Saturday, 19 March 2016

Tranquility close to home

This week I managed to squeeze in a couple of visits to my favourite places - yes, of course Martin Down. But on Thursday, I also popped down to walk the Stratford Nature Reserve on my doorstep.

As you may recall, I'm helping to write the management plan, and was walking with another local who'd been coming to the reserve for 25 years! She remembered how some areas had several pairs of nesting lapwing - long gone - and how one part of the riverbank had a nesting kingfisher - until the chicks were boiled alive when someone built a fire on top of the bankside nest.

But apart from those sad stories, I enjoyed hearing about how the site had been managed in the past and more recently, and trying to spot any signs of positive indicator plant species. None were seen, but it's early in the season, although I'm told marsh marigold and ragged robin can both be seen. As we walked, we discussed how best to manage the site - we're trying to get the site secure for a grazier we might have lined up - including discussions about providing a water supply for the cattle, and how best to manage access by the public. I'm really looking forward to seeing things take shape.

It's such a peaceful spot - so surprising when you consider the proximity to the city and the busy Devizes Road at the top of the ridge. It's highly used and prized by the locals, so hopefully people can continue to enjoy this - and the regular wildlife they spot such as the barn owl and little owl that appear every day - whilst the site is returned to its flowery glory.

And then yesterday I popped out for a yomp up on Martin Down - of course, the glorious sunshine that accompanied us during our walk through the Stratford Reserve had turned to gloom - thankfully no rain though. You get the feeling that the site is on the cusp, ready to explode into colour. The birds are well into their breeding period now - with many singing skylarks overhead - as well as many ravens calling. The latter has been a success in the last few years. I remember coming to the Down in 2004, and getting very excited about seeing my first raven. Now they appear to be everywhere, a testament to reduced persecution and greater habitat availability perhaps. Still, we encountered very few people on our tour of the reserve, and in the misty gloom it was once again very tranquil and isolating from the busy world outside.

As Easter approaches, I hope to have more time to explore some of my favourite local haunts.

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