Bash and Burn

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It’s that time of year again – the end of the scrub bashing season. It has been a pretty intense but productive time of year. The main sections undertaken were the usual suspects – Totternhoe Knolls, Victoria Picnic Garden in Sundon, the 5 knolls (ancient burial mound), the sunken tracks near Whipsnade, roadside quarries at Moleskin and a new section by the wind catcher on Dunstable Downs.

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What and how we do it…..

We use brush cutters, chainsaws and a BCS mower to remove ‘scrub’, which is basically anything that’s not a chalk grassland specialist. We then rake it up and burn it on designated burn sites.

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Why we do it?

Chalk grassland is an important habitat for many species. Due to its dry low nutrient soil, many species are able to thrive here with little competition from other species. Up to 40 species of flowering plants can be found in one square metre of lowland calcareous grassland. This includes common flowers such as Scabious and Bird’s-Foot-Trefoil alongside many nationally rare plants such as Bee and Frog orchids. This rich wildflower habitat provides a home for many nationally scarce insects, including the Duke of Burgundy butterfly and Glow-Worms, both of which are unable to live on other habitats.

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Current estimates suggest that up to 41,000 hectares of lowland calcareous grassland remain in the UK. The extent and quality of the UK’s chalk grassland is declining, mainly as a consequence of changes to land management and use. Traditionally chalk grasslands were managed by sheep grazing; by scrub bashing we essentially play the role of sheep which used to graze all of the downs.

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Cutting and removing the scrub ensures the nutrient level in the soil remains low, allowing for the diverse variety of chalk grassland plants to keep on flowering year upon year.

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The season runs from the beginning of October till the end of February.

It’s always a good day and we are always looking for more volunteers, so if you fancy joining us, especially over the winter give Austin a call on 07881848551.

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Goodbye

Have to say a number of goodbyes. We are losing many of our number before this upcoming season……

The Visitor Engagement manager – Amy Green, been here for 14 months, is now off to NT Claydon – where she has landed herself a job as Visitor Experience/House Manager which is a live in position a Permanent Managers job in the house. Anyone in Bucks go visit Amy and Claydon.

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Denise and Jon Summers – some of our most dedicated volunteers over the years (and my landlord and lady) is moving house to Dorset. Wish them all the best for the move to their perfect home by the sea. Hopefully will still volunteer with the Trust down there.

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Stacey is leaving for maternity leave, good luck to her! But she will be back……….

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Last but not least. Kimberly, our Seasonal Ranger for the last 9 months is off to bigger and better things, being a permanent job at the spectacular Hatfield forest.

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We wish all of them the very best for the future. You will all be sorely missed.

Scrub Clearing with Butterfly Conservation

Last Sunday we were joined by David Chandler and the Butterfly Conservation team who travel all around Bedfordshire, on Sundays, during the scrub clearing season. To help clear some scrub and do their bit to protect, enhance and enrich areas of the Chilterns to improve its Biodiversity- such as this Holly Blue.

Holly Blue butterfly (Celastrina argiolus) in July

 

On Sunday morning Butterfly Conservation group helped us (the NT) with our scrub management work at Sundon Hills CP.

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I hope to see a lot more of David and the Butterfly crew on Sharpenhoe in the upcoming season. And look forward to working again  with you on the NT’s properties in the North Chilterns.  

Big thank you to them for all their help!

New Plantings at Chute Farm

Trees planted along field boundry

Since the beginning of the year the Countryside Team has been working on the mammoth task of planting 2200 across our land at Chute farm, which sits atop Whipsnade and Dunstable Downs. So if you have been walking across the top of the Downs and wondering what the thousands of green tubes are which have suddenly appeared in the adjacent fields are. You can rest easy knowing it is not some alien invasion of the tube people.

The planting plan was designed to join up existing patches of woodland which contain plats such as Bluebells, Yellow Archangel and Wood Anemone which are indicators and ancient woodland. And small patches of woodland like these are extremely vulnerable destructive events such as fire or disease. By creating corridors between these patches, allowing these species to move and spread between the patches, we hope to ensure the long term survival of these species.

Volunteers planting trees

Our countryside volunteer team were a great help with this mammoth task

The species we planted were in two mixes. Central to the plantings we planted a mix of Oak, Beech and Field Maple, which when they grow will produce a good mature woodland of native English species. On the edge of the plantings we planted a mix of smaller shrubbier trees to border the larger trees and produce health woodland margins. This mix of trees was; Crab Apple, Wayfairing Tree, Spindle Tree, Guelder Rose, Dogwood and Hazel.

The trees were planted in two ways; strips between 10 and 20 meters wide and a block of 1.7 acres.  The 1.7 acres was to create an entirely new area of woodland where there has been none before on top of Bison Hill. And the Strip planting, as well as helping connect up existing woodland, has allowed us to split up several of our fields at chute farm. Splitting up these fields and providing a wind barrier of trees means that they will be less windblown and warmer than they were when they were larger. This is good news if you are an invertebrate or a ground nesting bird. Couple this with our project to return many of the fields at Chute Farm to chalk grassland, a project you will hear more about in blogs to come, and there is a very bright future for the wildlife at Chute Farm.

The Countryside Team would like to thank all the staff, volunteers and visitors who have helped us achieve this amazing task.

Staff trip to Anglesey Abbey

Last week a staff trip was planned and put on for all Trust staff and Volunteers. We went to the magnificent Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire.

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Me and some of the crew making wicker sculptures.

 snow drops

This time of year the Winter Garden bursts into life. Designed specifically with plants that give winter colour and fragrance, it is a beautiful sight to be enjoyed by winter visitors. The winter bringing displays of thousands of snowdrops throughout all areas of the garden, with over 270 varieties! Look out for the new link to Wicken Fen.

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Good fun was had by all!

Wildlife in Winter…..And How we can Help!

For me a snowy scene with a red breasted Robin that appears on Christmas cards is the typical scene of winter. It can be a pretty bleak time for wildlife, but there is good news. We can do a lot for wildlife to help them survive the winter, especially in our gardens.

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Deadwood is dead good!

Leave piles of logs and twigs in a shady corner when tidying your garden. This is a simple way of providing food and shelter for wildlife and is a good place for hibernating Hedgehogs, Snakes, Newts and Toads.

Apples and fruit left on the ground will make a tasty treat for small mammals such as Bank Voles and Hedgehogs and larger mammals such as Foxes, Badgers and Deer, as well as birds such as Blackbirds, Starlings and Thrushes and also insects.

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Leave seedheads – a nutritious food source for many birds such as; Siskin, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and House Sparrows. Plants such as Teasel, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Common Sorrel, Poppies, Scabious, Thistles and Yarrow are prefect. It will also encourage ladybirds and other invertebrates to shelter in during the winter months.

 Hedges

Hedging plants such as Blackthorn, Hazel and Hawthorn produce berries which are a good source of food and shelter for birds, protecting them against predators. Their spiky thorns also provide security for Thrushes and Blackbirds. Blackthorn also produces sloes which the birds love and make excellent gin!

 Water can be hard to find

Water is especially important to birds in winter when natural supplies may be frozen, not just for drinking, but also for bathing to keep their feathers in good condition. Dampening the feathers loosens the dirt and makes their feathers easier to preen. When preening, birds spread oil from the preen gland so they remain waterproof.

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 Feeding birds in Winter

The bird table can provide great restaurants for our feathered friends when the weather is bad and food sources are limited. We love watching our birds on the feeders – woodpeckers, nuthatches, great tits, coal tits, blue tits and if you’re lucky maybe even a marsh tit or brambling.

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Winter at the Downs

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Winter is the coldest season of the year and falls between Autumn and Spring. In some ‘lucky’ parts of the northern hemisphere, it is characterized by falling snow and freezing cold temperatures. The season – which usually lasts about three months from the winter solstice (year’s shortest day December 21st), to the vernal equinox (day and night equal in length) March 21st – is caused because the area in question is farthest away from the sun in the earth’s orbit around it.

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Plants and animal life respond to winter in different ways. Some animals such as birds migrate when the winter season is approaching and only return during the summer. This is to ensure a consistent food supply as most of their food sources freeze in the winter.

 Other animals go into hibernation, a type of sleep, usually housed in a shell (Snails) or underground (Hedgehogs), remaining so until spring arrives. Some animals such as Squirrels profusely gather and store food, in preparation for winter months when the sources are dead and gathering becomes impossible (See picture). In response to the weather most animals have other adaptations to survive, some animals develop thick fur that keeps them warm during this season, others such as Mountain Hares and Ptarmigan in Scotland change colour to white and becomes indistinguishable from the snow as a survival tactic.

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Whilst some plants completely die off in winter, others actually need the season to complete their life cycle. Snow provides a thick blanket that buries and insulates the plants beneath it, protecting them from the bitter temperatures and harsh winds. Some trees become dormant in winter and lose all their leaves during the season, but their roots are still active, protected by the thick layers of snow that covers the earth surface.

Winter is also a time of fruits, many fruits such as Rowan and Hawthorn which are fantastic for winter migrant birds such as Fieldfare and Redwing.

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