local wildlife stories 2018
To read about work done this year on the Kingfisher Project please see our project diary here
24th to 30th September
Blackmoor Stream surveys and kingfisher sightings
Thanks to everyone who helped and visited our colouring-in wildlife gazebo at Sunningdale's party. We talked to many people and raised awareness of the needs of local wildlife.
Today's event was really civilized and thoroughly enjoyable! About 20 of us gathered at Coworth Park, a member of the Dorchester chain of Hotels, to have a coffee and a walk around the wild flower meadow with their Grounds Manager, Terri. It was beautiful! The weather was perfect and the wild flower meadow was a carpet of colours. The coffee was great too! And so was the company. It was lovely to have a chance to chat and catch up in such a beautiful setting for half an hour before getting down to the business end of the trip.Terri walked us down to the meadow and explained how the wildlife in the area is amazing and how the gardeners at Coworth Park really try to work with nature rather than against it where they can. The number of bees all over the lavender was wonderful to see and proof of the fact that pesticides are not used.
Terri explained the difference between the meadow they have at the Hotel site, which contains exotic species for their colours as this is what customers require, and traditional wild flower meadows filled with native species. This would be less colourful and so not enjoyable for their clientèle. This makes the task more tricky as the whole area has to be re-seeded each year and removing native species which are at risk of taking over the site, such as corn marigolds, which turn the meadow into a sea of yellow. This year, they have been trying to manage not only with an exceptional year from the perspective of heat and lack of rainfall, but also from a strong growth of 'black grass' which has rather taken over. She also explained how the soil is very different in patches due to the soil having been dug out to put in a ground source heat pump system, and then replaced - upside down!
So, it has been a struggle, but it still looks fantastic. Terri explained that the next stage of the process will be to mow it all down after the last wedding, rotovate it deeply in the hope of burying seeds they don't want and reseed the whole area with a green manure. This will then be planted through next spring, hopefully meaning that nutrients and organic matter will be put back into the soil, and the green manure cutting will act as a mulch, keeping in moisture for the germinating seeds. If this works, Terri and the customers of the hotel should have a field of colour to look out onto all through the winter too.
Local residents are welcome to come and wander around the site, or have a coffee in the hotel. I think I'll be doing that to see if the green manure is working......
Our grateful thanks to Mardi who organised the morning, and to Terri who made us so welcome and gave us so much information.
A healthy dozen individuals collected at Englemere car park in the gloaming for our bat foray. We started off feeling confident as a couple of pipistrelle bats did acrobatics overhead, and were joined by someone bigger - perhaps a noctule. Trevor Smith walked us around the site and gave information on bats and bees as we wandered. The water level of the mere was well down so although we could hear on the detector that we were not alone, due to dark and distances, we couldn't see with whom we were sharing the time and space. So, we moved on into the woodland which was, sadly, quieter. While this was a shame, we still had a sociable evening out and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Thank you Trevor for an informative and entertaining evening. Maybe next year we'll see more bats!
A good day at Silwood's Bug's Day with lots of young visitors to our table to play our bugs game and colour in. We displayed some wonderful photos of local bugs on our stand thanks to Tina.
A beautiful hot day for butterflies in Swinley Woods. We were pleased to find a good level of water at the brick pits and plenty of dragonflies.
Gatekeeper, ringlet and skipper above and silver washed fritillary below
(we saw more of these than any of us had ever seen there)
The species list was good- full list below. The non-insect list includes a Lizard (2"0, Grass Snake, length approximately 30-40cm that swam across the pond, and a buzzard that flew over carrying something looking like a snake just before we left the forest. We identified 13 species of butterfly, 2 of moth (including caterpillars), 6 dragonflies and 4 damselfly species.
Brown Hawker - 4
Common Blue Butterfly - 4
Skipper, Small - 4
Brimstone - 1
6 spot Burnet Moth - 1
Small Cabbage White - 6
Large Cabbage White - 6
Silver Washed Fritillary - 7
Small Copper - 1
Gatekeeper - 10
Coma Butterfly - 2
Meadow Brown - 4
Ringlet - 6
Red Admiral - 1
Speckled Wood -2
Ruddy Darter - 6
Common Darter - 4
Small Red Damselfly - 1
Azure Damselfly - 2
Southern Hawker - 1
Common Blue Damselfly - 3
Emperor Dragonfly - 3
Cinnabar Moth caterpillars - 2
4 Spotted Chaser - 1
(Numbers are a minimum seen)
A very productive group gathered to make the footprint tunnels on a lovely sunny teatime in the beautiful grounds of Silwood College. Recycling plastic marketing panels from Ascot Racecourse with paper, carbon powder, vegetable oil, some masking tape and a few cable ties to construct 6 tunnels. These were baited with dry cat food and set up in a range of places in Silwood Park to see what might appear. They will be monitored over the next few days. The first morning visit showed mouse footprints in one of the six and all the food had been eaten in this one. It was prepared and baited again for detecting more prints..
We re-grouped this morning, some of the originals and a few new folk. As it had rained a bit overnight, Pat was not too sure that we would catch much, but we were pleasantly surprised!
Before checking the traps, Pat explained who he hoped to find in each area and he had 100% success rate! This made me appreciate just how habitat specific these creatures are and how incredibly important a mosaic of different habitats which are interconnected, are. We also saw Roe deer but failed to catch sight of the fox cubs who are known to be present on the site. A really enjoyable couple of days activity. Thank you to Beth and Pat for organising it!
We successfully found all the traps and four of them had been sprung by a small mammal. We caught a common shrew - a feisty little beast; two woodmice and a bank vole.
At 7pm this evening, a group approaching 20 of us, aged from 8 years to pensionable age, gathered together to set live traps for collecting small mammals. We chose three quite different habitats and under the guidance of a very patient Pat Morris, set them in a damp place down near Silwood Lake, under brambles and in bracken. they were filled with dry grass as bedding and baited with a pedigree chum and oat mix and grain so any creatures caught would be warm and fed overnight. Tomorrow morning, we will be back to find and empty the 26 traps set and to see who we catch!
Today, a small group of us undertook the Freshwater Habitats Trust training as part of the Kingfisher Flyway Project. Fascinating!!! We are now really looking forward to developing this skill by surveying our other freshwater corridors as well as doing pond dipping sessions. We were delighted to find that Blackmoor Pond is home to invertebrate larvae and we look forward to the increase in species as time progresses now the pond has been given some TLC. To see more about this event, please look at the Kingfisher Flyway section of our website.
Stag beetles have begun to fly so if you look out on a warm evening you may be lucky enough to spot them. If you do please record your sighting here. Other flying beetles you may spot on a warm evening include the may bug otherwise know as the cockchafer and the lesser stag beetle.
We enjoyed an informative talk about stag beetles from Dr Deborah Harvey of Royal Holloway which included some fantastic filming of stag beetles transforming from the egg to the larvae, to the pupa and finally to the beetle then climbing up high enough to take off and fly (not very gracefully). She also shared some insights in the life of a researcher and we were impressed by her dedication to determining the facts about stag beetles and other dead wood invertebrates.
Stag beetles spend 5-6 years as larvae living underground in dead wood with their fungi which they need to survive. This is why the females lay their eggs where they were born so that their larvae can feed and also why you cannot just move stag beetles to a new area as they need their wood with the fungi.
Once again, a small band of us volunteers got cracking. We set the fire and started to burn the mound of brambles we have been pulling out over the past weeks and set about getting the reading area ready for turfing.
From the school, we went on to Blythewood Heritage wildlife Site and removed the black plastic, cleared the grass and placed the seed mat in position, so here's hoping they take and we get a good display of wild flowers there later this year.
Today we had some new volunteers joining us at Ascot Heath Infant School, which was great! We set to, working on the reading area in readiness for the turf which is being donated by a parent. The area is now cleared of nettles and brambles, levelled and covered with black plastic to suppress any new growth. Next week, hopefully the turf! If anyone has old stones suitable for a rockery area, please could you get in touch as we would be glad of them.
This morning dawned bright and chilly. A few intrepid early risers met at Silwood Park for a dawn chorus walk, led by Nils. We heard a range of birds, from goldcrests through to pheasants. Song thrush, black cap, blackbirds and blue tits were all in good song. We were also treated to the sight of deer chasing each other around the green area in front of the Old Manor house, totally unconcerned about us being there. And a fantastic fox with an amazing coat, who ambled along the path towards us. Once he realised we were there, he turned tail and ran away, before stopping to have a really good look at us having a really good look at him! What a treat!
We had a surprise this afternoon when we disturbed the most beautiful grass snake which slithered into the area where we were working around the pond, so we stopped to avoid injuring it by accident. What a wonderful treat!
5th MayToday, Anne and Laurie opened up their garden for people to come and see what a garden can look like when it is managed without the use of insecticides and to raise money for WiA. Plants were available for a donation, as were cakes and coffee etc and the weather was amazing! £300 was raised.
Today, at Ascot Heath Infant School, we planted the wild strawberries under the fruit trees, so hopefully they will go mad and keep brambles and nettle growth down. Paul found the beginnings of what appear to be an old path, so plans for the design might change again......
Today we set to it clearing a bit more of the school garden. Paul and I were joined by Liz, which was fantastic, and someone from school has taken responsibility for the construction of the pond.
We moved a couple of the fruit trees to give them a bit more room to breathe and cleared the ground under them ready for the third tyre to go down and the wild strawberry plants to be planted. Slow, but steady......
An interesting evening talk was given by Kay Webb from the Swanlife Rescue organisation. We learnt about how many different species of swan there are in the world (8), which was a surprise to me as we only really know of three who visit the UK on a frequent basis. Other species, such as the all black and smaller Australian swan, could not be released into the wild should they have to be rescued, as they are non-native.
The Swan rescuers have to be prepared to climb ladders and get into tight spots to be able to reach their patients on occasions, so it is not a task for the faint hearted! They rescue centre has a number of pens and enclosures, many with built in ponds and care has to be exercised in working out which swan to put in which pen as swans from different families do not necessarily get on.
We saw photographs of the sorts of injuries that the swans are subjected to, from fishing hooks and lines, through to gun shots, dog and mink attacks and swallowing rubbish. A salutary lesson in the need to dispose of litter properly!
Anne was invited to give a talk to the Ascot Horticultural society, specifically about the Kingfisher Flyway Project. This gave the opportunity, once again, to recognise the grant from the HLF and how this work could not have been done without this support. The members of the Horticultural Society had many questions to ask as a n umber of the members live along the stream, but the project was generally well received.
6th April 2018
Wildflower patch maintenance work involving removal of dead stalks and some grass was carried out at Victory Field - followed by a visit to South Ascot where the wildflower patch is finally showing some signs of success. A few more wild flowers were added and we hope for a patch of colour this summer.
Hedgehog happenings happened at Blythewood on the green today. Sadly, the weather was a bit dull, but that didn't dampen our spirits and the rain held off until we had packed away, which was helpful.We had a steady trickle of visitors to our marque which was great as it meant we had time to talk to just about everyone. We had a few things going on for our more junior visitors - a hedgehog hunt and a colouring sheet. The quiz was hard, but just about everyone was game and had a go.
A good day and we hope some people will have felt they learnt a bit more about our prickly friends and we hope that we might have done enough to make a bit of a difference to their prospects.
Congratulations to those who won a prize and a big "Thank you" to Dr Pat Morris who came and did a book signing for us. Thanks a million to all those who supported by setting up and clearing up and generally keeping me company all day. It was much appreciated!
29th March 2018
An absolutely fascinating talk, given by Trevor Smith, on Bumble bees and their solitary counterparts.
In the UK, there are approximately 27 species of bumble bee, but many are specific to a given area. There are also about 250 species of solitary bee.
Photos are before and after at Victory Field.
While honey bees are important pollinators, they are really significant because of their sheer numbers. Other bees are more efficient at pollinating, but as they tend to live in smaller groups or singly, their impact is generally seen as less. However, they should not be underestimated. We also learnt that different bees are built in different ways and so pollinate different flowers. For example, some have baskets on their legs which carry pollen, some have brushes on their fronts and others carry pollen on their backs. As a result, we need to provide a wide range of flowers throughout the year to encourage as many bees as possible. We also learnt about the impact of pesticides on bees and the frightening problem of plants being sold at garden centres as pollinator friendly, when in fact they are impregnated with insecticides during their propagation.The identification of bees, including Cuckoo bees (which lay their eggs in nests of other types of bee but also look just like their host) is very tricky in the field and may require a careful examination under a microscope to identify the species.
Trevor told us that generally, bumble bees are quite docile and only sting when really aggravated. They will warn an aggressor that they are getting cross by waving their middle legs. But, unlike honey bees, their stings are not barbed, so if they do attack, they can sting multiple times. They are not generally nest builders themselves, preferring to use nests previously built by others, so old mouse or bird nests are ideal places for them.
Solitary bees will build themselves tunnels in which to make individual cells for their eggs, which they lay, provide with a supply of food and then leave. Others will lay their eggs in some other bees nest, acting as a parasite.
We learnt so much about these amazing insects and how they need our help. A truly inspirational evening talk. In April, weather permitting, Laurie Ayres will be opening his honey bee hives and will invite anyone interested to come and have a look. Please keep an eye on the website for details as these events will be weather dependent and may happen at short notice.
23rd March 2018
Today, we were putting in the pond and getting an area ready for an outside reading space. While working today, we found a female Great Crested Newt! Very exciting!
We were invited to give a talk to the Sunninghill and Ascot Parish Council about the work of Wildlife in Ascot and what we have done and are aiming to do. It was a useful opportunity to share information about our work in the area and we received unqualified support from the local Parish council.
16th March 2018
7th March 2018
9th March 2018
Bramble clearing continued in Ascot Heath Infant school wildlife garden. Today was the last time we will be clearing the bramble for now as we are into bird breeding season, so today we just cut back the final straggly bits from the area in which we have been working. The plan has been drawn up, but given what we have found may need re-drawing!!! It was always going to be an organic process.....
13th March 2018
Today we worked around Blackmoor Pond, with Stillwater Management. They cut branches overhanging the water and brought them back in the boat for us to drag to the chipper. It is looking fabulous!
More clearing of the school wildlife garden at Ascot Heath Infant School this afternoon. Today we dug a pond and cleared an area of bramble roots, ready for the tractor tyres to be moved. They are being made ready for bamboo planting. Looking good! We had a friendly couple of robins join us this afternoon which was lovely.
14th March 2018
Again, working with Stillwater Management clearing away the overhanging branches, but we also were able to get to the waters edge and clear straggly branches out. A few of the intrepid fellas got into the boat and were pushed by Luke in waders to the island where they put up the HLF sign.
23rd February 2018
Insect Armageddon launch tonight was amazing. It is a local initiative responding to a global problem of serious insect decline. As our supporter, Tina Bailey often says, "insects could do very nicely if we disappeared from the planet - but we can't survive without them". True of many other species apart from homo-sapiens.The initiative was started by Anne Yarwood from ASCENT (Ascot Community Environment Network) and Wildlife in Ascot is delighted to support it as it is fundamental to everything else.
The launch was given a boost by the presence and talk given by Professor George McGavin in which he explained that all vertebrates make up only six percent of all species on the planet. Invertebrates are accountable for approximately eighty percent and there are still many that have not been identified and categorised yet.
The project is looking for people to volunteer to interview landowners about their policy and practices in relation to insects, so if this is something you are interested in, please, do get in touch. We'd love to have you on board!
Another afternoon clearing brambles. We are making progress! Thank you to all of you who have been pitching out. I will try to get the plan drawn up properly on a large sheet before next time!
21st February 2018
Mammalian Field Signs identification workshop at Silwood was an interesting evening lecture, complete with samples to look at and try to identify. Most of the attendees were Silwood students, but a few WIA supporters were also there. We were shown evidence of rabbit, squirrel and deer damage to trees; evidence of water vole presence; various homes of dormice and harvest mice with tell tale signs of how to identify the architect. Interesting and informative and left me feeling that we really do need to get into our water courses and see who is there!
9th February 2018
More bramble bashing at Ascot Heath Infants School today, complete with bonfire in an incinerator.
2nd February 2018
A small gang of WIA supporters arrived at South Ascot Infant School to help start the process of reinstating their wildlife garden. The first thing is to remove the brambles so that the children don't get scratched to smithereens when they are exploring. A hole was made in the bramble patch, but there is still more to be done. This is likely to be a weekly event over the coming weeks, - bramble bashing and recreating a more varied mosaic of habitat for the wildlife and the children to enjoy. Please do come along and join in if you have a couple of hours to spare.
21st January 2018
Kingfisher Flyway Public Meeting
This meeting was held to explain why this project is happening and what it entails. Over 50 local people braved a very rainy Sunday to come out and engage with this project. Many live along Blackmoor stream and knew the history of the area and many volunteered to help in various ways.
There were 3 speakers:
Anne from Wildlife in Ascot explained the background to the project and how we need to manage our green corridors to benefit wildlife especially in a residential area that is becoming increasingly developed. This is to improve biodiversity and retain connectivity across the area. The Kingfisher Flyway Project is the first major part of this and has been made possible thanks to a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Rob, the Bracknell Forest ranger, then explained the work that would be done on the pond to remove large fish that are affecting the biodiversity of the pond; the de-silting work which need to be done and the building of a kingfisher nesting site as though they are seen in the area we do not know of any suitable nesting sites.
Pat, our local expert, then explained what work will be done in Blythewood to increase light reaching the ground and remove invasive, non-beneficial plants. This will improve conditions for humans and wildlife.
Anne then talked again about what needs to be done on the stream much of which runs through gardens and how volunteers will be trained and work in the public sections and with willing residents to improve the stream for wildlife.
Work on the pond needs to be carried out in winter months to reduce the impact on wildlife so is expected to start in February. The work on Blythewood will be carried out over several years with an ongoing management plan.
For more information and updates on this project please look at the Kingfisher Flyway page.