Nestlings and flowers

Amazing what a week does. Spring flowers are dotting Popehouse Moor now, with woodsorrel and carpets of primroses beneath the trees at the far end of the nature reserve and cuckoo flower on the grassland. And best of all, I’ve spotted a dunnock’s nest with young in the garden. They’ve nested in the sedge again, and I missed the beautiful blue eggs this year, but I’m looking forward to watching these youngsters hope around the place. I just hope they make it – they’re pretty low to the ground. I’ll have to put Muttley on guard against neighbourhood cats!

Blackthorn in blossom

Blackthorn in blossom on Popehouse Moor, Wheatland Farm, Devon
What a glorious spring it is being – even after the forecast said the sunshine would break. And now blackthorn is in full flower – my favourite spring blossom. Tiny, delicate, understated but there first, before the leaves break through on this prickly shrub. The insects love it, and it only flowers on old wood – a good reason not to cut your hedges every year. Hedges trimmed annually have something like 50 times less blackthorn blossom, and why would you miss this spring glory?

Signs of spring

In March you have to look for the details – the trees are still bare but the birds are singing. Our favourite robin has a beak full of fluff – I wonder where the nest is? In the garden the primroses are out, but in the wood they are still in bud. And those are the ones I always think of as the ‘real’ ones. Willow is putting out catkins though, and of course gorse is in flower.

Goldfinches on the teasel heads

goldfinch feeding on teasels, Wheatland Farm eco lodges, Devon

Vindicated! Untidyness by the office window has benefited the goldfinches – which are busy stripping the seeds from dead teasel heads. This picture was snapped through the fairly grimy glass, and I’m surprised it came out as well as it has. They are such beautiful little birds, cheering up winter days.

Snowdrops and a woodmouse

February snowdrops at Wheatland Farm eco lodges, DevonThe snow drops are out – and so was this wood mouse down in the nature reserve. Well, the truth is I disturbed it from a nest box that I was clearing out for the coming spring. But with temperatures rising I don’t think it will suffer much of an eviction. Spring really feels like it’s making a move now – the light feels stronger and the birds are louder.

Winter wildlife work

Winter is when we do a lot of our land management work. Since entering the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme last June we’ve got an even longer ‘to do’ list!

One of the tasks is more ‘scrub bashing’ on Popehouse Moor Site of Special Scientific Interest. We need to push back invading willow and bramble so as not to lose the precious culm grassland. Here’s a shot of the western end of the reserve where scrub bashing, and eventually hedge laying, will lessen the barrier between Popehouse Moor and Lower Newland Moor (where the turbine is), hopefully helping us manage them so their wildlife converges. We’ve got 3 winters of this work to do…

We’ve also been adding some new fencing to make it easier to keep the cows out of sensitive woodland in the summer.

Many many thanks to our volunteers from the WWOOF network (world wide opportunities on organic farms). Ayaka, Marion and Ben all braved near knee-high mud and worked hard chopping, carrying and burning.

Come back and see it when it greens up in the summer!

Frogspawn and a first primrose

Frogspawn in the ponds at Wheatland Farm, January 2012There’s frogspawn in 2 of our ponds! I hope it doesn’t turn seriously cold now. I’ve already seen the first primrose flowering in the hedge banks of our local lanes. That’s months too early really – overall so far it has been a mild winter. But today there was a dusting of snow. In previous years the kids have been off school because of bad weather even in February, so there’s no knowing yet.

Spreading the word on wildlife

I’m not that happy chatting – I’d rather write. But I got asked to do a few minutes on BBC radio Devon (Sat 19 March, Good Morning Devon) on the Get Wild About Devon scheme. And of course I couldn’t say no… What was it all about? The scheme provided an experienced naturalist who walks round the property with you, pointing out wildlife you can highlight to your guests. That information got put into a map and PDF file for web/print out so you can give it to guests and use it in your marketing. We’ll be putting ours in our accommodation and on our website. The idea is to help businesses see the economic potential in their local wildlife (and hopefully so to cherish it).

… so I had to get up quietly and hope the kids didn’t come storming downstairs in the middle. It went fine I think (no, I haven’t played it back online) but I don’t think we really empowered people to do much as a result. The scheme was a pilot and seems likely to remain so, given current financial contraints, unless another grant can be found. But there’s nothing to stop people doing it for themselves. Try your county wildlife trust for advice, your local Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG), a naturalist group sourced through your county wildlife recorder (again – ask your county wildlife trust). Or if you’re in Devon just look up the list of participants on Visit Devon, find the business nearest you, and give them a ring. I’m sure they’d be happy to tell you more about what worked for them and how you could make something similar work for you.

Meanwhile, here’s a picture of our wildlife today – a dunnock’s nest in pendulous sedge spotted when the bird exploded out nearly from under my pruning shears. She was back within a few minutes. We’ll be keeing an eye on the nest and trying to minimise disturbance.

Conservation grazing on Popehouse Moor SSSI

Here’s a brief video explaining how (and why) we graze our Popehouse Moor Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)…

It’s on our nature blog too, where more people will probably see it, but just for completeness here it is…