Friday, 24 June 2016

Seeking solace in nature

After today's terrible news on the EU referendum here in the UK - terrible in that most of our powerful environmental legislation and funding for environmental initiatives comes from the EU - I'm seeking solace in recounting my jaunts in the great outdoors this week.

As you may recall, I have the week off, and despite grouting and resealing the bath taking up some of the time, I have managed to get outdoors! I started with a tour of Martin Down for a friend I'd met whilst in turkey last year - thankfully, the sun came out, as did the butterflies. Painted lady, marbled white, 5 spot burnet moth, small blue, common blue, small heath, common skipper, large white, brimstone, small tortoiseshell and possibly a dark-green fritillary. In one spot we even encountered 4 types of orchid - bee, fragrant, pyramidal and common spotted. And after telling my friend of the birds likely to be heard, they all obliged - corn bunting, turtle dove, yellowhammer, chifchaf and lots and lots of skylark. And this is all in the 'June gap' where the knapweed is yet to come out, and the chalkhill blues, dark green frits and marbled whites aren't yet out in force.

I also had the briefest of forays out to Langley Wood NNR - not especially great on the flower-front (only the odd spearwort and foxglove) BUT the ferns and lush woodland grasses and sedges were beautiful in their own right, in among the great diversity of trees including small-leaved lime - a rare speciality.

And today I'm off out to Clarendon Park, to wash away the cares of the world by a bit of llama-bonding in the ruins of the ancient hunting lodge. Anything to take away images of triumphant Farage and Boris (ugh).

Sunday, 19 June 2016

The surveying season

I love this time of year - lots of opportunities to get out and about at work. Or at least, there would be if I hadn't moved into management! That's why this week's foray onto Old Winchester Hill NNR was even more valuable.

I'd managed to join a party of Natural England staff and volunteers from across the country, taking part in extremely detailed floristic surveys on this chalk downland NNR in the South Downs National Park, east of Winchester. The usual way of surveying for floristic diversity is through a 'quadrat' - just a square of usually bamboo canes, where you identify all species and estimate the percentage cover in the square. On this survey - part of the long-term monitoring network of sites across the country, with the same quadrats surveyed periodically to pick up changes resulting from management of climate change - the quadrat was 2m square and comprised 25 individual cells, each needing all mosses, grasses and herbs identifying. They usually take hours to complete, especially on such a diverse site as Old Winchester Hill.

The views on the steep slopes, across to the Iron Age hillfort and the sweeping vistas of the South Downs were stunning, and on the day I was up there, we even dodged the showers (and the ticks - ugh!).

It has certainly been a changeable week weather-wise, with last weekend seeing the break in the weather. On the Sunday,Ii managed a quick potter around Testwood Lakes nature reserve with a friend. It's a series of lakes owned by Southern Water, but turned over to wildlife and managed by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. The lakes themselves aren't especially wildlife-friendly, but the ones not used for boating/watersports do have a variety of waterfowl in the winter months, and the meadows and wet woodland surrounding them are great for invertebrates and wildflowers.

I'm off work this week on a 'staycation' (!) so hope to get out and see all my favourite local sites - really hoping for some dry weather.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Mad dogs and English (wo)men

We've had a string of lovely warm, sunny days lately, which makes any sort of activity exhausting! However, last Sunday I forced myself out of the flat for a quick walk and a bit of drawing next to the river.

Although not midday (it was about 2pm) it was absolutely boiling and very humid - not ideal walking or sitting-still-in-the-sun conditions! Nevertheless, the Stratford Reserve was a-buzz with insects and people, with swathes of yellow flag iris and meadow buttercup providing a sunny border to the footpath. Although still ungrazed, it's good to see that some wildflowers are still around - who knows what might come back once it's managed?

Exiting the reserve, I settled down next to the river on the Salisbury Council-owned land, and trying not to get showered by the many manic, wet dogs, quickly sketched out the scene before me. It was a great view looking towards the city, featuring the Cathedral and the old gas tower in the distance, with the river, rushes and reeds in the foreground.

I hope I can do justice to this idyllic scene - once again, very lucky to have this only a few minutes away from me. Unfortunately, the walk back involves a steep hill, which was a bit of a slog in the heat, humidity and carrying my art equipment, but worth suffering for the art I think!

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Perks of the job

This week I managed to fit in an actual bit of ecological surveying, despite being a manager! And even better, it was on Martin Down and the sun (eventually) shone!

We were assessing the condition of the two SSSI units (SSSIs are split into units, usually based on habitat, land ownership or management) that had been ploughed up and put into food production during WWII, and hence were taking longer to get into a good condition.

A roving group of us assessed the different types of grassland and scrub - the official results aren't in yet, but we could have done with more flowers! Along the way, in more sheltered spots and in the sun later in the day, we encountered Adonis blue butterflies (first brood a bit late this year, as with everything), butterfly orchids, and lots of turtle doves purring from deep within the scrub.

When the sun finally came out, whilst we were assessing the scrub and then heading back home, I thought how lucky I was to be getting paid to spend a day up there.

And finally, I've just come back from a potter along the Itchen and Itchen Navigation in Southampton with a friend. Although this part of the Itchen is quite urban (concrete sides and straightened channels), some parts do still have some of the aquatic plants the river is special for - including water crowfoot abutting the aforementioned concrete!