Thursday, 12 September 2013

Autumn 2013

It has been several months since the last report from Holly Farm but now Spring has come and gone and Summer is turning to Autumn - already!
Last  winter was very trying weather-wise! The ground here was completely waterlogged for months, made worse by the Sussex clay.  Sometimes it is difficult to get excited by wildlife when the countryside is so drab and damp with little obvious signs of wildflowers or bugs.
Over the winter months 'our' pair of ravens were regularly heard or seen, often flying directly over the house and performing the odd barrel-role. A barn owl frequently appeared during late afternoons, flying 'softly' on silent wings as it hunted for voles in the rough grass, then returning to its roost in the cattle barn.  If only it chose to nest there as we have provided a perfectly good owl box and I would have thought that few hundred acres was more than enough to provide food to find food for their young. 
When finally a Spring of sorts did arrive, many of us imagined that we were going to have to put up with yet another miserable summer but little did we suspect what was behind the corner. Vague signs of what was in store began with the magnificent display of bluebells at the top end of Rookerywood.  Then gradually the rollercoaster of life got moving once again.

After a long cold winter the bluebell display in Rookerywood
refreshed the spirit
This was followed by a few warm days in late June that continued into July then August and early September when we experienced one of the hottest and most humid days I can remember.  Then overnight all change - the temperature dropped 15 degrees and the cold and damp returned and the wonderful hum and chirpings of insect life subsided.  My special interest in insects is not without sound reason. Apart from being fascinating in their own right, these often maligned creatures are close to the bottom of the food chain -  if there is a healthy population of insects then all 'higher' animals will prosper too, birds, reptiles mammals small and large. After plants they are at the root of biodiversity.

This summer several species of bumblebees were spotted in
the wood including the tree bumblebee which only arrived
 in this country in 2001

A carder beetle flies between the leaves of an oak sapling

The warm Summer brought farmers a bumper hay crop and insects which seemed to have become nearly extinct earlier in the season have returned. In fact I haven't seen so many bees and butterflies for years.  Around our house and wood we have counted 18 species of butterflies, 7 or so species of bumblebee and by mid August many species of hoverfly, twenty of which were identified and recorded 'on film'.  For a few weeks in mid Summer Rookery wood was almost seething with silver-washed fritillaries, punctuated by one or two pairs of white admirals.  The moorhens managed to produce three fluffy chicks and a pair of greylag nested on the island but once again  something took the eggs, possibly a crow or fox.  The buzzards that nest in the wood each year reared a pair of young and one afternoon six buzzards were spotted enjoying a thermal over the house.

Six buzzards head towards the wood circling in a thermal

My bĂȘte noir,  fallow deer have expanded yet again as they do with each passing season.  As alluded to in previous blogs, perhaps boringly so now, these vermin do unimaginable damage to the local fauna and flora by destroying wild flowers and any fresh saplings that dare to raise their head above ground.  
However a distinguished naturalist friend has persuaded me to spend a fortune, (with kind help from the Forestry Commission) on 800 metres of deer fencing to protect Rookerywood, although some have described the place as resembling a prisoner of war camp -  I think the enterprise is one of my more useful contributions to the health of our countryside!  The entire wood will now have a chance to be transformed into a haven for life: the last ten years of the now deteriorating plastic fencing which partially protects a third of the area is dramatic proof of its effectiveness. 

Observing the new plant and animal life that find refuge here will be fascinating to watch over the coming years. I would rather spend money on conservation projects at home where I can direct and observe progress rather than donating cash to foreign lands where there is a risk of dubious or ignorant characters controlling operations!

A section of deer fencing.  Within weeks its effectiveness was proved by the
wild flowers that appeared.  Here you can just make out the bird's foot trefoil
(yellow) and white clover.  On the other side of the fence these plants have
been all but destroyed.

Once the fence was erected and the gates closed, a lone roe was found
trapped inside the wood.  Unlike fallow, these pretty animals are not aliens
and in small numbers do not devastate all the plant life within their reach.
We left a gate open over night enabling the animal to escape.  This picture
was a chance snap while stalking a white admiral. 

The previous blog had a very obvious deliberate mistake included in an image,  surprisingly though nobody commented on it!














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