Saturday, 29 August 2015

Wild harvest

I love this time of year - as the evenings draw in, trees and hedgerows are beginning to be laden with fruit. I know it's still August (just about!), but it certainly feels very autumnal!

Last Sunday we started blackberrying, heading up to the drove by Salisbury racecourse, which forms part of the Wilton Estate. The humble bramble is actually a group of many closely-related species (called 'aggregates') that are nigh-on impossible to distinguish unless you're an expert botanist. It's funny how microclimate can play such a factor in ripening, and also the variety of blackberries present. In those sunnier spots, fruit was ripe for picking, but our haul was very low. The berries were also very tight and bristly, so not really suitable for eating straight away - I'm planning on making a big batch of blackberry jelly for Christmas presents (building on last year's blackberry chutney!).

Then after work on Thursday, travelling back from Dorchester, I pulled into Martin Down (of course!) for a quick foray over the road into Kitt's Grave. It's looking beautiful at the moment, with scrub clearance and grass cutting forming a rich mosaic of flower-rich glades and a variety of scrub heights. One glade in particular is wide enough to be mown with a tractor, creating a strangely-out-of-place striped lawn!

The hedgerows were laden - sloes, privet berries (not edible!), elder berries and of course blackberries. The latter were again not quite ripe, needing another few weeks, but in some sunny spots on the edge of glades there were some juicy ones. This variety has much bigger individual berries, so potentially better flavour - we shall see!

And the little carefully-cultivated bramble in my garden is now bearing a handful of fruit, and coupled with the rich bushes across the road on the way to the river, this year's blackberry jelly etc will have come from a wide variety of sources.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Strange sounds

I swear I was woken up to the sound of a calling peregrine falcon the other morning - having heard the distinct call, closely followed by the aforementioned bird chasing a pigeon over our heads in Krakow, I recognised the sound. Bit odd for it to be calling in a quiet Salisbury suburb at 6am!

If it was a peregrine then it is further proof of this species' continued expansion and population recovery. They have moved into urban areas with much success, utilising the cliff-like walls of buildings for nesting sites, and catching other birds that pass through on their migrations, high above settlements. Indeed, analysis of prey remains in urban nests has turned up surprising revelations, including woodcock, not an urban species at all. It just goes to show an awful lot is happening above our heads when we're catching a few zs!

That evening was also the first that I heard my resident tawnies calling again - not the 'to-woo' but the high-pitched screechy 'twe-wit'. According to Wikipedia (!), now is the time of year when young disperse to find territories- so perhaps the resident pair are asserting their claim to this patch, or the young are trying it on!

This week also saw the culmination of this year's fruit and veg harvest - after a reasonable crop of garlic bulbs, and a very disappointing half a raspberry, my Victoria plum tree (planted nearly 3 years ago) has finally produced fruit. Although, as you will see from the picture, it was a very limited crop! It was very nice though - fingers crossed for more next year. My garden does, on the other hand, have a very rich invertebrate population, which has attacked all garden plants and fruit bushes/trees. I like to think I'm doing my bit for wildlife through my almost-impossible garden!

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Three butterflies of two species

That was the outcome of the Big Butterfly Count in my garden last Sunday, on the last day of Butterfly Conservation's 'citizen science' initiative. Not bad for 15 minutes on a cloudy and not-terribly-warm day. That was two large whites and a meadow brown, the latter spent the entire 15 minutes on one of my buddleias, thus demonstrating their value as a nectar source. In the sun, I have seen gatekeepers, small tortoiseshells and brimstones flitting by as well, so not bad for a little forgotten corner consisting of a near-vertical slope and a small patch of brambles (lovingly tended for this year's crop).

Later that day I headed out for the customary Sunday afternoon walk, back to Grovely Woods again. I've covered this part of the Wilton estate in previous posts, but it's a very handy local patch, with many permutations of loops to be walked. It's quite difficult to get lost (even for me!), as most of the forestry tracks in this mixed plantation woodland always come back to the main track 'First Broad Drive' through the wood. Lined with magnificent beeches, and stretching off into the distance, it makes for a very good yomp indeed! We took a side track off and found ourselves in a new area we hadn't been to before, along a path seemingly running parallel with the main drive, passing through a band of ancient woodland - a change from the dark depths of the conifers.

Tomorrow I'm hosting Sunday lunch, so the afternoon walk - if we can stir ourselves - will likely be off to Old Sarum again.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Work and play!

So one of the benefits of my role managing a team in Dorset is that this includes National Nature Reserve (NNR) staff, in particular, those that manage the Axmouth to Lyme Regis Undercliffs NNR.

For those of you unfamiliar (I was!), this is a stunning stretch of the Jurassic World Heritage Site coast from Axmouth to Lyme Regis (taking in the world-famous Monmouth Beach ammonite pavement). The undercliffs themselves are a series of constantly slipping blocks of clay. sand and chalk, creating amazing ravines, micro-habitats and rock formations, but making for dangerous walking. Indeed, one part of the south west coast path is still shut here. It's certainly an experience having a guided tour by the NNR staff, with the chosen route yesterday taking in a couple of ascents by short lengths of rope!

It has beautiful views of the coast and turquoise sea, with pockets of extremely diverse chalk grassland and moist fern-rich woodland.

The other end of the reserve at Lyme Regis plays host to the most accessible fossil-hunting stretch, including the ammonite pavement, where you walk on hundreds of these ancient fossils - quite spectacular. As a fossil hunter myself, this trip combined work and play! Last weekend it held the first ever fossilblitz (like a bioblitz but with fossils!) recording over a 1000 records - a great way to get the community and visitors involved.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Walking away stress

This week was the first mentally-tough week in my new job, for a variety of rather boring reasons. And being cooped up in the office at Blandford (which, as you may recall, is on an industrial estate with nowhere to walk) on Monday and Wednesday had me crying out for a bit of the outdoors!

So after work on Wednesday I managed to squeeze in a short walk along Martin Down - one of the good things about my role, is that more frequent commuting to Dorset means I pass right by the NNR.

Perhaps I was just in the mood to enjoy being distracted by anything, but the rosebay willowherb - a very common ruderal plant - was present in stunning pink banks of colour along the Bokerley Dyke, contrasting against the warm ochres of the swaying upright brome grass. I had managed to pick a break in the rainstorms, but the ominous clouds made for a great background, and perhaps mirrored my mood when I started the walk!

Partway along, picking my way through knapweed and marjoram, providing an accompanying scent to my walk, I met one of the local farmers who was checking the sheep whilst the stockman was on holiday - always nice to chat to a like-minded person, out enjoying the countryside.

So, after a quick yomp of 30 minutes or so, I returned to the carpark somewhat refreshed, having mulled over and reflected on the week so far, and hopefully approaching the next day with renewed vigour.