30 Sep 2009

Coppicing and Working Horses in the Ercall LNR

Message from The Bloggger...
I'm indebted once more to Keith Fowler for this blog post who strolled up to the stage and keyboard as I regrettably miss another day out with the Wrekin Forest Volunteers

So... over to Keith
(all pics by Keith unless otherwise stated)

Coppicing and Working Horses in the Ercall LNR

Pic by Graham Statham

After a spring and summer of wandering, looking, (mis)identifying, recording and just generally enjoying the many wildlife sites we are blessed with in Telford it was back to practical conservation in the Wrekin Forest, i.e. cutting down trees.

For once I came under my own steam and parked in the Forest Glen car park where I made early acquaintance with Geoff/Jeff the wonder-horse who was to work the woods with us whilst he was enjoying some pre-work grooming. I then noticed the Trust mini-van miss the car park and carry on towards Little Wenlock. Fortunately Alistair cycled by and told me we were meeting at the end of the path to the coppice. So off I trotted after the van.

We assembled in the area coppiced last year. On the other side of the path children from one of our local schools were enjoying themselves learning about woodland skills on a course run, so I believe, by the Wildlife Trust.

First things first – the fire ritual. Kindling was found, paper rolled and Peter lit the first fire of the season. And it lit first time … improvement.

Peter then told us what our task was to be: to coppice a second area (cant – I think he called it) neighbouring the one from last year. We walked around the border then, being the first session of the season and with a few new faces, Peter gave instructions for the tools. He also put us on strict limits for the size of tree we could remove – no larger than the circle created by thumb and finger. Our hearts sank – but they were raised when Peter said that we would cut down the larger ones at a later session.

Tea makers and fire tenders were posted

And the rest of us set about removing the undergrowth from the coppice area. Meanwhile Geoff/Jeff removed a few logs then basked in his glory as small group after small group of the schoolchildren came up to admire and stroke him.

And before long it was elevenses, more work, then lunch

But no cake … except for those burnt by King Alfred

Some of our group had the opportunity to load and drive Geoff/Jeff who proved to be very patient with us especially when his logs snagged, bringing him to a sudden halt, or when we garbled our commands. Others converted the wood that had been felled into hedging materials.

The day soon passed. It was a gentle reintroduction into our winter routine, made all the more pleasurable by the clement weather and the Geoff/Jeff’s presence – long may he continue to work.

Editor's comment: Olly looks on as man takes photo of horse devouring a volunteer!
Sorry... just couldn't resist it!
Photo supplied by Graham Statham

Thanks once more Keith for the article. I'm back this Friday all being well!

Oh... before I go... the 'Where Is It Competition' - the prize for which is a 2-week all expenses paid holiday in Hawaii or one my gifts from my box of giveaways ( I choose) - is proving to be a real stinker with 2 or 3 suggestions already made but no-one's yet near the mark, so I'm giving yet another clue:-

It's not far from Llodirlsh

Other clues to date you may recall are:-

The location is very close to one of SWT's Nature Reserves.

19-10 CH00BA

And here's the pic once more

Come on! I've all but told you! Suggestions in Comments below

22 Sep 2009

Ercall & Granville Walkabout

Message from The Bloggger...
I'm indebted to Keith for this blog post who often strolls up to the lectern to give a dissertation when I'm unable to do so as was the case with the recent walk around The Ercall and Granville Nature Reserves for a review of future work to be carried out by the intrepid Wrekin Forest Volunteers.

So... over to Keith

Close Encounters of a Horsey Kind

The new season for the Wrekin Forest Volunteers opened with a home games at the Ercall followed by a match at what is rapidly becoming our second home pitch at Granville. Both matches were walks around the site.

The Ercall

Some of the volunteers and a couple of rangers and regular walkers of the Ercall met at the car park opposite the Buckatree. We watch dumbstruck as a recycling lorry pulled up at the edge of the car park, emptied its contents onto the side of the road then drove off … more later.

Our first objective was to find the steps up the Ercall to establish their state of repair. We passed along the foothills of the Ercall through vast swathes of bracken and found the steps. They looked pretty good to me. We conquered the steps but not without many stops to admire the view and give Pete many opportunities to impress us with his vast knowledge of the area. We also spotted lots of Earthballs (inedible) and a lovely beetle (as yet unidentified).

The steps? Oh yes! There are 180 (thanks Les) – more than the Rotunda - most were in good order but could benefit from some tlc but a few were rotten and need replacing.

Having made it all the way up the steps we then started to descend. We came to a view point and discussed improvements. I felt sorry for the silver birch in front of the area as the chain saw men amongst us sized it up.

We descended to the bottom then went up again, but not by the main path but by an obscure route through damp woodland at the side of the golf course (one golf ball found). We spied a rather untidy “social meeting” place through the trees. As if by magic, which I am sure it was, plastic bags appeared and the rubbish was collected and subsequently placed in the Buckatree’s skip.

We made our way to Quarry 4 and assessed the amount of willow we would have to clear in the next few months, making sure, of course, that we do not disturb the colony of banded snails that have taken up residence.

Then back to the car park. Some of us took the nostalgic route over Beetle Bridge.

And the recycling – as if by magic, which I am sure it wasn’t, had all been removed. The recycling lorry moves in mysterious ways.

We met, at the Muxton Lane Car Park, with the Chair and Vice Chair of the Friends of Granville. I apologise to them and to the readers that I cannot recall their names. Pete explained that he had been invited to create an Interpretation Strategy for the site. This would involve things such as identifying the architectural and cultural points of interest, creating interpretation media (such as boards) and heritage trails, celebrating coal mining history in Telford. Unfortunately some of this was lost on me as I was distracted by the antics of numerous Speckled Woods in the trees around the car park – sorry. Fortunately Pete had brought hand-outs – so we did not need to take notes.

We started by walking around the Muxton Bridge pit mound, which borders the car park, then made our away across Marshbook Way to the Freehold Colliery pit mound. This area has become a haven for kids and bikes. In amongst the items of historic interest they had built ramps, precipitous drops and even steps to help their pursuit of biking pleasure. I hope that this can be retained within the “Interpretation Strategy” maybe as an example of later generation adapting the environment to their needs.

At the side of this the path descends gently along what may be an inclined plane as the path at the bottom follows the course of the old tramway. As we were close to Muxton Marsh so, for old times sake, we went to inspect the hedge. This meant getting past the guard horses which are grazing the area until December. Bribed with an apple the horses let us pass. The hedge looks good, but there is still a lot to do.

Let’s stop for lunch the walk leader suggested. It seemed a good idea, the gate was shut and the horses were in the other field. BUT, no sooner had we settled down and tucked into lunch that the horses came through a hole in the future hedge and had us surrounded, demanding to be fed. We beat a hasty retreat. We made for the “Dingy Skipper” bank for a leisurely lunch in the sun.

Our walk eventually took us to the South Eastern tip of the reserve down Grange Lane through an avenue of Japanese Knotweed which looked (sorry to admit this) very attractive bedecked in sprays of little cream flowers. Then we headed back to the Lodge Furnaces and Canal basin, discussing the best way to construct a heritage trail – a series of linked loops looking the best option.

At the furnaces Pete told us that one of our tasks would be to tidy up the area and try and expose more of this industrial site. The chain saw men were licking their lips – all in the interests of public safety and education of course.

We wandered back to the Car Park via the Methodist Chapel and Muxton Bridge Pump House admiring the excellent clearance work that the Friends had undertaken.
We are now all primed to respond to Pete’s call for a get together to discuss how this project is to be pursued.

Keith Fowler

Thanks Keith - as I missed this event I must try and find these steps up The Ercall, especially as it looks as if we'll be working on them!

15 Sep 2009

Nipstone Rock Moth Night

What a splendid place to spend a night! The time of year added to the charm with heather in full bloom not just at SWT's Nipstone Rock Nature Reserve but the whole of the Stiperstones range was awash with purple. The magnificent work that teams of mostly volunteers have been doing over recent years is certainly paying off with the 60's conifer plantations now destroyed allowing the hill's natural vegetation to return to its magnificent beginnings and bringing with it all of its once lost fauna.

It was Les's idea that led to a group of Wrekin Forest Volunteers spending the night here for the purpose of trapping moths so we could see at first-hand what species are now enjoying this rather special habitat.

So, on Saturday September 5th 2009, Les and I along with County Moth Recorder Tony Jacques arrived to set up our 3 moth traps. Accompanying us were Penny, Graham and Keith. Penny had taken up our invitation for a 'night on the mound' but I rather feel she happily responded in the affirmative due only to a misunderstanding when she thought I said 'night on the town'! An email duly followed from Penny suggesting that if we wanted to keep it as a stag night we only had to say. Confusion possibly reigned even greater when I then explained she would be quite safe as it wasn't yet the rutting season!

Enough of this frivolity and nonsense! Get on with it!

Tony treated us to a few of his larvae-catch that he'd discovered on the edges of the reserve before we all arrived;-

Pebble Prominent Larva

Sallow Kitten Larva

In fact there were scores of Sallow Kitten larva, feeding as you would expect, on sallow that Tony pointed out to us the next morning. Mind you... you can't always assume that the name of a moth indicates its larval foodplant for the Oak Eggar larvae for example, feed nowhere near an oak tree - it's the acorn-looking pupa in this case that gives the adult or imago the name.

I also found a Fox Moth larva at camp which had just ditched its final skin. It was so fresh that it was some 2 weeks later before Tony correctly identified it from my photo, the tell-tale orange marking behind its head not visible on emergence.

A couple of weeks earlier when checking the site for specific trap location I came across dozens of these larvae:-

Couldn't ID them at the time but Tony came to the rescue once more with a positive ID of Light Knot Grass. So that's another species to focus on late May-June next year as they emerge from their pupa and start the reproduction process all over.

We set up traps and tents in the lee of the rocks just as dusk was falling. Well most did. Tony and I otherwise engaged with cables, generator and mindless chatter had left tent erection a tad late so we ended up putting our two shelters up in the dark. Having done mine in similar circumstances many times it presented no problem to me but Tony... well Tony had somehow managed to put his brand new and unopened tent, instructions left unread, upside down with the door facing the floor. Interesting concept thought I, but would he not be falling out all night?

The normally strong winds that prevail in this often bleak area kept at bay for the whole night, blessed as we we were with just the slightest and occasional breeze. Cloud cover was around 80% keeping the temperature higher than it otherwise would have been on a clear night (lowest recorded through the night was 8 deg C) and not a hint of rain. Almost perfect conditions for the frolicking moths.

This vista has to be one of the best campsites I've ever stayed at and I've backpacked many a hill, mountain and valley over the years. The view east across the valley to the massive Long Mynd range is just fabulous.
We sat and chatted whilst we waited for the moths to come out to play. Penny kept us amused with her many humorous, witty comments and anecdotes whilst Graham treated us to some of the many amazing facts and figures he manages to store in his head. Tony gave an insight into the life of a county recorder and then Keith fell asleep. Followed by Les. Nothing to do with the lack of scintillating conversation you understand. It was just way passed their bedtimes. Bless!

But then... was that... could it be... yes... it's a moth! Duly potted up and instantly and impressively identified by Tony as a Chevron which was followed by another Chevron and another. In fact the Chevron achieved the highest species count of the night with a total of 16 individuals.

There was a slight interlude as we watched in awe Graham being 'beamed up' to a higher source some place way above the rocks.

I always said he should try to keep his feet firmly on the ground but some folk just don't listen!

A beautiful Antler Moth then arrived much to everyone's delight. So called, of course, because of the wing markings that do look remarkably like deer antlers.

So perhaps it is the rutting season after all. As darkness fell on this quite spot full of dubious legend and devilry tales two mysterious lights appeared over the hill from the north making a startled Tony run for cover!

I jest, of course, they're lights from 2 traps as seen from the third.

A few more Cherons arrived, along with a few Large Yellow Underwing, Flounced Rustic and the immigrant Silver Y. An Autumnal Rustic also put in an appearance along with a lone Small Wainscot. Surprisingly only one singleton micro-moth appeared.

Small Wainscot

Flounced Rustic

Autumnal Rustic

We said cheerio to Keith and Penny a little before midnight as they left for their respective homes and then the remaining 4 of us retired to tents about 45 minutes later. The generator ran till 4am and we rose around 6am to check the traps, carefully ID everything and then we packed up and left Nipstone Rock and its flora and fauna to itself.

Although the moths were not great in number, some interesting species arrived and a couple of 'firsts' for me. All-in-all a successful and enjoyable night out and one that I'm sure we'll repeat again. I'm particularly keen to run another in the same area next May to hopefully trap the magnificent Emperor Moth and judging by the number of Fox Moth larvae we found they should also be in abundance that month too.

The full species count has gone through to the County Recorder - in fact thanks go to Tony for correlating the data. A copy has also gone through to Shropshire Wildlife Trust who own and manage Nipstone Rock Nature Reserve and to whom big thanks must go to Pete Lambert and Carl Pickup for their help in allowing us access to a truly wonderful part of this fabulous county we call Shropshire - a hidden gem.

And then we leave, as we always do; taking nothing but photographs and leaving nothing but footprints.

A copy of the full species list is also in the 'Files' section of the Wrekin Forest Volunteers forum

Catch you all soon and looking forward to this Friday's moth night on The Wrekin.

Click collage below for more pics from the Nipstone gallery

. . .

5 Sep 2009

Camping in Wales meant I missed the Badger Watch but thanks to Keith we have a write-up of the event:-
Badger Watch, Wednesday 26th August 2009
The three of us who had taken up Pete’s invitation met outside the Trust HQ and awaited his arrival. Unfortunately the Trust and Public Toilets were locked, so no chance of a dignified pre-watch pit stop.

Pete arrived with the now familiar minibus – a bit over the top when there were only four in the party. Never mind, we tried to get in but found the floor covered in oil. “Chain oil” declared Pete, so he raided the Trust Rucksack, which seems to travel everywhere with us occupying a valuable seat, and found some wet wipes which we distributed over the floor to cover the oil.

All aboard for a mystery tour of North Shropshire – I cannot reveal where we ended up as it is “a secret location”.

As we made our way to the hide after making delayed pit stops Pete explained that crinkly clothes, noisy cameras etc. were not welcome. So no Kit-Kat for me tonight. He also told us there was a spot on the way after which we could no longer talk to each other.

We made our way across a large meadow and through a field and reached the “no talking” point. So silence reigned. When we reached the hide Pete prepared the ground by spreading peanuts whilst we opened up the hide.

Then it was sit and wait … and wait and watch a clump of brambles.

Editors comment: So that's where Bill Oddie's been hiding!

After what seemed a lifetime but was probably about 20 minutes we heard chomping (I have learnt that badgers are not quiet eaters) the sound of which was reminiscent of our youths’ and sportspersons’ current habit of chewing gum vigorously with mouths open.

Then we could just make out a snout through one of the gaps at the base of the brambles. Then … was that a second badger? Then they disappeared.

But, as darkness was beginning to take hold they came back. And, in all, three badgers were visible in the gloom. Here is a picture of two of taken by Graham:

And another that he took on a previous visit.

All that was left was to shut up the hide, lock it and return to the bus. “Has anyone got a torch?” Thankfully half the party had brought one so we were able to illuminate the return path, passing the “No Talking Spot” after which we were able to discuss the events of the evening.

A bit of nifty reversing out of the parking spot and we were on our way home.

Thank you Pete for organising this trip, giving us the opportunity to see these splendid creatures alive and well rather than corpses at the side of the road.

Keith Fowler
Thanks for that Keith and don't forget if anyone else wants to write up a blog post just create it in MS Word, add a few pics and email it to me. I'll do the rest.
Interest is being sparked in the 'Where Is It Competition', with emails flying in , text messages, phone calls and people stopping me in the street all with their suggestions as to where the current picture has been taken. OK... I'll come clean; Les googled CH00BA, found a dating website in Croatia and to be honest that's the closest anyone has got!

So I'm upping the ante and offering the winner either;-

a) An all-expenses-paid 3-week holiday to the exotic island of Hawaii (HONEST!)
b) One of my now famous and much sought-after gifts from my Little Box of Giveaways.

The thing is - I get to choose which of the 2 is the prize! It could be a), it could be b). It's got to worth a little research and maybe a few guesses surely?

OK... another clue;

The location is very close to one of SWT's Nature Reserves.

Don't forget you already have the clue 19-10 CH00BA

And here's the pic once more

It can't get any easier!
Enter your suggestion in comments below or if you'd rather - just email me at paulewatts@googlemail.com

Happy hunting!