The first indoor meeting of 2020 was given by Ashley White of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust about two nature reserves near Tisbury. Ashley is the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust manager for the South Wilts reserves and has overseen the extension of two local sites in the last two years - both depend heavily on volunteers for a lot of very valuable work.
Ashley described the enormous amount of work required to make the Semley Woods reserve safe for visitors to enjoy - not least the removal of a lot of fly-tipping, one batch of which included one of those delightful long-tailed fieldmice/woodmice, which happily was discovered before it was too late. Oysters Coppice now has more woodland to the west, plus the more open habitat of Gutch Common SSSI to the east. Coombe Bissett Down NR is another SSSI and now covers 88 acres of superb chalk downland, rich in grassland flora and invertebrates - the butterflies are of special interest and now have a designated bank sown with their food plants. WWT’s own herds of sheep and cattle graze regularly.
The Society arranged a visit to Coombe Bisset Down in June 2019 - for an account of this, see FIELD TRIPS/What you missed - and we have a return visit scheduled for July this year.
There is also a visit scheduled for 2 May to Semley Hill and Gutch Common - go to the Field Trips page for information.
17 December 2019
John Akeroyd, who lives nearby, is a leading botanist, advocate for native wild plants and flowers, author of the ‘Encyclopaedia of Wild Flowers’ and ‘A Guide to Wild Flowers of the British Isles’.
He is a leading expert and author of a definitive guide to the remote Saxon villages of the Southern Transylvania region of Romania, where the countryside presents a remarkable survival of medieval landscape. His talk was about the history of the area, the role of the fortified churches, how villages are evolving and the non-intensive mixed farming which achieves an ecological balance with nature and wildlife, all set amongst old-growth woodland and wildflower-rich hay-meadows. He works there with ADEPT Transylvania Foundation advising the farmers of the region on how best to conserve their heritage.
19 November 2019 Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group
Living as we do in an 'Area of outstanding natural beauty' with farms, forests and and open countryside, we were very pleased that Gary Rumbold, the General Manager for the South West, was willing to come all the way from Wellington to talk to us on a subject which Chairman Peter Shallcross said is 'close to his heart'.
FWAG was set up just 50 years ago, by farmers working with farmers 'to promote and enhance the conservation of wildlife, the environment and the landscape in relation to modern agricultural needs (see their website, https://www.fwagsw.org.uk/Pages/News/
Amongst the many telling points Gary made was the implication of the fact that 'you can't be green unless you're in the black', ie the conflict between the need to produce at internationally competitive prices and the actual cost of enhancing the environment at the same time, and the role of agricultural subsidies in achieving break-even between the two.
Gary described projects close at hand - working with the Fonthill Estate to reduce nitrate run-off by ensuring fields are not 'bare' in the winter; the Kingfisher project working with young people based at Sutton Mandeville, and the local farming corridor focusing on species such as harvest mice, where farmers had become quite competitive in seeing who could find the most! He also cited the example of Waitrose's strong corporate responsibility ethos, working with farmers and suppliers continually to increase positive impact on the environment.
As news of serious flooding again grabs the headlines, Gary also mentioned the EU's Water Framework Directive, under which few catchment areas in the UK would achieve 'good ecological status' by the deadline but under which much good work was being done by eg FWAG's Natural Flood Management plan to increase water-retention by improving the quality of the soil and the need to use Ferric Phosphate instead of Mataldehyde to control slugs etc.
Also of interest was FWAGs service in the recycling of farm plastics, which was being reviewed in light of the refusal of China and Malaysia to continue receiving this type of waste.
Gary said that the new Environmental Land Management Scheme which would replace the EUs CAP could be really good because it provided a big opportunity for farmers to participate in achieving the required 'public goods' in terms of environmental outcomes, although the end of the Basic Payments which ensured that farmers earned at least the national minimum wage could obviously be problematic for some.
12 November 2019 Johnny Birks - The return of our pine martens
Johnny Birks has worked in wildlife research and nature conservation for 30 years, and has particular expertise in the conservation ecology of European mammals. He has been beguiled by pine martens since his teens. After a close brush with extinction, the pine marten is recovering its numbers in Britain and Ireland, so it is time to reacquaint ourselves with this enchanting mammal.
After research and survey work on other mustelids (carnivorous mammals), Johnny worked with the Vincent Wildlife Trust that was founded in Herefordshire in 1975 to carry out conservation-led research and that now runs the Pine Marten Recovery Project. This gave him the chance to work on his favourite mammal, and he has since written a book, 'Pine Martens', part of The British Natural History Collection. Johnny's enthusiasm was very contagious!
15 October 2019 World Tree Story
Julian Hight is a designer, photographer and musician. He collects stories about important trees all over the world: their history, legend and mythology, presenting an extraordinary record of the rich variety of ancient trees, whilst also telling a human story and ultimately calling for their preservation and conservation. Julian is not only an authority on those trees but he is also leading a project to recreate the Selwood forest. He gave a lively and entertaining account justifying why we feel so strongly about trees - that they can be a thousand years old in this country and even more elsewhere - eg in California the Redwoods we've all heard of can be 2000 years old but others even up to 5000. We learned that our 'great trees' would have needed clear ground around them to grow to such a size, which indicated that Britain would not have been solid forest, but forests with large clearings. We also learned that Brighton still has 30,000 elms because of the conservation they undertook when Dutch Elm Disease first struck.
17 September 2019 Hidden past landscapes of the British Isles Alex Brown of Wessex Archaeology Alex described the methods used and difficulties faced by environmental archaeologists to reconstruct past landscapes, with a particular focus on his speciality, pollen analysis. He run through a general overview of the evolution of the British landscape in broad terms, from prehistory till modern times, with detail on interesting points in human history, such as the time when the megalithic monuments (for example, Stonehenge) were constructed, or the extinction of the aurochs in Britain. He gave a critical view on current topics, such as climate change, environmental deterioration and landscape restoration approaches, from the perspective of long-term human interaction with the environment.
16 April 2019 The Wiltshire Mammal Atlas
This meeting was the last of the season. Gareth Harris is the Wiltshire mammal recorder and has a particular interest in bats but his expertise and enthusiasm goes way beyond these largely nocturnal animals.
19 March 2019 'Magical birds of Costa Rica”, by Steve Oakes
In the dark days of still-winter, this was much enjoyed medicine of brilliant colour and exoticism. An amazing variety of birds, in a country that goes out of its way to conserve them while warmly welcoming tourists with varied and appropriate resources enabling access to them. After hearing this talk, at least one of those present resolved to visit Costa Rica!
19 February 2019 Alan Gates - Mere Down Falconry At February's indoor meeting, the very popular Alan Gates brought three very well trained owls to enthral us. First up was Casper, a barn owl who performed faultlessly, overflying the audience and landing on several people's arms for the reward of food. Next was Scamp, a burrowing owl, which is the North American equivalent of our little owl, who certainly lived up to his name. This one flew close to the ground and made up for his tiny stature by his noisy calls. Lastly was an eagle owl called Poppy, who dwarfed scamp. Poppy's companion Bella has been on the loose for several months and has been seen around Mere, so keep an eagle eye open because they do fly during the day. Alan told us a lot of interesting facts about the owls and pointed out the differences between their eyes, whether they are diurnal, nocturnal or crepuscular (flying in the twilight).
15 January 2019 Inés Lopez-Doriga of Wessex Archaeology - Wild flower seeds in archaeology Inés gave a talk on The Archaeology of Plants. As WA are based at Old Sarum, many of the slides were of local interest. Inés explained that preserved plant remains can help explain how people in the past lived, particularly what they were eating and farming. Radiocarbon measurements of remains can help date sites and are a valuable part of building the knowledge about them. Often the archaeobotanical work centres on preserved rubbish pits and latrines/sewers: near Bath Abbey, for example, in the sewers of a refreshment establishment, poo contemporary with Jane Austen was preserved. Inés has assistants who clean and sieve the samples, so fortunately (for her) its just her job to identify the plant remains in this material and write the reports! A second example was that of a sailing ship found off the coast of Kent. Some timbers were dendrochronologically dated to c. 1540, but preserved plum, hazel nut and cereal bran found in the bilge were radiocarbon dated at c. 1440. It is possible that the crew had thrown away the remains of their meals, some of which found its way to the bilge and remained there for about 100 years whilst the ship sailed around the coast. The ship would have been extensively repaired during this time and the sampled wood was from towards the end of this period. Inés brought a microscope so that members could examine for themselves some of the specimens on which she works.
18 December 2018 David Read - John Blashford-Snell's expedition to India
Our December meeting was a film introduced by David Read about one of John Blashford-Snell's expeditions to India. The video showed highlights of the expedition, in particular how doctors set up pop-up clinics to treat people who have otherwise very little access to health care. Elephants and tigers also put in an appearenace and we got an idea of the abundance and variety of the wildlife. A lasting legacy is that a number of the school children visited have kept up contact by letter with young British students who had their letters taken there.
20 November 2018 Leif Bersweden - 52 species of wild British orchid ... one summer to find them all
Our November indoor meeting was a talk given by Leif Bersweden on his search for all the British orchids. In fact, he found them all except for the Ghost Orchid, but this oversight is forgivable given that it has only been seen a handful of times in the last century. The incredible variety and beauty of British orchids was amply shown in the superb photos with which Leif illustrated his talk, all of which are included in his recently published book. Leif spent his childhood around Winterslow and from an early age chose botany above all else. This interest lead him to Kew gardens, where he is studying for a PhD, examining four closely related species of orchids and their hybridisation, using cutting edge genetic analysis.
16 October 2018 Tim Farrero - The littoral ecology of the Solent and southern Isle of Wight
Our first talk of the season in October, was given by Tim Ferrero, from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, who spoke on the subject of marine ecology of the Solent. Tim explained about some of the projects he’s been involved with the HIWWT: the Solent Seagrass Project, Unlocking the Secrets of the Solent, The Way Back to Living Seas, and Shoresearch, a citizen science type of coastline survey.
Tim opened our eyes to a whole world of unseen creatures including Thresher Sharks, Mantis Shrimps, Peacocks Tails, Sea gGrapes (Cuttlefish eggs), Stalked Jellyfish and Wrasse fish. Tim is an inspirational speaker with an enviable depth of knowledge - this is especially important with the numerous threats to the oceans. With the spotlight on carrier bags, we were surprised to learn that micro fibres from clothes and car tyres actually comprise two thirds of marine plastic waste. It will be a huge challenge to change attitudes and choices to make a difference, but having been shown a glimpse of what is at stake, surely its worth trying to change our habits.
PS - on the same subject, the Isle of Wight was featured on the BBC's Countryfile on Sunday, 9 December (still available on iPlayer) and you’ll see a short feature showing the coastal side of the work of Artecology - how Sandown Bay-based innovations in eco-engineering here can make a small but mighty difference to marine wildlife! Press release and blog post here https://bit.ly/2AUeD0f