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Oxhey Nature Notes

Oxhey Nature Notes – May 17th 2020

It has been a truly beautiful Sunday, the countryside is just about at its most magnificent.

Also one of deep peace and quiet. With no annoying drone of the planes from Elstree aerodrome or few out in their cars. It was wonderful to see so many people out in Attenborough’s fields, walking and picnicking, many probably for the first time.

May is a month of hedgerow flowers, in fact, Hawthorn which is the dominant hedgerow species is often known as May or the Maybush. Not to be confused with Blackthorn which also has white flowers but was in full bloom 6 weeks ago, and often coincides with a cold spell of late winter weather- called ‘blackthorn winter’ it also flowers before it’s leaves emerge, which is unusual. These flowers if set by early pollinating insects go on to produce sloes, the key ingredient of the favourite Christmas tipple.

As well as hawthorn if we look closely we will find guelder rose and elder with their white flowers in bloom. I look forward to elderflowers (see photo) they are probably my favourite foraging item of the year as they make the most wonderfully refreshing cordial which preserves the wonderful scent of spring in a glass or year-round. I would recommend having a go, it’s easy and there are plenty of bushes locally.

elderflower may 20

Hedges, as I have mentioned in previous articles, are incredibly valuable wildlife habitat- being useful corridors for wildlife to move around safely, places for birds and mammals to nest and roost, nectar-rich when in flower for pollinating insects, and their fruit is a valuable natural larder for birds and mammals alike during winter.

Other environmental benefits are preventing soil erosion, slowing down heavy rainfall as hedges are often associated with ditches which reduce flood risk and for sheltering livestock from wind, rain and sunshine. I am always amazed when walking on cold sunny days how warm it is on the sheltered side of the hedge.

Since the end of World War 2, there has been a big push to increase food productivity by creating larger fields and thousands of miles of hedges being ripped out and those remaining cut back so heavily every winter to have limited value. In recent years with Stewardship payments many farmers have started to replant new hedges and cut hedges less frequently and after the berries have been eaten in Late winter.

Thanks to Herts CC and Woodland Trust the hedgerows in Attenborough’s and Merry Hill are dense and species-rich. A nice example of a healthy hedgerow is one The Friends of Attenborough’s Fields restored with the support of Herts CC, it can be found near the entrance from Haydon Road. See photos taken Feb 2010 which shows a very thin and gappy hedge just before work and one taken today.

gappy hedge pre restoration feb10

attenborough's hedge May 2020

This work was 50% funded with a grant from Watling Chase Community Forest, this organisation encouraged the planting of trees in an area of South Hertfordshire between Watford, St Albans and Hatfield. Sadly they are no longer active and maybe with increased interest in tree planting they will return. This grant helped us to coppice the old trees down to stumps and then replant the gaps with new saplings and finally fence off to protect from grazing horses. I recently found the grant application form and it all cost £1438, money well spent I think.

Finally if out yesterday you may have seen a rather boisterous and noisy group of starlings, we have starlings in the fields all year round however at this time of year the numbers swell with birds from further afield, feeding greedily on leather jackets which are the larvae of daddy long legs. You will see adults and recently fledged juveniles which make the noise. They are rather cheeky charismatic birds strutting around and in good light, the adults have metallic green and violet sheen. They seem equally at home in the fields or looking for discarded fast food in Watford High street!

Have a safe and enjoyable week

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This entry was posted on 18 May 2020 by in All News, Local News.