On this page are accounts of the Field Trips we have enjoyed over the past year.
Tuesday, 7 September 2021 Martin Green: Down Farm, Sixpenny Handley Organiser: Peter Shallcross Re-scheduled from 2020
When we regretfully had to cancel this visit last year, Martin Green told Peter Shallcross:-
“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! My friend James Phillips visited and recorded these species around the pond and woodland planting: The 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.
Other highlights on neighbouring fields 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 hair with at least 3-4 Red kite over the nearby woodlands towards Wimborne St Giles.”
So maybe it was much like that again this year. Susie Blundell sent this wonderfully atmospheric photo, adding, 'We had a lovely field trip hosted by Martin Green. I took this picture by Martin’s latest pond which he is hoping will be an attraction for Turtle Doves. Lots of wild flowers, a glorious sunset, a museum visit and a starry night - it was perfect.'
I've not had any more detailed first-hand accounts, so would love it if anyone else who enjoyed it would email their comments to me.
Martin is a great wildlife enthusiast and he’s also a keen archaeologist, with a great deal to share. The landscape here is rich in prehistoric features – the Dorset cursus (a huge linear earthwork that runs for 10 km/6¼ miles and dates from roughly 4,000 years ago) crosses the farm. A cross-section has been excavated so you can see just what it used to look like.
There’s a long barrow and several round barrows visible on the slopes, while the Roman road known as the Ackling Dyke also passes through it on its way from Badbury Rings to Old Sarum. Again, where it crosses the road nearby a cross-section has been exposed showing its construction.
On top of that, excavations have found shafts that were filled-in as far back as 10,000 years ago, and the remains of ditches and enclosures dating from 4,500 to 2,800 years ago. This was the ideal opportunity to hear all about the excavations and discoveries and to visit Martin and Karen’s private museum.
Wednesday, 25 August 2021 Harnham Water Meadows
By way of a sharp contrast with Hambledon Hill, our next Field Trip was to water meadows that occupy 84 acres of beautiful and historic – but flat - land south west of Salisbury.
Debbie Carter, the organiser, reported, 'We had a great trip to Harnham Water Meadows yesterday in brilliant sunshine. We had an excellent and informed guide in Hadrian Cook and there were, I think, 17 TNHS members including two young boys.'
The Harnham Water Meadows Trust, formed in 1990, has worked to restore and preserve this internationally important heritage site, probably the best known meadow irrigation system in England. Hadrian Cook, a member of the Trust’s team of volunteers guided us and talked us through the history of the meadows and their influence on the flora and fauna of the surrounding area. He also explained the role of the Drowner, whose responsibility is to maintain an even flow with irrigation events typically lasting for time periods between three days and one week.
Thanks to Andrew Carter for these photos of the Cathedral, Harnham Mill and the Drowner's daughter's poem.
You can read about the history of the Harnham WateMeadowshere.
The Trust has announced that the meadows are now open to pre-arranged guided tours. If you would like to arrange a visit, please get in touch via e-mail, or our Social Media pages or via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, 29 July 2021 10.30am Hambledon Hill - Butterflies and flowers Organiser: Andrew Graham
Hambledon Hill is the spectacular 192 metre (630 feet) high Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) owned and managed by the National Trust, southwest of Iwerne Minster. The chalk grassland here is really good for wildflowers and insects, especially butterflies. The view from the summit provides a real sense of this site’s prehistoric strategic importance and why it’s considered one of the finest Iron Age hillforts in Dorset.
Twelve members spent a pleasant few hours scaling the heights of Hambledon Hill's iron age earthworks to look for butterflies and enjoy the flora.
We saw a total of 17 butterfly species. A small, sheltered quarry on the side of the hill held plenty of butterflies which, because it was not very warm, were not flying much but basking on flowerheads so making them relatively easy to look at and photograph. Several Chalkhill Blues were a highlight as this species is, unfortunately, becoming less common and isn't seen in the Tisbury area.
Photo: Mark Joy, Butterfly Conservation
A welcome surprise sighting was a Clouded Yellow, a migrant species one or two of which are seen on Hambledon each year, but it is a matter of luck whether you bump into them. We were however disappointed not to see the Adonis Blue, but the second brood of this species doesn't seem to have emerged yet.
We also enjoyed looking at the very diverse chalkland flora. In places on the steep west-facing slopes, the herbs are so prolific that hardly any grass could be seen. The Carline Thistle, with its bronzy yellow blooms which look like dried flowers, was a particular hit. The full list of flora is here, with thanks to Debbie Carter and Jill Preston.
We gradually climbed the slopes of the hill, entered the fort through the banks and ditches of the entrance at the south-western end, then climbed to the neolithic long barrow on the summit. From here we could see across Wiltshire, Dorset and Somerset, and could pick out various landmarks, towns and villages. The descent back to the base of the hill was perhaps the toughest part of the walk, the steep path being particularly challenging. Mercifully, although the breeze on the top was stiff, it stayed dry and the temperature made for a very pleasant walk.
Tuesday, 6 July 2021 8 pm Kingston Lacy Estate, The National Trust: Glow worms and nightjars at Holt Heath Organiser: Peter Shallcross
Our Chairman led an evening walk on Holt Heath Nature Reserve (roughly 5 miles north-east of Wimborne Minster) for an hour or so as dusk came down, in search of glow-worms and nightjars.
In a welcome innovation, we joined Peter for supper at the Cross Keys Inn, Holt Rd, Wimborne BH21 7JZbefore setting out.
If you'd like to go yourself, plan to get there at sunset. Holt Heath is unhelpfully on two different OS maps - OS 118 (Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase) and OL22 (New Forest) but you can also find it on Dorset Explorer - search for Holt Heath.
Head for the pub and then continue westward along the road onto the Heath and look out for a parking area on the road on the left - on the map, its the more westerly of the bridle tracks that cross the road, at SU 051 045. There's an information board (sadly illegible) by the track that you can follow down to a 'cross roads'. Don't forget to take a torch as the ground is quite rough and it will, of course, be dark.
The RSPB’s 33-hectare reserve sits in the middle of Cranbourne Chase just north of Sixpenny Handley via Ebbesbourne Wake. This ancient wood (along with coppiced hazel and maple, there are areas of oak, scrub and mixed plantation, with glades, rides and deadwood) has been managed for centuries, creating a special place for some magnificent wildlife, including blackcap and marsh tit, colourful wildflowers and small mammals like dormice. Openings in the trees create pockets of sunlight to attract butterflies, including the silver-washed fritillary (see below) and white admiral (not seen).
Photo: Andrew Carter
The first excitement was butterfly orchids - a taller woodland plant (above) compared with the lesser butterfly version which is found on more open ground.
There were also many common spotted orchids.
The blackberries were really only just coming into flowers, but once fully out (and with the impending heatwave) this will become an emporium for butterfly spotters.
Something of a surprise were several different kinds of fungi: identification welcome! This being ancient woodland might explain the profusion even at this time of year. Andrew Carter explained what's going on in the stinkhorn photo on NewNews, 'I think it is the stink horn that offers them the juicy scent in return for a square fly meal for itself.'
Butterflies were disappointingly in rather short supply although one silver washed fritillary (the silver wash is on the underside of the wings) was snapped Abby Eaton and others we saw were newly emerged and pristine. There were some fascinating moths, including a longhorn with, indeed, unbelievably long antennae, a surprising deposit of buff tip moth eggs and caterpillars, a large skipper butterfly all of half an inch long and a spotless ringlet (the males sometimes don't have spots).
The visit ended with a peaceful picnic lunch on logs helpfully positioned in the shade, probably by RSPB volunteers.
Saturday, 13 June 2021 Hawk Conservancy Trust Organiser: Debbie Carter
Following Tom Morath's talk in April about the Hawk Conservancy Trust's history, we visited the trust near Andover. The Trust does exciting work with species worldwide but also has a number of research and conservation projects focused on kestrels and tawny owls - whose populations are now 'of concern' - and barn owls and the impact of declining prey populations such as rabbits, almost wiped out by mixomatosis.
More encouragingly, banning organochlorine pesticides seems to be helping recovery.
Saturday, 15 May 2021 Patrick Cashman: Winterbourne Downs - Stone Curlews Organiser: Peter Shallcross
Our first Field Trip of the season was to the RSPB's 200 acre reserve at Winterbourne Downs, South east of Amesbury, to see stone curlews and the fruits of the conservation work Nick Tomalin described so graphically at our February meeting. We met reserve manager, Patrick Cashman and although the weather wasn't helpful with his help we did see a number of other species that inhabit this rolling chalk down-land.
Andrew Graham writes that eleven members braved the grim weather forecast to visit this site which the RSPB is developing from restored arable fields into more than 200ha of new chalk grassland. The aim is to create an area of species-rich chalk grassland which forms a steppingstone between the two largest tracts of semi-natural chalk grassland in the British Isles – Salisbury Plain to the north and Porton Down to the south. As well as providing a haven for the stone-curlew in its Wessex stronghold it will form a wildlife corridor hopefully providing nature with greater resilience against climate change.
Patrick Cashman explained how the fields had been seeded to produce a mix of native flowers which attract insects in summer and provide seed for birds in winter. Cultivated strips along the field edges allow scarce arable plants to flourish while the key feature of the reserve, the fallow plots, provide nesting sites for birds such as lapwing, stone curlew, and grey partridge. We met at the car park located on part of an old railway line which forms one of the paths through the reserve. In the old hedgerows and scrub along side the old track we heard and saw four Sylvia warblers - lesser whitethroat, whitethroat, blackcap, and garden warbler – as well as yellowhammers and quite a few rabbits.
From the viewing screen we had good views of at least two stone curlews out in one of the fallow plots. Their plumage provides particularly good camouflage, so it was only when they moved that we were able to spot them. There did not appear to be any lapwings on this plot although we did spy one on another fallow plot across the valley.
Patrick explained how some of the site management was intended to make the place more attractive to turtle doves. Although they do not breed there currently, they do so not far away on Martin Down. By providing a pond, scrub, and seed-producing rough ground it is hoped that this increasingly scarce bird may colonise.
As the weather was damp and overcast for most of our visit, we did not look closely at the butterfly banks which have been constructed and planted with suitable food plants for butterflies such as the small blue which has already colonised. As it did brighten up though, we saw a Dingy Skipper and later, as the sun came out, Peter spotted a very smart looking Marsh Fritillary butterfly which posed with its wings outspread for us all to admire. Also brought out by the sun and warmth were plenty of black St Marks flies (or hawthorn flies) with their dangling legs.
We had been hoping to see a corn bunting and as we headed back to the car park one duly obliged by flying up out of the cultivated field edge to sit atop a hawthorn from which is sang its distinctive “jangling keys” song.
Although the grey partridge eluded us, the weather was kinder than expected and we learned a great deal about the RSPB’s continuing work on the site and its growing success. The marsh fritillary was a bonus.
29 April 2021 Bat walk, Old Wardour Castle
Some 20-odd adult members and non-members, plus half a dozen young people, took part in the evening bat walk at Old Wardour Castle. It was heavily over-subscribed, so our apologies to those who were disappointed - maybe we can organise a re-run.
Wednesday 14 October 2020 Brownsea Island, Poole Harbour
We were unable to go ahead with this guided walk because Dorset Wildlife Trust have cancelled all such group visits.
Regardless of COVID restrictions, the Island is now closed to visitors until the Spring.
We very much hope, of course, to be able to re-schedule this Field Trip for next year.
Saturday 19 September 2020 River Nadder Invertebrates Survey
Lampreys Tiit Hunt, CC BY-SA 3.0 httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby-sa3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Well, some of us were brought up on King Henry 1 having died of a 'surfeit of lampreys', but I doubt anyone thought they (if they had any idea what 'they' were) could be found in our very own Nadder. However, it was Henry who probably 'defined' Clarendon Park, just the other side of Salisbury, and built the Hunting Lodge there - apparently out of Tisbury stone. So maybe it was Nadder lampreys he died of!
This was a great opportunity to see the myriad forms of life that exist in our local river - including, as it turned out, lampreys - under the expert leadership of David Holroyd who is Membership Secretary Teffont Fishing Club and River Monitoring Coordinator for Salisbury and District Angling Club.
As with our Harvest Mice Nest survey, there was a serious side to this. David explains that river quality and wildlife is deteriorating at an accelerating rate. This is particularly so in Wiltshire and Hampshire where 95% of the planet’s ‘Chalk stream habitat’ is located - strictly speaking the Nadder isn't itself a chalk stream although very similar. Because of the threat of continued deterioration and its unique nature and biodiversity, the whole of the River Avon and its four tributaries are designated a SSSI and subject to the status of being a ‘Special Area for Conservation’.
David led members including Izzy Fry and other members of our Young Nature Watch group, to a favourite stretch of river, just outside Teffont Evias, where he collected samples from the river and brought them it to the bank for examination close-up in a sampling tray. As well as the lampreys and a number of insects, there were also brown trout, grayling, chub, dace and minnow. David says that the Nadder is currently in good health and being monitored throughout its length.
Salmon parr (very glamorous!) - photo courtesy Marine Institute
This is especially important as the Nadder is also a key spawning habitat for the Avon Salmon, which is particularly endangered - and indeed, excitingly, salmon parr were also found.David's full account and list of sightings is here and there's an excellent account of the life-cycle of salmon here.
Andrew Graham said how fascinating – and surprising – it was to discover the wide variety of insects that give life to our rivers. He added, 'I have never seen a lamprey before and it opened my eyes to how much is going on in the Nadder, which to my ill-informed eyes, has always looked a bit uninteresting going through the village...'
Certainly, to judge by these photos, a great time seems to have been had, as they say, by all. Great weather, too.
Sunday 16 August 2020 Semley Hill to Gutch Common - Guided walk
The Wiltshire Wildlife Trust succeeded in purchasing the remaining area of Gutch Common Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). This ancient site and its diverse habitat is protected and managed as a public nature reserve, connecting with Oysters Coppice SSSI and Wincombe Lane Woods to create an area of 108.59 acres of protected woodland and wet grassland - see this map.
We walked from Semley to Gutch Common - reaching the dizzy height of 241m on the way before slithering down the precipitous hillside, as per the photos below - and Oysters Coppice where we finished with a picnic sheltering from the rain under trees. Along the paths we noticed several bushes with leaves turned into black lace - Alders, with the alder beetle having been at work.
It is magnificent woodland - we passed some 'archaeological' remains of a former farmyard, ie rusting farm machinery; some superb trees including some 'fallen giants'; beautiful fungi; and a tiny frog sheltering among the roots of a tree.
We were led by Debbie Carter who, as well as being on our committee and the Tisbury Tree Warden, looks after the Coppice day-to-day and also Peter Shallcross and Ines Lopez-Doriga: to all of whom warm thanks for a lovely exploration of this ancient woodland. To get an idea of what you too might enjoy, 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!
Sunday 26 July 2010 Home Farm, Teffont Evias
The members guided walk around Home Farm, Teffont Evias went really well (though sadly a few were forced to drop out when it was deferred by a day to avoid heavy rain). The 23 who came walked in socially distanced groups of five or six with our excellent guides, Jasper Bacon, Peter and Martin Shallcross (and the last two made the journey twice) and came away knowing far more about the geology, topography, history and natural history of the village and its surrounding countryside.
Saturday 11 July 2020 Coombe Bissett Down Nature Reserve Guided walk on the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust (WWT) Open Day
The Open Day was cancelled because of Covid, but the reserve is still 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.)
Thursday 18 June 2020 Martin Green, Farmer and archaeologist Down Farm, Sixpenny Handley - wildlife and archaeology Virtual field trip
The pond at Down Farm - James Phillips
If it hadn’t been for the corona virus we would have urged 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 would 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.