13 February 2020 Peter Shallcross's 'Elms project'
Peter has found landowners in Wiltshire and Hampshire to plant out some 1700 young trees he ordered, bred in Spain to be resistant to Dutch Elm Disease. He says the elm is quite unsuitable as a garden tree because it grows too big for most gardens but if anyone has a big area of land that could take some, Peter will probably be ordering more. If you or anyone you know would like to capture some carbon and enhance the countryside get in touch with Peter at email@example.com.
13 February 2020 Chairman's update
Spring comes early for frogs; locally they were spawning in the first week in February, with an accompanying loud chorus of croaking. Also early are brimstone butterflies.
Note from Web editor: Indeed spring is early for frogs - I found a heavily pregnant female in a watering can which I'd accidentally left standing upright - the mind somewhat boggles as to how she managed to get herself in. I lifted her out of course and sent her on her way but I wouldn't be sure she found a spawning location as I once found a large deposit of frogspawn on my lawn. I scooped it into a bucket of rainwater, then checked on a lower paved area and found yet more so both of them went to a neighbour's pond.
Andrew Graham writes: One sign of spring is the appearance of the brimstone butterfly. This is one of the “whites” but is no threat to gardeners as it lays its eggs on Buckthorn, an inconspicuous bush of hedgerows, scrub and woodland. Quite a large butterfly, it has a unique shape with each wing curving to a point. This means that when hibernating, as it hangs upside-down with wings closed, it resembles a dead leaf.
The male is butter-yellow while the female is a much paler whitish green. The male emerges from hibernation first and is very visible as it patrols the hedgerows, woodland edges and our gardens looking for females. This can sometimes be fruitless for some time as the females do not emerge from hibernation until warm weather is more reliable. Last February, when we had that unseasonably warm spell, there were numerous brimstones on the wing, but they were all males. The females weren’t fooled and waited.
These individuals that wake from hibernation mate, lay eggs and give rise to a new generation which we will see later in the year. These will then spend the rest of the summer feeding up to prepare for a winter of hibernation before emerging again next spring. This makes the brimstone our longest-lived butterfly and one which can be seen, if the weather is warm enough, in any month of the year. But we are now approaching the first peak flight period so will have to see how the wet weather has affected their survival through the winter months.
14 January 2019 Trapping wild birds in Malta Forwarded by www.swiftconservation.org: 'Interesting newsletter from Bird Life Malta. Not the happiest reading, perhaps, but there are some very brave people indeed out there! Try and meet them when you go there on holiday, or at the next Rutland Water Bird Fair, to show your support - we did and they were great!'
Today I happened to be at Porchester and took the opportunity to walk around the amazing remains of the roman fort and the castle. It's easy to forget how beautiful plants look in the sun; winter heliotrope, spurge laurel in flower with the oldest surviving wych elm in Hampshire as a backdrop.
Andrew Graham writes 'One sign of approaching spring are the catkins on some of our trees as they begin to swell and flower. The most visible catkins are those of the Hazel, often called lamb’s tails. These long tassels are made up of many male flowers with bracts rather than petals. As they ripen, the catkins enlarge and elongate and then, when shaken, shed their pollen. This yellow dust is carried away on the wind to fertilise female flowers on other bushes.
Hazel bushes will have flowers of both sexes, but the female ones are easily overlooked as they are quite tiny compared to the male catkins. They resemble a tiny red sea anemone on the top of a small bud, and they may be located quite close to the male catkins. However, the male flowers open first and disperse their pollen before the female flowers mature. In this way cross-fertilisation with other bushes is secured. All this takes place before the leaves break which makes wind pollination more effective. As the flowers are produced on old wood, you won’t see them on hedges that have been trimmed this winter but there will be plenty on older untrimmed hedges and woodland edges. Once fertilised the female flower can mature into up to four hazelnuts later in summer providing food for other wildlife (and of course us).
The word catkin comes from the Middle Dutch katteken, meaning "kitten". This name might refer to the resemblance to the fine fur found on willow catkins sometimes called pussy willow. The best example of this is Goat Willow, the male catkins of which can be large and turn a whole bush yellow as the flowers ripen with pollen. In contrast to the hazel, male and female flowers are found on different bushes and fertilised female flowers produce masses of fluffy seeds which are blown away on the wind when ripe. Goat willow flowers are attractive to spring moths and other early insects as they provide an early source of nectar.'
27 December 2019 Watch out for: Great White Egret - Fonthill Lake; and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - Tuckingmill For those who have not seen the Great White, look on the East bank of Fonthill Lake - last year there were two, sometimes in the tallest tree on the island. Note the orange bill, its distinguishing feature.
More bird news! Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at Tuckingmill on 26/12 and 29/12, in the trees just up the hill W of the old chapel, the second time in the topmost branches of the beech behind the cottage to the left of the footpath entrance gate. This is a species in steep national decline, but once again Tisbury is on the scoresheet (we must be in the Premier Division).
Any tit flocks passing through the village should be studied as the LSW sometimes joins them, and it’s worth looking high up in older trees eg along the Oddford Brook or similar habitat. It’s small and unobtrusive and silent until March, unlike the noisy Great Spotted.
10 December 2019 Chairman's update
On Saturday, I received a call from another farmer who had found a soaking wet barn owl lying exhausted in the bottom of a nearly dry cattle water trough on his farm near Longbridge Deverill. A couple of phone calls later Inés took it to the Wiltshire Wildlife Hospital at Newton Tony, where she volunteers. There it was dried and placed under observation for the night. It appeared to be well-fed and wouldn't take any of the mouse titbits offered to it, so we released it on the next day where it was found and it flew off into the night.
Interestingly, it had a ring on its leg with the code GR84035. Nigel Lewis knew all about it; 'Male Barn Owl. Ringed 12 June 2014 by Dick Clayton, one of five owlets, at Penhill, Summerslade Down, Pertwood Organics Farm Site Indoor cattle barn, Grid: ST873369. Box 13 made by Alan Rymell.
Comment. At five years old this owl this might be approaching the end of its life-span. Any wild owl that allows itself to be captured is not well. Hopefully, simply exhausted from lack of food. It will need to be fed-up to restore its energy levels. Barn owls can't fly when there is persistent rain so they must be finding it difficult to find enough time to hunt.
Andrew Graham writes: 'Did you know that 90% of the UK’s population and two-thirds of the world’s population live under heavily polluted night sky?
Usually when we think about, pollution we mean dirty air, water, rubbish and noise, all of which can affect our health and quality of life. However, light pollution is becoming recognised as an equally important problem. All life has evolved in the regular daily cycle of light and dark and this is known to exert a profound influence on the behaviour and metabolism of many organisms – including us.
If artificial light predominates to the extent that there is never any real night-time, some wildlife gets confused. Robins are frequently heard singing in the small hours in brightly street lit towns and there is growing evidence that too much light at night is contributing to the decline in insect numbers, especially moths.
Tisbury lies within the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which is fortunate to possess dark night skies. In October 2019, our AONB has now been designated an International Dark Sky Reserve - only the 14th such reserve in the world. Ours is a unique area of pristine night skies where we can see the majestic arc of the Milky Way on a clear night. The AONB is working to keep our skies dark by trying to limit lighting to where and when it is essential and then to ensure that light is not shone upwards or away from when it is needed.
This time of year, when there is no need to stay up late to for it to get fully dark, is a good time for stargazing. Even in the centre of Tisbury you don’t have to walk far to get away from the street lights and fully appreciate the stars on a clear night. But a trip out to Win Green or up onto the Ox Drove can be really rewarding on the right evening.
If you want to learn more about the constellations or have a go with something stronger than a pair of binoculars, the AONB organises regular stargazing events with the Wessex Astronomical Society (for more information visit www.chasingstars.or.uk).
5 December 2019 Man Banned from Rural Areas Following Conviction (from Wiltshire Police Rurual Crime)
An offender who admitted hunting animals with dogs has been banned from land across three counties after breaching a community behaviour order.
Scott Matthew Cochrane, 30, from Yarrow Close in Poole, appeared at Poole Magistrates' Court on Tuesday 19 November 2019 for an application by Dorset Police and the Crown Prosecution Service to vary an existing criminal behaviour order. He can no longer enter many rural areas in Wiltshire, Dorset and Hampshire. The areas include south of the A35 in the Purbeck and Dorchester area, rural north east Dorset up to the M4 corridor in north Wiltshire and parts of the New Forest in Hampshire. This will prevent him from using routes such as the A338 from Ringwood into Wiltshire, A354 from Puddletown to Salisbury and A350 from Wimborne to parts of Wiltshire.
Cochrane had pleaded guilty at a previous hearing on Wednesday 30 October 2019 to offences of being in possession of a wild animal, which he was prohibited from doing by a criminal behaviour order, and for hunting a wild mammal with a dog, an offence under Section 1 of the Hunting Act 2004. Cochrane had been given a five year criminal behaviour order on 28 May 2015 that prohibited him from being in possession of a wild animal, wild bird or part of a wild animal or bird living or dead in Dorset as well as other prohibitions relating to the county.
At 11.41pm on Saturday 5 October 2019, officers were called to a rural location in Blandford, Dorset in relation to suspected poaching in fields. They located a van and saw two men - one of whom was the defendant. There were two Lurcher-type dogs with them and they had a high powered lamp. They were also found to be carrying dead rabbits. A search of their vehicle located a catapult and steel ball bearings, as well as further dead rabbits.
Cochrane was sentenced to eight weeks in prison for the offence, suspended for 12 months, and was also ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £122 and £85 costs. The other man was given a caution. The new order states Cochrane must not: • Act or incite others to behave in an anti-social manner, that is to say a manner that causes harassment, alarm or distress to any persons • Use or incite others to use threatening, intimidating, insulting or abusive words or behaviour in any place to which the public has access • Be in possession of a wild animal, wild bird or part of a wild animal or bird living or dead • Be in possession of a catapult or shot, such as ball bearings, or to be in a vehicle with a catapult or such shot in a place to which the public have access or private land as a trespasser • Allow a dog under his control off a lead, except on private land with the land owners written permission • Be in a vehicle with a dog traditionally used for the purpose of hare and deer coursing, such as a Lurcher, Greyhound, Saluki, or a cross breed of these varieties unless travelling to an emergency vets appointment • Own dogs traditionally used for the purposes of hare and deer coursing such as, Lurchers, Greyhounds, Saluki or a cross breed of these varieties.
PC Marc Jackson, Rural Crime Officer at Wiltshire Police, said: "Wiltshire Police is part of the national strategy between 12 police forces, Operation Galileo, where civil and criminal powers will be used to prevent such offending by hare coursers and protect vulnerable victims. I hope this sends a clear message that coursing and other such crimes are not tolerated and we will take robust action against anyone suspected of such an offence.
"Results such as this would not be possible without members of our rural communities reporting information and we would encourage anyone with information about ongoing incidents, or intelligence that can help us target our resources, to contact us."
If you have any information in relation to rural crime, please call Wiltshire Police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. Message Sent By Shea D'arcy (Police, Communications Officer, Wiltshire)
Wild Mammal Persecution UK ('Monitoring the Persecution of Wild Mammals in the UK') commented: The order is very restrictive and should make it much easier for police to detect and prevent Cochrane’s offending. As far as we are aware this order is the first of its kind to deal with rural offences but we hope that it will be taken up elsewhere as many of these offenders are extremely prolific.
22 November 2019 'Light pollution is key 'bringer of insect apocalypse'
As a naturalist, it is easy to get despondent in December with the short days and long nights, but there is actually much beauty and interest in the countryside with winter migrant birds such as redwings and fieldfares attracted to apple orchards and the fruits in the hedgerows.
Andrew Graham writes: Some of our local hedgerows hold a surprising variety of shrubs and climbers and now is a good time to look for their distinctive fruits.
We all recognise the deep red haws of the hawthorn, the dark blue sloes on blackthorn and the bright crimson berries of the holly. Many hedgerow fruits are red, making them easy to spot for us as well as the birds and animals that feed on them. Rose hips may be scattered through the hedge, but the guelder rose’s glossy berries are found in loose sprays reflecting the shape of the plant’s umbel flowers. Wayfaring tree fruits are found in tight bunches of mixed red and black berries. Perhaps the most striking is the spindle bush, with its bright orange and pink berries.
Not all berries are red; buckthorn and privet have small glossy black berries. As well as shrubs, there are several climbers with very visible fruits. The honeysuckle’s red berries are clumped together in small groups while those of bryony will be found in long garlands of scores of glowing orange-red fruits. Now most of the leaves have come off the hedgerows, on your next countryside walk, why not see how many different fruits you can spot along the way?
25 October 2019 Watch out for - Winter visitors' return
Driving back from a walk along the concrete road above Chilmark, I spotted a flock of around 60 Golden Plover wheeling over a ploughed field beside the road. They briefly settled so I could have a good view of them. This made me appreciate how well camouflaged their plumage is when standing in the ploughed furrows as to the naked eye they nearly disappeared. But they soon got up again and swooped around in a relatively tight flock with fast wingbeats. Their white undersides were strikingly white against the landscape and this is what had attracted my attention in the first place. In summer they breed in the highlands and islands of Scotland but in winter they move to lowland fields where they are joined by many others from more distant upland breeding grounds. Andrew Graham
10 October 2019 Chairman's update
On the right as you drive down to Wardour castle, there are some very old big old gnarled and twisted sweet-chestnut trees (Castanea sativa). Peter Thompson, of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, recalls the vibrant green fruit-husks called ‘cupules’ litter the ground, resembling a colony of spiky sea urchins; usually, they have split slightly open to reveal three or four shiny, rich brown nuts hidden away inside.
Andrew Graham writes: We are now well into autumn and the species and behaviour of the birds we can see in and around the village reflect this. After largely deserting our gardens in late summer, the common birds are returning to our feeders, as food in the wider countryside becomes less easy to find. Finches and especially tits often form into mixed species groups working their way through countryside and gardens looking for food, often calling to each other as they go to keep the group together. There are plenty of acorns on the ground and jays are busy burying them in the ground – you might be lucky enough to see one digging in your lawn. We might assume that familiar birds such as robins and blackbirds that we see are the same ones that we have watched earlier in the year but this is not necessarily the case. The birds we have seen in summer may move south for the winter to be replaced by others of the same species moving down from further north. Meanwhile new species arrive. Look out now for redwings and fieldfares feeding on the hawthorn and holly berries in hedgerow and woodland. Fieldfares will focus on hedgerows first, and when those are exhausted move to feed on open fields later in winter. Fallen apples will be attractive to all the thrushes. Although our local lakes and ponds don’t host the large numbers of wildfowl seen elsewhere, they still provide important refuges for a variety of dabbling and diving ducks. Cold snaps and stormy weather can influence what might be found on Fonthill Lake for example, and some unusual species do turn up at times. It will be interesting to see if there is a repeat of the large numbers of goosanders seen there last year.
12 September 2019 Bahama birds and hurricane Dorian
Wondering what's happening to the wildlife? American Bird Conservancy are planning to send a team to The Bahamas to help assess Dorian's impacts on rare and endagered birds such as the Abaco Parrot, Bahama Nuthatch, Bahama Warbler, and Bahama Swallow and their habitats, support restoration planning, and offer a hand to their partners in every way they can. For now, what’s needed most is resources. If you would like to contribute to this, you can go to this link to their website.
10 September 2019 Chairman's update
Autumn is upon us and a much overlooked spectacle is that of the blossoming of the ivy. The scent of flowers can attract a fascinating array of bees, butterflies, wasps, hornets and flies. Look out for ivy growing in sheltered sunny situations and you may be rewarded by seeing butterflies such as red admirals and commas. The distinctive yellow ivy bee (which is a recent arrival from the continent) can appear in large numbers and adds to the noisy buzzing. So leaving ivy where it's not doing any damage is a good start to doing your bit for wildlife.
But there is more we can do as a community and Andrew Graham writes:
'Tisbury is the largest settlement within the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). An AONB is designated as such because of its valuable wildlife, habitats, geology and heritage. Government, from national to parish level, is obliged to try to conserve these aspects of the area. Earlier this year, the AONB was awarded a £1.68 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant and has lots of exciting plans, some of which should benefit our area.
'Part of this is to encourage better use of the local planning system to protect and enhance landscape and wildlife. This is clearly something that our Society would want to be involved in so we prompted a discussion at a recent Parish Council meeting. We highlighted how swifts could be encouraged by including special swift bricks in any new or renovated buildings and gaps made to allow hedgehogs to pass under new fences or walls built as part of a development.
'These are just two examples and we aim to work with the Parish Council to look for other ways to conserve and enhance biodiversity in and around Tisbury.'
2 September 2019 Osprey sighting
Tisbury resident Andrew Graham reports: Now is a good time to keep eyes open for migrant birds on the move. In the last week or so I have had Chiffchaff and Willow Warblers in my back garden, species that only appear there during migration. I also saw Wheatears and a Redstart recently up on the Shaston Ridge above Berwick St John. But best of all, by pure chance, as I was passing Teffont Lake, I saw an Osprey rising with a fish in its talons. This fish eagle is now breeding in Poole Harbour so there is a possibility that this was an immature bird dispersing from where it was raised, but it is perhaps more likely that it was an individual from further north stopping off on its way south on migration.
Calling all members - Good news re Wildlife and housing development (possibly ...)
Chairman Peter Shallcross has written to Tisbury Parish Council as follows. We hope it will be on the Agenda for the meeting tomorrow, Tuesday 3 September, at 1900 in the Council Office (what used to be the Library, opposite the Bennett on the High Street). Please do come if you would like to support us.
'Tisbury Natural History Society welcomes the announcement on 21 July by the then Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government, that developers have been ordered to think about the long-term impact of their developments on the local ecosystem, both during and after construction. Of particular concern in Tisbury is the decline in the numbers of migratory birds nesting here, as a result of the paucity of nest sites in new-build and refurbished homes.
'We ourselves wrote to all local builders drawing attention to this but received little response so would welcome your support.
Sightings of Adonis Blue and Clouded Yellow butterflies are reported on Hambledon Hill, the prehistoric hill fort five miles northwest of Blandford Forum. The hill itself is a chalk outcrop, on the southwestern corner of Cranborne Chase, separated from the Dorset Downs by the River Stour. It is owned by the National Trust.
Also, fresh otter spraints have been seen by the stream downstream of Fonthill Lake dam.
And even the most unpreposessing bit of land can be worth having a look at. The patch of rough land beside the old sports centre near St Johns Primary School has plenty of butterflies enjoying the flowers of the "weeds" growing there: Painted Lady, Common Blue, Brown Argus, Small White and Small Copper all seen within a few minutes' wander around recently.
16 August 2019 How on earth do they do it?
As the Painted Ladies are still with us, I thought this item, first posted earlier this year, should be brought forward to today's date:
The Painted Lady butterfly is a migratory species in Europe previously known to migrate to the Afrotropics during the autumn. Researchers have now demonstrated conclusively that they return from the Afrotropical region to recolonise the Mediterranean in early spring.
The Painted Lady travels 12,000 km and crosses the Sahara Desert twice to exploit seasonal resources and favourable climates on both sides of the desert. Few species are known to perform annual long-range trans-Saharan circuits and that of the painted lady is the longest migratory flight known in butterflies to date.
To cheer us on this dreich day, Ed Mayer of Swift-consevation.org, has sent a lovely video he received from Erich Kaiser in Kronberg, the man with 90 Swifts breeding in his house, who studied with David Lack and who taught Ed nearly all that he knows about Swifts. The link is below. It tells the story of a family who found a baby Swift that had fallen down a vent into their flat, and who studied the Internet to find out how to raise it, and then did so successfully. It's a very well made little video (all in Russian, but swift language is international), and at one point it shows Erich's own colony, it's the house front with the numerous Swift holes in it!
Think, if we work at making Tisbury more swift-friendly, this could happen to one of us! (The Wildlife Hospital raises several young swifts to release every year.)
With the decent run of hot dry weather, insects have managed to build up numbers; on the farm, flies are a particular problem as their life-cycles are completed very quickly. Blackbirds, sparrows and jackdaws are constant companions to the calves as they hunt for maggots, pupae and, if they are quick enough, the adult flies, but the swallows are much more agile for these.
It looks like there is an ‘invasion’ of painted lady butterflies, which have started from North Africa and after several generations arrived here - they have been as far north as the Faroe Islands. With a bit more warm weather, the eggs laid on thistles here may result in huge numbers of butterflies, comparable to those of 2009 which many of you will remember.
A group of entomologists with a particular interest in moths meets once a month through the spring and summer in their gardens, local woods or nature reserves in south Wiltshire to record them. Last month we met at Middle Coombe on a perfect sultry evening and drew in more than 630 moths of 71 species, which were all released after identification.
Often other insects are attracted, especially flies but also hornets and wasps, which make for a bit of excitement as they buzz around disorientated. This time, there was a large yellow and black beetle (photo) which we identified as a banded sexton beetle. These attractive beetles lay their eggs on dead animals such as mice, which they can smell up to a mile away. Having found one they excavate a hole underneath to drop the carcass into. This particular beetle was covered with what looked like babies but in fact were mites. These little arthropods, related to spiders, were merely hitching a lift. On arrival at the mouse they would jump off and lay their eggs on it too. Their larvae and nymphs hoover up fly maggots, which would otherwise compete with the beetle’s larvae, causing them to starve before completing their cycle. The adults of both species then fly off together; a wonderful example of symbiosis and a bonus to discover whilst looking for moths.
7 August 2019 With Steady-Burning Lights Off, Hope Brightens for Birds
Some cheering news from American Bird Conservancy (I know, I know but we are One World): 'During the last two years, more than 2,700 communication operators have turned off steady-burning tower lights that cause up to 7 million bird deaths annually. Switching off these lights reduces bird-tower collisions by up to 70 percent, saving hundreds of thousands of birds each year. Migratory species like the Yellow-billed Cuckoo (above) account for a large proportion of tower-related deaths and stand most to benefit.'
The question of course is, does the same apply to tower lights in this country: please keep your eyes open when you pass electricity pylons and radio masts, and let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org if you spot any lights other than one flashing at the top.
August 2019 Butterfly summer
A member writes: We took friends to the Pyt House Garden for lunch in the sunshine on Friday. The gardens there are alive with butterflies. The ranks of flowers as well as the blooms on the numerous large buddleias were attracting large numbers of vanessid butterflies - Red Admirals, Peacocks and Painted Ladies - as well as large and small whites and a smaller number of Brimstones. Although the numbers of Painted Ladies are nothing like those being reported from further north (there are various videos online (e.g. https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/flutterly-amazing-watch-thousands-butterflies-16687026) they were still a good show and indicate that the migrants from earlier in the spring have been successful in producing a new brood.
16 July 2019 Chairman's report
Often, it’s an often-encountered creature that gives the most unexpected pleasur: I have had two examples of this recently. Firstly, whilst having a picnic by the dewpond in Chantry, a skylark started singing and continued for some fifteen minutes. Normally they sing whilst ascending to a position high up above then shortly have to descend as they tire but this one had found a perch in a small hawthorn bush immediately behind our concealed position so the beautiful song seemed endless.
Secondly, on a wild parsnip flower in Grovely wood on the members outing in July were many common red soldier beetles busily going about their business of reproduction and nectaring simultaneously. Although commonly seen for several months in summer I realized that I knew nothing about them. In fact, they are also known as ‘bloodsuckers’ for their striking red appearance. The larvae are very useful as they prey on ground-dwelling invertebrates, such as slugs and snails, and live at the base of long grasses.
A member writes 'After a cool and wet period in late May and June, during which the days were rarely warm and dry enough to encourage butterflies to fly, July has been a much better month. Hedgerows, field edges and woodlands have seen good numbers of butterflies on the wing, and in the community field behind the Nadder Centre it has been possible to see scores of Marbled White, Meadow Brown and Ringlet butterflies fluttering through the long grass. The checkerboard black and white markings of the Marbled White are particularly attractive as it perches on the purple flower-heads of knapweed to feed. 'This year has also seen a good number of Painted Lady butterflies migrate from North Africa. They have been seen throughout the local countryside wherever there are flowers and have frequently been seen in Tisbury gardens. As you would expect of a migrant, they are strong fliers but they often stop to bask, frequently on warm, bare ground, when you can get a good look at them. They are about the size of a Red Admiral, with pinky-orange, black and white markings. They lay their eggs on thistles and, in warm weather, the first migrants will produce a new generation within a few weeks. So, given the right conditions, they will multiply and by late summer they can become very numerous. This new generation will be much brighter looking than the faded long-distance travellers of the original arrivals and will look fabulous when they gather on particularly attractive flowers in our gardens’.
17 June 2019 Swift excitement! One of our members, who has put up two swift nest boxes on their house above Hindon Lane and plays the calls morning and evening, reports:
'We had a flypast of 2 swifts past our 2 boxes this morning. Right in our back yard!! We hope they are prospecting for next year? The swift call recording was playing at the time.'
In fact, maybe even this year, since advice is that 'In the UK, the attraction call season runs from the end of the first week of May until the end of July.' Maybe that does include young prospecting for next year - they don't nest till they're three years old - so if you're thinking of putting up a nest box, it really isn't too late even now.
June 2019 Chairman Peter Shallcross writes for Focus (Tisbury's Community Magazine)
Insect life (and death) A noticeable insect encountered in grass fields in June is the dung fly Scathophaga stercoraria. As well as being a favourite food of swallows, they play an important function in breaking down dung pats.
Interestingly, the flies are prone to the insect-eating fungus Entomophthora. Fly corpses can be found stuck to the top of grass stems; their abdomens encased in this pathogen’s pink fungal hyphae. These victims are death traps for other flies, which come to investigate and become contaminated with sticky spores that then germinate and penetrate the body of the new host. As the pathogen proliferates and begins to digest the flies, they weaken, suffering a prolonged and gruesome fate. In their final hours, the flies become zombies, as the fungus takes control of their nervous system and compels them to climb towards the light until they reach the top of grass stems – where they are conspicuously positioned for passing on the infection to another generation.
May 2019 Chairman Peter Shallcross writes for Focus (Tisbury's Community Magazine)
'To me, one of the finest sights in he glorious month of May is a hawthorn tree in full flower,' writes Peter Thompson of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, and there are plenty of sayings about it: 'Here we go gathering KNOTS of May.' meaning bunches of May blossom to make garlands in celebration of May Day. So, take time this May to go and have a close look at a mature hawthorn tree - and drink it in, as it will not only refresh your hear but your soul as well!'
Migration Another of our members writes: 'One of the classic signs of spring is the arrival of migrant swallows and other birds. What started as a trickle in March becomes a flood by late April and early May. One day you might hear a single chiffchaff and within days there are singing birds all around.
The different species generally arrive in much the same order each year. For example, in the hirundines generally the sand martin comes first, followed by the house martin and swallow followed later by noisier swifts. The swallows and house martins make their nests with mud so really dry spring weather makes mud hard to come by. At such times you can find good number of house martins gathered around those muddy areas that sill exist.
A good place to go to see migrants is Langford Lakes Nature Reserve near Wylye. Here you will see martins and swallows feeding up before continuing their journey north. From the bird hide, you never know what might turn up.
Although it is difficult to monitor their populations, there has been a decline in house martin numbers, especially in the south, for reasons currently unknown. Many modern houses are not designed in a way that is attractive to house martins but concrete artificial nests have proved successful. There are not many nesting in TIsbury but they can sometimes be seen prospecting for nest sites under the eaves of houses and are a common sight in the skies overhead.'
15 April 2019 'Butterflies bounce back in heatwave summer'
UK butterflies bounced back in 2018 following a string of poor years, thanks in part to last year’s heatwave summer, a study has revealed.
More than two-thirds of UK butterfly species (39 of 57) were seen in higher numbers than in 2017, with two of the UK’s rarest, the Large Blue and Black Hairstreak, recording their best years since records began.
‘To me, one of the finest sights in the glorious month of May is a hawthorn tree in full flower’, writes Peter Thompson (GWCT), and there are plenty of sayings about it: ‘“Here we go gathering nuts in May” – a very well-known line from the nursery rhyme, seems to be an odd time of year to gather nuts! What it originally said was, “Here we go gathering KNOTS of May”, meaning bunches of May blossom to make garlands in celebration of May Day. So, take time this May to go and have a close look at a mature hawthorn tree – and drink it in, as it will not only refresh your heart, but your soul as well!’
Another of our members writes: “Migration. One of the classic signs of spring is the arrival of migrant swallows and other birds. What started as a trickle in March becomes a flood by late April and early May. One day you might hear a single chiffchaff and within days there are singing birds all around. The different species generally arrive in much the same order each year. For example, in the hirundines, generally the sand martin comes first, followed by the house martin and swallow followed later by noisier swifts. The swallows and house martins make their nests with mud so really dry spring weather makes mud hard to come by. At such times you can find good numbers of house martins gathered around those muddy areas that still exist (sometimes even, the little patch at the car park by the allotments on Weaveland Road in Tisbury).
A good place to go to see migrants is Langford Lakes Nature Reserve near Wylye. Here you will see martins and swallows feeding up before continuing their journey north. From the bird hide, you never know what might turn up. Although it is difficult to monitor their populations, there has been a decline in house martin numbers, especially in the south, for reasons currently unknown. Many modern houses are not designed in a way that is attractive to house martins but concrete artificial nests have proved successful. There are not many nesting in Tisbury but they can sometimes be seen prospecting for nest sites under the eaves of houses and are a common sight in the skies overhead."
19 March 2019 New Good Fish Guide ratings out now
Use the Marine Conservation Society's Good Fish Guide to find out which fish are the most sustainable (Green rated), and which are the least sustainable (Red rated). Make the right choice and reduce your impact – every purchase matters!
16 March 2019 Community Day at the Nadder Centre The society's commitee and members were ready to welcome visitors at our stall. On display were intriguing and extraordinary items, from a huge wasps' nest to skulls of tiny rodents. We also had a quiz - identifying the trees or bushes that ten different twigs had come from.
Also available were a range of items printed with photographs of birds from this and other countries - beautiful cushions, coasters, mugs and cards.
At times we were almost submerged within the crowd and were delighted at the level of interest shown.
9 March 2019 update Watch out for ...
By early April, in good weather we can expect to start seeing a number of species. Those overwintering species such as the small tortoiseshell, peacock, red admiral and comma butterflies will be joined by the distinctive orange tip. White with brilliant orange tips to the fore wings, the male orange tip is easily identifiable. If you get a chance to see one at rest, try to get a look at the lovely green marbling on the underside of its rear wings. The female is often mistaken for a small white. They lay their eggs on the flower stalk of lady's smock, hedge mustard or honesty and the caterpillars need a whole plant to themselves as they are cannibalistic on each other.
'Another spring butterfly to look out for is the holly blue. This small blue butterfly will be seen fluttering around on and near holly trees and bushes, so if you have one in your garden keep your eyes peeled.' A small blue butterfly seen at this time of year will almost certainly be a holly blue. These butterflies are brilliant indicators that spring has properly arrived and they add a splash of colour as they flit along a sunny hedge bank.
Those of you who record the coming of spring and the timing of natural events during the year (phenology) will know that the first sighting of an orange-tip is one of the four indicators used to calculate the spring index. The first hawthorn flower, the first horse chestnut and first orange-tip of the year were recorded between 1998-2006 up to 10-12 days earlier than in 1900-1947. However, the migratory swallows have showed little change.
Watchout, and listen, also for avian harbingers of spring - the first chiffchaff and blackcap: Oddford Vale and Brook, Fonthill Lake, Ansty and gardens along the HIndon Lane are likely sites.
6 March 2019 Wildlife in the 'heatwave'
The February heatwave was surely unprecedented and many hibernators emerged. The first small tortoiseshell appeared on February 11 and a brimstone in Cuffs Lane on February 13 seems to have been the Wiltshire first of the year and the second-earliest ever. Males were very numerous around the village up to February 27 and a female appeared in Oysters Coppice Nature Reserve on February 24, so far the only one. Small numbers of comma and peacock also emerged (one of the latter in Lady Down View on 23 February) but of course we fear for their survival.
On bird feeders, parties of siskins in double figures have been reported from several gardens and lesser redpoll in one garden off Hindon Lane.
Further afield, a swallow has been sighted over Portland Bill - so keep eyes and ears open.
12 February 2019 Wildlife on farmland
Following on from Garden Birdwatch, there is a similar Big Farmland Bird Count run by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, for which the new Nadder and Sem Farmers Cluster Group is running a training day for its members at Totterdale Farm. There are flocks of yellowhammers, linnets and chaffinches feeding on the wild bird seed mixes that the Frys have sown, so hopefully they will be there on the day. On more open fields nearby, there has been a flock of fifty skylarks, and Chantry Field has been ploughed ready for the reappearance of the lapwings in a few weeks.
21 January 2019 (update) Fonthill Lake birds - post-dredging
Goosanders seem to have taken a fancy to Fonthill Lake, where their number is now in double figures. This handsome duck is one our largest and visits Wiltshire from the North in winter only. The male has a striking green head above a largely white body, while the females and immatures, always in the majority, are known as redheads: they have a streamlined look and are a stirring sight as a flock whirrs down the lake showing their white wing patches. They dive for fish, taken with their narrow, saw-edged bills which give the genus the name 'sawbill'.
There has been a welcome return by the Little Grebe, which found the post-dredging conditions not to its liking. Six were present on 4 December and the population is likely to build up.
Mute Swan numbers also declined after dredging but are now recovering to their previous population of over 20.
Gadwall have carried on much as usual, the population being up to 50 but usually nearer 30, as now.
21 January 2019 (update) Butterflies
A Small Tortoiseshell seen in Tuckingmill on 22 December seems to have been the last butterfly of 2018, concluding a rich year for most species - other than the hibernators often seen in gardens.
Sometimes warm mid-winter days can tempt hibernators out. Please report any that you see. If they come into the house and you can catch them, put them in a cardboard box and take it to a garden shed or somewhere equally dark, sheltered and frost-free.
Please report even individual sightings to us, with location, at email@example.com.
16 January 2019 One of Wiltshire's mammals One of our members writes: ‘A dead adult polecat was found on the A30 near Ansty recently. The animal was in good condition and about 18 inches long. It had probably been struck while crossing the road during the previous night.
'The polecat is a distinctive ferret-like animal with characteristic two-tone fur (comprising pale yellow underfur and long dark guard hairs) and “bandit” face mask, which distinguishes it from the American Mink. Usually solitary aside from family groups, polecats are typically nocturnal hunters, occupying a home range that offers year-round foraging resources and resting sites. With low population densities, live animals are rarely seen and most records are of roadkill such as this individual. Previously widespread, the polecat was almost exterminated from Great Britain during the late 19th-early 20th centuries by excessive culling. A reduction in trapping pressure allowed a slow recovery from a mid-Wales stronghold into the midlands and southern England by the late 1900s. The species colonized south Wiltshire in the 1990s.
'A post-myxomatosis increase in the rabbit population may also have contributed to the polecat’s recovery as rabbits comprise a key proportion of the diet where abundant. A range of mammal, bird and amphibian species will be taken as prey. Polecats are typically found in greater abundance in lowlands, adopting woodlands, farmland, wetlands and the coastal fringe and settlements wherever there are adequate sources of prey and secure resting sites. This apparent lack of specific habitat requirements has allowed it to repopulate a diverse range of landscapes across Britain. Polecats are now more widespread in Britain than at any time in the last 100 years.’ Since we published this photograph of the polecat, another - roadkill sadly this time - has been found in Donhead St Mary. But another Polecat was reported on 7 October from Gutch Common, now part of the Oysters Coppice Nature Reserve.
Golden Plovers. It is worth looking out for these winter visitors in the fields between Weavelands Farm and Hindon Lane as they are still around. They are occasionally seen there in numbers of between a dozen or so up to 200+. Most of the time they remain settled in the field but when disturbed they can circle the area in a sweeping flock taking quite some time before they settle. Unfortunately, some dogs run across the fields rather than stay with their masters on the headland paths and this might restrict the frequency with which the Plovers can be seen.
22 December 2018 Parish Meadow
A winter task for the New Year could be laying the hedge in the traditional way. We will have professional assistance and members will be able to help.
It is understood that the Parish Council will provide wild flower seeds for us to sow in the meadow once the ground has warmed up.
Since July last year, two of our members have tried to address the dog poo problem - which is that hay is of reduced value with this unwanted ingredient, which can also be a danger to children. The Parish Council originally placed warning notices at each of the five entrances, which achieved a limited impact but sadly two of the four were vandalised and others didn't last very long. The PC is unable to replace them as funds have run out so two of our members have taken the initiative by replacing two of the notices themselves - of which one is to date still standing.
21 November 2018 More on butterflies ...
As a consequence of the decimation of the Elm tree population, the White-letter Hairstreak butterfly which lives exclusively in these trees has also been in sharp decline. However, members were able to see this species close up on the trip to Alners Gorse in July. And here in Tisbury, we found a colony in the Elms alongside the Parish Meadow, by the children's play area. It is worth searching in all Elms in July.
Peter Shallcross at Wallmead Farm, Tisbury is doing something practical to help reverse the decline in the populations both of the butterfly itself and of the elm tree. In 2017 he bought hybrid elm trees, bred in Spain to be resistant to Dutch Elm Disease. Seven have been planted at Wallmead next to at-risk mature elms, in the hope that the White-letter hairstreaks will migrate to the new, young disease-resistant trees. (See Open to Members for Peter's latest update.)
The Purple Hairstreak appeared in June in Oysters Coppice Nature Reserve. On the same day, a Purple Emperor flew over the oaks at the picnic area, confirming a sighting in 2015. This magnificent creature may be more numerous than we thought in the woods west of Wardour and, now that the WWT reserve has been extended to the area around Oysters Coppice including Gutch Common, we will be better able to assess the population.
On 4 November an exploratory tour of the Common found a healthy stand of Goat Willow, a possible Emperor breeding site. A member also found another Emperor at an unlikely site, on the Ridgeway by the Chicken farm near Fovant Hut. (Photo: Butterfly Conservation)