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Thursday, 16 January 2020

January Indoor Meeting. Otmoor - A talk by David Wilding

January Indoor Meeting. Otmoor - A talk by David Wilding

A large audience turned out for the first indoor meeting of 2020. David Wilding, RSPB site manager at Otmoor, visited us to present his talk Otmoor nature reserve: a wetland rediscovered.

A show of hands revealed nearly everyone had visited Otmoor at some time so we were already familiar with the descriptions of the layout of the reserve. David commenced with a history of Otmoor from its early days as common grazing land and the draining of the land in the 1830's through the war years when it was used as land for bombing practice. In the 1960's and 70's the land was turned over to farming with large fields given to wheat growing.

In 1997 the RSPB took over the lease of the land and so began a period of managing the land for the benefit of wildlife, a process that continues to this day. The scale of the project and the change achieved by mainly volunteers is staggering. Water was reintroduced to create a varied wetland habitat of ponds and streams. A large reedbed was planted by hand using 150,000 plants and taking over 7 years to plant. Miles of existing hedgerow has been coppiced to create the right height and density for the rare hairstreak butterflies and migrant warblers to breed.

This intensive effort has paid dividends and the wildlife is flourishing. Redshank, Snipe and Lapwing are doing well and Curlew are breeding albeit in small numbers. Raptors are also present in good numbers. The Marsh Harrier is breeding here, the first time in 200 years for the county. Peregrine, Merlin and Hen Harrier have also been seen. Bittern are breeding and the Common Crane has attempted to breed. It is hoped the Cranes will eventually succeed in raising young as the breeding pair matures and predators are discouraged from raiding the nest.

The heavy rainfall this winter has been good for the water level and this has resulted in large numbers of visiting wildfowl on the pools. Large flocks of Golden Plover and Starlings with their fascinating murmuration has boosted visitor numbers. The grasslands support good numbers of hares which can be seen on the banks as the water level rises and the clean water supports a small number of Otters.

The RSPB has recently leased an additional 1400 acres of land from the MOD which is ancient uncultivated grassland, ideal for wild flowers and the breeding Curlew.

David is a passionate speaker and delivered an inspiring story of conservation and habitat management. When we next visit we can reflect on the huge amount of effort to create the reserve and the ongoing dedicated effort to preserve the reserve for everyone.

Next month's meeting is on Thursday 13th February when Des Sussex will visit us to talk about the Thames Basin Heathlands. Des is a local expert on heathland habitat and we are fortunate to have several good examples in our area. This will be a good opportunity to hear about the status of our heathlands and the resident wildlife.

The meeting starts at 8pm at the Finchampstead Memorial Hall. Admission £3 members and £4 non-members.

Steve Ormerod