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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org or via the group Website: www.thewoodlandfloraandfaunagroup.co.uk
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