Countryside Conservation Observations

During the course of our nature conservation work we witness many intriguing and wonderful sightings which provide us with an added bonus to our effort to improve conditions to help nature to survive. They do not always directly contribute to our projects but provide evidence of countryside assets surrounding us. From time to time we feel we should share these encounters with those around us to allow all to appreciate the beauty of nature. The following pictures are included to achieve this.

 

 

 

 

 

The diversity of fungi species are always a sight to behold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild flora species provide an explosion of brilliant colour throughout our countryside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The insect populations that share our natural environment provide both splendour and considerable value to all of us.

 

Even our encounters with larger countryside dwelling species generate an inquisitive and friendly response and demonstrate their own natural beauty.

The countryside species around us are distinctly variable but all contribute to our lives and future well-being. Our continuous contact with them whilst performing our conservation projects makes us truly appreciate the wonders of nature. Each has a unique but essential role in supporting continuing life on our planet.

Nature Reserve Restoration Completed

In the early months of this year all work to restore Talbot Field Nature Reserve was completed. Volunteers worked hard to clear all unwanted brush in readiness for the onset of spring and the appearance of the new flora growth now released from the canopy that restrained it. With the new growth in the cleared reserve comes the exciting prospect that new species can be introduced to enrich the area for nature.

 

The conclusion of the restoration work in the early months of this year.

 

This picture shows the thick under-storey of bramble which was originally spreading outwards from the trees across the reserve.

 

This was progressively removed to allow other flora species to flourish.

 

With the arrival of spring the new woodland carpet of vegetation appears.

 

The sunshine penetrates the young tree foliage to encourage the released ground flora to re-establish itself.

 

In the surrounding meadow Lady’s Smock emerges….

 

….and beneath the trees Bluebells abound. 

 

No longer battling against bramble for sunlight….

 

….they take full advantage of their opportunity to flourish again.

Hassocks Parish Council has generously agreed to the purchase of additional bat and bird boxes to increase survival opportunities for wildlife. These will be mounted on existing trees and in the woodland that already provides welcome sanctuary to many bat and bird species which are regularly monitored by The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group.

 

The local bat population will especially benefit from the provision of this increased roosting habitat.

It cannot be emphasised enough how such areas provide a life-line to dwindling wildlife and flora species in an increasing hostile world for nature. The Parish Council has taken a commendable step towards offsetting this damage for the benefit of us all and deserve our thanks. We look forward to working with them to maximise the natural environmental contribution provided by this small but valuable area.

Barn Owl Care Provided

Each year all owl boxes erected within The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group Barn Owl Conservation Area are visited in the winter months to be cleaned and maintained. Any damaged boxes are repaired or replaced. This year we found three boxes that required renewal. Two were repaired off-site by a member of the volunteer team who is highly skilled in practical engineering techniques and one was replaced with a new one. The two boxes requiring repair were extensively damaged and had to be removed and transported back to his workshop for restoration.

 

Each box in the large conservation area receives a maintenance visit each winter.

 

When repaired a second visit to each site was undertaken to erect them again. This repair work saved us a lot of money in replacement box costs. It does however, extended the duration of the activity which occurs during the worst months of the year for bad weather. The task has to be completed before the owl breeding season begins in spring to prevent breeding disturbance, so with a lot of unsuitable days occurring it is a difficult one to achieve in the allotted time. Fortunately all team members are sufficiently committed to give up their valuable time to give it priority but it often means setting aside three or four days a week to capitalise on good weather opportunities.

 

Some very damaged boxes like the one found in this location have to be replaced. This shows the new box being fitted by the owl team.

 

The effort required on each visit to a box location can be considerable and a feeling of exhaustion at the end of a working day is not uncommon. Some locations take 20 minutes to walk from our vehicles to the chosen box carrying ladders and heavy equipment over wet and sticky ground. The mud sticks to our boots making each step more difficult than the last and this effort severely limits the number of boxes we can maintain in a day. The weather is always cold which makes handling ladders and tools difficult as much of the work has to be performed without gloves. In addition to the cleaning out and painting on site, repair work is often required especially where squirrel damage has occurred.

 

This shows another new box being erected and the amount of equipment required to undertake it.

 

This year we found 5 boxes which had squirrels nesting in them and all were extensively damaged by their uncontrolled gnawing. This required patches to be applied to the holes in the exterior walls of the box and bird friendly repellent inserted in each after the unwelcome nesting debris had been removed. The grey squirrel population has increased considerably in recent years to a degree that is proving exceedingly expensive for us to combat the damage they cause. Two thirds of the tawny owl boxes we had also erected in previous years have been totally destroyed and we have been forced to remove them as further repairs are pointless with re-occupation occurring as soon as we have departed. With the re-occupation comes continuing damage.

 

Every box is sited in a suitable location to give maximum habitat benefit to the owls.

 

Our barn owl box visits revealed 15 roosting owls this year which was less than the 22 we found last year. Last year proved to be a bumper year for the number of boxes being used for breeding, consequently it may mean that this year won’t be quite so successful. It largely depends on the spring weather and the availability of mice and voles for them to eat.  The majority of the boxes were full of barn owl pellets which indicated they were continuing to provide welcome shelter for the owls and supporting their population number.

 

Many boxes are found to be occupied by roosting barn owls. The following pictures show some of the ones encountered this winter.

 

They leave as soon as they hear the team arrive.

 

They fly to the nearest tree cover or another box and wait for the work to finish.

 

Their silent but graceful flight is a distinctive feature of this species of owl.

 

Normally they don’t leave the boxes until dusk when they venture out to hunt for food.

 

It is therefore a rewarding sight to see them in daylight.

 

The conservation team members complete the work as speedily as possible to minimise the disturbance time and often see the owls returning when they depart.

 

Increasing the survival prospects of the barn owl population is the prime reason for our effort and our conservation area is religiously attended and monitored by highly motivated team members to further the interests of the owls in the 15 rural settlement area it now covers. Without this dedication, sacrifice of personal time and the hard work required, the survival prospects for our local barn owls would be severely diminished.

Woodland Pond Assistance Received

The Sayers Common woodland pond which had been progressively restored by The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group since 2013 had been subjected to a massive spread of reeds during the summer. This was mainly due to the very hot weather experienced in 2018 which caused the pond to dry up completely but with dampness remaining in the silt that their roots flourish in. This problem, when  added to the on-going difficulty of containing the continuously sprouting willow stumps that had previously been cut down within the pond, but had been far too difficult to remove the roots, proved a major headache for the group to tackle.

The restored pond was a haven for wildlife.

 

This followed years of  dedicated work by group volunteers.

 

The pond was continuously maintained to keep it in good condition.

 

In the heat of the summer in 2018 the pond vegetation became rampant.

 

Despite our considerable effort we could not get on top of the vigorous spread.

Each reed root had a spread of over half a metre and proved very difficult to pull out to restore the area to a pond rather than a reed bed. The hot weather also caused the willow growth to accelerate so that cutting back was required several times during the summer season. Volunteers gamely tackled the problem but struggled to make much impact in the near-tropical conditions as re-growth seemed to be overtaking their clearance effort. It was at this point that the landowners of the area, generously offered to step in to give assistance to our difficult task. We discussed the problem and they came to our aid by employing  a firm of specialist professional contractors to help us at their own expense as a donation to support our work.

 

Specialist contractors were employed by the landowners to help us.

With the massive mechanical equipment the contractors had at their disposal, the willow stumps were quickly removed and the reed roots taken out with the extraction of the silt they grew in. The improvement was instantaneous and open water was once again restored for the wildlife to return to.

 

The stubborn willow stumps and reed roots were no match for the giant machines and were skilfully removed.

 

The pond very quickly became the open water attraction for wildlife once more. 

 

This allows us once again to manage this valuable location to keep it in good condition. 

We are obviously extremely grateful to the landowners for their generosity which has allowed us once again to keep on top of the maintenance task required each year to keep it in the condition it deserves following the tremendous number of volunteer man-hours spent on its restoration. This now fully compliments the ecological value of the surrounding countryside and woodland area.

Nature Reserve Restoration

Since 2009 The Woodland Flora & Fauna Group has been inspecting and maintaining bat and bird boxes within a small wood on Talbot Field Nature Reserve in Hassocks on behalf of Hassocks Parish Council. The area has proved very successful with the majority of boxes always occupied. The bat species mostly found are Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle and Brown Long-eared with mostly Blue Tits, Great Tits and Nuthatches occupying the bird boxes. The wood provides a welcome sanctuary for these species.

 

The woodland is a valued sanctuary for bats and birds. 

The reserve generally had progressively become very overgrown with brush and unwanted seedlings spreading throughout the area since and our group was approached by the Council to enquire if we would be prepared to remedy the problem. Talbot Field is an extremely valuable location providing much needed opportunities for nature to flourish again so agreement was readily given.

 

The thick bramble understorey advances across the surrounding meadow.

Elsewhere brush of all descriptions determinedly spreads throughout the reserve.

Initially we removed the densely spreading white poplar saplings which had invaded the reserve via windborne seeds from neighbouring species and cleared overgrown footpaths. We then tackled the thick growth of bramble which was rapidly spreading outwards from the wood. Bramble growth, mixed with stinging nettles was also invading the reserve around the boundaries.

 

Spreading white poplar saplings were speedily tackled by group volunteers.

Volunteers are steadily tackling the overall task and already significant progress has been made. The dense bramble removal is proving to be very challenging but work will continue until the reserve is once again in a well-managed condition for the benefit of nature.

 

All cleared cuttings were burnt as piles were created.

 

The wood as it appeared later after clearance work had been undertaken by the volunteers.

Hopefully next season when all restoration work is finished, Talbot Field will flourish with increased vigour to significantly benefit the indigenous flora and fauna species. These benefits to the natural world are the reason our volunteers work so hard and give up hours of their valuable time to achieve. We are very fortunate to receive such support and are extremely grateful for it, as we are for the generosity of Hassocks Parish Council in designating this location as an area for nature.