Oxhey Village Environment Group | www.oveg.org
There have been fewer instalments recently I have recently been fortunate enough to return to work with the Herts and Middlesex wildlife Trust, I am incredibly lucky to work on nature reserves and it’s great to see colleagues again.
My furlough gave me a wonderful opportunity to relax, and slow down and enjoy the small things in life. I certainly felt rather guilty and very thankful for the many key workers working long hours to keep the country running.
I also wanted to thank the many people who have made generous comments and I am so pleased they have found the notes interesting.
Anyway time for some more, the spring has changed quite abruptly into summer, I always get quite anxious when we have long periods of dry weather which seems to be a sign of the changes of our weather. The fields still look beautiful but the grassland flora is still rather patchy, the cattle are doing a good job and creating quite a nice structure of tussocks with bare ground which is great for lots of invertebrates like grasshoppers and butterflies, and hopefully, with some rain, we will still get a good show of summer flowers.
There is a small enclosure near the Haydon Hill walled garden which without grazing gets an opportunity to flower and is managed more like a traditional hay meadow. In recent years we cut it with a scythe and rake off the vegetation in early July, then open the gate to grazing in the autumn and winter. It has been glorious with cow parlsley, pink campion, cuckoo flower and cowslips. There are still many more flowers to be seen in this small area so go and have a look.
Managing grassland for biodiversity is quite a tricky business which partly explains why so many flower-rich meadows have disappeared in the last 70 years (post WW2). Overgrazing being as detrimental as under grazing. Traditional haymaking in July will result in flower-rich meadows but can be quite drastic for invertebrates, small mammals and amphibians. So a combination of grazing some fields and some cutting others is the ideal mix, the other key ingredient is to refrain from artificial fertilizers and pesticides and allow animal dung to recycle nutrients. This dung also provides food for many species such as beetles.
In the last week, I have enjoyed watching some very busy green woodpeckers, presumably feeding some youngsters. Green woodpeckers are impressive birds that spend more time on the ground than in trees and their low dipping flight makes them easy to identify. Their main food at this time of years is ants and if you look at the many ant hills you will see signs of excavation (see photo) where the woodpecker’s beak and extremely long tongue have been probing for tasty ants and their larvae.
Poo spotters can look out for green woodpecker droppings which are easy to find once you get your eye in, they remind me of the sugary sweet ‘cigarettes’ (see photo) we used to buy as children many years ago, they are white and slightly bent. If you break up the dropping you will find the remains of ants (their indigestible exoskeleton).
The increasing number of anthills recently has been interesting, when the fields were grazed heavily with horses the only anthills were found where the horses could not trample such as under fence lines or within tree guards, with no grazing for a year and lower numbers of cattle the anthills appear to be popping up all over the place. Anthills can grow over many years and create their own mini-ecosystems with specialist plants, lichens and fungi, it will be fascinating seeing these changes happen.
Wishing you and your families good health in the next few weeks, I will be writing more articles when inspired and when time allows!