Frog Death Crisis In Our Local Countryside

The arrival of warmer weather has prompted breeding activities in our local population of common frogs. This has prompted them to travel to find suitable mates to source the next generation of the species. This is a natural event and occurs annually.

 

A Common Frog (Rana temporaria).

This year however, the migration of frogs in one area of our countryside has caused much concern for their welfare. In High Hatch Lane in Hurstpierpoint, the movement of frogs between 3 local ponds has caused many to travel across the lane to reach a pond on the other side. In doing so hundreds have been squashed by passing vehicles leaving a carpet of mutilated bodies on the road surface. One of our supporters named David Waterhouse spotted the carnage being inflicted on their population and contacted Chairman Michael Nailard urgently to seek a remedy to help their plight. We are very grateful to him for his vigilance and prompt action.

 

A few distinguishable carcasses amongst the scores of mutilated frogs killed in the lane.

Michael visited the location to see the problem for himself and witnessed the devastation being caused over a distance of almost 100 metres. Quickly some temporary road signs were constructed and landowner agreement obtained to mount them on the verges outside their properties. They were immediately erected beside the lane so that they would be seen by passing vehicles to warn motorists of the frog presence and to slow down.

 

A hastily created sign being erected to help prevent further deaths.

The landowner of a local Nursery was very co-operative and offered to monitor the period of breeding activity and to advise Michael when the signs could be removed. We cannot remedy the demise of those already killed but hopefully this action will prevent further frog lives being lost.  All wildlife species are precious and we as a group work to help them in an increasingly hostile and shrinking natural environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warning signs were erected at both ends of the 100metre stretch of lane to warn motorists and encourage them to slow down.

An Illustrated Talk on April 9th 2018

Amanda Millar, the local wildlife conservationist is giving an illustrated talk on Monday, April 9th entitled ‘Gardening for Pollinators’. The talk begins at 7.30pm and is to be held in The Club Room, Village Centre, Trinity Road, Hurstpierpoint, BN6 9UY.

 

A busy bee working tirelessly for our benefit.

Amanda dedicates much of her life to helping species of wildlife, especially bats and bees. Imagine living in a desert with barely any food, water or shelter. That is what much of the British countryside is now like for many wild pollinators and their numbers are dropping alarmingly.

 

Encouraging their presence adds both colour and value to our lives. 

In this talk she explains how we can all help assist their survival by simply managing our gardens. The service pollinators provide for mankind is immeasurable. Come and learn how you can support them in this way for the benefit of us all. Entry is free and all are welcome. There is a car park opposite the building.

 

This event follows The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group’s 2018 AGM which will be held in the same venue at 7.00pm for any supporters who are interested in attending. The activities undertaken in the last year will be reviewed together with other business required under the Group’s Constitution. We appreciate that AGMs aren’t to everyone’s taste so are making each event a totally separate function. We are providing refreshments between to allow plenty of time for the arrival of those who just wish to attend the illustrated talk.

It is our aim to encourage people of all ages with a countryside interest to join our Supporters by signing our Register of Interest. We charge no membership fee as we wish everyone to belong regardless of means. Instead, as our conservation expenses are continuous , we do ask those who can afford it to contribute a little to help in the collection dish as they leave the function. This helps us tremendously.

 

 

Barn Owls Find Sanctuary In Our Boxes.

The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group Owl Team completed the group’s barn owl box maintenance during the winter months. It took an extremely long time as we had so much wet weather that selecting dry days between for cleaning, painting and repairing any damage made it very difficult. Due to the diverse locations and the amount of work needed at each site, the number completed on any single day was between 2 and 4. With the amount of equipment that has to be transported over muddy fields to each box it always proves a very gruelling exercise.

 

Ladders, paint, cleaning and repair tools and equipment are transported across muddy fields to each location.

 

Over that period we did however, find a record number of adult barn owls roosting in our boxes with almost all containing barn owl pellets. The barn owls and pellets found indicate that the owls are reliant on the boxes for providing shelter and sanctuary during the winter months. The national statistics indicate that 80% of the species now rely on boxes like ours to survive. We always find occupants in a number of the boxes but this year we found a record 22 roosting barn owls in them across our conservation area.

 

Occupying barn owls usually fly out when they hear our approach such is the sensitivity of their hearing.

 

If the weather conditions are favourable and there is a good supply of prey during the coming summer there is a good chance that this year will be a good one for breeding. We are very hopeful that from the 22 roosting owls found a good number will subsequently choose our boxes to breed in.

 

All disturbed owls fly off into neighbouring trees and return to the boxes once the maintenance has been completed.

 

One bad discovery was that 4 of our boxes had been infiltrated by squirrels. This was the first year we had ever found them in barn owl boxes as they had always restricted themselves to tawny owl boxes previously. We have already described how they have destroyed tawny owl boxes and their presence in these barn owl boxes had already resulted in some damage occurring.  This forced us to subsequently spend £50 on bird friendly squirrel repellent and make lot of return trips to these boxes to repeat the application until we had driven them out. Time will tell whether it has been money and effort well-spent.

 

This box was one containing an unwelcome squirrel intruder which can be seen leaping out to the left of the box.

Tawny Owl Box Problems.

We have recently undertaken the winter maintenance on all tawny owl boxes erected by our group in woodlands across the local countryside. The majority were installed in 2007 and were initially very successful. Many tawny owls were found roosting in the boxes and benefitting from the shelter provided. Sometimes they were found consuming frogs and other prey captured. Progressively however, these boxes have been monopolised by grey squirrels whose population number has been steadily increasing each year. Once occupied by squirrels the tawny owls never return as squirrels fill the boxes with nesting material and create puddles of urine in the bottom. Not content with driving out the tawny owls from these boxes, they immediately turn the waterproof box providing them with shelter into one with gaping holes in the roof, walls and floor as they senselessly gnaw through the woodwork.

A typical example of a tawny owl box found with holes in its front and side.

Year after year we have been patching their damage and spraying the interiors with bird friendly squirrel repellent in an attempt to encourage the tawny owls back. Both these measures have proved fruitless and every year we have continued patching the boxes and patching the patches of previous years, in an effort to justify the hours of hard work spent creating this conservation initiative.

This year the grey squirrel population has exploded and where we were previously seeing a couple of squirrels in woodland areas we are now seeing up to ten. The increase in their numbers has increased their assaults on our boxes to a degree that it is not practical to continue to attempt to maintain many of them. Reluctantly this winter we have admitted defeat and have removed a large number of boxes from areas where the most damage takes place. We have retained some where the damage is not so severe but have given up trying to combat the increasing plague of squirrels in other locations. The time and expenditure wasted is a further disappointment to the failure of a well-intentioned project to benefit tawny owls.

 

The pile of destroyed boxes removed is becoming steadily bigger as time goes by.

Supporters News Sheet 2017

 

MID SUSSEX BARN OWL CONSERVATION AREA SUCCESS. 

The large barn owl conservation area created by the Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group in 2015/16 has yielded some very positive results for the species. 41 group boxes now provide nesting and roosting opportunities for the local population and the number of breeding pairs and young in the area has increased considerably.

  The blue outline in the map above shows the  barn owl conservation area created by The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group last year.

Through these efforts which are linked with the national barn owl monitoring programme, a nationwide matrix of conservation areas and habitat corridors has been established re-connecting the once isolated and fragile populations of this bird, farm to farm and county to county. As a result of these initiatives and the dedicated conservation work and nest box monitoring that is being undertaken by licenced volunteers, the breeding population is rising steadily.

Conservation can be measured today by the fact that three quarters of the breeding barn owls in Britain are now dependant on the nest boxes that have been provided for them. This places a considerable responsibility on those dedicated volunteers who work so hard in summer and winter to ensure they are cleaned and well-maintained to continue this progress.

The volunteers in our area of southern Mid Sussex are proud of their contribution to the national welfare of this beautiful bird through the work our group has undertaken. We are also delighted that this local area is now one of the major survival areas for the species and that they are once again commonly seen in our countryside.

One of three young owls in a nest box being recorded this summer by The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group licenced team.

Summer visits to all our nest boxes allow us to inspect and record the breeding populations of barn owls and ensure that their development and safety is ensured. The findings ranged from newly laid eggs up to six in number to large chicks nearing their time of fledging when they leave their boxes to find their way in the outside world.

From the time of hatching this normally takes about 67 days during which they are totally dependent on food being provided by the parent birds. The larger the chicks being ringed the more damage can be inflicted on the hands of those recording them as they utilise their very sharp talons to fend off unwanted attention. Goggles are worn to protect the eyes of volunteers as the chicks are gently removed and returned to their boxes. They also have been known to squirt excrement in the faces of individuals as the boxes are opened. With this containing a high ammonia content, it can be a very painful experience and is avoided if possible. This is why a dedicated team is necessary fully experienced in barn owl handling and care.

 

                                  One of a pair of large chicks found in the south of  Hurstpierpoint expressing annoyance at being disturbed.                                

   

 Three younger fluffy white chicks found in a box in Twineham.   

 

                                                                                            Six eggs found in a box in Newtimber.                                                                                               

    

                                                                                     A pair of very large chicks found in a box in Keymer.

 

                             Two fluffy chicks with facial disc features in formation in a box in the north of Hurstpierpoint.                               

  

           Adult owls prepare a larder of food in readiness for feeding their young. A vole and a mouse were waiting here in a box in Twineham.

 

RESTORATION OF AN SNCI MEADOW.

The meadow restoration work being undertaken at Pond Lye Site of Nature Conservation Importance in the north of Hurstpierpoint & Sayers Common Parish has almost reached completion with only a small amount of clearance remaining. This work began in 2010 to remove the bramble and blackthorn that was destroying the previous value of this natural asset since originally being awarded SNCI status in 1992. Since The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group commenced the task with the agreement of the landowner, thousands of volunteer man-hours have been expended over many years.

The work has achieved an open meadowland area which it is hoped will provide a suitable environment for the many distinctive flora species that were originally recorded here to return. Steadily this is happening. With so much time and effort having been expended it is vitally important to keep the meadowland in good condition and free from any brush re-growth so each year volunteers undertake a complete meadow cut. The cuttings are collected and burnt on a limited number of designated bonfire sites to ensure minimal changes to meadow conditions. This has become a huge task for the volunteers as the cutting has to be undertaken by individual hand held brush cutters to preserve the scores of large anthills covering the majority of the site. These anthills were listed as one of the valuable site assets when originally given its status. Volunteers work very hard to achieve this task which has progressively become harder as more meadow is cleared each year. This year it took a very long time and had to endure large fluctuations in weather patterns.

Some of the brush cutting volunteers tackling the huge task of cutting the meadow this year. 

 

The work undertaken by volunteers raking the cuttings into piles is invaluable in achieving this objective. 

The task has become very protracted and could be completed in a fraction of the time if we could get more people interested in giving some of their time to make the positive improvements our countryside is in desperate need of. If you would like to help please contact us at email: dralianmarine@aol.com.

Earlier this year we were joined at Pond Lye by conservation volunteers from Brighton to remove ragwort from a newly cleared area of the meadow where it was becoming a problem. Their help was invaluable and a great deal was achieved. We were able to use newly purchased ragwort forks funded by a grant from Hurstpierpoint & Sayers Common Parish Council who try to assist us in the work we do.

Volunteers removing ragwort from the meadow.

 

 

BAT CONSERVATION.                                                       .

Our last bat box inspection undertaken around the many local woodlands continued to reveal a good occupancy of bats. A licenced team visited each of the scores of boxes erected to help these species survive in an environment of an ever decreasing suitable habitat. We found that many box fixings required loosening to compensate for tree expansion and some had to be removed for repair where damage due to falling branches etc., had occurred. All unoccupied boxes are cleaned out so that evidence of recent occupancy can be proved on the next visit. A report of all our findings is made each year and forwarded to Natural England.

A member of the licenced team inspects a bat box.

 

                                                                                           A young pipistrelle bat found in residence.

 

All boxes inspections are undertaken by a team of volunteers needed to carry and manoeuvre the ladders required.

                                                                                      

      

WOODLAND POND RESTORATION.

Each year, maintenance is undertaken to the woodland pond In Sayers Common which was restored to from an overgrown state when found buried by many trees by The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group several years ago. Since then it has become a wildlife haven and site of attractive flora which we are committed to help flourish.

Group volunteers have worked for many years to achieve clearance of this wetland feature.

                                                                                                                                                                

                                                                                             In spring bluebells appear on the banks.

 

This year we have discovered bee orchids on land adjacent to the pond. These haven’t been seen here before and add significantly to the natural value of the whole area.

 

 

DORMICE CONSERVATION.                                                

Following the dormouse investigation exercise in southern woodlands undertaken in the last few years, a dormouse presence has been discovered. It is our aim to assist this threatened species to survive.

A dormouse being recorded by licenced personelle before being placed back in a nesting box.

Originally temporary nesting tubes were fitted in these locations to determine whether there were any indigenous dormice and now this has been confirmed we are replacing these with wooden nesting boxes. Grant funding was obtained and boxes purchased and painted. They are currently being erected as a permanent woodland dormouse conservation initiative. They will be checked regularly each year from April until November and any occupants recorded by a licenced team. Any other measures considered necessary to maintain and increase the local population will be implemented.

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Permanent dormouse boxes are being installed.

 

 

NEW GROUP WEBSITE CREATED.

The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group has just created a website to keep supporters up-to-date with group activities and review previous ones. Through grants obtained from West Sussex County Council and Hurst Charity Shop the group has funded the creation of a website dossier of activities past, present and future to promote their role for the protection of local countryside and wildlife in southern Mid Sussex. It can be found on website link www.thewoodlandfloraandfaunagroup.co.uk . Please log on to learn about all our activities, project updates and how you can interact with us.                                          

 

 

2017 AUGUST TALK CANCELLED. 

A last minute cancellation by the speaker booked to give a talk on ‘The Wonders of Yew’ rendered all our months of preparation redundant. Everything had to be dismantled and an apology issued to all prospective attendees. The talk is an annual feature for the group to publicise its work, recruit more support and seek donations so this cancellation was an expensive blow to us. Hopefully we will have better luck next year.

 

 

SOME LOCAL FLORA & FAUNA WITNESSED.

 

A young short-tailed vole discovered at Pond Lye SNCI.

 

                                              Ragwort is a threat to some but valuable to these cinnabar moth caterpillars and soldier beetles.

 

                                                                                 A cluster of brown long-eared bats found in a box this year.

 

   One of many common spotted orchids at Pond Lye SNCI.   

       

 

We thank all our supporters for their interest in our activities and valuable support. A special thank you is given to all our volunteers who make our practical achievements possible. If you would like to join us in either capacity or know someone who would, please contact Michael Nailard.  Telephone: 01273 834001. 

Email:  dralianmarine@aol.com or via the group website:  www.thewoodlandfloraandfaunagroup.co.uk