Warden's Autumn Diary
Lorretta Waters, Neighbourhood Wildlife Warden, gives us a seasonal update.
Autumn seems to be a bit late this year. Its nearly mid October and the leaves are only just about changing. This time last year I was writing about the colourful leaves being blown off and leaving the trees bare – I think it will be a few more weeks before that happens this year. Still I absolutely love autumn – I’ve just been out and collected the last of the blackberries to make blackberry and apple crumble and there are loads of other berries ripe for the picking – rosehips, hawthorn berries, and sloes to name but a few. Not only do they provide a food source for birds and small mammals, to enable them to lay down fat reserves for winter, but they have many uses for us too. Why not try your hand at making some sloe gin?
Winter will soon be upon us and the squirrels have been busy collecting nuts and conkers for the lean times ahead and using the leaves to build their cosy winter dreys. The Earth Trust volunteers are also going to be busy over the autumn with various conservation tasks. At Castle Meadows we will start coppicing and scrub clearing another section of the ditch, cutting back overhanging trees to let in more light for marginal and aquatic plants to grow - this will provide a fantastic potential habitat for water voles and otters. At Riverside we will be adding more faggots (bundles of willow sticks) to the eroded areas along the banks of the Thames – the faggots trap silt carried along by the river and this raises the ground level and helps to stabilise the bank and protect it from further erosion. At Mowbray Fields, in Didcot we have just finished coppicing the willow re-growth and clearing the tall herb vegetation to allow space and light for the orchids to grow next year. Over at Thrupp Lake in Radley, we have been keeping the footpaths clear and open and creating viewing points over the lake so that visitors can get a good view of the overwintering birds which will start appearing in the next few weeks.
The major project for this autumn will be the grassland restoration project happening in the largest field at Riverside Meadows. Approximately 6 hectares of semi improved grassland will be cultivated and sown with wildflower seed to re-create a wildflower rich floodplain meadow as it would have been in years gone by. Lowland floodplain meadows are now an increasing rare habitat in Oxfordshire. This is happening thanks to funding from the Higher Level Stewardship scheme from Natural England.
Following the success of a trial patch sown in 2009, the field was sprayed in May this year with selective herbicide to kill off weeds like thistle and creeping buttercup, which would otherwise swamp any wildflower seedlings.
Cultivation started on the 4th October. The field will be disked in two directions to create bare ground allowing seeds a chance to establish. The field will be harrowed to smooth the surface and the seed will be sown and rolled into the soil.
Twenty one different wildflower species have been specifically chosen to suit the soil. The grass should return quickly and next summer yellow rattle and ox eye daisy should be abundant with other wildflowers, including knapweed, cowslip and musk mallow, appearing the following year. The meadow should become a beautiful haven for wildlife providing food and habitat for insects, birds and mammals.
If you would like more information about the sites or are interested in getting involved with one of our volunteer groups or as a warden please contact, Lorretta Waters, on 01865 409410 or 07982 218493.