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.

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