Local Wildlife Stories 2013

The sound of hammering and chattering filled the air at Allen’s Field in South Ascot on Saturday 9th November as Wildlife in Ascot and Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Ranger, Jason Mills joined forces and invited members of the local community to make bat and bird boxes to put up and help our local winged friends cope with the cold.

“Who could have known about 18 months ago that a small piece in the Villager could result in this” grinned Anne Ayres as she surveyed the 40+ attendees knocking in nails.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity to use the media to make contact with other like-minded people. Wildlife in Ascot is really making a difference to our area. Today we have families working together and it is lovely seeing so many young people getting involved, despite the appalling weather.”

Mr David, a student at Silwood Park, said “It was such a struggle to get out of bed this morning to come – but it was so worth it!”

About 35 bird boxes and 15 bat boxes were made and will be put up around the Ascot area. Grateful thanks go to Woodside Ridell Joiners who made up top quality flat packed kits; local estate staff who were most helpful in supporting keen amateur woodworkers; an anonymous donor who gave a large sum of money to pay for the wood used and Charters School who also donated a number of boxes and equipment to make bird feeders. Photos below.

We enjoyed a very interesting and informative talk by Dr. Pat Morris about hedgehogs, the UK's only spiny mammal, on 2nd October. Pat told us about research he has carried out over the last 40 years to gain a better understanding of this, once common, endearing creature. We organised this talk as we have seen hedgehogs in our area this summer and, knowing that they are in decline, thought we should find out more about them and how we can help them.

Hedgehogs are solitary animals who travel surprising distances each night then return to their nest of leaves to sleep during the day. Hedgehogs are not territorial and many males and females will live and feed in overlapping areas. Pat told us that “the hedgehog who visits every night” can be many different animals visiting. Hedgehogs need sufficient space (20-30 hectares) to feed for beetles, caterpillars, worms etc. Their habitat generally includes deciduous trees and quiet sheltered places to make their nests and hibernate.

Some of the tips Pat gave us on how to help hedgehogs in our area:

  • Ensure open access between gardens through hedges and fences – hedgehogs often cover an area the size of a golf course each night.

  • Leave leaves and untidy areas (perhaps under hedges and shrubs or behind the shed) for hedgehogs to make nests. Perhaps lean a board up against a wall or fence to provide a winter nest site.

    • Take great care when strimming edges or cutting long grass – this is one of the most common ways hedgehogs are injured.

    • Make sure there is a way out of your garden pond for those that fall in. Chicken wire makes a good scrambling net and hedgehogs can swim, they just need a place to climb out.

    • Don't leave netting in folds or piles on the ground as hedgehogs can easily get tangled up and trapped.

    • Check bonfires for hedgehogs before lighting them.

    • Don't use slug pellets – use an alternative or leave the slugs for the hedgehogs to eat! If used place them out of reach e.g. under a paving slab raised ~2cm from the ground with pebbles (add orange peel to attract the slugs). Remove the dead slugs daily. Slug pellets containing met-aldehyde are lethal to hedgehogs and other wildlife that eat the poisoned slugs.

    • Provide water for hedgehogs to drink in dry weather.

    • Do feed hedgehogs that visit as this helps them gain the weight needed for hibernation. Hedgehogs need to be over 450g or 1lb to survive the winter. Research has shown that they do not become reliant on being fed. Pat recommended wet dog food and told us that milk may give them diarrhoea. To avoid feeding some unwanted animals Pat suggested serving the food under an upturned box with a 15cm or so hole or better still a 30cm or longer pipe for hedgehog access.

For more information about helping hedgehogs have a look at “Hedgehog Street”.

Pat Morris' talk gave us far more information than I can include here and for those who want to understand more about hedgehogs he has written a book – the latest edition is The New Hedgehog Book ISBN 978 1 873580 71 4

We were very lucky with the weather for our bird ringing on Ascot Heath on 15th September. Beautifully sunny with little wind at 8 am, the wind gradually increased but the rain kept away. Thanks to Helen and her fellow bird ringers for setting up the nets and explaining the process.

It was wonderful to see the birds close up. We saw blackcap, goldfinch, chaffinch, robin, blue tit and a green woodpecker.

The nets were placed in the bushes as in this photo.

The birds were identified, ringed, weighed, measured and their muscle and fat condition assessed and recorded before they were released.

I had never seen bird ringing before and was worried that the birds would be very stressed. I was reassured to find the birds were quiet, did not fight to escape and did not get harmed in any way.

Pictures above show how to hold a bird, assessing the green woodpecker and a chaffinch.

Several of the birds were already ringed and they were also checked and recorded.

The photo on the left is a male blackcap ready to be released.

Above is a blue tit which already sported a ring and, to the left, the newly ringed green woodpecker.

All the data is sent to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). Around a million birds are ringed (mostly by volunteers) in the UK each year. Click here to find out more about bird ringing.

We enjoyed a bat walk near Cheapside on 17th August thanks to Steve. Lots of clicks picked up on the bat detector throughout the walk and everyone saw the pipistrelle bats flying over us in the wood against the darkening sky. The wind had probably blown the insects, and hence the bats, from the lake where we were met by a beautiful young black cat who joined the walk. Unfortunately she continued with us into Cheapside and would not go home which delayed some of the group getting to the Pub!

News update: the cat's micro chip was checked and it lives in Cheapside. However, the owners had been away on holiday and were worried sick because the cat had gone missing while they were away. They were delighted to be re-united with him - so a fortuitous meeting in the woods on our bat walk.

Find out more about bats at the Bat Conservation Trust : "We are lucky enough to have 18 species of bat in the UK, 17 of which are known to be breeding here - that's almost a quarter of our mammal species".

Thank you to Caroline in Sunningdale for this:

An excellent evening learning about moths at Silwood thanks to Gary on 3rd August - he identified 46 different types including the Peppered moth, Rosy & Dingy Footman, True Lovers Knot, Riband Wave and Dark Arches. Full list in file at foot of this page. The interested adults were helped by the more active children who carefully caught the moths for identification. Some excellent photos were quickly taken by Tina and a selection is shown below. Can you identify these moths? Click here for an online guide to the moths of Great Britain

Thrilled to hear I'd already done the right thing, when I read a small article in the "Villager", by putting a container of water outside for hedgehogs etc. Does seem to be some strange behaviour out there at the moment. Found a newt for the first time in our back garden last week, along with the usual annual toad (frog? Not sure!). Haven't seen a live hedgehog in years, but was woken up at 5.00 recently by a BABY hedgehog squeaking VERY loudly for its Mum in our garden. Got up to look and found classic comedy scene of Mum going up steps, but baby not quite able to make it and rolling backwards into a ball. Delightful, even at 5.00 am!

A Pine Hawkmoth appeared later to reward those packing away - see pictures below: