Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Winter work at Standlake Common

The Thursday volunteer group has been hard at it at Standlake Common Nature Reserve this winter and got a lot done thanks to the fairly dry weather. We have only missed one week due to flooding.

We have carried on coppicing small bays in the shelter belt which has created a huge amount of firewood and brash some of which has been stashed for habitat piles and to act as a mulch round the stumps of the coppiced trees and some has been burnt.

It is great to see the new buds developing this year as at this time in the last two seasons everything has been under flood water. Regrowth was a bit limited over the last couple of years as the cut stools were covered in water for three months. The hazel and willow has regrown fairly well but the hawthorn has been very slow to get going again and some of the stumps have rotted completely. Hopefully, this year will see some vigorous new growth established.

 Meanwhile Jim and Nigel have been working on the other side of the lake laying the next section of hedge, trying out the southern style this time. This leaves a bushier finish to the hedge which should be good for nesting birds this summer and the style of binding is rather less strenuous.

Despite creating a bit of disturbance with our work the birds don't seem to mind us too much and there have been great views this winter with hundreds of wigeon, teal and lapwing on the grassy shoreline and tufted duck and coot in great numbers on the lake. Goldeneye and goosander have been regular visitors this year but no sign of a bittern since the one sighting in the autumn of 2014. 

A tale of two ponds and two mounds

Rushy Common Nature Reserve is maturing into a fascinating world with a great array of habitats and many species of animals and plants in temporary or full time residence or just turning up from time to time.  Managing the growth of plants and trees is a constant process and this winter with Pascale's (Freshwater Habitats Trust) advice we carried out some clearance work on the two ponds on the far side of the reserve that were becoming over grown with willow Salix spp and reed mace Typha latifolia. Digger Dave is very familiar with this sort of clearance work. He can select out short sections so that there is some change but not major disturbance unless that is what is required, as in this clearance of the edge of one pond. On the other pond he just took out five metre sections leaving the marginal plants for shelter for toads and invertebrates.

Pond before

Pond after: this looks quite severe but the vegetation will soon grow up again and the shallows created will be even better for invertebrates, amphibians and wading birds. Dave also cleared some sections of the ditch especially where brambles were starting to completely cover the water, leaving other sections with the plants in place for dragonflies and damselflies etc in the summer.

Unlike some other gravel pits and nature reserves there are areas of the site that are very high in nutrients causing rapid plant growth and a tendency for nettles to dominate. For several years we have been trying to batter the nettles into submission but this year we are trying a different approach on one of two  mounds of topsoil. One will continue to be mown and sprayed with herbicide but the other has been planted up with berry bearing viburnum shrubs. If successful this will provide a good area for small birds nesting in spring and with berries that will feed birds and small mammals in winter. We might then plant the other mound up in future years. There will still be plenty of areas of nettle for peacock and other butterflies to feed and lay their eggs.

Viburnum planting in the foreground, nettle mound in the background

Great to see coltsfoot  Tussilago farfara about to burst open from a rough and stony patch over a bridge.

Lunching with the Cetti's at the reedbed

The volunteer group have been busy cutting bays into the reedbed to promote regrowth and have a huge stack of reeds to show for it. Sadly they are no use for general thatching and Hill End are not able to take any this year for thatching their iron age style round houses so it all had to be burnt.


Despite us making quite a disturbance one morning we were entertained by a Cetti's warbler  as we sat and ate our lunch. True to form it lurked in the reeds without showing itself but gave us several rounds of its explosive and distinctive call.

Even though everyone is getting really fit with all this practical work we were very glad to have the help of students from Abindgon and Witney College on the final day. They set to with great enthusiasm raking up the reed and even having a go on the scythes. Some of them showed a promising technique but for one it was all too much and he turned into a hamster. Needless to say they all loved the bonfire.

About 350 sq metres of the reedbed were cleared this year and at this rate we should get round the rest of it over the next two years, then start again at the beginning making a seven year cycle. It will be easier next time round as we won't be having to remove the wire and posts of the enclosures that the original reed seedlings were planted into to stop the geese from eating them all. 
The reed buntings are busy setting out their territories and soon the reed and sedge warblers will be joining them for the summer. Thanks to the winter feeding in the feeders by the bird hide the numbers of reed bunting seem to be quite substantial.

Stanton Harcourt School pond

The aim was to turn a rather inaccessible pond into a more child friendly one that doesn't need a heavyweight metal frame to stop children falling in. It seemed a fairly simple plan to fill in the shallower end with gravel to create a bog garden and then there is only half the pond with deeper water to cover. Fortunately Rachel and Chris are made of tough stuff as they cleared some of the mud and leaves from the bottom  and then rigged up a 'wall' across the pond to contain the gravel and their hands and feet went numb from the cold. I had the cushy jobs, as usual, taking photos, collecting blocks from a nearby building site etc.

This well rounded frog decided to evacuate the pond once the gravel started piling in but it didn't have to go far to get some shelter and it went back into the pond before we left.
Rachel has been working hard for several weeks to open up the whole of the pond area, cutting back the hedge, removing a gate and a stile and generally clearing up so that the children can enjoy making much more use of this area.

Many thanks to Smith and Sons Bletchington for the free bag of gravel.

So we managed to reduce the area of deep water and just have to hope that we won't have put off the frogs, toads and newts that were found here last year. A few plants to start things off and the pond area is already starting to look much more welcoming.