2016 – The Best Bits

The year started with upsetting news – our foxes had mange…

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A very distressing discovery.

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Mange is caused by parasitic mites that dig into the skin and cause intense itching and can lead to a horrible death from secondary infections. We contacted fox welfare charities and, as a result of information gained, put out jam sandwiches laced with medicine every day for several weeks and were delighted when they started to recover:

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Fur growing back

This gave us an immensely warm feeling that we were doing some good. Now, as the year draws to a close, the foxes are looking fantastically healthy again.

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We also had to intervene into the lives of the foxes in another way this year when we rescued a baby fox who managed to get his little head stuck through the fence:

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We managed to cut him free and hope that this story had a lovely happy ending:

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Released.

Foxes continue to have a big presence in the life of the meadows. There are now three trap cameras rigged up taking videos of the comings and goings along the cliff paths and we are getting to recognise individual foxes and learn much more of their way of life – looking forward to pursuing this more next year.

We put down 10 reptile sampling squares which have been extremely successful at encouraging lizards to bask underneath them. This one was found that had two tails which was interesting and apparently not that unusual:

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Two tailed lizard

Towards Autumn, Slow Worms  also started to be found under them as well of which this was the largest:

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I trapped some fantastic moths over the course of the summer including this Sussex Emerald:

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A Sussex Emerald

This is a very worn-out looking moth but it is also a very rare, red listed one and I was delighted to have found it. It is no longer found in Sussex – it only breeds in two little colonies in this country, both of which are in Kent. In fact, one of which is on the shingle beach just below the meadows so I had been hoping that I would get one some day. Anyway, having photographed it I sent it safely on its way with no harm done from its few hours spent in my trap.

We also started teaching ourselves about butterflies this year and noticing which ones visit the meadows and on which plants they like to feed and lay eggs, which will affect how we manage the plant life here in the future. There is still much to learn but we now know much more than the nothing that we knew before. Here are some of the beauties that came visiting:

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Small Copper
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Small Skipper
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Marbled White

As far as bird life went this year, a few new species were recorded including the magnificent Tawny Owl who has visited on several occasions this year and is our second species of owl, having seen a Short Eared Owl hunting over the grass last year.

We also set up a Tree Sparrow project which is a very optimistic attempt to lure these rare birds to the meadows:

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Three Sparrow boxes now up on posts at the pond

The only place in Kent where there are Tree Sparrows currently is Dungeness but we have provided all the things it is said that they need: we have put up Sparrow nesting boxes, provided red millet in a feeder and established a pond with lots of insects and amphibians and now have fingers firmly crossed. Apparently these birds wander far and wide and so you never do know.

And I have not yet mentioned the badgers. We have one of the cameras trained on an entrance to their sett and have realised that there are two badgers whom we presume are a pair. We have got lots of lovely footage of them dragging fresh bedding into the sett backwards:

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and of their ordinary daily lives:

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Grooming each other.

Should there be any baby badgers emerging from the sett next April, this time we should capture the moment digitally.

A very important aspect of managing these meadows for wildlife is to ensure that they get cut each year and that the resulting hay is removed so that, over the years, the meadows will become more nutritionally poor which encourages the flowers over the bullying grasses.

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By July the meadows were looking sumptuous but we knew that they had to be cut however good they looked and we were delighted that a lovely cattle farmer on the Worth Marshes came and cut and baled the hay and took it off to be used on his farm for hay and bedding.

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A tractor dance

We are hoping that he found it a worthwhile experience and will prepared to come back again next year but time will tell. More finger crossing involved here.

Towards the end of the year a new pond was dug near the field shed:

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Nearing completion

We are still in the process of converting the nearby field shed into a hide and the idea is that we then develop this area into somewhere where lots happens so that we can sit in our hide and spectate. The shed doesn’t have electricity and we plan to solve this with solar energy which is an upcoming 2017 project to look forward to.

In the first week of the new pond’s life, we caught on camera three grey partridge investigating it which was very pleasing – another species that is in a lot of trouble.

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This Autumn we have also planted 150 mixed native trees in patches along the cliff line of both meadows. They will take many years – more years than we have –  to fully mature but we will enjoy them at whatever stage they are at and hope that a great diversity of insects and other animals will be using them as they grow.

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The new trees

We found a 200 year old print of our meadows which showed that there was a footpath along the cliff line before the land was enclosed as fields. This was all the encouragement we needed to buy a metal detector and we have been out twice with this so far. Already we have a healthy Finds Box with many pieces of metal that were clearly once bits of a fence or of agricultural machinery. But also we have found a medieval French Jeton – a token – that was presumably dropped by a French trader some 500 years ago and has been there ever since. This was a wonderful find and  is one that will encourage us to keep at it even if all future outings continue to just turn up bits of old fence and tractor.

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Apologies for muddy fingers – they have been grubbing about in all the holes we dug.

So it has been a really good year at Walmer Meadows with a few hiccups, many lessons learned and actually a lot of hard work but also some progress and much enjoyment and fascination. Looking forward to seeing what 2017 brings. Happy New Year.

Tree Planting

Plant a tree in ’73, plant some more in ’74 was a rhyme I remember chanting with my grandfather when I was a child and any trees planted back then would be fine specimens indeed by now.

Now, 45 years after the event, we have just planted 150 mixed native trees along the cliff line.

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The cliff line in the first meadow

There were no trees growing along the cliff line on the meadows and the trees you see are Hawthorns, Blackthorn and Elder growing on the cliff, heavily clad in ivy and most are probably nearing the end of their lives.

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The cliff line in the second meadow
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The trees arrive

The trees are bare rooted other than one Beech that we are going to plant up in the paddock.

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There is a lovely mixture of British native trees – Dogwood, Hazel, Beech, Yew, Oak, Guelder Rose and Wayfarer. There is also a non-native tree – Alder Buckthorn – which we are specifically planting for Brimstone Butterflies. These butterflies are totally specific to Alder Buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula) and will fly for miles and miles to try to find one to lay their eggs. We want to make life a little easier for them.

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Digging the holes
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Working out what to plant where
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Nearly finished – the empty holes with posts awaiting Whitebeam trees that haven’t arrived in the nursery yet.

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With this number of trees, we cannot hope to keep them watered properly in the first year until they establish themselves. And so they will just have to do as best as they can and we will hope for regular overnight rain. However, there are skirts that you can buy that go round each young tree on the ground to keep the grass at bay which will be competing for water and nutrients and might just give them an extra helping hand. We are going to investigate that option in the coming couple of weeks.

The chances are that we will not be around when these trees reach maturity but we will enjoy them as they grow and they will be a small legacy to the world that our children and grandchildren inhabit.

 

Its Medieval!

Having contacted the Portable Antiquities Scheme, I have discovered that the coin we found at the weekend is not a coin but rather is a French Jeton, a token that was used in Medieval times as part of complex calculation. Sort of like a bead on an abacus, I think.

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But yes, its Medieval! It has lain in the soil for 500 or 600 years since being dropped.

The next stage is to take it along to a surgery that the Portable Antiquities Scheme runs at various locations around Kent to have it more accurately dated and logged.

Its a very special item to have found and only on our second outing with the detector. Beginners luck or what.

Coin find

We are having a lot of native trees planted next week between the two ponds in the first meadow. Before work starts tomorrow, we took what is probably the last opportunity to run the metal detector over the area to be planted. As before, we found a lot of paraphernalia to do with agriculture and fencing – our finds box is growing with this stuff. However, and very excitingly, we also found a coin:

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Apologies for muddy fingers – they have been grubbing about in all the holes we dug.

And the other side of the coin is:

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So, three circles on one side and a cross with feet on the end of each spur on the other side. That is, no head of a monarch. Odd – could it be a token or something? It looks like to might be hammered rather than pressed but what do I know.

We have no knowledge of coins but we are in possession of this book which was supplied with the detector:

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Its a very thick book but I have now been through every page looking for this coin but cannot find it.

Not sure what our next step is, but its very intriguing. It was found right at the cliff edge, just where we have established there was a footpath running along the cliff for hundreds of years.

Should I ever find out more information about this coin, I will let you know.

A Surprise Winter Visitor

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A mild day today, but even so, it was a big surprise to find a slow worm under one of the reptile sampling squares this morning. What was I even doing looking under them at this time of year? I’ve only found worms, woodlice and the occasional vole nest for some weeks now.

Slow worms hibernate from October and I can only think that it cannot be good news that this little one is out and about in December. I have covered him back over and let him go about his business with fingers crossed for him and hope to see him again in the Spring.

Attack

The cliff exploration is continuing and we are putting cameras in various locations to try to identify the badger sett.

In fact, we think we have now found the main sett entrance and have a camera on it. Should there be baby badgers emerging in April, this year we will see them.

The camera is set on video only and WordPress doesn’t support videos and so I have done screen grabs from videos which are grainier than I would like.

We have been enjoying intimate glimpses of the badgers’ private life as they hang around at the entrance of the tunnel, scratching and grooming each other. As far as we can tell, there are only two of them:

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Badger at the sett entrance.

The cameras show that a local cat likes to hang out in this area and when we went to collect the cameras today, there was a sorry pile of soft little grey feathers. Cat kills by overfed pet moggies are so unnecessary and unfortunate and make me angry.

Was the victim the little robin who we have seen hopping about the area every day on film, or this thrush who just this very morning we videoed banging a snail against a stone just at the sett entrance?

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A thrush banging a snail against a stone at the entrance to the badger sett.

When we got the cameras back and looked at the images – we realised that we had got it all wrong:

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Sparrowhawk on top of the thrush at the entrance to the sett, just where we last saw it banging a snail on a stone.

As I say, the screen grab is grainy but what we had on this video is a Sparrowhawk on top of the thrush who at this point was still alive.

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Horrible, but also rather wonderful and so much better than it being pointlessly killed by a cat just for the heck of it.

As we walked around the meadows a couple of hours later, we found the conclusion to this little story in the hedgerow about half way up the meadow, 50 metres away from the kill site.

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The remains of the Thrush