop to share her approach to painting orchids; a brief introduction to gouache paint, followed by some simple exercises allowing you to get used to working with it, including techniques such as layering, wet on wet paint and creating texture with a dry brush, and painting a common spotted-orchid, along with Francesca who will be offering lots of guidance. A limited number of activity packs containing all the equipment you need is available (first come first served) if you contact CBDproject@wiltshirewildlife.org by Friday 10th July to claim your pack. Sunday 19th July – Family nature Yoga Karis Hockey, who is based in Bristol teaches yoga as well as forest school and wilderness skills, food growing and healthy cooking. This session will be aimed at children between 3 and 11 years, taking part with an adult (though older and younger children may also enjoy). You can find more about all these events at https://www.wiltshirewildlife.org/Pages/Events/Default.aspx?CategoryTitle=coombe-bissett-events&SubsiteTitle=coombe-bissett-project
Saturday 25 July Guided visit to Home Farm, Teffont (this visit is fully booked)
Home Farm covers 300 acres from the former RAF site at Chilmark through to Teffont Manor with its lake, and continues in a long strip almost to Catherine Ford in Dinton. There is semi ancient woodland, water meadows, arable, unimproved and improved grassland. As part of stewardship schemes there are wild flower arable margins and arable fields reverted to hay meadows. Depending on the weather the visit will probably cover around 2 miles and we’d hope to see butterflies, woodland birds and flowers.
We’ll be guided on our tour by Jasper Bacon and Peter Shallcross.
If you've not been able to get a place on this visit, there are two lovely walks in Wiltshire Council's Discover Nadder series - Nos 2 and 7 are my personal favourites - that cover at least parts of this area.
20 June 2020 Honeysuckle vs bindweed
Andrew Graham explains what's going on:
‘In midsummer the hedgerows are thick with vegetation. Much of this is made up of the shrubs which form its structure but mixed in amongst these are a variety of climbers and scramblers. Some, like honeysuckle, old man’s beard (wild clematis), hops and bindweed (convolvulus) twist their way around the stems of other plants as they climb up them. This process is called circumnutation.
'Some plants twist in a clockwise manner, others anticlockwise. When the stem touches some structure or plant, the cells on the outside of the stem grow longer than those in contact with that structure. This causes the stem to curl and wrap around the support. As the weight of the plant below pulls on the stem tips, they tighten their grip around the support. 'Most often climbers twine around other plants and branches but they will also use man-made objects such as fences or posts. For example, there is splendid hop growing up a telegraph pole and its supporting cable on Hindon Lane near the Beckford - and hops also grow in the hedges along Tisbury Row. Different growing stems of the same plant will also twist around each other, giving mutual support as they grow upwards.
'Sometimes such twisting cables of stems can add several feet to the top of a hedge. As they age, these twisted cords can become strong and create a web of stems though a hedge or thicket. When we see a cloud of old man’s beard seed heads on a hedge in autumn, very often below there will be some thick old stems congesting the base.
'Two other climbers - black bryony and white bryony – largely die back in the autumn, just leaving skeins of red berries. Despite the similar name, these come from different plant families and climb in different directions. The white bryony has tendrils which look like tiny telephone cords. It sends these out to get entangled about nearby supports. The tendrils can then take up the slack to get support while letting the object to which it is attached to move.
'The dog rose scrambles through many a hedge and thicket. Its vicious backward curving thorns are ideal for hooking onto other vegetation as its shoots climb upwards. Like the honeysuckle, the rose can sometimes climb high into trees where, when it finds a patch of light, it can spread out and flower in profusion.
'What all these climbers and scramblers have in common is that they are using other plants or structures to provide them with support so that they do not have to expend resources on building solid trunks and stems which will hold their weight. This allows them to grow very quickly to reach up to the light and rapidly fill gaps.‘
Virtual field trip Thursday 18 June Martin Green, Farmer and archaeologist Down Farm, Sixpenny Handley - wildlife and archaeology
If it hadn’t been for the corona virus we would be urging you to join an excursion we were due to make to Martin Green’s organic farm at Sixpenny Handley.
When our Chairman Peter Shallcross asked him to give us some idea of what we will miss, Martin replied:
“We have just had an unprecedented number of raptors on the farm & adjacent this weekend. My neighbours cut an adjacent field for silage last week and since it has been a focal point for feeding - a few hundred corvids at least 7 red kites & 10 buzzards and a marsh harrier - not bad!
Anyway my friend James Phillips visited and recorded these species on the farm – around our pond and in a re-wilding area - hopefully gives a feel for what your group may have seen here.
Maybe next year…………….?”
And he copied James Phillips’ message:
“17th May 2020: Around the pond and woodland planting: Highlights were Emperor dragonfly, Azure and Large Red damselfly, Small blue, Common blue, Green hairstreak, Large skipper butterflies, Burnet companion moth plus singing Lesser Whitethroat in the woodland scrub and a pair of Corn bunting and a pair of Yellowhammer on territory around the pond. 12 Hectares: Highlights were Grey partridge on territory calling, 3 pairs of Yellowhammer, a flock of 16 Corn bunting plus 4 pairs on territory, 1 pair of Linnets, 6 singing Skylark and 2 Brown hare with at least 3-4 Red kite over the nearby woodlands towards Wimborne St Giles. It’s was also great to see the Woad still in flower.”
To give you a start on what to look out for when up on Cranborne Chase, here are James's photos and others from our growing photo-library. Should you need help identifying, I do intend to provide a list of the myriad apps now available. For birds, meantime, the British Trust for Ornithology has a wonderful page to help you.
7 June 2020 It's high season for orchids!
We had a wonderfully inspiring talk last year from Leif Bersweden, who wrote The Orchid Hunter, describing how he spent the summer of his gap year searching for and finding all but one of Britain's 52 indigenous orchids. Our chalk downland and surrounding woodland and pasture is prime orchid territory and already several people have sent in photos of their finds.
Here are some of them - hover over each photo to see species - and location if provided, click to enlarge:
Virtual field trip: 22 May 2020 David Holroyd, ex-Kew Gardens: River Nadder - invertebrate survey
Treasurer Dick Budden writes:
I do trust you are all well.
This is just to remind you that next Saturday, 30 May, we were due to go on the second of this year’s excursion trips, in search of invertebrates in the River Nadder.
The plan was for David Holroyd, Secretary of the Teffont Fishing club, to lead us to a suitably shallow stretch of the river, probably near Dinton, where we could conveniently wade to seek out the myriad forms of life amongst the stone and shingle on the river bottom. As it happens this is something I’ve done previously, on a river fly monitoring course run by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, so I know just how fascinating it is to look really closely, and with someone experienced who can explain to you what you are seeing.
This is absolutely the right time of year for such a trip. All along the river mayflies are hatching and rising to go through their brief mating flights. We watched them from the river bank last evening, for all the world like micro-mini chinooks going up and down as if attached to the sky by invisible threads of elastic. When we lived beside the River Kennet in Reading, at this time of year the exhausted males, mating done, would land to end their short lives on the walls of our third-floor flat – see the pictures, below.
Be assured, the invertebrates trip isn’t OFF, merely deferred for another time. Meanwhile, you will see from local maps that there are many places where footpaths and bridleways cross the river, which will provide excellent vantage points for observing life above and below the surface.
Virtual field trip: Saturday, 2 May Oysters Coppice and Gutch Common
Several things to share with you ahead of the day we were due to make the first field trip excursion of the summer.
We were going to walk from Semley to Gutch Common, traversing Oysters Coppice en route, guided by Ashley White, Southern Reserves Manager for the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, along with Debbie Carter who, as well as being on our committee and the Tisbury Tree Warden, looks after the Coppice day-to-day. That, of course, is on hold indefinitely. But to see just what we’re missing, take a look at the most interesting blog written by Glen Coy about the visit he made to Oysters Coppice almost exactly a year ago https://www.hiddenwiltshire.com/post/oysters-coppice-gutch-common .
Another place to read about the route from Semley to Oysters is on the website http://www.discovernadder.org.uk/uploads/images/countryside_activities/Walk9_SemleyAges.pdf which notes local landmarks including the base of a former medieval cross on the outskirts of Semley that has been known as the Plague Stone ever since 1665 when Semley residents left food there for parishioners of Donhead St. Mary during an outbreak of plague - which casts a new light on social distancing and queuing outside the Tisbury Co-op!
The enforced stasis of recent weeks has given us all an opportunity to observe the natural world more closely than ever. It would be great if the Society could provide the means to record and share anything of interest either via our website or our Facebook page. If you have any observations of plants or wildlife that you’d like to share, do please email them to email@example.com
By way of inspiration for those of us mortals less gifted than others, we have two wonderful wildlife photographers living in our area - Abby Eaton has provided the lovely bird photographs for our pages, and her website https://absfab.com/recent-shots demonstrates what we could see, were we able to be up at dawn and sit for hours without moving! And you may be interested to read the observations of one attentive and enthusiastic teenage observer of the natural world, Peter Shallcross’s near neighbour Izzy Fry, by going to: https://mynatureandphotographyblog.wordpress.com/
Keep well, and enjoy the natural world around us.
The remaining events in the published programme of Field Trips this year was as follows:
Saturday 11 July - Wiltshire Wildlife Trust Coombe Bisset Down Reserve - open day and guided walks Coordinator Debbie Carter 01747 871311
Saturday 25 July - Jasper Bacon and Peter Shallcross Home Farm, Teffont - wildlife Coordinator Peter Shallcross
Wednesday 14 October - Dorset Wildlife Trust Brownsea Island Nature Reserve - guided walk. Coordinator Dick Budden at firstname.lastname@example.org