Supporters News Sheet 2020

BARN OWL BOXES ARE MAINTAINED EACH WINTER.   

 

The early wet months of last winter proved to be extremely difficult for The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group owl team in early 2020. Not only was it difficult to find dry days to undertake the box cleaning and maintenance but so heavy had been the rainfall that the countryside was a quagmire to negotiate. With the target to complete by the end of February to let owls begin mating, the pressure on the team was intense. It meant grabbing every dry opportunity at short notice and on many occasions meant working up to three days a week. The volunteers faced a daunting task to transport all the required maintenance equipment over countless fields that were so wet that it was difficult to walk across them.

 

The equipment required was transported across the open countryside to the box locations.

 

Due to these severe wet conditions, they faced the additional complication that they were unable to get their vehicles as close as normal to reduce the distance they were required to walk.

 

Every location presented the same waterlogged terrain to overcome and boots were quickly overwhelmed.

 

 The barn owls found seemed to appreciate this effort and were quick to return to the cleaned boxes afterwards.

 

Once the task was commenced it was pursued until completion. Progress was interrupted many times due to rapidly changing weather forecasts. Some sites were extremely waterlogged after days of heavy rainfall so the team had to miss them and move on to others that were more accessible. Working constantly in deep wet mud and waterlogged fields made clothing quickly resemble the terrain. The rungs of the ladders became as muddy as the ground and this transferred to their hands and clothing. Working was therefore difficult and had to be performed with extreme care. With 80% of our national barn owl population relying on boxes such as these to survive, the effort however problematical is worthwhile and justifies all the expenditure we incur annually taken from group funds. This is one of causes we appeal for help for from our supporters and others at our annual fundraising events. Without this help we could not fund this conservation effort. Failure to regularly undertake this task leads to a much-shortened lifespan for the boxes, thus increasing our costs and allows bacteria/insect infestation to occur within them to the detriment of the occupants and breeding success.

 

            Each box is cleaned and restored with a coat of paint.              

 

All tree growth impeding flight path access is removed.

 

The sight of a magnificent barn owl from one of our boxes sweeping across the countryside makes all our effort worthwhile.

 

NATURE RESERVE WORK CONTINUES DESPITE LOCKDOWN.

       

Volunteers worked very hard on the maintenance of the small Hassocks nature reserve named Talbot Field in very wet and muddy conditions until March this year. We began the task at this site in January. The weather had been very wet for several months and the ground was waterlogged in many places. This made working difficult. Many volunteers attended despite the conditions and a lot of intrusive brush clearance and renovation work was completed.

The aim had been to complete this activity before spring to give the spring flowers clear space to flourish and bloom. It had taken many weeks to remove the brush and a lot of volunteer effort to rake and pile up the cuttings. This was eventually completed and piles of debris were locally stacked all around the site. We then began transporting these piles to a central stack at the rear of the site where they would be burnt. Unfortunately, the first COVID-19 ‘lockdown’ occurred before we could complete the process so the site was left with many piles remaining. It resumed again when lockdown ceased but subject to social distancing and other Government safety restrictions. The volunteers worked hard to finally complete the task in July.

 

     The woodland floor is tackled to remove brush and fallen branches with footpaths cleared to restore public access.

              

After a lot of hard work, two volunteers take a well-earned break. Sadly our valued colleague and committee member Eric on the right passed away unexpectedly in November. He will be greatly missed.

 

Volunteers remove all clearance debris in readiness for summer. 

 

All this effort allowed the meadow to flourish and support local wildlife in the following months.

 

BARN OWL BREEDING CONTINUES IN OUR BOXES.

 

The initial inspections our group carries out identifies which boxes have owl broods in and allow us to establish their size to determine when they are old enough to have identification rings fitted.  Due to the variation in sizes even in one box brood this is quite complex and means many return visits to specific boxes to ensure the birds receive their rings at the required stage of development. Often this is based on noting the size of the smallest member of the family and calculating when it will be ready. This is complicated further on some occasions when food is in short supply by the smallest one being eaten by its siblings in the meantime. It also often means that the smallest one’s bigger siblings are very large and a handful to deal with on the return visit.

 

Barn owl young were found in many boxes on our initial visits.

 

The barn owl young found in the boxes were ringed when they reached a sufficient stage of development.

 

The whole breeding check/ringing activity occupies several authorised people for many months of the summer in our area before all are satisfactorily recorded. The results are then forwarded to allow population records to be kept for the whole country. Originally severely endangered, years of conservation effort have restored their population number but it is only with continuing nurturing by volunteers that it will be maintained.

 

WOODLAND POND EFFORT REAPS REWARDS.                    

 

With a back-log of nature conservation work to complete before the end of the year, The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group volunteer work force moved on quickly to the Sayers Common Pond location at the end of July.

 

Observing all 2020 coronavirus social distancing and other limitations, volunteers moved in to restore the pond.

 

With years of experience behind many of them, they expertly began to tackle the task.

 

Here unchecked brush and reed growth had begun to over-run the area. Thistles had grown to 2.5 metres and joined with bramble, willow and stinging nettles on the pond banks to become very overgrown. Reeds had once again begun to spread and the surrounding tree growth and fallen branches had added further to the effort required. This had inevitably begun to dismantle the years of hard work that had been necessary to originally restore the pond from a tangle of fallen trees and woodland undergrowth. Determined that this achievement would not be wasted despite COVID-19 restrictions making work more difficult than normal, the volunteers quickly began restoring the area to ensure it remained the distinctive natural feature it previously was and a haven for wildlife once more.

 

Regardless of prevailing summer temperatures in excess of 30 degrees Centigrade, all volunteers maintained their effort throughout the many weeks required to achieve completion.

 

On the final day of this effort the reward for all the hard work was plain to see with the pond once more a distinctive landscape feature serving the local wildlife populations.

 

DORMICE BOX CHECKS ARE LIMITED THIS YEAR.

           

The coronavirus ‘lock-down’ robbed us of many valuable months of monitoring these boxes this year when any dormouse presence would have been at its highest to detect. Never-the-less we resumed in late summer when restrictions were lifted and were able to visit all boxes monthly to record their occupancy. These boxes encourage the survival of these now very rare mammals in this country where any breeding presence detected is a huge reward for the conservation effort expended. Often signs of their previous box visits are the only indication of a dormouse presence such is the elusive nature of the species. Due to the lack of earlier checks, the many boxes that had been used by nesting bluetits and great tits were not cleaned out as normal to allow dormice to use them. We therefore anticipated a poor return would be the result.

 

Licenced volunteer teams visited each month to examine the boxes in each woodland.

 

Many boxes were being used as food stores by wood mice.

 

   This was one of the many wood mice nests found this year built on a large food store of acorns.

    

The checks should have continued monthly from April until November but we missed half of the season and this was reflected in a poor year for finding any dormice. The clearance of redundant early spring bluetit and great tit nests are usually the first annual task we undertake to allow dormice to occupy the boxes. This wasn’t possible until very late in the summer this year. Wood mice and their nests were found in abundance however, together with many food stores. Hopefully dormice results will be better next year.

 

OUR BAT SPECIES HAVE FLOURISHED IN 2020.

 

We began our initial bat inspections at the latter end of August. They were continued throughout September and were finally completed at the beginning of October. It was found to be the best year for box occupancy since 2009 when they were first erected by us to Bat Conservation Trust guidelines. The measures we have in place are assisting bats to survive and flourish in a world that has pushed them into becoming an endangered species. It is also a reward for all the hard work that we expend on them.

 

Teams of licenced volunteers year visit each woodland to record the population of bats.

 

With each box erected at a lofty height in the woodland tree canopy to provide maximum suitability for bats, a multi-section ladder is required. This has to be a heavy duty one to ensure safe working at the high heights required. Normally the erection of the 3 ladder sections were shared by members of the team to manoeuvre around tree branches, trunk protrusions and very awkward trunk/branch configurations.

This year with volunteers observing the Government’s social distancing rules, all tasks had to be performed with this in mind. This meant individuals travelling separately to each location and work-spacing apart. This made the ladder erection the sole task of a single person which obviously took much longer and was more taxing. Normally 2 or 3 individuals stand together at the foot of the ladder with one person holding the ladder away from the trunk while another person extends it upwards. The timing and duration of these checks are usually difficult to fit into the ‘ideal window’ at the end of the summer when temperatures are still warm enough to sustain the insect populations which provide the food the bats depend upon. This is especially so when the autumn weather becomes wet and the number of suitable days within this period are lessened. This was achieved this year however, thanks to the concentrated effort and hard work of the volunteers who were willing to attend several days each week for a month. All results have been forwarded to Natural England to enable national population records to be updated.

 

Each box is visited to determine occupancy and the findings recorded. This year’s occupancy results included Natterer’s, Soprano Pipistrelle and Common Pipistrelle bats.

 

POND LYE SNCI MEADOW VOLUNTEERS WORK HARD.

 

 

The Pond Lye meadow sustains a rich tapestry of flora and dependant wildlife which requires constant nurturing.

 

With a queue of seasonal tasks still remaining after the delay caused by the first coronavirus national ‘lockdown’, we quickly moved on to tackle the annual meadow cut required at Pond Lye Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI) in the early weeks of August.

An advance contingent of volunteers had attended earlier to cut the knee length grass that was covering the car park area to make it accessible for volunteer’s vehicles. This work is necessary to maintain the rich floral quality of the meadow which is in evidence throughout the summer. When the flora blooms come to the end of their flowering seasons, we return to provide the care needed to maintain it. With wildflower meadows generally in severe decline, the remaining ones require as much help as possible to survive and to sustain the wildlife populations that flourish within them.

We are very grateful to our regular volunteer scythe operator, who attended site at 6.00am every morning before beginning employment work elsewhere. This early start also allowed him to avoid the extreme heat of the summer days that were prevailing at the time. He started on the cutting of the area of the meadow which was punctuated with anthills and always proves so difficult to tackle by any other means. He succeeded brilliantly and by the time others began working at the site a few weeks later, had scythed the whole of this section giving us a head start with the cutting of the remaining area. For the remaining cut we were equally fortunate to obtain the help of one of our long-standing helpers who uses his tractor and cutter to cut more of the meadow for us.

 

 

The scythe operator begins the task in the difficult areas followed by the volunteer with tractor and cutter.

 

For this he attended several days at the end of August and completed all the areas that were accessible with his tractor. His effort saves us months of attempting to cut the meadow with brush cutters and scythes alone and we are extremely grateful to him for this help. The brush cutter operators were soon tackling the remaining difficult areas and meadow edges.

 

The brush cutter volunteers then move in to tackle the remaining difficult areas.

 

While they tackled these areas, many other volunteers attended to begin raking up all the cuttings produced. This is necessary to ensure they do not decompose to enrich and alter the soil composition upon which the indigenous flora species rely. The cuttings are transported to peripheral bonfire locations to be disposed of.

 

Then large numbers of volunteers are required to rake up and dispose of all the cuttings.

 

This takes many weeks to complete and a lot of effort.

 

This work stage can become very protracted as it often coincides with the advent of the autumn rainy season which forces many of the weekly volunteer days to be cancelled when dry weather forecasts suddenly deteriorate. This year proved no exception.

We also had to contend with the introduction of the second period of coronavirus’ lockdown’ which prevented any working parties attending to complete it. This has unfortunately once again put our countryside and wildlife work schedule into delay despite the hard work our volunteers had put in to remedy it and for which we are very grateful. Prior to this second ‘lockdown’ the commendable effort of our volunteers had allowed us to catch up with our seasonal work schedule to be on target to tackle next season’s commitments. Now unfortunately we begin behind schedule again with the ability to resume previous working practices uncertain.

 

The completion of the meadow cut in readiness for next year.

 

 SOME INTERESTING OBSERVATIONS THIS YEAR.

     

 

A barn owl pellet coated with red mould.

 

Fly Agaric fungus (Amanita muscaria).       

 

A Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea).

 

NO GROUP TALKS HELD IN 2020.

 

 No talks were held this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent ‘lockdowns’ and safety restrictions applied by the Government. Next year’s events could be equally uncertain.

 

SUPPORTER MESSAGE.                                                         

 

We thank all our supporters for their interest in our activities and our valuable volunteers for their help. If you too would like to volunteer please contact Michael Nailard.   Telephone: 01273 834001.

Email: dralianmarine@aol.com  Group Website: www.thewoodlandfloraandfaunagroup.co.uk

      

 

 

               

Supporters News Sheet 2019

BAT CONSERVATION EFFORT CONTINUES.                     

 

A lot of effort is given by our group into the preservation of our indigenous bat populations. Each year all our installed boxes in many woodlands in our local countryside are visited and cleaned.

 

A Common Pipistrelle bat is found inside this box on one of our seasonal inspections.

 

The populations are recorded and the results forwarded to Natural England each year to allow national population records to be constructed. This year in late summer the wet weather made undertaking the inspections extremely difficult. Ladder work to these high levels in the woodland canopy is extremely hazardous in damp conditions so dry days are necessary for our teams to work safely. The task is a very physical one so strong people are required to carry and manoeuvre the ladders around the woodlands.

 

                    Helpers carry ladders through each woodland. 

 

    A team member steadies the ladder.

 

The continuous wet weather delayed this activity and this resulted in the number of bats found to be less than last year but we did find up to 5 bats in some boxes and evidence of use in most of them.

 

BARN OWLS CONTINUE TO FLOURISH.                    

 

This year was also less successful for the number of breeding barn owls found in comparison with last year. The early dry spring and summer weather reduced the number of prey species breeding which in turn impacted on the food supply available for breeding barn owls.

 

A young barn owl found this year.

 

One of the successfully reared barn owl chicks being ringed during a summer visit.

 

DORMICE CONSERVATION EFFORT CONTINUES.              

 

The poor year for bats and barn owls impacted also on our dormouse conservation effort this year. Monthly box checks were undertaken by our licenced teams from April until November but yielded mostly wood mouse, bird and insect activity. Dormouse occupation was found to be scarce. All signs of a dormouse presence were recorded. Seasonal weather patterns have a large impact on dormouse population activity.

 

Team members visit all woodlands where dormouse activity has been detected to inspect the installed boxes.

 

Any nests found were examined to determine the occupants and all live and breeding creatures were returned safely to their boxes to continue their lives without further interruption.

 

One of the many nesting wood mice found on our monthly woodland tours.

 

RESTORATION OF POND LYE SNCI MEADOW.

 

The Site of Nature Conservation Importance at Pond Lye continues to make progress in our effort to restore it to allow previous distinctive meadow species to return after our years of brush clearance.  The floral display this summer was impressive and attracted hundreds of insect and other wildlife species to the area.

 

 

The meadow was a blaze of different colours with insects of all descriptions attracted to them.

     

 The meadow appearance was a moving feast as the season progressed with different coloured flowers blooming.

 

The work required to maintain this improvement has been a considerable one for our volunteers. The annual cut took place in August with initially with scythes and brush cutters as the anthill punctuated terrain made other methods of cutting difficult. The volunteers worked extremely hard in the anthill area and cut all meadow growth until we reached a point where we were able to request help from one of our volunteers with a tractor and cutter to tackle the flatter main area of the meadow which was less affected.

The progress he made with this was phenomenal and within two weeks the work was completed leaving only the raking up and disposal of the hay and the cutting of the tree lined borders the tractor was unable to reach.

 

We were very grateful for the help from our volunteer with the tractor and cutter which saved us much time & effort.

 

The borders were completed by our brush cutting and scythe operators but the final tidying of the site and hay collection proved to be a tediously long job for the volunteers as they were frustrated by a continuous end-of-season spell of wet weather.

  

The meadow edges were completed by volunteers using scythes and brush cutters.

 

 The cuttings are heaped into piles and then disposed of on completion.

 

RESTORATION OF A NATURE RESERVE.          

 

The restoration of the nature reserve at Talbot Field in Hassocks continues. Following the clearance of spreading brush in the early months of 2019 new flora growth was released from the canopy that restrained it. The sunshine was able to penetrate the young tree foliage to encourage the released ground flora to re-establish itself. With the new growth in the cleared reserve comes the exciting prospect that new wild flower species can be introduced to enrich the area still further for nature.

 

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

 

The owners of the site, Hassocks Parish Council, generously agreed to the purchase of additional bat and bird boxes to increase survival opportunities for wildlife. These have been mounted on existing trees in the reserve and in the western woodland that already provides welcome sanctuary to many bat and bird species. All boxes are regularly monitored and maintained by The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group.

 

Photographs of some of the site wildlife species that are benefitting from this work.

 

It cannot be emphasised enough how such areas provide a life-line to dwindling wildlife and flora species in an increasingly hostile world for nature. We therefore thank the Parish Council for their support for our work here.  Hopefully we can maximise the natural environmental contribution provided by this small but valuable area.

 

RESTORATION OF A WOODLAND POND.                            

            

Work at the woodland pond restoration in Sayers Common has been paused this year following the clearance of tree roots and runaway reed growth kindly undertaken by the landowners last year to assist us. This is allowing the area to naturally settle again. A viewing day was held in April for all the volunteers who had given their time over many years to restore it. The landowners generously provided refreshments and all attendees showed appreciation for the assistance they had been given to finally complete it. Work will resume shortly to keep this important area in good condition.

 

The pond remains a valuable haven for wildlife.

 

TWO GROUP TALKS HELD THIS YEAR.                                

 

Two talks were held this year. They were both given by environmentalists and authors. The first was in April given by David Bangs entitled ‘Land of the Brighton Line’ and the second was in August given by Professor Trevor Beebee entitled ‘Climate Change & British Wildlife’. Both were excellent talks and very well attended.

 

The Chairman with David Bangs at the talk in April with his newly published book.

 

Trevor Beebee gives his talk in August to a packed audience.

 

SUPPORTER MESSAGE.  

 

We thank all our supporters for their interest in our activities and our valuable volunteers for their help. If you too would like to volunteer please contact Michael Nailard.   Telephone: 01273 834001.Email: dralianmarine@aol.com  Group Website: www.thewoodlandfloraandfaunagroup.co.uk

                                               

      

 

Supporters News Sheet 2018

WOODLAND POND RECOVERY.

      

The Sayers Common Woodland Pond that has been progressively restored since 2013 by The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group has been the focus of much attention and restoration work in 2018.

The Group held a fund raising open day in an area of countryside in Sayers Common on 6th May with the kind permission of the landowners. The day was exceptionally warm, the bluebells in the woodland were at their best and the refreshments provided afterwards by the owners were excellent. Many people attended and took part in the guided walks around the woodland and surrounding fields to witness the nature conservation work undertaken by the group over many years.

 

Supporters gather to view the woodland pond.

 

The Chairman leads supporters through surrounding woodland.

 

All attendees appeared to enjoy the afternoon and found it rewarding. They also generously contributed donations towards our work and have succeeded in boosting our funds considerably. It appears to have been a valuable experience for all and one which we are very grateful to the landowners for.

 

The landowners generously provided refreshments afterwards. 

               

The pond at Sayers Common was revisited later this summer to undertake annual maintenance work. The summer was an extremely hot one and when we returned to maintain the area we found no water in the pond. This is an unusual occurrence and was found to have accelerated the spread of reeds and the integral willow stump growth to a degree that made it appear like a jungle scene. The damp mud and the lack of pond water beneath the blazing sun were obviously ideal conditions for these species to flourish in. This was very disheartening for the maintenance working parties and took many weeks of extremely hard work to bring conditions back under control.

 

 Volunteers tackle the explosion of reed and willow regrowth.

 

The root spread on the reeds was considerable and each one we managed to pull up carried a root growth of over half a metre. This was a setback and our clearance action was obviously not a long term solution but at least it returned the area to a semblance of normality in the interim period.

In the long term we had to take action to transform it from an expanding reed bed to the pond we had created. To this end discussions with the landowners prompted them to generously offer help and specialist contractors were employed funded by them, to deftly eliminate the problem. This action was speedy and effective and serves to make our future maintenance task significantly easier.

 

Machines were deployed to eliminate the problem.

 

It is also increasing the return of many species of wildlife that are attracted by the open expanse of water in an extremely rich area of countryside.

 

The pond afterwards shown to be finally clear of the reed and willow re-growth problem.

 

RESTORATION OF POND LYE SNCI.

                                       

Restoration of the meadow at Pond Lye SNCI resumed in March when volunteers gathered to complete the clearance of blackthorn and bramble to re-establish the boundaries of the original meadow. They worked hard and over the weeks that followed achieved the result that we sought. The work required to dispose of the resulting huge piles of cuttings was completed in the early months of the year. The area was then left to flourish naturally during the summer months to allow wildlife to breed and flora to grow uninterrupted.

 

Volunteers finally clear the meadow back to its original boundaries.

 

At the end of the summer working parties once again returned to improve the quality of the cleared meadow.

 

The meadow cut began in the late summer.

 

This initially required cutting it, raking the cuttings into stacks and disposing of them in preparation for new growth the following year. This task will be undertaken annually and progressively improve its quality to allow the right conditions to return for some of the former distinctive flora species that were originally listed when it was designated an SNCI.

The cutting operation is a considerable one for our volunteers to complete. The meadow covers an area of approximately 6 acres and takes a long time and requires a lot of effort to cut. Many volunteers are required to undertake it. This year we were fortunately joined by a volunteer with a tractor and cutter who kindly assisted us. This helped us enormously and advanced our task significantly towards completion. Due to the rough terrain in many areas with ant hills, stumps etc, the tractor and cutter were unable to cover the whole meadow but completed a vast area. The remaining difficult areas are being tackled with brush cutters and scythes.

 

Welcome assistance is received from a volunteer with a tractor.

 

RESTORATION OF A NATURE RESERVE.                          

 

Work has begun in a small nature reserve in Hassocks. The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group erected bird and bat boxes in woodland at Talbot Field, Hassocks in 2009 and has been monitoring and cleaning them on their behalf every year since then. The reserve had progressively become very overgrown with brush and unwanted tree seedlings and this year the Parish Council who manage the site, asked the Group if they would be prepared to tackle the problem for them. Talbot Field is an extremely valuable natural location so agreement was willingly given.

Each year many birds but predominantly nuthatches, blue tits and great tits, occupy the bird boxes. The bat boxes are heavily used by pipistrelle and brown long-eared bats. Stinging nettles and brambles had advanced across the site both from within the woodland and around the boundaries. White poplar seedlings from adjacent plantings had spread randomly across vast areas of the open meadow via their wind born seeds.

 

Bramble and brush of all descriptions spreads randomly.

 

The meadow also was heavily impregnated with tree seedlings of all kinds from squirrel planting and other natural spread. To retain the diverse character of this valuable site it required remedial action to be taken. Volunteers are steadily tackling the task and significant improvement has already been made.

 

Group volunteers quickly begin to address the problems.

 

The woodland as it appeared later after clearance work had been undertaken by group volunteers.

 

BREEDING BARN OWL SUCCESS.

 

This year has proved a resounding success for our barn owl conservation area with more young found in our boxes than ever before. Each summer when the time is right, our authorised team visit all boxes to establish which ones contain young and then revisit all of these later to ring and record the occupants. This year we have recorded 45 barn owl chicks and 7 kestrel chicks on these visits. We also found a large number of adult birds either within the boxes or roosting in nearby ones providing food for their offspring.

 

A young barn owl being ringed and recorded prior to being gently returned to the nesting box.

  

Although breeding success is dependent on many factors including weather and the availability of prey, our project has provided a large number of boxes over 14 rural settlements in areas that have a surrounding habitat suitable to sustain them. This has provided a sanctuary which gives them shelter, food and breeding opportunities. Last winter our maintenance check found 22 adult barn owls roosting in them.

 

Two of the many young barn owls found in our boxes this year.

 

Three larger youngsters residing in another box.

 

The boxes have become a lifeline which has helped to restore the previously dwindling population as natural sheltering opportunities have become increasingly scarce. The presence of kestrel young in some of the boxes is a welcome addition as these birds of prey are also experiencing the same survival difficulties.

This success offsets the months of hard work undertaken by the team each year to clean and maintain the boxes, perform initial breeding checks and finally return to weigh, ring, measure, sex and record the emerging young population. It is a volunteer task which is reaping encouraging rewards and we are grateful to all team members who give their time so generously towards assisting the survival of this species.

                               

DORMICE CONSERVATION PROJECT CONTINUES.              

 

Following the discovery of a dormouse presence in local woodlands as a result of an initial investigation using dormouse tubes, permanent wooden boxes have been fitted. This investigation has been going on for many years to establish how many of our local woodlands still retain a dormouse population as the species is in serious decline. They mostly now only exist in the south-east of England. Once the presence was known, grant funding was obtained and boxes purchased. These were painted with wildlife friendly paint to extend their life as they are very expensive to replace. They are labelled with the group name and a box number.

 

A dormouse being recorded.

                                                                                                  

A volunteer working party then mounted them in two woodland locations. They will be checked monthly each year from April until November and the findings recorded. It is hoped that a number of woodlands will be found to have a population remaining and then measures to assist their survival can be implemented in these locations. Dormouse investigation tubes have also been erected in some other local woodlands. These are also checked monthly between April and November. Progressively all local woodlands will be checked.

 

Dormouse boxes were mounted in woodlands by volunteers.

 

Each tube is carefully mounted to maximise opportunities for occupation.

 

Investigation tubes have since been mounted in some additional local woodlands. The locations chosen were carefully selected and mapped for easy identification on return visits when the undergrowth will be much thicker. One of these recent woodlands revealed some promising signs of a dormouse presence although not visually confirmed to date. This will be followed up with the erection of permanent boxes as these encourage dormouse use more readily than tubes. We are hopeful that future checks will produce some positive results as in other locations previously.

 

BAT CONSERVATION.      

 

Each year we inspect all of the bat boxes that we have erected around the local countryside to provide roosting habitat for this threatened species of wildlife. This year we found a lot of residents in the scores of boxes mounted in many woodlands, proving that our effort is contributing to their well-being. The summer has been a good one for warm weather and insects and the bats have capitalised on this.

 

A gathering of Soprano Pipistrelles found in one of the boxes.

 

Breeding takes place earlier in the summer and when we inspect the boxes later in the season, the young are mostly faring for themselves. Bats are sociable creatures and it is not uncommon to find groups clustered in the boxes, although the number found varies generally from one to ten. Not all boxes have residents in as they tend to move around a lot to obtain the best current locations for weather and warmth. Even when empty, there is a lot of evidence of use from the droppings left, so we can determine whether a box has been occupied recently.

 

A hibernation box is examined for occupancy and cleaned.

 

The task requires a dedicated working party of volunteers to manhandle the sections of ladders needed to get up to examine the boxes and a licenced person to undertake the activity. This year we were fortunate with good weather whilst undertaking the task, so it was possible to achieve up to three excursions to different woodlands each week. Wet or windy weather makes the activity hazardous as the boxes are mounted high in the trees.

 

The success of the task is dependent on willing volunteers.

 

This year we found a predominance of Common and Soprano Pipistrelle bats unlike last year when Brown Long-eared bats were more in evidence. Each bat presence is recorded and the results submitted to a national database which continuously monitors population numbers.

 

2018 AUGUST TALK.                                                        

                                        

Fred Hageneder delivered an excellent talk entitled ‘Wonders of Yew’ at the public talk hosted by The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group on 23rd August. It was to an audience of 200 people and was very well received. The evening was further enhanced by his melodic harp music delivered in the interval. Overall the event was a huge success and resulted in many accolades from attendees afterwards. The group tries to get well known speakers each year to encourage new supporters to join to keep in touch with their achievements and activities. This year was very successful and boosted group membership considerably.

 

Chairman Michael Nailard (left) pictured with the renowned author and yew expert Fred Hageneder (right) at the beginning of the evening.

 

FROG SURVIVAL MEASURES TAKEN.     

          

In the early months of the year the arrival of warmer weather prompted breeding activities amongst our local population of common frogs. This caused them to travel to find suitable mates to source the next generation of the species. This is a natural event and occurs annually.

This year however, the migration of frogs in one area of our countryside caused much concern for their welfare. In High Hatch Lane in Hurstpierpoint, the movement of frogs between 3 local ponds resulted in many crossing the lane to reach a pond on the other side. In doing so hundreds were squashed by passing vehicles, leaving a carpet of mutilated bodies on the road surface. One of our supporters spotted the carnage being inflicted on their population and contacted the group urgently to seek a remedy to help their plight.

The location was visited and temporary road signs were hastily constructed and mounted on the lane verges so that they would be seen by passing vehicles to warn motorists of the frog presence and slow down. The demise of those already killed couldn’t be altered but it helped those crossing later. They will be re-mounted next year.

 

           Warning signs were erected.

 

  SUPPORTER MESSAGE.

     

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  

We charge no membership fee and welcome all to register for inclusion to receive news updates.

Meadow Care Applied

With a queue of seasonal tasks still remaining after the delay caused by the first coronavirus national lockdown, we quickly moved on to tackle the annual meadow cut required at Pond Lye Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI). An advance contingent of volunteers had attended to cut the knee length grass that was covering the car park area and begin the annual meadow cut. This was undertaken in parallel with work being undertaken at other sites.

This work is necessary to maintain the rich quality of the meadow which is in evidence throughout the summer. When the blooms come to the end of their flowering season we return to provide the care needed to maintain it.

 

Summer blooms flourishing in the meadow.

 

Our first task was to clear the car park of the long grass that had grown unimpeded during the coronavirus lockdown to enable access for volunteer vehicles.

 

The car park was cleared in readiness.

 

We are very grateful to our regular volunteer scythe operator, who attended site at 6.00am every morning before beginning work elsewhere. This early start also allowed him to avoid the heat of the late summer days. He started on the cutting of the area of the meadow which was punctuated with anthills and which always proves so difficult to tackle by any other means.

 

Our skilful scythe operator tackling the difficult areas of the meadow.

  

He succeeded brilliantly and by the time others began working at the site a few weeks later, had scythed the whole of this section giving us a head start with the cutting of the remaining area.

For the remaining cut we were equally fortunate to obtain the help of one of our long-standing helpers who uses his tractor and cutter to cut the rest of the meadow for us.

 

Our tractor volunteer then began the task that has previously taken months to complete by other means.

 

For this he attended several days at the end of August and completed all the areas that were accessible with his tractor.

 

He methodically mowed the huge meadow to keep it in prime condition for distinctive flora to flourish.

 

His effort saves us months of attempting to cut the meadow with brush cutters and scythes alone and we are extremely grateful to him for this help.

 

When completed the meadow looked impressive…

 

…in all the areas he was able to access.

 

Once this was done, volunteers with brush cutters moved in to cut the meadow perimeters and areas too uneven for the tractor to cover.

 

The brush cutter operators were soon tackling the remaining difficult areas.

 

Armed with their equipment….

 

….the cutting task was eventually completed.

 

Then it was time for others to move in with rakes to gather up and dispose of all the meadow cuttings. This final stage can take many weeks with us recruiting as many of our volunteers as possible to complete the task before any meadow regrowth occurs to make the task difficult.

 

The amount of meadow cuttings to be cleared were considerable….

 

….and for this many hard-working volunteers began the raking task.

 

Armed with rakes, hay forks and a lot of enthusiasm….

 

….they methodically worked in teams….

 

….and despite the difficulty of the task….

 

….still found the energy to have fun.

 

Working together they raked in lines….

 

….and then gathered the hay into heaps….

 

….which were then burnt….

 

….on previous bonfire sites to minimise the damage to the meadow area.

 

With so much energy being expended, breaks to revitalise the volunteers were important….

 

….as were pauses to ease aching muscles.

 

Raking for long periods is very hard work….

 

….as is the transporting of the cuttings to the allocated bonfire sites.

 

This task can take months to complete….

 

….and relies on the support and regular attendance of many people.

 

We are a volunteer group….

 

….who are committed to conserving countryside and wildlife….

  

….but can only achieve this….

 

….through the dedication of  such people….

 

….who are prepared to turn up….

 

….week after week to ensure our goals are achieved.

 

Our gratitude to them for this is considerable.

 

This work stage can become very protracted as it often coincides with the advent of the autumn rainy season which forces many of the weekly volunteer days to be cancelled when dry weather forecasts suddenly deteriorate. This year proved no exception.

We also had the introduction of the second period of coronavirus lockdown which prevented any working parties assembling to complete it. This has once again put our countryside and wildlife work schedule into delay despite the hard work our volunteers with rakes and cutters had put in to remedy and for which we are very grateful.

 

Many arrive by car as the meadow is located far into the countryside but many others regularly arrive by bicycle to join in the work effort.

 

The current situation is that a small amount of work to complete the task is still required now that the lockdown period has expired before we move on to the next conservation activity. This report highlights the effort that has been expended to date so that the meadow can once again flourish next year.

 

Hopefully next year will provide the same rich tapestry of  flora to justify the effort spent on nurturing the meadow condition. With wildflower meadows generally in severe decline, the remaining ones require as much help as possible to survive and to sustain the wildlife populations that flourish in them.

A Bad Year for Humans but a Great One for Bats.

This year has been exceptionally difficult to manage all our countryside and wildlife projects with COVID-19 affecting all of our lives and normal practices. None more so than our bat conservation work throughout our local countryside.

 

 

One of the scores of bat boxes installed in our local woodlands.

 

In the months prior to the coronavirus ‘lock-down’ additional bat boxes had been purchased to install in another woodland in Hassocks. The well-insulated woodcrete boxes had arrived on a huge pallet delivered by lorry. All were prepared and numbered with labels ready for installation when we were suddenly halted by the national ‘lock-down’. They therefore remained exactly where they had been delivered for the whole summer, for when the ‘lockdown’ restrictions eased sufficiently for our group to resume activities, so many other tasks had been delayed and required our more urgent attention.

Work on these delayed projects were dealt with first but because of the tremendously high work effort that was necessary to deal with them, which often required 7 day working on a number of simultaneously occurring projects, we had to progress them on a basis of urgency. When all this hard work eventually permitted us to catch-up again we once again turned our attention to our local bat population.

 

 

Our bat populations are endangered and require our help to survive. We are committed to this objective. This is one of the many we found in boxes this year.

 

We began our initial bat inspections at the latter end of August in parallel with other projects. They were continued throughout September and were finally completed at the beginning of October.

The woodland locations where our bat boxes are installed are always carefully selected for suitability to maximise benefit to the local bat populations. These locations are spread throughout our local countryside and require a lot of volunteer effort to travel to and undertake.

 

 

A woodland view from one of our bat boxes high in a tree.

 

The timing and duration of these checks are usually difficult to fit into the ‘ideal window’ at the end of the summer when temperatures are still warm enough to sustain the insect populations which provide the food the bats depend upon. This is especially so when the autumn weather becomes wet and the number of suitable days within this period are lessened.

 

 

To obtain the best bat occupancy results checking has to be undertaken in suitable weather conditions. We were fortunate this year and this resulted in many like this one being found.

 

Due to the effort required and the time each woodland installation takes to check, only a single location can be completed on any one day. Often the formation of the teams of 3 to 5 people led by a licenced person required to undertake these are difficult, as they are restricted by the volunteers’ availability to attend several project days a week.

 

 

Teams of volunteers perform these vital checks.

 

The volunteers are essential to assist with the transportation of the sturdy multi-section ladders and equipment required over often very long distances. This year all the volunteers worked exceptionally hard in an effort to meet these demands, whilst often attending on other days in the same week to meet the requirements of our other conservation projects. This allowed the checks to be completed within the allotted timescale. We were undoubtedly helped by the initial warm, dry late summer days in achieving this.

 

 

Each box in the local countryside has to be visited and inspected.

  

The average time taken for each woodland to be checked ranged between 3 and 7 hours depending on the number of boxes installed. The checks on each box included recording all resident bats, cleaning out any old birds nests, clearing out hornets/wasp cones, old droppings, spiders webs, earwigs, slugs or any other insects occupying them to enable future occupation by bats. All the boxes and fixings are also checked for security or damage.

 

 

Hornet’s cones are often found in boxes.

 

With each box erected at a lofty height in the woodland tree canopy to provide maximum suitability for bats, a multi-section ladder is required. This has to be a heavy duty one to ensure safe working at the high heights required. Normally the erection of the 3 ladder sections are shared by members of the team to manoeuvre around tree branches, trunk protrusions and very awkward trunk configurations.

This year with all volunteers observing the Government’s social distancing rules, all tasks had to be performed with this in mind . This meant individuals travelling separately to each location and work-spacing apart. This made the ladder erection the sole task of a single person which obviously took much longer and was more taxing. Normally 2 or 3 individuals stand together at the foot of the ladder with one person holding the ladder away from the trunk while another person extends it upwards.

 

In previous years a ladder was extended with another person holding it away from the tree and any obstructions. 

 

 

To meet this year’s coronavirus requirements ladder erection was left to one person in each working party.

 

 

The heavy sections first had to be placed together and assembled….

 

 

…then each section was raised as far as possible against the tree.

 

 

Each section had to be manoeuvred over the trunk obstructions and around branches.

 

 

When one section had been extended as far as possible the next one had to be raised as far as arms could stretch…

 

 

…while still trying to ensure the ladder didn’t slide off the tree whilst being raised and tilted around obstructing branches. Watching both ends of the ladder simultaneously proved very difficult and guidance had to be sought from watching volunteers.

 

 

With this activity at each tree requiring so much effort it was a relief to eventually climb up to the box.

 

The whole activity is risk assessed and safety equipment is offered to all attendees in accordance with their individual roles. Intelligent assessment, extreme care and common sense is applied in all situations and it works well.

 

 

A volunteer recorded results as each box was visited…

 

 

…and performed the vital safety role of standing on the bottom of the ladder while the check was carried out.

 

 

Our local woodlands contain scores of our bat boxes all requiring annual occupancy checks, cleaning and any maintenance required.

 

One large tree housing a box in one of the woodlands was found to have blown down but fortunately the box had not smashed. It was prised from under the fallen trunk and released from its fixing. A quick survey of the wood found another suitable tree with satisfactory bat access and it was re-mounted.

Our findings in terms of bats occupation were extremely good this year which made all the concentrated effort worthwhile. Further pictures illustrating the task this year are shown below together with some of the results achieved:-

 

 

Volunteers carrying ladder sections between trees…

 

 

…and clearing the ground of  troublesome bramble growth that prevented the ladder being placed into position.

 

 

For coronavirus safety reasons one person performed the ladder erection…

 

 

…with the other volunteers in close attendance to meet any need that arises.

 

 

Each box was carefully opened…

 

 

…while the checker was assisted as far as possible by other members of the team.

 

 

Once the box door was removed…

 

 

…the interior was examined for residents.

 

 

The findings included a cluster of common pipistrelle bats discovered roosting in this box…

 

 

…with this one housing a soprano pipistrelle.

 

 

This was one of a number of common pipistrelle bats clustered in a further box…

 

 

…with another box containing a lively individual that immediately moved towards the open door.

 

 

All bats found, as this one, have care applied and if necessary are moved away when the door is replaced to ensure that there is no chance of them getting a limb trapped in it.

 

 

Some boxes were found to house lone bats…

 

 

…while others contained larger groups.

 

 

This box in a northern woodland contained a Natterer’s Bat. The Natterer’s bat is a medium-sized bat which feeds on midges, moths and other flying insects that they find in the dark by using echolocation. They often  forage on the spiders and beetles in the foliage of trees growing in the semi-natural broad-leaved woodland and also on insects along tree-lined rivers and ponds. They additionally use grassland habitats where they can sometimes be seen flying very low over the ground. Their flight is relatively slow.

 

 

The woodland where this bat was found has historically been favoured by several different species of bats as it skirts a large expanse of water which encourages a high insect presence for them to feed on. Although not rare, Natterer’s bats are less common than many others and their habitats in the UK merit protection. The additional presence of this species of bat in our boxes is some reward for the extremely hard work that we expend each year to support our local bat populations.

 

 

Yet another gathering of common pipistrelles utilising one of the roosts we have provided for them.

 

These are sample pictures of the volunteer effort required this year and some of the bats found in a very encouraging season. It has been the best year for box occupancy since 2009 when they were first erected to Bat Conservation Trust guidelines. The measures we have in place are assisting the bats to survive and flourish in a world that has pushed them into becoming endangered species. It is also a reward for all the hard work that we expend on them.

At the end of our inspections in early October we then turned our attention to the erection of the bat boxes we had purchased at the beginning of the year for a new woodland location. We are always trying to increase our support for endangered species and these would obviously boost the number and coverage of boxes we had already provided around our local countryside.

We assembled a team of 3 volunteers who worked together to enable the task to be completed within 5 hours, as the chosen day was the only dry one in a wet week. To achieve this they worked non-stop without any break for food. We are obviously very grateful to them all for their dedication to achieve the work as we are with all the excellent volunteers who have formed teams to help with bat box inspections this year and previous years.

 

 

The equipment and boxes were carried into the new wood where the first pre-selected tree was situated.

 

 

The ladder was raised to the required height and the installation began.

 

 

This woodland contained ideal habitat conditions and access routes from the outside and within.

 

 

The heavy boxes were carried with care up the ladder with the tools required to mount them.

 

 

Each ladder site was pre-cleared of brush vegetation by the volunteers to allow the ladder to be manoeuvred into position and enable a safe footing to be established.

 

 

In addition to the care was that was taken to ensure a firm footing for the ladder, one of the hard-hatted volunteers stood on the bottom rung while the box was fixed and handed up any additional items required.

 

 

At the lofty height chosen for the box and whilst juggling the heavy tools required to fix it using both hands, these safety precautions were essential.

 

 

When completed the ladder was removed leaving the box available for future bat occupation.

 

 

These precautions were followed for every selected location…

 

 

…regardless of the ground incline or wet or dry soil conditions.

 

 

Clearance below each box location was required…

 

 

…as was the removal of impeding foliage above to allow clear flight paths to and from the boxes.

 

 

A lot of attention was given to provide perfect conditions for box occupation to maximise the survival prospects of our endangered local bat populations.

 

 

The ground here was undulating, providing a ‘hill and valley’ woodland landscape. The volunteers performed magnificently in carrying ladder sections with one person on each end, up and down the slippery slopes and succeeded in transporting the equipment required to each of the selected trees without any mishap. Each demonstrated the personal interest and enthusiasm required to achieve this wildlife conservation initiative which is vital to bat survival in an increasingly hostile world.

Our group is reliant on its supporters and volunteers to continue our conservation success and we currently have some great people supporting our work in whatever way they can, so we thank them all. Any other people interested in helping us have only to contact us by using the link on this website. Additional help is always welcome.