News archive

June 2018

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Latest News from the RSPB's Weald reserves

Latest News from the RSPB's Weald reserves

The wildlife on the reserves is continuing to entertain and amaze staff, visitors and volunteers as we get into summer. The Wealden Team have been using every opportunity afforded to us (in between repairing fences, clearing paths and bashing bracken) to go out and enjoy the magnificence of the nature at our doorstep.

Bird babies are aplenty; families of nuthatches have been seen in the woodlands, stonechat chicks are bumbling about on the heathland, and it is almost impossible to ignore the chirping of great spotted woodpecker chicks from their tree cavity nests.

Butterfly sightings have been coming in as more species start to emerge. On the Wealden Reserves we have had our first reports of green hairstreaks, silver-washed fritillaries, white admirals and painted ladies. Hordes of dingy skippers, and a fair few grizzled skippers have also been seen at the meadows in Tudeley Woods.

Broadwater Warren 
A variety of orchids have been popping up on the reserve, especially around the Western Heath. We have seen twayblade, heath spotted orichids, common spotted orchids, pyramidal orchids and another unexpected bee orchid. Bee orchids aren't usually found off of chalky soils, and their appearance over the last three years is slightly mysterious. It's possible the speck of dust sized seeds made their way on the wheels of contractor vehicles, or the hooves of our Exmoor ponies which spend their winters on the South Downs. Volunteers and staff keep the wildflower rich patches on the heath maintained through annually cutting and removing vegetation. This helps keep the areas open, and removes nutrients from the soil resulting in less competition from fast growing species. With the addition of light grazing from the Exmoor ponies, these wildflower patches are essentially managed as mini meadows.

The heathland bird surveys are nearing completion with promising results for the reserve. Good numbers of woodlark, tree pipit, stonechat and yellowhammer have been recorded (amongst other species). Woodlark are continuing to colonise new areas of heathland as the vegetation become suitable following restoration work. The species prefers shorter vegetation for foraging and nesting, so the next challenge will be judging where we need to carry out appropriate management to prevent areas of heathland becoming too mature for them. For the moment their numbers still seem to be increasing. A new species for the reserve was also picked up on the surveys. A very confused sedge warbler was out singing on the heath. This is a species you should only really see in wetland habitats, but we are happy to add another bird to our ever growing list.

Tudeley Woods

Nightjar surveys have been a bit of a mixed bag this year. The first survey provided excellent displays of wing clapping males, females flying overhead, and 'churring' from 6 different locations that indicated a minimum 3 pairs (based on timings). The second slightly less exciting survey ended up with nothing at all being seen or heard. A third visit will be required to get the full picture on these special nocturnal birds. Considering two years ago there were no nightjars recorded at all on the heathland areas of the reserve, the possibility of three pairs was very encouraging, especially as they were displaying in the areas volunteers had been managing over the last two winters. Night time surveys at Tudeley (and Broadwater Warren) also give us a chance to spot wildlife we don't get to see in our day time wanderings. This year we have recorded good numbers of woodcock, glow worms, tawny owls, and various bat species.

Four years as an RSPB Assistant Warden by Nick Feledziak

On the 2nd of July, four years exactly after starting my job as an Assistant Warden here in the Weald, I will begin the next chapter of my life as a Woodland Reserves Officer with Warwickshire Wildlife Trust. The past four years with the RSPB have been the most enjoyable and rewarding of my life, and it will be sad to leave behind the reserves I have become so intimately involved with and passionate and the friendly colleagues I have come to know so well. As I approach my last day in the office, I have looked back at my most memorable moments with the RSPB.

I started in 2014, right in the middle of the breeding season, and I was quickly brought up to speed regarding the controversial issue of dog walking around ground nesting birds by the then assistant warden, Chloe. I was put straight on a "dealing with confrontation" course on the back of an incident involving a very aggressive dog walker shouting and swearing at Chloe and challenging her to arrest him. At this point I did start to wonder what I had got myself into, however I was quickly reassured in our mission when I went out to the reserve on my own one evening and heard my first ever nightjar out on the heathland. It was a very special moment for me that I will always remember, and that winter I was more than happy to get stuck into the heathland restoration work. Since starting I have seen areas of Broadwater change from a monoculture crop of pine to beautiful heathland with breeding woodlark and nightjar. I am also happy to say this change has helped with visitor attitudes towards us which have relaxed a little since 2014!

The diversity of tasks I could get involved in at work never ceased to amaze me. Whilst I did sometimes stop to ask what the heck I was doing (such as when learning how to tickle field crickets, or cutting down and rehanging oak branches for the special moth that needs withered leaves), the different habitats and jobs that needed doing kept things very interesting. In 2015 I was given my first opportunity to manage my own project. Brakeybank meadow had decreased remarkably in size due to scrub encroachment, and my challenge was to remove 1.3 hectares of scrub and turn it back to meadow. This was a daunting task, and at times I thought I was actually getting further away from anything resembling a wildflower meadow (see picture). However, thanks to the support I got from experienced and knowledgeable RSPB staff and volunteers, the restored meadow now contains at least 60 species of flowering plants, and the restored pond is home to masses of dragonflies and other creatures.

Ultimately, the reason I loved this work so much was for the wildlife I helped to conserve. My interest in bees quickly developed in this role (in part thanks to the local museum curator being a bee expert who was happy to share his knowledge), and I was very excited to be given the opportunity to go out and survey bees on the reserves. I found it amazing that someone actually wanted to pay me to go on nice walks and look at wildlife (bee surveys can only be done in sunny weather, by the way). In 2017 I found my first ever Osmia pilicornis, (or fringe-horned mason bee). It is a local rarity that is hanging on in a handful of coppice woodlands where constant management is required to provide flushes of its food plant (bugle), and it was found in an area I had personally coppiced two years previous. Whilst it was another great moment for me to hold in my hand a nationally notable bee that I gave a home to, it reminded me that a continued effort is needed to reverse the recent wildlife declines we have seen. My mission to manage land for nature and connect new people with it will continue at Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, for as I have been told on one or two occasions, "we are one team for nature"...

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Cuckoo perched in tree

Cuckoos heading home

News from the BTO cuckoo tracking scheme shows that a number of cuckoos are already heading back across the Channel, though one was heard today at Old Lodge Nature Reserve in the Ashdown Forest.

BTO has caught and tagged ten more cuckoos and they are already on the move. Knepp and Lambert, caught on the Knepp Estate in Sussex, have both crossed the English Channel and are now in France. Bowie, aptly named by Chris Packham, and Cameron, both from the New Forest, and Thomas from Thetford Forest have also made it to France. There are fourteen tagged birds altogether and six of them are now in France. Thomas has flown 850km (528 miles) in two days.

The 2018 cuckoos were all caught at breeding grounds in the south and Midlands of England and the BTO hopes they will bring better understanding about why the cuckoo population in these parts of the UK is faring so badly.

Sponsors are needed for all the new birds so you are invited to visit the website to find out more.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Local wildlife under threat

Over a number of years we've managed to stop housing development on the most important home for nightingales in the UK - Lodge Hill. But its nightingales are now under grave threat yet again. The nightingale is one of our most severely threatened birds - its population has declined by more than 90% in the last 50 years. Fewer than 5,500 pairs now remain across the whole country.

The range of nightingales has also contracted dramatically, so they are now found only in the south and east of England. Lodge Hill in Medway, Kent, is their best remaining site, critical for their survival, and so special that it is protected for the nation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

If this development were given the go ahead it would mean the loss of most of the nightingales and other wildlife that live there and would set a very worrying precedent for all our other protected sites.

Thousands of people helped the RSPB get the original planning application "called-in" by government and, thanks to your efforts, the application was dropped. Thousands of people then called on Medway Council to revise its plans. It has made some changes, but not gone anywhere near far enough.

The Council's new public consultation runs from 16 March to 25 June 2018. We need your voices to be heard yet again; we need to keep up the pressure. We now have until 25 June 2018 to make our voices heard in Medway Council's new consultation - there's a suggested email to their local plan consultation on the link.

More locally, you may have read in the Courier of a proposal to develop housing adjacent to Haysden Country Park. The plan is to build 40 houses on the open fields adjacent to Haysden C.P. by 2022/23, and then a further 80 every year until 2028/29, when 40 more are expected to reach the 480 total. Because of the position of the proposed development there are concerns about the impact of the plan on wildlife. There will be a public consultation in October, when presumably more details will be published and there will be an opportunity to comment.

There is also a proposal to develop Borough Green into a Garden City, again building on open fields and having a huge impact on wildlife. This development, which was discussed at a planning meeting at Tonbridge Borough Council on 5th June, would see 1,720 homes built by 2031 - the date of the next Local Plan, with a further 1,280 homes to be constructed later on. Again, there will be public consultation in the autumn.

It helps if you can add your voice, so please take action if you feel able to.