This was the annual Open Day organised by the project, and the weather was absolutely perfect - although we were warned that the great birds often lie low in the heat of the day, we saw several.
We were first driven by landrover well up onto the plain, to a viewpoint from which we could see eight male Great Bustards foraging in some rough vegetation on the hillside opposite.
We were then taken to the hide, from which we could watch an adult female and her 'chick', and another female nearby. There were also some pens where young birds are reared ready for release. Some are from eggs brought from Spain to increase numbers to around 100, at which point it is believed they should be able to maintain themselves as a viable population. Others are from eggs rescued from nests threatened by ploughing or harvesting - the farmers in the area are very supportive of the project and always warn when such activity is planned. The females whose eggs are taken apparently quite happily create alternative nests elsewhere and continue to raise the young there.
The main threats to the eggs and chicks are apparently stoats and raptors, and little can be done to control them. Foxes are also a threat, so attempts are made to keep them away from nests by fencing known sites.
In the winter, the Great Bustards feed happily on young rapeseed, it seems without causing significant loss to the crop. In the summer their food is more of insects.
We didn't see any birds flying, but they do - and unlike eg swans, take off straight from the ground rather than needing a 'runway'.
7 August 2019 Pertwood Organic Farm
You may have noticed the swathes of wildflowers that are planted alongside the A350 going over Lords Hill and down towards Longbridge Deverill. This is Pertwood Organic Farm and on the evening of Wednesday 7th August a group of 25 members went for a visit.
We were greeted at the farm by Nick Adams who as well as being the County Bird Recorder for Wiltshire is consultant ecologist to the farm management. Because of the environmental sympathies of the estate owner, Nick had significant influence on how the farm is managed for the benefit of wildlife. Nick took us to a number of locations on the farm and told us mainly about birds but undoubtedly the management benefits all kinds of wildlife.
When on the hilltop admiring the view, Nick was asked how extensive the estate was. His reply was to ask us to look for “tramlines” in the crops. These tell-tale signs of where tractors had been through the crops applying fertiliser or pesticides are completely absent from the Pertwood fields because of its organic credentials. This made it easy to see what a large estate it is
The farm is mixed, so a well as crops there are cattle and sheep. Interestingly they are gradually removing the stock fencing, instead using electric fences. As these can be more easily moved around they are more flexible than permanent post and wire. A landscape without tramlines or fences looks somehow gentler and more natural even though it is clearly farmed.
We heard that the Corn Bunting, which is becoming less common in Britain as a whole has a stronghold in southern Wiltshire and Pertwood is very important in that stronghold. Indeed, Nick pointed out a single field and said that there had been more Corn Buntings breeding in the field this summer than in the whole of Cornwall.
This success is down to a combination of choice of crops - Lucerne and Sanfoin have been found to be unexpectedly attractive, as well as phacelia which is always popular with pollinators – the timing of harvesting to allow time for fledging to occur, and supplementary feeding along field edges in winter. This benefits other species such as Yellowhammer and finches and in winter sizeable flocks gather. These in turn may attract predators such as Hen Harriers which visit from Salisbury Plain.
The timing of when to cut the crops or the swathes of wildflowers which are planted to provide nectar sources for insects appears to be a bit of an art and something about which Nick is continuing to learn. But it relies on the sympathy of the landowner who forgoes income in exchange for wildlife benefits.
We were also taken to see a “raptor feeding station”. This was a giant mound of straw under which a ton of grain had been hidden. This provides a huge source of food for rats and mice (domestic, not field). These in turn provided a food source for Barn Owls, Buzzards, Kestrels and Red Kites all of which used the giant perch, specially provided nearby, from which to hunt. There has been much effort to support the Barn Owl population on the farm with nest boxes provided and some impressive numbers of young reared in some years.
Finally we were shown a butterfly bank which had been personally constructed by the landowner. Wessex Water needed to build a reservoir on the top of the hill and this created much chalk spoil. Some of this was moulded into a long bank facing south and seeded with suitable wildflower seed. While the wildflower sward is still developing the bank is already attracting a number of species of butterflies.
We ended the evening with a picnic on a hillside looking north towards Longleat, Warminster and the Plain. With the sun setting to our left bathing the landscape in a warm glow this was a lovely way to end a splendid visit. (Note from Editor: if you have photographs of this field trip, especially the landscape, please do send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org)
On Wednesday 10 July a group of 11 members, led by David Rear and Peter Shallcross, visited this large woodland on the ridge to the north of Dinton. The woods are managed by the Forestry Commission on behalf of the owners Wilton Estate and most of them are open to public access. These are long established woods and the compartment names, boundaries and tracks today are essentially the same as those on maps from the late 1800’s. It is this long continuity of woodland cover and management that has enabled so many butterfly species to survive there but current sympathetic management is helping too.
We walked through the parts of the wood known as Dinton Beeches, Snapes and Middle Hills and looked over two open areas of downland sheltered within the woodland’s southern flank. These were carpeted with wild flowers and we had fun trying to identify as many as we could – separating different umbellifers and bedstraws and speculating what Squinancywort was used for (fighting tonsillitis apparently). These downland flowers, and those found in sunlit areas alongside the tracks where trees and scrub have been cleared, were attracting plenty of butterflies. As it was a warm sunny day most were constantly on the move and reluctant to pose for photos, much to our frustration. Between us we saw 19 species of butterfly. Woodland specialists such as the large orange Silver Washed Fritillary and the dark chocolate-brown and white White Admiral looked particularly impressive in flight, while the downland areas proved good places to see numerous Dark Green Fritillaries, Marbled Whites and Small Heaths. The more unusual species we saw were Hairstreaks. Peter was able to lead us to two elm trees where, as he had promised, we were able to see the White Letter Hairstreak which is restricted to this type of tree. Elsewhere we saw a Purple Hairstreak in the upper branches of an oak, its usual home.
Groveley Wood is a very special place and we were fortunate to see it at its best and be guided by people who know it and its butterflies so well. It was a shame we didn’t see a Purple Emperor but that just gives us a reason to go back for another visit.
Eight members of the Society visited the chalk downland reserve of Coombe Bissett, owned by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. We were met by Melanie Evans who is the Friends of Coombe Bissett Down and local schools liaison officer for the Trust. She told us about the history and showed us around. The Trust have recently doubled the size of the reserve with the help of the Lottery Fund and other donors including the Society, and will be reverting the new section of agricultural land to traditional chalk downland meadow with a butterfly bank.
We saw the following butterflies: Grizzled Skipper, Marsh Fritillary, Tortoiseshell, Small Heath, Adonis Blue, Common Blue, Brown Argus and Brimstone. A good selection.
The following birds were seen or heard – Blackcap, Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Chiff Chaff, Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer, Swift, Swallow and House Martin, Buzzard and a Kestrel, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Goldfinch, Chaffinch and lastly Skylark. A really good number of species.
The wildflowers were disappointing. We did see a few Fragrant Orchids and Common Spotted Orchids but no Burnt tip Orchids. There was a little Blue Milkwort and some Dropwort, Salad Burnet and Rock Roses. There had been plenty of Cowslips.
I think there will be many more flowers in a week or two’s time and more orchids and butterflies. It is a reserve well worth visiting and when the ‘new’ half has been reverted to downland it will be even better.
17 April 2019 Visit to Lower Moor Farm and Clattinger Meadows
A group of eight of us visited Lower Moor Farm, owned by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust since 2007 and connected to Clattinger Farm, Oaksey Moor and Sandpool nature reserves.
There are three lakes which were formerly gravel pits, two brooks, ancient hedges and the SSSI (sites of special scientific interest) meadows of Clattinger Farm. It is rich in wildlife due to the previous owners having farmed traditionally without artificial fertilisers. Visitors come from far and wide to see the snakes head fritillaries and after them the flower rich meadows including many species of orchid.
After being greeted by WWT's Northern Reserves Officer Ellie Jones we walked with her through the lakes to the farm where the belted galloway cattle are overwintered in a round open sided building. They were shortly to be let out onto the spring grass.
First bird heard was a deafening cetti's warbler announcing its presence in the hedge followed by the liquid sounds of willow warblers in the appropriate willows nearby. The chiff chaffs and blackcaps had also completed their migration.
Then onto the wet meadows of Clattingers Farm where we were treated to a carpet of snakeshead fritillaries. They were very short but beautiful and nearly all a deep claret colour with a few cream ones among them. We found one green winged orchid but it was too soon to see any other types but leaves of meadow saffron were evident and many other rare plants.
Although it is a long drive from Tisbury, being near Malmesbury, it is well worth the effort. The postcode is SN6 9TW. Grid ref SUOO7939.
23 September 2018 Arne Peninsular and Kimmeridge
The last outdoor meeting was an excursion to the Etches fossil collection at Kimmeridge, and RSPB Arne. The morning’s heavy rain and wind didn’t bode well but seven members turned out to what ended up as a pleasant day out - travelling in two all-electric Renault Zoe cars owned by two environmentally responsible members!
Steve Etches, who collected the fossils, was on hand to answer questions at the handsome new museum, purpose-buiilt to house his collection, built up over his lifetime. The most fascinating fossils for me were the goose barnacles, which Charles Darwin also studied, and Steve’s filled in a gap in the fossil record.
The sun came out at Arne and we enjoyed watching dragonflies and red admiral butterflies feeding on rowan berries. The heather was still flowering and in the estuary we saw oystercatchers, spoonbills, curlews and egrets. (Peter Shallcross)
13 June 2018 Langford Lakes
Steve Covey, who gave a wonderful talk about Dragon- and Damselflies (Odonata) in October last year, invited us to a guided visit to see them at Langford Lakes.
Chairman Peter Shallcross writes that the enthusiasm of Peter Covey and Dave Brotheridge made this a most enjoyable visit. The reserve was buzzing with life and the expertise over a range of disciplines enabled the group to understand more about its diverse inhabitants.
The visit began with a bird-song walk - the warblers were the highlight, possibly as many as six different ones including Garden, black-caps and Cetti's, We also heard cuckoos, which had not yet 'changed their tune' for June. House Martins seemed to be present in reasonable numbers over the water.
Steve Covey reported sighting a total of 12 species of Odonata: six dragon and six damsel, including Downy Emerald on Brockbank Lake, a freshly-emerged Southern Hawker at the Education Pond near the entrance and Beautiful Demoiselle on the stream on the corner of the warbler walk.
For Steve's own, detailed account go to our Facebook pages.
It was a beautiful day, and for anyone who did not previously know Langford Lakes, or not very well, one that will certainly inspire further, independent, visits.
14 May 2018 Winterbourne Down RSPB Reserve (Newton Tony)
This guided walk was led by Patrick Cashman from the RSPB. On this impressive reserve Stone Curlews and Lapwings were seen but generally birds were hiding away on what was a hot day. Along the old railway many birds were however singing and some members were able to identify the different warblers. Orange Tip and Brimstones were the most abundant butterflies and there was one newly-hatched Small Blue - in a couple of weeks there will be hundreds.
For me, it was great spending time with friends who have the same love of wildlife. I like going out on my own as well, lost in my own thoughts, but going out in a group of knowledgeable enthusiasts challenges my identification skills. (Peter Shallcross)