On this page, I have provided accounts of the Field Trips we have enjoyed over the past year.
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.