Friday, 27 November 2015

Fiery horizons

Bit dramatic perhaps, but the sunset after a longer-then-intended walk was pretty amazing last Sunday.

We'd headed up to Pepperbox Hill - at 157m high, it's positively mountainous for our area. It's owned by the National Trust, but access is a bit tricky off the busy A36 on a blind summit, so you have to be pretty brave to go there! It comprises a strip of chalk downland (currently being grazed by sheep and British White cattle) along a ridge, with a 17th century hexagonal folly. We walked along the old droveway on top of the ridge, which links up with the village of Dean eventually.

It was pretty muddy going, but the views were as always stunning. As mentioned, it was the low rays of the sunset casting a fiery glow across the extensive woodland in the distance that really caught our eyes. The woodland forms part of the West Tytherley woods, which includes Bentley Wood (see many previous posts!), and is well known for its small-leaved lime trees and rare butterflies such as the Duke of Burgundy.

Although it was a straightforward walk, on a weekend where winter seemed to have finally arrived, it was the views on the way back that made it particularly memorable - I will let the photos speak for themselves!

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Rain and more rain

It's been a bit of a changeable week! On Sunday, after the morning was largely dry, I popped to Martin Down, whereupon is immediately started to drizzle. However, even in these conditions, the views from the top of the reserve were still beautiful, and it seemed to make it even more tranquil (and of course, few silly people had ventured out like us).

I then spent much of the week indoors at various meetings (which was probably just as well, due to the sharp showers), but yesterday I finally managed to spend a day out in the North Dorset countryside with one of my members of staff. They were visiting farmers managing SSSI and SAC (nationally and internationally-protected) land. Having been born and raised on the chalk, going to the Blackmoor Vale, with its heavy clay soils, was a bit of a change - all the recent rain had certainly had an impact, with wellies definitely required! However, one thing that struck me was the patches of flowers still in bloom - see previous posts about the lack of wintry conditions. I spotted betony and devil's bit scabious, in particular, with the latter being of most interest on our visits.

The sites in questions were hotspots for dense breeding populations of marsh fritillary butterflies (a nationally-declining species), the caterpillars of which feed on the leaves of this flower. This year's monitoring of larval webs by Butterfly Conservation had yielded impressive figures, and a testament to the management being carried out by the landowners.

Well, today winter has certainly hit - glorious blue skies but a biting northerly wind. I think I'll try and find somewhere a bit sheltered to visit on tomorrow's walk!

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Will winter ever come?

Last Sunday I had a quick pootle around Langley Wood NNR, to catch the last of the autumnal colours and see my favourite, magnificent beech tree. Although it was raining, and the daylight was fading fast, it was, as always, very atmospheric.

Then, when out in the garden recently, I noticed that the garlic I had recently planted was sprouting, and is now several inches high - crazy!

This comes after an extremely-mild week - I was in London on Tuesday on a training course, and I was trying to explain to them my job, and what the greatest threat facing our planet is - i.e. climate change. They were staggered that it was already impacting on communities (both people and ecosystems) around the world, and had no idea that, as well as the USA and China, that Australia was such a bad polluter and consequent contributor to the atmospheric changes. So, I feel I've done my little bit for raising awareness this week.

It was a much more wintry day yesterday - clear, sunny skies (after initial rain showers - the edge of Abigail or whatever they're calling the latest storm!) - so I headed up to the Ox drove by the racecourse again - this time venturing further along it to a little loop amongst woodland on the Wilton Estate. Although it wasn't a very long walk (an hour or so), I love the feeling you get when you're covering new ground (I had a map with me, unlike the previous times in Bentley Wood - see other posts...). The view back to the edge of the Nadder valley (opposite side to the Ebble) w

as beautiful.

So, I live in hope that at some point we might actually have winter, but this mild weather has really worried me and is quite probably a sign of things to come. Of course, the irony is that I won't be using the heating as much, thereby reducing my own carbon emissions...

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Autumn in the Ebble Valley

For those of you not aware, the River Ebble is a beautiful chalk stream that flows from the west into Salisbury. Interestingly, it isn't legally protected, unlike most of the other chalk streams in the area. In any case, it sits in extremely picturesque surroundings, and its valley formed the basis of my walks last weekend.

I was meeting friends for lunch in The Queen's Head, Broadchalke (close to the Ebble and highly recommended!), so had a bit of time to kill. I opted for a brief yomp along the ox drove from Salisbury racecourse, which forms the watershed for the Ebble catchment.

I'm sure I've talked about these droves before, but we seem to have rather a lot in Wiltshire, probably linked to the rich farming heritage of the area, using the droves to drive cattle and sheep to market. This particular drove runs from the south of Salisbury, pretty much all the way to Shaftesbury! I settled for a quick up-and-down a stretch of the drove, to take in the magnificent autumn colours.

After lunch, we picked our way through another droveway and out across arable land, in a loop back to the pub, taking in the Ebble on our way. It was a very misty day, so the autumn colours really 'popped'. The final stretch was through what would probably have been watermeadow, but with little remaining today, apart from amazing old ash trees, with ancient gnarly trunks joined together in a line - they would probably have formed a hedge at some stage.

As I write this, the gales are blowing autumn off the trees, so I'm quite glad I've managed to had a couple of jaunts out to immerse myself in the colours, smells and sounds of autumn.

An encounter with stags' horns

No, nothing as dramatic as you might think - this is referring to the amazing fungus, the yellow stagshorn.

I foolishly decided the rain wasn't too bad yesterday, for a quick stroll in the New Forest at Wellow Common. Here, the vast closely-grazed lawn, dotted with conifers and gorse, provides an excellent mosaic for a great variety of fungi.

In addition to the staghorn, I'm pretty sure I spotted the sickener (bright red) and the rose russula (lovely light pink) - however, as it was now a steady blustery drizzle at this point, I didn't get the camera out and can't be certain!

Now is a great time to get out there and spot the great variety of fungi we have in the UK - the New Forest is an excellent spot to go on a fungal foray (and, indeed, the Forestry Commission are running such events currently), but there is also a bit of a political storm brewing over collecting fungi for consumption.

It is prohibited to collect for selling to restaurants, but in reality, this is very difficult to enforce. Coupled with the personal allowance being, in my opinion, very high, it could be putting the future of this weird and wonderful group of species at risk.

So, please, look but do not collect when you come across something you think is edible, and leave it for others to enjoy.