Visiting Wildwood

This week we visited the Wildwood Trust near Canterbury. Here you can see British native animals, both past and present, and the Trust is also heavily involved in conservation and rewilding projects. For us it was a chance to get a really good close look at some of the animals that we have only seen fleeting glimpses of in the wild.

We had Red Deer in the wood last year but we only saw them on trail cameras:

We have had quite a few long distance sightings of Short Eared Owl in the meadows over the years:

Sadly we have never seen a Barn Owl in the meadows or the wood. Hopefully one day:

A few months ago we visited West Blean Woods here in East Kent where Kent Wildlife Trust are going to be releasing Bison as part of a rewilding scheme next year. The hump on their back seems especially prominent when they are lying down:

Four young Red-billed Choughs that hatched at Wildwood earlier this year have now been transferred to an aviary at Dover Castle, as a stepping stone to the release of this species onto Dover Cliffs in due course. Choughs used to live on the white cliffs of Dover but went extinct in SE England two hundred years ago as a result of changes in farming practices. Several cliff-side farms to the north of Dover have been bought up and managed by the National Trust for a few years now and suitable Chough habitat has been restored. It will be so wonderful to have them back.

The ongoing rewilding project at Alladale in Scotland has plans to one day release Wolves into the wild but that is still a dream rather than a reality and there is much discussion and unease about it. A small pack of Wolves can be seen at Wildwood:

Brown Bear were native to Britain until they were hunted to extinction about a thousand years ago. The Wild Place Project near Bristol now has Brown Bear and Wolves living together in seven acres of woodland and it is hoped that this experiment will further the debate on the rewilding of these animals. Of course the introduction of the apex predator tends to grab the headlines, but it is the background habitat restoration, necessary to create conditions in which that predator can survive, that is the real benefit.

The two Brown Bears at Wildwood were rescued from Bulgaria. Happily, the enclosure they now live in is so large and lovely that we only got very distant views of them:

Wildwood also has Lynx, our largest native cat that was lost here about five hundred years ago due to habitat loss, hunting and persecution. A campaign called Lynx To Scotland has been running to assess public opinion and an application for a licence to release Lynx, possibly into the Cairngorms, might follow in time.

We had been meaning to visit Wildwood for a long time and are pleased that we now have. It felt like much money could be spent on improving the infrastructure and signage there but I am sure that they also need those funds for their conservation and restoration work. Its been a very difficult couple of years for zoos.

Back in the meadows, just as the first streaks of light appear in the sky and long before the sun pokes her head above the horizon, a Robin comes in for a drink:

Robins have large eyes which means that their pupils can open wide and gather sufficient light to see at low light levels. They are among the earliest birds to start singing in the morning when, with less background noise and still air, their song carries up to twenty times further than it would later in the day. But they are not guaranteed to be safe from predators at that time of the day because we often see Sparrowhawks hunting in very low light:

Sparrowhawk eating a Blue Tit way before dawn last winter
The sad aftermath of a Sparrowhawk kill this week

Also active in the dark is the Garden Spider who we have been observing recently to see what she gets up to. She caught a moth one night and had it wrapped up tight by the time we passed by in the morning:

Later that same day, she was eating a wasp at the edge of the web:

There then followed a period of strong winds during which her web was completely destroyed. But, once the winds had dropped, the web was reconstructed overnight and reopened for business by the morning.

The new web, rebuilt over one night.

At the moment there are four Badgers and four Foxes that are regulars at the nightly peanuts. Here are all of the Foxes in attendance..

..and here are all the Badgers:

The Badgers are working away at getting the reeds underground as winter bedding. We pulled these reeds from the pond and then left them out for the Badgers:

The Kestrels continue to enjoy the cut meadows and we have been seeing a lot of them:

Not long after arriving here, we planted several Corsican and Scots Pine trees because they do well in these exposed coastal conditions. They are now growing away strongly and, at this time of year, each one is surrounded by rings of these Bovine Boletes (Suillus bovinus):

This ectomycorrhizal fungus is found in conifer woods and plantations across Europe, where it lives in symbiotic association with the trees. The trees’ roots are enveloped in sheaths of fungal tissue and the fungus helps the plant take water and minerals out of the soil. In return, the plant provides the fungus with carbohydrates that it has manufactured by photosynthesising the light.

The fungal fruiting bodies are very distinctive with their honeycomb undersides.

The fungus is mild and edible but not highly regarded by humans. However, slugs seem to love them:

I am generally not a fan of fuchsia and orange together but I do think that these Spindle berries get away with it:

The orange berries in the Stinking Iris pods are about to burst forth. This is our native Iris and there is a lot of it both in the meadows and the wood:

Two years ago, just over a hundred Slow Worms were rehomed here from land nearby that was to be developed. Since then, an ecologist has been regularly visiting the meadows to check on their welfare. This autumn he was hoping to see neonate, or newly born, Slow Worms as evidence that the population is now happily settled and breeding. Females incubate their eggs internally and give birth to live young in the late summer but we had never seen a neonate Slow Worm before. But we finally saw one this week under a sampling square, top left in this photo with the adults to give it scale:

We also found this tiny Toad under a sampling square. It was only about 3cm long and is the first Toad we have seen here this year:

This very small day-flying micro moth is probably the Diamond-backed Moth (Plutella xylostella)

A beautiful Comma butterfly bathing in the October sunshine:

A dramatic cloudscape out to sea:

We visited the wood this week and decided to do the annual clear out of this year’s old nests from the small nestboxes. However, five of the nest boxes in the regeneration area had Dormouse nests in them, so we left them well alone:

One Dormouse popped its head up – what an absolute sweetie

We bought thirty Dormice nest boxes last winter but haven’t put them up yet – our plans for the wood to become an official Dormouse monitoring site have been delayed because of Covid. But, with so many of the bird boxes being used by Dormice, I feel that I should now seek expert advice as to how best to proceed.

Also in the wood, a Buzzard comes in for a bath:

A Sparrowhawk takes a bath in the same pond:

I finish today with Grey Squirrels. Although the awful damage that Grey Squirrels do to the Beech trees do not endear them to me, there is something about them that is quite lovable. At this time of year, a lot of the mossy tree stumps in the wood are adorned with the outer casings of Sweet Chestnuts:

Most of these stumps are an awfully long way away from a Sweet Chestnut tree – the Squirrels are carrying the spiky nuts a considerable distance to then perch on the stumps to eat them:

Both these Squirrels and the Dormice will be be preparing for the coming winter, and the weather is already turning decidedly chilly. This will be our third winter in the wood and we are looking forward to commencing this year’s coppicing soon.

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