Saturday, 27 May 2017


Phew - what a week it's been temperature-wise! Unfortunately, I've mostly been in meetings but did have a couple of opportunities to get out and enjoy the early summer weather.

Last Sunday we headed up to Martin Down. Scarcely had I finished regaling my companion of the wonders of turtle doves, than one was heard calling from the bushes around the Sillens Lane carpark. Such a beautiful sound, and when you consider their population has crashed by 91% in the UK since 1995, it makes it even more precious. Although intensification of agriculture has reduced the arable weeds upon which the doves feed, a significant reason for the decline is actually due to issues in its overwintering and migratory countries, often being shot out of the skies above the Med. Truly appalling it is allowed to carry on.

Our planned route took us across the reserve and up onto Pentridge hill, where we heard several cuckoos - another declining migratory species - as well as mediaeval field systems and an Iron Age hillfort. This area also had swathes of - now sadly gone over - bluebells, in a slightly-more acidic soil as indicated by stands of gorse. The sweeping views across Cranborne Chase are stunning, and the windswept nature leads to interesting tree formations. A most pleasant spot for lunch!

We then returned through the reserve, admiring stands of  early purple orchids and carpets of chalk milkwort and horseshoe vetch. Now is the time for the wondrous Adonis blue butterfly to be on the wing, whose larvae feed on horseshoe vetch - sadly none were seen  that day.

I was also lucky enough to have a working walk on the South Downs on Tuesday, catching up with my manager. We started at the Cheesefoot Head carpark just south of Winchester and more stunning views. when I took a delegation of Danish government ministers and advisors out here a few years ago to see some of the agri-environment schemes we have up and running, they were amazed to be standing somewhere taller than the whole of Denmark!The short route took us down ancient droveways and across arable fields, surrounded by skylarks and calling yellowhammers.

On Wednesday I managed a short walk after work down to the Avon, where once again, more cuckoos were heard (this is the most I've heard ever I think!) and I admired the rising trout catching the emerging mayfly - an idyllic and quintessentially-British scene.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Directional difficulties

Last Sunday we headed off for a recently-discovered corner of the world on the edge of the Avon Valley. Readers may recall I'd visited there a few months ago, reminiscing about the school cross country course! This time we started at Castle Hill close to Fordingbridge, which has beautiful views from high across the sweeping flatness of the peaceful Avon Valley.

We headed through Godhill Enclosure, having entered the New Forest National Park, admiring the small pockets of bluebells still on display amidst the remnants of ancient woodland. Popping out the other side, into the village of Godshill itself, we exited the National Park and attempted to pick up a small path towards the river. We missed our turning, but did find another path further along. Although this meant we had done a small loop, this turned out to be fortuitous, as the path was beautiful. It passed old cottages, a small tranquil stream, and up the hill through great swathes of bluebells, all with nobody about at all. We then found ourselves along an old drove way, again lined with bluebells and red campion, thinking about the centuries of use by farmers driving livestock between farms and to market.

We crossed a field and were then on the edge of Frankenbury Iron Age hill fort, although it was hard to make out any earthworks, it being covered in woodland now. The plan was to continue around the fort, but, whilst admiring the magnificent trees and strolling purposefully along well-made paths, we found ourselves deep in Sandy Balls Holiday Park (cue sniggering about the name). This is the trouble with public footpaths not being distinguished from permissive tracks on the estate. We managed - with a bit of help form the phone - to establish quite how far we had gone wrong and retrace our steps back to where we should have been. Again, though, this route had afforded great views!

Finally, we worked our way through a farm and up the road to the car. A lovely route through a quiet area of the National Park and beyond well worth exploring, for the woodland, wildflowers and birdlife.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Moving on

This week I've noticed that Spring really seems to be moving on. Bluebells are fading and ramsons have moved in to take their place in our woodlands.

Last Sunday we managed to blag the last spot in the small RSPB carpark at Garston Wood for a meander through this beautiful woodland reserve. You may recall, I'd already visited around Easter for a spot of early bluebell photography. Although they were very much still evident, they were starting to fade, with their deep striking blue turning to a more delicate shade trapped between cornflower and lilac. Never mind, the ramsons certainly made up for it, with spectacular drifts this year, carpeting everything in their path, accompanied by delicate garlicky aromas. The dappled light shining through the burgeoning leaves made for excellent spotlights.

I was also lucky enough to be able to call in at Martin Down on the way back from working in Blandford on Wednesday. I popped over the road to Kitt's Grave - the small chunk of woodland and scrub mosaic owned by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust but leased to Natural England to manage on their behalf. Here, the bluebells are much more patchy, but the ramsons could again be seen in drifts away from the paths, amidst the majestic gnarly oaks and hazel coppice. In sheltered spots, I saw primroses still flowering, juxtaposed with cowslips and gorse - seasons changing. Pondering the tranquility of the flowers, my thoughts were 'disturbed' by a cuckoo - I seem to be hearing lots around at the moment, which is great news considering their awful journey running the gauntlet of Maltese hunters as they cross the Med. I also saw one oil beetle, slightly late to the party - those in my parents' garden had emerged from hibernation over a month ago! Hopefully it manages to find a mate.

Although we've been lucky to have great weather recently, I'm starting to get very worried about a lack of water - the Itchen was looking low on one of my lunchtime walks this week, and although we're nowhere near drought conditions yet, I think we should always be mindful of where our water comes from and try and conserve no matter what the time of year.

Saturday, 6 May 2017


As the Bank Holiday weekend got closer, a weather system was moving in. This would appear to peak when we had planned a family walk down at Lymington and Keyhaven Marshes on the New Forest coast. However, the intense showers only moved in right at the end of the day, as we were walking back to the car, and with the dramatic dark skies around us, highlighted with strong sunlight, it made for a very atmospheric walk.

If you're a birder - or simply just love the sea - then you really must head down to these extensive marshes. It's at its best during the winter, with vast flocks of waders calling it home for several months - part of the reason they are nationally and internationally protected. At this time of year, however, it's a haven for a variety of breeding birds.

When we walked along the sea wall, we had amazing views of lapwing displaying and 'peewitting' above our heads, common and little tern (the latter not very common at all) diving for fish in the lagoons, calling oystercatcher, shelduck, little egret, heron and a great view of a feeding spoonbill. In the scrub and wetlands behind the seawall, you get a slightly different suite of birds - the blackcap's melodious fluting song mingles with the strikingly-loud bursts of Cetti's warbler, and the frantic whirring and chattering of sedge and reed warblers. All of this, coupled with beautiful views across to the Isle of Wight, and great sunny swathes of flowering gorse (leaving their coconut scent in the air), made for a full sensory experience.

It also has the added bonus of two great pubs and an extensive footpath network, so get yourselves down there and enjoy the spectacle.