Read on and experience the beautiful countryside that we look after here at Mottisfont and the New Forest. Written by Catherine Hadler the Area Ranger for Mottisfont and South West Hampshire, this blog will enable you to see the work we do to protect and enhance these places and the importance of drawing people into the natural world.
I realise we are almost out of January now, but a rather
delayed Happy New Year to you all anyway.Time has flown on swift wings as usual and I have had absolutely no time
to write about what we have been up to, as we have been too busy doing it!
These first few weeks of 2015 have proven as fast paced as I
predicted and whilst we don’t have the storm damage that faced us last New Year
to contend with we are still being kept on our toes with trying to catch up
after the festive break.
One of the first things we got to do this year was one of
the more fun – a chainsaw course in large tree felling!Myself, Ryan, Laura and Mike spent a happy
three days learning new ways to knock over large trees safely which also involved
a type of cut called a ‘Danish Pie cut’ – just made me hungry when the assessor
was explaining it to us.A lot of our
woodland work involves plantation felling, in order to sell the softwoods to
timber merchants and allow the cleared areas to regenerate with natural
broadleaved species.All but one of the
plantation species are not native to the UK (such as Douglas Fir, Norway
Spruce) and the only native one – Scots Pine – is more naturally at home
further north in the country, and in Scotland. So as part of our English
Woodland Grant Scheme we are targeted with removing the plantations and
allowing the natural deciduous trees to fill in the gaps and so it came to pass
that we were able to work our chainsaw course around this and begin working on
another area of plantation felling at the same time.
Laura, Ryan, myself and 'Loggerhead Mike' after finishing our course
Needless to say things got a bit competitive and whilst I
managed to fell the tallest tree (114ft), both Laura and Mike felled ones that
were significantly wider around the base; mine measured only 3ft across whilst
their chunkers’ were at least another foot in width.Our assessor took some videos of us felling
and below are videos of Laura and I felling our trees – mine is in slow motion
(which gives some impressive tree creaking noises) and Laura’s is in time lapse
which makes her look like she has had a lot of energy drinks!
We all passed successfully and enjoyed ourselves at the same
time, so a good few days all round.
Also with us for the first 3 weeks of January were work
placement students from Sparsholt who came and mucked in with everything we
could throw at them; from working in the winter chill of the river, to building
a pole lathe, to ride clearance work, to tree planting, to gorse cutting, to
sheep vaccinations, they had a taste of our work across all our sites and (I
think) they thoroughly enjoyed it.We
enjoyed having them and found them very helpful and good to work with, so
thanks Paul and Andy for all your efforts; hope we haven’t put you off a
countryside career too much!
.And talking of sheep vaccinations….Last week saw the Dreaded
Date arrive, the annual vaccination and worming of our sheep flock.You may remember from last year’s account
(Mud-Wrestle-Sheep-Rugby) that Ryan and I had one hell of a task getting all
the sheep treated, and got very battered, bruised and dragged around in the
process, so it was with justifiable trepidation that I set the date for this
year’s wrestling match.I told the
students to ensure they had a good supply of Radox and Deep Heat waiting for
them at home afterwards and Ryan and I regaled them with the horror stories
from last year.We loaded up the trucks
with vaccines, needles, worming guns and hurdles and set off.When we arrived, I went on ahead in order to
try and call all the flock into the corral – if we went in with both trucks the
sheep would know that something different was going on and would be unlikely to
come willingly (I realise this sounds ridiculous, but its true – they recognise
my truck and will come running for sheep nuts but when we go in with two trucks
they know it means something bad for them; such as being rounded up, so they
keep away – I never knew their memories were so good).
I started bellowing to the empty hills ‘COME
OOOOOOOONNNNN!’ and within seconds I heard the answering bleats as a stream of
fat white blobs came running out of the trees.They all came into the corral for sheep nuts and I counted them with my
fingers crossed: 27 – 1 missing. Damn! Here we go, I thought, the usual one
missing that will refuse to be caught.I
shut the rest in the corral for the moment and called again and again, hoping
we wouldn’t have to try and catch one sheep on a 4 hectare slope of woodland
and grassland.After a minute or so,
during which time it began to snow lightly, I heard a very faint ‘baaaaaaa’ in the distance.I called again and the answering cry got
louder: ‘baaaaaaa….baaaaaaa….baaaaaa….baaaaaaaa!' until out of the scrub popped the final
sheep, screaming at the top of her woolly lungs at being the last one to arrive
at the dinner table and running full pelt.
She rolled down the slope and straight through the gate I held open for
her and Bingo! half the battle was already won, with the entire flock penned up
within ten minutes
Ryan and the students then drove across and we unloaded, got
a pen system set up and got all the medical stuff ready and then, with our
fingers already frozen in the chill, we began.The students were keen to do some sheep handling so Ryan and I happily
let them do the majority of the heavy work, grabbing sheep and holding them in
place, whilst we sorted out the vaccines and the worming doses.
rugby catching sheep!
The medical bay.
With four of us we got a good system going
and I couldn’t believe it as the sheep flowed through smoothly one after the
other.Whilst they weren’t happy about
being stabbed with a needle and made to swallow a dose of Cydectin, they seemed
easier to deal with than ever before – I didn’t get head butted in the face, no
nasal botfly larvae was procured and overall it was our easiest, most
successful sheep treatment session ever with all animals wormed, vaccinated,
condition scored and given a general MOT within two hours.They were all marked with a bright purple
Nike style tick on their rumps so we could see which ones we had done; they
didn’t seem too keen on sporting their new logo’s but they will just have to
put up with them until they shed their fleeces in early summer.
If you read my blog throughout the summer months you will
know how much I waffle on about butterflies, those colourful guardians of the
warmer months.Whilst they are all
dormant at this time of year we can at least pave the way for them and to this
end I took the Monday volunteers out to do some work on a Duke of Burgundy
project that we doing on Stockbridge Down.Duke of Burgundy is a small little butterfly, incorrectly named a
Fritillary.They are in fact a member of
the Metalmark (Lycaenidae) family,
the only member of this family to be found in Britain and Europe.
The Duke of Burgundy
They were once a creature of woodland glades
and coppiced areas but as coppicing became less practiced and the glades and
open areas become more overgrown the Duke of Burgundy suffered.They are a fairly fussy butterfly that
requires its food plant of Primrose or Cowslip to be in partial shade on the
edge of a glade and not out in full sun where they may wither.I’ve heard they like plants to have at least
4 leaves on which to lay their eggs (although how they can count I don’t know).With the cessation of coppicing they did
manage to adapt to scrubby chalk downland areas that had their food plants on
such as Stockbridge Down and as woodland management changes to try and
encourage rides, glades and coppicing they are making a comeback.Across the road from the Down we have a strip
of land and in the neighbouring field that borders it there is a good size
colony of Dukes.The Dukes are often
seen on our strip of land of, having crossed over from their colony and we have
consequently been doing our bit by cutting back some of the overgrown hazel on
our land and opening up the glades where their foodplants are found.This work has been started by the volunteers
and to further it, the Butterfly Conservation Trust are funding us to do more
work with contractors, cutting a large swathe of overgrown hazel which will
open up the Duke area a lot more and also enable us to bring the hazel back
into rotation.I hope that this work
will not only keep the butterflies coming across to our land but encourage them
to further breed and spread across the Down.So come May and June you may see me wandering through the cleared areas
peering at some tiny fluttering specks among the Cowslips and the Primrose….