Another day of Heath tidying

Tuesday, January 16th 2018

Continuing on from Saturday's work tidying up the Heath we got to work chopping and removing the last pile of brash, all the while adding to it by uprooting more saplings that have taken hold in the ditches of the north paddock.

The snow didn't hold off for long, and very soon it was coming in sideways making the whole job that bit more difficult (especially if you were foolish enough to forget your gloves, as I did this morning).

After getting thoroughly pitted in mud, and having finally taken the last trailer of brash over to the burn site, the subsequent fire was a most welcome treat after a hard days graft.

Although the snow has now abated, it continued to come down heavily throughout the mid afternoon but never really threatened to put the fire out.

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Blue Skies after the Rain

Monday, January 15th 2018

As is so often the case, Monday is a quiet day after a busy Sunday, and where there had been well over 20 visitors yesterday, there were only a couple seen today.  Perhaps the weather at the start of the day put people off.  The persistent heavy rain for the early part of the morning meant that Risedale Beck was swollen and carrying a lot of sediment so that its normal clear water was an opaque light brown.

The force of the water would probably not account for one discovery, with the clay pad missing from the Mink raft in the Scrapes.  This was in the water next to the raft and so it was an easy job to return it to its rightful place.  It's likely that somebody's curiosity got the better of them and they had tipped the raft to see what was inside and the clay pad fell out. 

The Mink rafts are a good way of seeing if there are any Mink or other predators around, as they will make use of the platform to have a look around.  Thankfully, there are rarely signs of Mink as they will hunt the Water Voles.

By late morning even the showers had died down to be replaced by sunshine.  The Heathland was being used by one of its regular inhabitants with a male Kestrel using one of the Scots Pine as a vantage point.  Another trying its luck in one of the small pools on the Heathland was a Grey Heron, which flew off as it was disturbed.

Apart from checking the Reserve after the weekend, there was also time to work through the trees planted near to the Lake Hide.  Some of these have suffered in recent winds and have been blown over.  A simple task for the afternoon was to work along the bank containing some of these trees, putting on stakes and ties to support them to grow in an upright position.

This is a quick and simple job to do, but is very important as it will allow the trees to move in the wind without being blown over and so will encourage them to develop a wider spreading root system to anchor themselves in the ground.

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A Gentle Stroll

Sunday, January 14th 2018

It has been dark and grey and black and dark grey for days, but there was something in the sky that caught my eye this afternoon - it was blue!  Blue Sky!!!!!  Unfortunately it did not last long. 

Blue Sky

There were many visitors who enjoyed walking around the reserve no matter what the weather.

The lake was quiet, with just the odd call of a Moorhen.  Whilst watching a pair of Mallard courting, a movement caught my eye.  A Goldcrest was searching for food amongst the vegetation in front of the lake hide.  I was really pleased to achieve this photograph, even with all those pesky branches in the way.

A Goldcrest

It was a bit of a shock to the system to walk out onto the moor from the relative shelter of the central part of the reserve.  Not only was the wind blowing but it was really cold.  Usually the Moles tunnel along the edges of paths, where we presume the soil is less compacted.  Looking at the square of mole hills I let my imagination wander and I fancifully thought that there could have been a house built on our moor at one time.

Mole Hills

I have mentioned that most of the Holly berries have been eaten from the trees in the centre of the reserve.  Out on the moor, in the ancient hedgeline, a Holly tree, as usual, is still covered in berries.  Are they not ripe, not sweet enough or do they just taste plain nasty?

Holly Berries still

Although the Phragmities are brown and can look dull there are times when the light catches them and they look beautiful.  I was pleased with this photogrpah showing the reeds at their best.

Reeds

Out on the woodland trail the Hart's Tongue Fern found last year is still doing well and another, smaller plant was also found a lilttle distance away.  We must have walked past it several times and not noticed it.  So much for being observant!

Hart's Tongue Fern

There is one Hazel tree near the Stone Pile that always opens its catkins early.  They were open at the beginning of the month but no female flowers could be found.  A tiny spec of red heralded the open female flower this week.

Male and female flowers on Hazel

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Reserve presentation work

Saturday, January 13th 2018

Sometimes the little things matter a great deal. We spent the first part of the day wandering the reserve replacing old signs with new laminated ones, all of which will now follow the same design.

Many of the older signs did not stand the test of time, so here's hoping that the new laminated ones last a lot longer!

After our meanderings, and a brief stop at the Wetland Hide to watch the Heron, we ventured up onto the Moorland to see the ponies. Maybe it was the abundance of sheep, or perhaps a visiting canine, but both Lark and Taurus seemed a little reserved at first before eventually coming over to say hello.

It was nice to have a relatively relaxed start to our Saturday on the reserve, but in the afternoon we knuckled down and busied ourselves with removing hawthorn from the Heath.

Encroachment by trees and scrub is one of the biggest threats to heathland in this country, which is why it's so important to ensure that Hawthorn and other saplings do not take over. The aim is to maintain a diverse vegetational structure and to promote appropriate soil disturbance; in this way the very act of dragging the brash out of the paddocks will help our Heath.

There's a little more Hawthorn to come out, but we're well on our way to finishing up.

I'm very much looking forward to seeing our heathland plant community thrive along with the many incredible invertebrates, reptiles, birds and mammals that also call our incredible heaths home. 

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Testing the water

Friday, January 12th 2018

Part of today has been taken up with routine maintenance work on power tools which included a trip to Sam Turner and Sons to drop off the brushcutters to be serviced.  A new thermostat has also been fitted in the Field Centre to improve the heating as some rooms can be a lot colder than others.  While all this was going on, Colin was continuing his rounds filling the bird feeders and putting out apples on the Water Vole rafts.

Work to remove some of the stands of Hawthorn and Willow that have been taking over one part of the Heathland has now been completed.  This will leave three small clumps that will include Oak and Holly as well as the Hawthorn.  This area will still need to have the Birch regrowth cut back in the next week, while the cut material will be removed and burnt off-site.  The two stakes with orange tape on them mark the location of two of three Junipers which will be transplanted out of the Heathland onto an adjacent site. 

And now a spot the difference competition!  There was still time this afternoon to start work on clearing Reedmace out of one of the Wetland ponds near to the Wetland Hide.  With the (slightly!) warmer weather the pond is now clear of ice, so the vegetation on the shallower side of the pond was earmarked for removal.  At first, the water seemed to be comparatively warm.  However, as it was still close to freezing, the work only lasted for 30 minutes but this is still a case of getting small wins.  The milder weather is set to continue at the start of next week, so further work maybe able to take place for a short period before the icy weather returns on Tuesday or Wednesday.  If anyone likes the idea of Scandinavian saunas, this may be just the job for you!

While doing this, it was clear that there has been a lot of military activity taking place next to the Reserve this afternoon, with rifle fire, parachute flares and red smoke grenades going off.  Most of the wildlife in the Reserve appeared to take this in its stride, with the Exmoor ponies contentedly munching the Moorland grass and three Roe Deer quietly making their way along one of the paths towards the Scrapes, apparently quite happy to tolerate human presence comparatively close to them.

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