When I Was A Lad

Standing looking out over the wildflower meadow at Sun Rising, when someone says to me, “I’ve not seen a sight like that since I was a lad” or ” … a girl”, I know we’re doing something right.

As the cowslips reach their best – and there are more of them every year – it’s an expression I often hear, and it warms my heart as much as it does the person who says it.  They are usually somewhere over 70, and what they recall is an England before the war, before every scrap of land was ploughed for food and sprayed with chemicals.  We have lost so much of our native wildflower meadow, blinkered attitudes prioritising food production over the health of land and its inhabitants.  Conserving what is left of our ancient meadows is one important task, but creating new meadows of wildflowers is as crucial.

Cowslips near the Roundhouse

Cowslips near the Roundhouse

I’m looking forward to seeing our much larger new area of meadow in a few years’ time.  It’s still bare seeded soil now, but in the seed mix there are cowslips, and when they establish they will be even more brilliant than these.

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The Place for a Daffodil

Daffodils are a true delight.  In a dreary grey spring, when bright days are uncommon and for the most part there is drizzle, mud underfoot, and damp in the bones, the joy of these golden yellow flowers is enormously appreciated.  They bring sunshine down to earth.  It is no wonder that growers want to create so many varieties, with myriad hues of cream white to vibrant orange.

Native Daffodils in Memorial Woodland

Native Daffodils in Memorial Woodland at Sun Rising

At Sun Rising, the daffodils are all the native Narcissus pseudonarcissus, the Lenten lily, the old wild species.  Or, they should all be – each year we dig up bulbs of cultivars that families have put in, by mistake, or hoping to sneak them in, but for the integrity of the nature reserve can’t be kept.  The Lenten lily is a soft lemon yellow daffodil, with a richer yellow  trumpet. Although they are beautiful in clusters out in the meadow, and indeed they are native to grassland and woodland, somehow I think they always look more at home beneath the trees.  Perhaps it is simply that they look wilder there, amidst strands of last year’s dried grasses and old leaves – they look peaceful and at ease.

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Caring for Trees

Yesterday we held our spring volunteer day, mulching all the little saplings – both those planted in memory of a loved one, and those planted as part of the nature reserve.  Around 30 lovely people came, full of energy and enthusiasm, with wheelbarrows and buckets, and around 700 little trees were mulched.

Volunteers at the Mulching Day

Volunteers at the Mulching Day

With climate change, while we may grumble at snow and grey skies, actual rainfall has decreased over the last ten years.  Indeed, for the first time at Sun Rising, last summer some of the youngest trees suffered from drought.  The mulch of composted bark will help retain moisture in the soil, while also suppressing some of the grasses and other plants around the base of the trees.  It looks very smart for a while too, especially with the spring flowers coming through – the wild daffodils, primroses and cowslips, and the first lesser celandine.

Saplings Mulched along Eastern Boundary

Saplings Mulched along Eastern Boundary

A big thank you to everyone who came along, and to all who contributed to the refreshments table too.  As one of the volunteers said, the whole place looks very ‘smart and loved’.  It is loved – very much indeed!

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Melting Snow

Compared with many around the country, we’ve had it fairly easy with regard to weather over the past week.  By Friday evening there were impassable snow drifts along the main A roads, the hill roads closed, cars abandoned here and there, even 4WD vehicles upturned in ditches.  The birds at Sun Rising were emptying our huge feeders in less than 24 hours.  But by Sunday evening the melt was fully underway.

It took a few days for the brook to thaw, but now water is pouring through, in places making tunnels underneath heaps of snow.  Rushing out into the pond, it is overflowing into the wetland area which is now thoroughly drenched.  With the red stems of the dogwood behind, the bulrushes reflecting the water, on a calm day it is a wonderful place to be.

Melting Snow on the Wildlife Pond

Melting Snow on the Wildlife Pond

Although the ground is still soggy underfoot in some areas, there are so many signs of spring now at Sun Rising.  The alder and hazel are dressed up with their dancing catkins, the willow is budding and will be next to blossom.  There are primroses hidden in the grass, and the snowdrops are still flowering.  And perhaps most exciting of all, the skylarks are singing …

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Snowdrops and Raindrops

It is easy to believe that winter is a time when the chilly, grey landscape has no flowers at all.  At Sun Rising, though, primroses, little cowslips, gorse by the main gate, the occasional determined dandelion, ivy and hazel are all in flower.

Over the last week the snowdrops have begun to flower too.  The first you may have seen here are those that were planted ‘in the green’; these are flowering from the nourishment in their bulbs, bulbs which have not yet put down little roots to replenish themselves.  Flowering a little later and, for me, the most beautiful are those which are well rooted, having been planted a few years ago.  These tend to be scattered, rather than in clumps, the little white flowers peaking through the tatty winter grasses.  If you look carefully, you can spot their sturdy little leaves, darker and thicker than the grasses in which they are growing, before they flower.  They seem to me to have a quiet independence, a brilliant spirit.

Snowdrops in the Rain

Snowdrops in the Rain

Snowdrops don’t much like wet winters, struggling in water-logged soil, so the success rate for the little wild Galanthus nivalis snowdrops we are planting at Sun Rising is not as high as it might be if planting specially bred cultivars.  In the semi-wild environment of the nature reserve, our snowdrops can flower later than those in gardens too.  Each year more come through, though, and despite the recent rain and increasingly wet soil, let’s hope we have plenty this year.

Nor should we yet complain of the rain.  After such a dry 2017, it is lovely to have the moisture in the earth now.  Looking at the photograph here, too, the sparkling raindrops on grass beside the newly flowering snowdrops only adds to the delight and sense of hope: a first whisper of spring.

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The Snug Bedding of Tree Sparrows

One of our winter tasks at a nature reserve is checking the bird nestboxes.  Like many winter jobs that take more skill than energy, it’s one of cold fingers and noses, but with rewarding moments.

Some nestboxes may have patches of rotten wood or other damage – this may be caused by poor drainage (especially in poorly designed or badly made boxes), or because the box is quite old.  Now and then there is evidence of woodpeckers or other creatures tapping holes.  Where possible, these are carefully mended, ensuring anyone who takes up residence in the coming year can keep their clutch safe and sound.

The joy of the task comes when a box is found to be full of nesting material – mosses, dried grasses, wool, fur and feathers.  It can be such a very snug, thick wedge of material, all so carefully collected, it is a shame to empty it out.  We must do so, nonetheless, to minimise disease, the likelihood of parasites, and other problems in the old bedding.  The birds will find fresh new material and make their nests cosy again soon enough.

Nesting Material from Tree Sparrow Box at Sun Rising

Nesting Material from Tree Sparrow Box at Sun Rising

This year, 4 of our 6 tree sparrow boxes were found with good nesting material inside, confirming our observation that the boxes were being used by nesting pairs.  The other 2 boxes were damaged and have now been fixed.  If all 6 boxes are used this year, we’ll invest in some more, hoping to increase our population of this little bird. With a conservation status still at RED, it is estimated that its numbers reduced by 93% between 1970 and 2008.  Our little community is a vital part of its revival.

Note the white to beige pheasant feathers in the nesting material in the photograph. You can also see grey feathers, from a wood pigeon or stock dove. It could be that a fox killed onsite at just the right time, when the tree sparrows were collecting for the box.  There are long semiplume and soft down feathers here, ideal for keeping the nest warm and secure.

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Snow

For a moment I wondered what to call this post, but there is nothing more needed: snow.  We have snow.

View from the Main Gate at Sun Rising, 12 December 2017

View from the Main Gate at Sun Rising, 12 December 2017

Not many have made it, or will make it to Sun Rising when the snow is this thick, so we thought we’d show you what it looks like.  You’ll see a few lines of footprints, but there are far more nonhuman tracks – crows, pigeons, pheasants, deer, hare and others.  The birdfeeders have remained topped up, although it’s taken some work to unlock them to do so, and the smaller birds are filling themselves with seed to keep themselves together.

Yesterday morning it was a foot in places, 6 – 8″ covering everywhere.  That meant the little tree plaque posts were almost hidden, the tracks and paths completely obscured.  Thankfully, we have had no funerals these past few days, but for the first time in a good few years we had to cancel a day of tree planting – we are so sorry to the six families who couldn’t make it last Sunday.

With rain due, and the temperature rising, the snow is melting, and we doubt it will last more than a day or so more.  However, if you do come over, please be aware that little pockets of resilient ice may remain – watch your step.

 

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Hibernaculum

What a wonderful word: hibernaculum.  A hibernaculum is basically a winter residence, or somewhere where a creature can find shelter to hibernate, and at Sun Rising the creatures we are looking to help in this respect are the newts …

Which is why our new hibernaculum has been built by the pond.  Rich, Tim and David put it together using old bricks, essentially heaped in a pile, leaving nooks and crannies big enough for the little creatures to creep in and feel safe enough to snooze all winter.  The heap is covered in turf, to keep it warm and further protected.

Here’s the pile of bricks …

Rich Building the Hibernaculum

Rich Building the Hibernaculum

and the completed residence …

Tim with the Completed Hibernaculum

Tim with the Completed Hibernaculum

Although you are welcome to find it, please don’t investigate too closely.  When the little creatures have found their way in, they certainly don’t want to be disturbed.

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Pond Work

What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon in late November than up to your waist in muddy water?  Volunteers Tim and Richard, alongside Sun Rising manager David, were working on the wildlife pond last Sunday, in gloves and waders, and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying it.  Here’s the pond before the work began,  and then with Rich and Tim in the cold muddy water.

The Wildlife Pond - before work began

The Wildlife Pond – before work began

Rich and Tim Clearing the Wildlife Pond

Rich and Tim – clearing the pond

If a wildlife pond were left to its own cycles, it wouldn’t take long before the vegetation would take over, leaving no open water at all.  In nature, such ponds come and go, but at the nature reserve we want to maintain the pond and its habitat.  In order to do so, it is necessary to clear some of the bulrushes, bur-reed and broad-leaved pondweed each year.  This is done in late autumn, when the water is cold and many creatures have started their hibernation.

The harvested vegetation is left on the pond bank for a week or so, allowing any little pond creatures that were inadvertently removed at the same time to slide and wriggle their way back into the water.  These include newts, dragonfly larva, tiny shrimps and water beetles.  The vegetation will then be taken to the compost heap.  Here’s a photo of the pond cleared for the year.

The Wildlife Pond -  after the work was done

The Wildlife Pond – after the work was done

Thanks so much to Tim and Rich for their hard work!  Until next year …

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Winter Moths

What might be called a ‘weather window’ happened upon us earlier this week: the wind paused and the temperatures rose, offering a perfect opportunity for two events at Sun Rising.

The first was a last minute moth survey, and being later in the year than we’ve managed before, it was an exciting chance for our friendly mothers (moth-ers) to find moths not recorded at Sun Rising before.

In the event 19 species were recorded, most of these being new for the site.  They included the December Moth – isn’t it a beautiful creature, with its black fur and golden markings?

December Moth, photographed at Sun Rising Natural Burial Ground and Nature Reserve, 14 November 2017

December Moth, photographed at Sun Rising Natural Burial Ground and Nature Reserve, 14 November 2017

A late common darter dragonfly was also found, roosting near the pond.

The other event was that we were able to complete the sowing of Michael’s Meadow, the new area of wildflower meadow between the roundhouse and the pond.  It’s up to nature now …

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