Local Wildlife Stories 2017

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December 2017

Unfortunately our planned winter walk was cancelled due to picking the only rainy day that week!

14th November 2017

This evening we welcomed Terry Travis, Rocky and Daisy to Silwood - and I think they made quite an impression! Daisy and Roxy were amazing. Beautiful, well behaved (apart from occasionally launching themselves towards the audience and getting us all of a flutter) and Daisy in particular felt it only right that she should make her views heard too!

They were European Eagle Owls, rescued from owners who had no idea what they were dealing with.

Terry, from Heathrow Owl Rescue, explained that these birds are very similar to birds once found in the UK. Sadly, our only two native owls are now the Tawny and the Barn Owl. We do have Little Owls, but they were introduced by the Rothschild family approximately one hundred and fifty years ago. We also have long and short eared owls who visit these shores, but are not generally resident. (Terry had originally planned to bring our native owls to meet us, but due to a commitment which is lucrative for the Rescue Centre, these birds were not available. Next time......)

He explained that Little Owls tend to hunt during the day and can be extremely feisty if anyone approaches their nest - as can Tawny Owls. Tawny Owls only hunt at night. Eagle Owls prefer to hunt during the day and Barn Owls will hunt at night, but also during the day if they are hungry enough. You can tell if Owls hunt by day or night by the colour of their eyes. Nocturnal Owls have black eyes.

Terry also explained that, unlike hawks, Owls only fly when they need to feed. Otherwise they are happy enough to be quite sedentary.To feed one Eagle Owl costs in excess of £25 per week and as they now have about sixty (on top of all the other owls), one can understand the need to find ways to raise cash!

Sadly, one unforeseen consequence of the Harry Potter stories is the upsurge in people thinking they want to keep owls as pets. Terry has found himself rescuing Owls from all sorts of unsuitable places. A Tawny Owl that he had to cut out of its parrot cage as the door was too small for it to get out; a three and a half month Barn Owl in a budgie cage and numerous Eagle Owls, used by drug dealers to protect their stash. Terry explained that Eagle Owls can carry up to 60kg in weight and will take a deer. They can break human bones if they feel they need to attack, so it is crucial that an owner knows and understands their bird. Terry was introduced to keeping birds of prey by his Grandfather and his Father, so this has been a family interest for generations.

At one point, a member of the audience had their phone ring. The ring tone was the trill of a bird. Both Daisy and Roxy's heads shot round to stare at the culprit, clearly showing what could have been regarded as a potentially unhealthy interest! No damage done but it made us all laugh!

The laws regarding keeping Owls are worryingly lax. Terry explained that the size of cages really don't have to be as big as one would expect. Big enough for the bird to stretch its wings, but certainly not big enough to cater for flight. The birds are freely available on the internet for anyone willing to pay and despite the fact that they are tricky to keep, anyone can have one. As part of Brexit, we will be able to once again licence keeping them, but this may mean hundreds of birds needing to be received into the care of licence holders, such as Terry . While in many ways this would be a good thing, it is also cause for concern as it is not yet clear how this would work in practice, how many birds this would involve or where they are going to be homed while things settle down. Terry is working with DEFRA on this and many other issues.

A fascinating and entertaining evening, filled with feathers, facts and anecdotes. It was pleasing that we had a great turnout donating toward the work of this rescue.

22nd October 2017

Today was our annual foray into Blythewood Lane to collect rubbish that has accumulated there and to create hibernation sites for hedgehogs. I saw some hedgehog pooh in the lane a few weeks ago, so we know they are around. In discussion with other intrepid mound makers, it became evident that there are still hogs to be found in Geffers Ride, which is good news as the number of sightings recorded this year is down to a third of those recoded three years ago.

Six of us set to and between us we found three bin bags full of old empty bottles, beer cans, a bag of crockery(?) and the other usual plastic wrappers etc. We created four leaf piles, some ones we made last year and just rebuilt around the sticks that are still in situ.

We checked the stag beetle bucket, which is still in place and covered with the old paving slab. Then, the most important part, we returned to the Ayres garden, where we sat enjoying the sun (And the light rain for a short period) over a cup of tea and slice of well deserved cake!

Thank you to everyone who rolled up today. We have to hope the hedgehogs are equally grateful for our efforts!

11th October 2017

A quick visit today to our struggling patch of wild flowers on the edge of South Ascot recreation ground to pull out some grass, rake the earth and then sow some seeds picked up at Silwood BUGS! Day from the Syngenta stand. These seeds are a "farmland annual wildflower mix" which farmers are encouraged to use on their field margins to enhance habitat. Next year we may see crimson clover, cornflower, corn marigold, corn chamomile, red clover and phacelia or purple tansy. Hopefully they germinate and thrive and self-seed for future years and this patch will become as successful as the one at Victory Field.

9th October 2017

12th September 2017

A talk about the work of RBWM Tree Officers

A lovely sunny morning for tree recording along our green corridor in South Ascot beside the recreation ground. We followed the stream and found a wider range of mature trees than we had expected. We recorded scots pine, oak, sliver birch and sycamore.

This was a wide ranging talk which illustrated the scope and complexity of the work that Helen Leonard and her team carry out to look after the trees in our borough. From putting up Christmas trees; getting damaged trees replaced; resolving neighbours' disputes over a tree or high hedge; reviewing planning applications and tree protection orders to dealing with fallen trees on highways and public paths this small team is kept very busy. Helen did explain that they always try to protect the trees for their own merits and the wildlife they support. She listed the well known benefits of trees and one many of us were not aware of: that studies have showed improved recovery rates and reduced stress in patients who can see trees out of the windows compared with those who can't. There is a large collection of legislation that governs their work as well as many other factors that have to be taken into account sometimes resulting in the loss of a tree without a replacement. For example the pavement trees have just been removed outside the barracks in Windsor following years of discussion and pruning. The latest raising of the terrorist threat and their current methods was the death knell for the last tree here which was partially blocking CCTV.

Helen's team rely on their arboreal contractors and the general public to bring problems to their attention. They do not have the resources to check compliance with planning conditions they impose, such as protecting trees during construction or planting new trees, and are dependent on people who care about trees, such as ourselves, to flag up any concerns or non-compliance as soon as possible. She indicated that if nothing is said within 4 years then there is nothing that can be done. The audience of over 20 of us found her talk very interesting and would like to thank her very much indeed.

3rd August 2017

A talk about bats and a walk to find them

Thanks again to Trevor for an excellent talk about things related to bats including a special feature on the life in cow pancakes! Trevor explained how insecticides used to treat cows for parasitic infections are passing through the intestinal tract of the cow and being passed in their dung. Here, it kills (or delays the maturation of) the larvae of insects who are reliant on the dung for their food. As a result, some species of bat who feed on those insects, are also in steep decline. The intricacies of the natural world and the need to retain balance was again a point made well.He also told us about the physiology of bats; how to try and tell which species we may be lucky enough to detect and how the ultra-high frequency of bat foraging and communication is translated into something our human ears can hear through the bat detectors. (The photo is of a dead pipistrelle bat found locally).It was a warm, dry, but breezy night and nearly 30 of us were keen to walk in the gathering dusk after sunset in the lovely grounds of Silwood Park and hoped to see bats. The bat detectors picked up some activity and most were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the flittering shapes of one or two pipistrelle. We did not detect many bats and hope this was due to the windy conditions rather than a reflection of a depleted population.

15th July 2017

Walk to see dragonflies and butterflies in Swinley Forest

Here is the list of fauna -

Ringlets 3

Gatekeepers 3

Speckled Wood 1

Meadow Brown 1

Cinnabar moth caterpillars 1 to 2 dozen?

Our group of intrepid nature lovers set out into Swinley Forest on one of our few wet days this summer - a gentle drizzle came and went. This made the conditions more suitable for this happy frog than for the winged insects we'd come to see!However we all enjoyed the walk and each other's company as we spotted what we could.

15th June 2017

Talk about Wildflowers from Diane Collins

We were very pleased that Diane could come and share her extensive knowledge of wildflowers. Diane gave us tips on identifying wildflowers and explained the features and systems used to classify them. She brought in a wild range of specimens so that we could see them in detail and a large collection of books to help people see what is available and what type would suit them. Diane expressed a preference for books with drawings rather than photos as the detail of leaf, flower and seed pod are often clearer than in a photo.

This is a photo of the wild flowers in Victory Field in May this year - their 2nd year from when we sowed the seeds. You can spot Corn Poppy, Oxeye Daisy, Red Campion and Viper's-bugloss.

Nuthatches 2 Wren 1 Green Woodpecker 1 Lacewing 1 White Tailed Bumblebee 2 Frogs 1 adult, several froglets (<1cm)

Large Red Damselflies c.3 Mysterious damselfly with vivid blue spot

see photo ------------->

June 2017

Tree Recording UpdateThere have been several outings this year recording trees in Tom Green's Field, Englemere Park, Blythewood and Coworth Copse and footpath. We have enjoyed our walks and have gained experience. Everyone has commented how much more we notice when we stop and look at these trees in detail. So far we have recorded mature 69 trees of 11 types.

12th April 2017

Talk from Tom Way, European Wildlife Photography of the Year 2016

4th and 5th April 2017

Wildflower patch tidying and sowing at Cheapside play area and Victory Field

Dead stalks were removed ensuring that any seed heads were empty then bare patches of earth were created and grass removed to give spaces to sow some more seed to boost the flowers for this year.

Follow this link to Tom's website to see more of Tom Way's photographs (or buy some) and find out about the variety of photographic workshops and safaris he runs for all levels of photographers from the complete beginner to the more accomplished photographer.

This was a very well attended talk and the audience were richly rewarded by an excellent talk from Tom who showed us his fantastic photos of UK wildlife and told us about the dedication and time required to take each one. Tom lives locally and has taken some lovely pictures of stags in Windsor Great Park waiting for hours, and days, to get the best combination of weather, sky and wildlife. He takes his pictures close up so has to wait quietly and patiently in the right place at the right time for the animals to come to him. He also told us of how through determination and hard work he has made a career for himself as a wildlife photographer having studied Sports Psychology at university and deciding later that that field was not for him.

Finally the new seeds were watered in to give them the best chance of germinating soon.

These photos are all from Victory Field. Sorry there are no photos from Cheapside - we were so busy creating new patches that I forgot to take any photos.

25th March 2017

Tree Recording Group Launch and Training

We had a wonderful setting and glorious day for our training. So good in fact that our indoor training was held outdoors on the deck and we only went in for tea after the outdoor practical session. We saw some lovely trees and took turns recording the details and learned through discussion about the aspects of veteran trees that are recorded in the Woodland Trust Ancient Tree Hunt and in TVERC. We are using TVERC to record our trees and they share relevant information with others.

Picture below shows a group deciding the form of this wonderful beech - a multi-stem.

The flowers at Victory Field looked well established. We are hoping that the ones we sowed at Cheapside will fare better this year.

4th March 2017

Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre (TVERC) Recorders Day

Three members of WIA rolled up to this event in Oxfordshire, me (Anne), Tina and Edwina. I don't know about Tina and Edwina, but I have been buzzing with excitement ever since!

Anyone who is interested in wildlife is probably aware of the "State of Nature" report. It makes for grim reading with so much of our wildlife diminishing and under threat. It seems our politicians are either deaf to the relentless destruction of our natural world - or apparently don't have the will to do anything to stop the trend.

But, I was heartened to hear from people - like us- who are trying to do their bit for nature. It was wonderful to listen to their trials and tribulations and the stories of success, measured by increase in biodiversity (or the number and range of species making a come back). Many are simply enthusiastic amateurs while others have professional skill and knowledge which they are keen to share.

The main speakers of the day were professionals who told us about their projects. One was meadow restoration in the Upper Thames area. It was fascinating as a new method of spreading 'green hay' which is hay cut mid July when still full of seed. The fields being restored suffered from flooding, which put the project back, but seeing how things recovered over the following couple of years was amazing.

The other main speaker was an expert in re-introducing water voles to water courses. Again, what she had to tell us was both riveting and inspiring. Mink is a major cause of water vole decline as the females can follow the voles into their burrows and eat them. The voles are powerless against this non- native invader, so mink removal has to be undertaken before water voles can be considered for release. The water voles also benefit from a good bank of lush riparian vegetation in which to hide and feed. But they are so cute and they are not too shy, either, so it would be a joy to do what needs to be done to restore them wherever possible.

Workshops kept us actively involved in the afternoon. I chose to do one on hedgrows, which was amazing and links so well with our forthcoming tree surveying, while Tina and Edwina had both opted to look at swifts. We could have chosen social media or participatory mapping instead, but both of those seemed too clever to me!

Apart from those three events, we heard about other schemes that are going on all over the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire area and through the Thames Valley. Some are smaller initiatives feeding off national schemes, such as the freshwater habitats project or the earthworm watch which is looking at earthworm populations! Spiders and birds, gloworms, mistletoe, mammals, trees - all are being monitored and studied across the area and there are some exciting stories of populations increasing with the right kind of management and help.

So, I left feeling that it really is not all gloom and doom. what we in WIA are doing (and plan to do over the next few years - funding permitting) will make for exciting telling at a future TVERC event. I came away with so many ideas of small projects we could do to feed into these others which could make such a difference. So, watch this space. Get involved and please seriously consider spending a day with the TVERC team!

11th and 12th February

Conservation work in Grannny Kettle Wood, Sunningdale

It was cold - so cold! Saturday snowed while we worked, but once we were there and getting stuck in, we became warm. They say wood warms you twice. Once when you log it and again when you burn it. The plan for the wood was to do some coppicing. This has always been done as part of woodland management, providing wood for burning and wood for working. It basically entails chopping selected trees back to a suitable stump. New growth springs up and the tree ends up with many new shoots, which are allowed to grow for about seven years before being chopped back again. This provides lengths of wood which can be used for all sorts of things, from making furniture to creating supports for plants in the garden - or burning.

Well, the coppicing certainly kept some of the guys warm. It is so important to do this as it keeps the canopy thinned sufficiently for other plants to grow underneath, so providing more habitat for insects and so food for other creatures. And it is amazing how quickly you can see that the work you have done has made a significant difference, which is so rewarding.

Those of us not so keen on coppicing set to work using the wood chippings kindly donated by a local tree surgeon, to make passable paths through the woodland. As it is an ancient wet woodland, it goes without saying that some places are very boggy and difficult to traverse without ending up thigh deep in sticky and smelly mud. So large black bins were duly filled with chippings, carried to the next part of the new path and then tipped into place, which meant the next bin had to be carried just that little bit further. This worked well because it meant whoever was on filling duty had a few seconds more each time to recover as it was quite heavy work. One pile of chippings was completely used up and a second pile was half gone by the time we finished on Sunday.

While it is hard to face going out on a grey and bitterly cold day, doing conservation work of any sort is so rewarding and so warming that it really is worth it. We were tired, but in a good way, really feeling the benefit of a good work out later in the evenings. And the hot bath was heaven!

We will keep you posted as there are conservation activities happening around the area quite regularly and I would seriously recommend having a go to anyone. It is something social and something that you can very much do at your own pace. So, I hope we will see more of you at future events........

18th January

Harper Asprey Wildlife Rescue

It was well worth turning out, even on a freezing night in January, to hear Nigel Palmer’s excellent talk on the work of our local Harper Asprey Wildlife Rescue and it was good to welcome some new faces.

We learned that Harper Asprey Wildlife Rescue is a registered wildlife charity, established over 30 years ago by Anne Brummer. The charity works 24/7, 365 days a year to rescue, rehabilitate and release the country’s native wildlife; from bats, birds, and hedgehogs, to deer, foxes and badgers, they always help where they can. It is run entirely by volunteers and funded by donations. Harper Asprey Wildlife Rescue is closely linked with another charity called Save Me Trust which was set up by Brian May (legendary guitarist and song writer with rock group Queen); Save Me spends much of its time lobbying MPs in order to try to resolve issues affecting wildlife.

At the beginning of his talk, Nigel showed us a video introduced by Brian May. The video was made at Christmas and in it we saw some of the 1600 animals that came through the Harper Asprey Wildlife Rescue centre during 2016. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMCZuroYCOo

Nigel told us all about the challenges of handling wild animals. Apparently members of the crow family know exactly how to peck where it hurts the most between your thumb and forefinger, and squirrels will without fail give you a nasty bite. In the rescue centre at the moment they have a very bad-tempered, sharp-taloned buzzard and an equally bad-tempered, sharp-beaked heron! The fawns that are brought into the centre are quite a different story: they become devoted to their designated volunteer carer in the way that they would become attached to their mothers, and they follow their volunteer absolutely everywhere including the loo! At night, they go home with their volunteer and sleep on the bed!

Whilst their primary concern is caring for wild animals, Harper Asprey Wildlife Rescue also recognises the need to educate people about the creatures we share our space with, so they regularly visit schools and organisations to talk about the role of wildlife and its value in the community.

To address some of the lack of understanding around us about wildlife, they run specific campaigns with the Save Me Trust. Their current awareness campaign is called #AmazingGrace and takes its name from an injured female hedgehog who was rescued and later released. This campaign is focusing on the plight of the European Hedgehog and how their numbers have declined rapidly in this country from around 30.5 million to just under one million, at this rate hedgehogs could be extinct in the UK by 2025. Working with the local community, they educate people on the contribution hedgehogs make to our lives and how people can encourage and support them. The campaign is proving to be a hit with schools, developers and the wider community.

During his talk to us, Nigel gave us several useful reminders about the importance of helping wildlife in the right way:

      • If you find a sick or injured wild bird or animal, contact a rescue centre as quickly as you can, don’t attempt to get the animal to eat or drink because you might do more harm than good, just keep it warm and quiet, and if possible in a covered container avoid further stress.

      • Keep on feeding the garden birds even when winter ends. It can be devastating if their food source stops at a time when they are trying to feed their young.

      • Give cat food to hedgehogs but not milk. Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant and dairy products make them ill.

      • Don’t use pesticides. However tempting it may be to spray those aphids, the chemicals will find their way into the food chain and have a damaging effect on wildlife.

Nigel left us with the thought that Harper Asprey is always looking for volunteers to help them in all aspects of running the centre - they can be contacted through their website: http://www.harperaspreywildliferescue.co.uk/