Local Wildlife Stories 2015

21st / 22nd November

Small mammal survey on the South Ascot Bog green corridor

The survey planned for this weekend was cancelled due to freezing weather conditions. No one wants to find dead animals in their traps even though the traps are filled with nesting material and food there is the possibility which can easily be avoided. Thinking that this was the beginning of winter the survey was cancelled not postponed. How wrong we were - it's milder than ever!

20th September

Hope for Hedgehogs progress update

About 20 people attended this event at King Edwards Hall in North Ascot.

A small group of willing Wildlife in Ascot group members gathered together, braving the wind and threatening weather to do the annual clear up of Blythewood Lane.

The litter found was much less than last year, which was encouraging although "dog poo bags" were in the undergrowth (how long will they take to bio-degrade?) and some hanging on branches (definitely unwanted decorations). Dog walkers should take the bags home or there will be calls for our council to start DNA testing as others have!!

We were also pleased that much of the habitat we created last year has survived the past twelve months. We replenished the hedgehog and amphibian hibernation habitats with extra fallen leaves and built a number of new ones, using the fallen branches and brushwood as a basis. Hopefully, there will now be plenty of warm safe hibernation places for our resident hedgehog population. A number of people have left holes under their fences suitable for the free movement of small mammals and amphibians to use which is so crucial to the connectivity of the area, but more can always be done to encourage people by increasing their awareness.

RBWM Public Rights of Way Officer, was true to her word this year. She had agreed with us in the spring that a few patches of stinging nettles would be left in agreed places, especially to support butterfly larvae. This year I have noticed that in the area, we have had few butterflies. I have seen no small tortoiseshells at all in our garden, a couple of commas and the odd red admiral. This may be due to the weather, which was rather damp and cool this summer, so it will be interesting to see if leaving the nettles will improve the situation over the next few years.

Please send any pictures and stories you have to share to ascot.wildlife@gmail.com

Click here for the 2014 wildlife stories

Click here for the 2013 wildlife stories

15th December

Botany in our green corridors and Ecodrones

A group of around 20 people including some Imperial College students attended two very interesting talks. The first was from Ciara Sugrue on the project she carried out for her Masters this year. She explained the process and the results from her botanic survey of our green corridors. One key factor she has identified is that as most our green corridors follow water courses, they facilitate the spread of invasive species such as himalayan balsam and skunk cabbage. Also, as these corridors are generally very wet and some useful plants prefer drier conditions which indicates that a wider corridor should be protected for biodiversity.

The second short talk was from Andrea Berardi on using eco-drones for local ecological monitoring. Andrea hopes to use these tools in the Amazon and has funding for a feasibility project here. Andrea talked through some of the safety provisions he is planning to make and potential uses of these flying camera. He is very keen for community engagement with what the project does and how it's undertaken. See more about community ecodrones here and more information about eco-drones here

29th November

Blythewood Lane conservation work

13th September Small Mammal Survey on the green corridor in South Ascot

Amber updated us on progress in her hospital. She is kept busy with new arrivals and old friends alike, and is looking for suitable places for them to be released before the winter. She has two regular volunteers who help her as she nurses and cares for these adorable creatures. Amber needs people to come forward who already have hedgehogs in their gardens or surrounding areas as this indicates good habitat for them. Anyone wishing to be assessed for a release will need to understand that they will need to feed the animals and check their health for the first few weeks to ensure that they make the transition successfully.

She currently has the hogs mainly in her own house and would like to find a way to turn her garage into a hospital facility. This will take funding and practical help, so if there is anyone out there who fancies doing a bit of fund raising or helping her out offering skills to line the garage and put in suitable equipment, she would be glad to hear from you.

Also, Amber is always grateful for the donations received of fairy liquid, antibacterial wipes, bedding, newspapers and suitable hedgehog food. She took a few carrier bags of things away with her, but if you would like to donate Hope for Hedgehogs has a gofundme page here and an Amazon wish list here.

Amber is doing an amazing job. These animals could be extinct in this country by 2025 unless we help them. You can do your bit simply be ensuring your garden and those of your neighbours are connected by small, 15cm holes in the bottoms of your fences. If you are prepared to provide them with safe places to hide and hibernate in, that would be fantastic. For contact details and more information please check the Facebook page.

We were shown how to set the traps by Pat Morris late Saturday evening, having checked the weather forecast to ensure we would not unwittingly freezing the shrews or voles. We had chosen September as there were unlikely to have been broods of young requiring a mother who could be trapped. As we set the traps with a comfy nest and food, Pat commented on the habitat – no grass, some nettles and little light reaching the floor through the trees with plants scrabbling for sunlight rather than making flowers or fruit. This meant that there would not be a ready food source and so it was not a good habitat for small mammals.

When I thought about it later, the analogy that sprang to my mind was of a man who drives a nice car and keeps it well maintained. His son takes it out and trashes it, then returns it and asks his Dad to put it back to how it had been. That’s rather what we have done with our natural environment. In the past, our work on the land managed the habitat. Field margins were left for harvest mice and insects, hedgerows were maintained and acted as corridors across the countryside within which flora and fauna could reside; woodland floors were kept open by coppicing and other natural maintenance – keeping the oil and tyre pressure correct if you will. But, we then stopped looking after our environment took advantage of it and took it for a ride. We ripped out the hedges; stopped managing the woods and trashed it, then leaving it entirely and expecting nature to just put it right. Nature needs a bit of help and that is why we need management plans along each of our green corridors based on surveys such as this. We welcome all the help we can get in order to make our area more vibrant and alive than it currently is.

Sunday morning, we arrived bright and breezy to uncover and collect the 22 traps set the evening before. Two had their doors closed, but sadly, even these turned out to be empty. We had caught no-one. This was disappointing for adults and children alike, but served to confirm Pat’s assessment of the site. We are planning to undergo another survey further along the corridor to see if we have more success. What we have established is that habitats need to be managed in order for wildlife to be able to fully use it. Thanks you to everyone who turned out, especially to Pat for trusting us with the traps!

The management of the forests requires a, sometimes difficult, balancing act between achieving economic sustainability, improving bio-diversity, protecting heritage including ancient trees, developing resilience against potentially devastating diseases and providing public access and amenity.

John took us through some of the key principles and aspects of the Crown Estate Windsor Forest Management Plan 2015 - 2034 which you can read here.

18th July

Dragonfly and Butterfly spotting in Swinley Forest

Swinley forest is internationally important for its rare and threatened birds particularly Nightjar, Dartford Warbler and Woodlark. It also a favoured place for mountain biking and some of the trails were being created in areas that threatened the birds. The Crown Estate created 3 routes (designed by mountain bike experts) and since 2013 riding has only been permitted only on the designated trails. Recent surveys have indicated that this has had a positive impact for ground nesting birds.

John gave us an insight into the wide array of knowledge required to successfully manage the forests. Western Hemlock seedlings will grow up in shade whereas Oak will not, therefore areas of Oak trees can be lost without careful management. Many birds thrive best in forest edge habitat using tall trees and the lower bushes at the edges and gaps in the forest through selective area felling provide this.

22 interested people were rewarded for leaving their comfy sofas and coming to hear John Deakin, Chief Forester of the Crown Estate, talk about managing the forests.

John gave us a very interesting and informative talk about the work of his team, their management plans and some of the specific challenges that he faces. One of these is that the rare violet click beetle (which only occurs on three sites in the whole of the UK) lives in Windsor Forest and their future must be safe guarded. Another is that standing rotting trees provide excellent habitat but also a safety hazard to passers-by. Some of these trees have to be cut down and the wood moved to a safer location to rot.

6th August

A talk about managing Windsor and Swinley Forests

Thanks to Tina for leading us through the "brick pits" area of Swinley Forest on a calm, sunny afternoon, perfect for dragonflies, butterflies and grasshoppers.

1st July

Pond Dipping at Silwood followed by a talk about weasels and stoats

Thanks to Mary, Andy, Joe and Pat for helping a group of people learn more about wildlife on a beautiful summer evening at Silwood Park.

A mixed group of ~30 people, with a common interest, met on a lovely summer evening around a pond to see what could be found in the water. Children, parents and students alike were fascinated by the variety of creatures fished out (and carefully returned at the end).

Thanks to Mary and Joe for telling us about the creatures we found.

A mixed group of 16 walked slowly round spotting as we went and particularly enjoyed watching the large dragonflies patrolling a pond and a group of Cinnabar Moth caterpillars stripping a ragwort together.This is what we spotted:

Butterflies: Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Small Skipper, Large Skipper, Green Veined White, Large White?, Silver-washed Fritillary, Cinnabar Moth (including caterpillars), Comma, Gatekeeper

Dragonflies: Southern Hawker, Four Spotted Chaser, Large Red Damselfly, Common Blue Damselfly, Brown Hawker, Ruddy Darter,

Black Darter

Birds: Wood Warbler, Chiff Chaff, Grey Heron, Buzzard, Red Kite,

Green Woodpecker

Others: Various grasshoppers, Soldier beetles, Lady birds, Common frog, Adder skeleton

Afterwards those not ready for bed (or the bar!) had a short interesting talk about stoats and weasels, their life styles and how to tell them apart. Chobham common is the likeliest local place to spot them (they used to be seen in Windsor Great Park but not for years).

Do please tell us if you spot a stoat or weasel around here.

7th June

A walk to visit the ancient Ankerwycke Yew

Here’s a list of the birds we heard:

0430 Wren, robin, blackbird, song thrush, great tit, blackcap, pheasant

0500 tawny owl, chiffchaff, wood pigeon, grey heron (seen), coal tit, jackdaw,

0530 garden warbler, stock dove, blue tit, greater spotted woodpecker, green woodpecker, carrion crow,

0700 buzzard, goldcrest

0800 (on leaving for home) goldfinch, chaffinch

22nd April

3rd May

Dawn Chorus Walk in Silwood Park led by Dr. Helen Hipperson

We were very lucky with the weather as despite threatening rain it was dry for most of our walk with a little light rain at the start and finish. The birds did not seem to be put off by the cloudy skies.

A week before the celebrations; we visited the place where Magna Carta might have been signed and visited this impressive ancient yew that has been here for an estimated 2500 years - amazing to think back to what it was like when it was a sapling!

A group of WIA supporters made the journey across the Thames on a lovely sunny afternoon for a pleasantly rural, easy walk from St Andrew's church in Wraysbury across fields and beside the river to find this ancient tree and see the few remains of St Mary's Priory.

22nd February

A walk exploring one of our designated Local Wildlife Sites and Green Corridors in South Ascot.

A hardy group of 15, dressed for the inclement weather and muddy paths met in South Ascot for this walk. Luckily the rain stopped as we set off to walk along this South Ascot green corridor.

First we followed the public footpath through the Local Wildlife site (LWS) woodland where the green corridor follows the stream beside Elizabeth Gardens. Then along the path through the houses of Francis Chichester Close and wondered which route the wildlife would take at this point. We noted a wonderful hedge that would provide an excellent habitat and protected route.

After walking round to see where the green corridor passes through the fields (also a LWS) between Coombe Lane and Wells Lane, we returned to South Ascot and set off West through the woodland along the green corridor to Allen's Field. All of this area is designated as a LWS by TVERC.

For more information about water voles click here.

If you see any possible evidence of water voles around Ascot, Sunninghill, Cheapside or Sunningdale please email us at ascot.wildlife@gmail.com

We were surprised to hear that water voles have been studied living in reed beds where they make a nest by weaving reeds together as they have no banks to burrow into. Perhaps we need to look more closely at Englemere Pond!

Sam North talked about the work he is beginning on streams in the South Downs. Interestingly, these streams, like ours, are often over iron pans and so they have a similar chemical basis to our local 'red' streams. I had always believed that this limited the ecology of the water, but Sam explained how there are certain creatures that require this environment to thrive. Watch this space as we hope to organise a stream kicking event, where we can see what our waterways are hiding!

Our thanks to Claire and Sam for a very informative and interesting evening, complete with microscopes and water creatures to study.

3rd April

A talk about water voles from Dr. Pat Morris MBE

Water voles were inhabitants of our area. There have been a very few recent unconfirmed sightings around this area.

We were all very interested to hear about the life of the curiously named "Ratty" in Wind in the Willows and to learn how to spot signs of water vole activity and the differences between water voles and brown rats, as Kenneth Grahame's confusion is a common one.

Pat also told us about the research that was carried out to identify the reducing numbers of this charming creature which led to recognition of its decline and the work being done to increase its numbers. Water voles used to be found in nearly every waterway but are now thought to have been lost in up to 90% of these sites. He talked about the various reasons why their numbers have reduced including mink as a predator, cows trampling river banks, human canalisation of rivers creating concrete banks and the less well researched impacts of the use of pesticides etc. on water quality.

A talk about water ecology from Claire Grey and Sam North, both from Imperial College.

Claire has been looking at how the ecology and food webs of a watercourse in Wiltshire have been severely impacted by the pouring into the water of two tablespoons of insecticide. Such a small quantity resulted in the eradication of arthropods for a 15 km stretch. This had a huge impact on the food webs and the ecological balance of the river, which is a rare chalk stream. She demonstrated how it had taken 18 months to begin to balance itself again, and this has been helped by the fact that the 'spillage' happened part way along the watercourse, meaning that creatures from further upstream could replace those that had been killed. What a salutary lesson in terms of usage of insecticides which will eventually leach through soil to reach the waterways, and also how delicately balanced our ecological systems are. Allowing our wildlife to continue disappearing at the current rate could have very big impacts on our futures that at the moment we can not foresee. Thanks again to all of you who are thinking about how you can provide the most habitat for all creatures, great and small, in your own patches!

We walked down into the woods making a tricky crossing of a stream with each other's help and were rewarded by a couple of goldcrest, one of which remained visible for a while allowing us all a very good look as we discussed if it was a firecrest (below left) or goldcrest (below right).

We saw the beginnings of the butterfly garden at Allen's field and noted that we should check with the RBWM Ranger that the grass / wild flowers are allowed to grow in the middle of Allen's Field so that butterflies will be able to flourish here. Tina wrote an email about this which we sent to RBWM Parks Dept. mentioning some of the butterflies she has seen there.