Meadows Amongst The Trees

A few weeks ago we walked around our wood with Dan Tuson, Conservation Advisor for Natural England in East Kent. He works with farmers to restore biodiversity to their land and is now meeting up with wood owners as well to advise on woodland management that can enhance that work. We have also recently attended an interesting ‘Pollinators in Woodland’ zoom talk given by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

The result of both of these is that we are now starting to establish some mini flower meadows in clearings within our wood.

We do already have one of these clearings. In the regenerating section of the wood there is a large glade where marjoram grows densely and which is filled with butterflies, bees, flies and bugs each summer.

Peacocks were particulary abundant in the marjoram glade this year. Their larval food plant is the nettle and these grow lavishly in another area of the wood where pheasants were once fed and phosphate levels are high
But the headline act of the marjoram glade is the silver-washed fritillary, a large woodland butterfly that glides in and takes your breath away

Now into September, the marjoram flowers are going over. Once the seed fully ripens and goes black, we will be harvesting it to spread onto the ground in other areas of the wood.

Marjoram now setting seed

Last winter we cleared this area below, which is quite close to the marjoram glade:

Breaking up the surface of the soil with a rake prior to seeding

The sun is now hitting the woodland floor there but the understorey is yet to develop, so we raked the soil surface and scattered an Emorsgate native wild flower seed mix:

Emorsgate ‘Wild Flowers for Woodland’ contains the seeds of thirteen different woodland plant species

There is a third area that was coppiced two years ago and the undergrowth has now started to grow back. But some patches do still remain clear and we scattered foxglove and kidney vetch seed in these unvegetated sections:

The idea is to create insect-rich pockets within the trees, each an oasis for pollinators and boosting the biodiversity of the wood.

The easiest way to get a glade of sufficient size so that the sun hits the floor and flowers can grow is to widen an existing ride, thus incorporating the space that is already cleared. There are several such tracks winding through the wood that we could use. This is the track that leads down to where we park the car

We are going to be working on some more coppicing this winter and will then again sow flower seed in the newly opened-up areas. I am really interested to see what this will all look like next year.

The wood definitely has an end-of-season air about it now. It was exciting to see a weasel on the cameras this week:

The long body of a weasel approaching the pond
Buzzard having a drink
Squirrel with a hazelnut in its mouth
A beautiful tawny owl with its large black eyes
Juvenile bullfinch are still being seen around the wood

Across in the meadows, the bird ringers have once more put their nets up high in an attempt to catch linnets:

The mist nets up high for linnets. Thankfully the dog has never yet been caught in the nets

One of the ringers had caught a grasshopper warbler in the area a few days previously and so a grasshopper warbler net was also set up – a low one mostly hidden amongst the high grasses and with the distinctive song of the grasshopper warbler playing at one end. These birds sound very much like grasshoppers.

The low grasshopper warbler net

No linnet or grasshopper warbler was caught that morning, but they did get a large number of house sparrows. Sparrows are usually very good at avoiding the nets and they have never caught such numbers of them before:

A flock of sparrows is once more visiting the seed on the strip

Most of the sparrows were young birds and I was given a tutorial on post-juvenile feather moult. The moulting of the wing feathers begins at the point where the primaries meet the secondaries and works out from there in both directions. This bird below had five smart new primary wing feathers but the secondaries were still the old ones:

A lot of the sparrows had ticks on their heads:

John’s hand is showing the telltale sign that these birds have been eating blackberries

I did some research on bird ticks and discovered that they are most likely to be engorged nymphs of the castor bean tick (Ixodes ricinus).

The two ticks on the left are the larvae of the caster bean tick (the lower one is engorged with a blood feed). The next two are the nymphs and the three on the right are the adults (male, female and engorged). The adult ticks are almost never found on birds but feed on larger mammals. Photo from Wiki Commons.

This is most probably a house sparrow in the beak of the magpie:

Most evenings we have been hearing tawny owls calling from a pine tree close to the house soon after dark – both a male and a female. They have also been appearing on this perch:

One night an owl sat on the perch for an hour and a half and did a lot of personal grooming:

Sparrowhawks are often being seen on the same perch:

A sparrowhawk choirboy

I have cropped these next two photographs by exactly the same amount to give a true sense of the difference in scale. One morning a sparrowhawk was sitting on the perch:

But thirty seconds later it had been replaced by a much, much bigger bird:

We have seen buzzards flying above the meadows before but never before has one appeared on the trail cameras. I have put the two photos next to each other to compare the size:

Slide the line left and right to compare the sizes!

There has been a marked increase in rabbit numbers here this year and I wonder if this has attracted the buzzard’s interest:

Our front lawn is once more covered in autumn ladies tresses, small and delicate orchids with tiny white flowers spiralling up the stem:

The builders have instructions not to tread on the lawn! They have been making progress on our new garage and utility room and the ‘shoulders down’ team have now returned to begin work on the landscaping around the new structures:

The ‘shoulders down’ team at work

Back in February they built us a butterfly bank using the chalky soil dug out for the foundations of the new garage:

The butterfly bank in July

This week they have built us two more banks using more excess chalky soil as they start to clear up their builders compound prior to the completion of the project:

Another chalky butterfly bank under construction

One of the new banks has broken roof tiles, another by-product of the build, as a core. The hope is that reptiles will burrow into the bank and hibernate amongst the crevices of the tiles:

The tiles that are about to be buried by soil
The other new bank, with the original bank in the background

Both of these new banks will be liberally spread with both native annual and perennial flower seed this autumn and should look fabulous next year as well as being a great asset for pollinators – we did spot the rare black mining bee visiting flowers on the original bank this summer. The curved slopes of the banks will also present a wide range of different aspects to the sun and will hopefully be used by a variety of invertebrates and other animals to dig burrows to nest and hibernate.

We have had visitors this week and we all went canoeing on the River Stour between Fordwich and Grove Ferry – a stretch of water where 140 beaver are now thought to live:

A Canoe Wild map at the launch point at Fordwich. Can there really now be so many beavers living in this five mile section of river?

It is a beautiful and tranquil stretch of river, teeming with fish.

We didn’t see any beaver out during the day but we did see lots of signs of their activity.

A trip on the Stour is an absolute must should you ever find yourself in East Kent.

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