Saturday, 28 March 2015

Woodland gems

Apologies for the delay in blog posts - I've not been in Salisbury much recently it seems!

The weekend before last featured the first visit to my favourite of woods, Garston Wood RSPB reserve near Sixpenny Handley in deepest Cranborne Chase. Although it's an RSPB reserve, and hence amazing for birds (I am told - not much of a birder myself - need to improve on that!), the flora is amazing - the little carpark gets completely rammed in bluebell season.

However, pre-bluebells (lots of shoots making an appearance, as with ramsons), it's still got much interest. The old hazel coppice has some lovely mossy crevices (you may recall my love of mossyness), and the wood anemones were out in force. Also present - but less showy - was butchers broom, so-called as butchers used to use it for that very purpose (or it might just be an old wives' tale - who are these old wives?!!). It's so different to the delicate and pretty plants one usually associates with woodlands - what look like leaves are actually part of the stem. The tiny flowers and subsequent berries thus appear in the middle of the 'leaves' - all very odd. It stands out like a sore thumb with its erect pricklyness. At the other end of the spectrum, there were also carpets of the much overlooked and decidedly unshowy dog's mercury.

That week also saw the latest issue of BBC Wildlife arrive on my doormat, featuring my letter as letter of the month, which I was very pleased about - I hope that people think about what farmers can do for their environment, and indeed, what a large proportion already do - we need to work with them, not keep telling them off and placing yet more constraints on their already-struggling businesses.

Finally, last weekend I was visiting a friend in Essex - quite a different landscape to Wiltshire - I always miss our rolling hills. It began, of course, with the eclipse - or the darkening of the very cloudy sky that was visible! The clouds did part briefly to enable a couple of shots.

We ended our trip with a visit to the National Trust village of Flatford, with its magnificent willow pollards on the banks of the River Stour - certainly inspiring for me as an artist, and as Constable painted The Hay Wain here, also for him apparently!

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Trail blazing

A week the began and ended with pottering around the countryside.

Sunday saw me head off to the village of Potterne, just south of Devizes in the middle of Wiltshire, as I was dropping off a painting to the Wiltshire Museum for an art competition. The walk took me to the Local Nature Reserve of Drews Pond Wood, which is very small but also perfectly formed and much loved by the local community. The small stream flowing through the wet woodland had lesser celandine flowering on its banks and much mossyness - I do love mosses and ferns. The rest of my walk took me through farmland and next to Potterne Woods, which clings to the steep valley side. It's going to be covered in bluebells in a month or so's time, as many leaves were making an appearance already amongst the hazel coppice. The views across the valley and beyond to Salisbury Plain were beautiful, before the rain came in!

Then yesterday, I was walking a proposed nature trail route with an ecologist friend, with a view to me illustrating the various boards along the way. The trail is in the grounds of a caravan site in Alderholt, on the edge of the New Forest and Cranborne Chase, with the drive there featuring extensive banks of wild daffodils along the roads - amazing. The trail runs alongside fragments of wet wildflower meadow, pony paddocks and hay fields with orchids, ancient woodland (with more wild daffs) and some old fishing lakes, so there is much variety and inspiration for the boards. It's a lovely walk, and I'm always jealous when people have this sort of thing on their doorstep, never mind actually owning the land. Hopefully the walk, and our advice on management to improve it for wildlife, will draw in more people to the site, and help people gain a greater appreciation for nature without being tidied up!

Now I've just got to find the time to fit them all in - I'll be very busy over the next few weeks!

Saturday, 7 March 2015

A quick drove foray

As the land around Salisbury is steeped in history, having been inhabited for thousands of years, it's not hard to find yourself walking where others have been passing through for some time.

Last Sunday saw a quick foray down the Old Shaftesbury Drove. This Byway Open to All Traffic (BOAT) probably originated in Anglo-Saxon times, used by farmers to drive their livestock towards Salisbury from Shaftesbury. Today, it is a rough track that can legally be used by vehicles, although only certain lengths are really passable.

We started adjacent to Salisbury Racecourse (itself featuring stunning views back across the valley to the Cathedral), with the route taking us through a narrow strip of woodland, with farmland on either side. Its funny, but only in the last couple of years has this particular part of the Drove been made aware to us - now it's a familiar yomp!

Although you could just keep going until you presumably get to Shaftesbury (a walk I have not done), there are numerous footpaths and bridleways off the Drove, including through Forestry Commission and the private Wilton Estate (same ownership as Grovely Wood that features in an earlier post) woodland. Much of this is what is termed as 'Plantation on an Ancient Woodland Site' (PAWS). In effect, this means that the actual trees are a recent affair, but from the rich ground flora (usually featuring native bluebells, wood anemone, dog's mercury etc), you can tell that the site has been woodland for centuries. Already, the early signs of woodland plants were peeking through on our walk.

I'm venturing slightly further afield tomorrow, if the weather holds. Oh, and I swear I heard a skylark singing when I was in the garden just now - one of the perks of living so close to farmland (just across the road), with the grassland managed under an agri-environment scheme - surely one of the most beautiful sounds in nature.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Consider the dunnock...

A couple of days ago I was lying in bed, trying to wake up, when I heard an unfamiliar birdsong. It was quite a high-pitched babbling sound, not exactly melodious but cheery nonetheless.

I thought nothing more of it until this morning when I heard it again - I grabbed my binoculars and found it in my back garden - yes, it was a dunnock.

I am no birder, but I always thought of the dunnock as a skulking bird, living in the shadows and generally not making much fuss about life (although I do recall studying their breeding strategies at uni - much promiscuity!). However, it appears that, during the breeding season (pretty much upon us), they get a bit cocky and males start singing from the tops of bushes and trees.

So now I know I have a dunnock in my garden - exciting for me (when you consider the hideousness of my garden, pre-October work party), what next?