Friday, 30 May 2014

Meeting Reports February and March 2014

21 FEBRUARY 2014


Steve Keightly from Frithville near Boston brought some African colour to a winter's evening with his 'breathtaking' photographs of the birds of Gambia. Steve told us about the trips he had made to that tiny African country in 2010 and in 2012. He enjoyed his visits so much that he and four other like minded birders are going again next month. This time they will not be staying in the tented safari lodge by the river Gambia where they sometimes shared their tent with a large monitor lizard.

The Gambia is the smallest country in Africa with a population of about 1.7 million. It flanks the Gambia river and is surrounded by Senegal, apart from a short strip of Atlantic coastline at its western end.

Steve and his party landed at Banjul airport before setting off to comfortable accommodation at Footsteps and Farakundu lodges where they first saw a Black shouldered kite soaring above. He advised us that the best time to visit Gambia was in the dry season between late November and March when the rural sandy roads were not muddy tracks. The mode of travel was by 4X4 and by river transport – sometimes they had to paddle their own canoes! The daily temperatures rose to the high thirties and in this Afro-tropical climate the humidity was very high. However, the vehicles were air conditioned – you just opened the windows and held your breath when passing vehicles covered your vehicle in abrasive dust. Not comfortable conditions to carry a huge, heavy camera with a tripod whilst coping with binoculars and sun glasses strung round your neck.

Local drivers and guides were a must. The guides had undergone a three year apprenticeship to qualify as ornithologists. They were hired by the day at a rate of £40 per person but Steve reckoned they were excellent value and without them he would have missed many of the 226 species he photographed on his trip along the river.

There was a plethora of birds which occupied all the ecological niches. Many were brightly coloured; not just Starlings but Purple glossy starlings and White crested helmet shrikes – the names were so descriptive. They saw six different types of Kingfisher, some lived by the river and others like the Pied kingfisher in the illustration were forest dwellers.

One of my favourite photographs was that of the Verreaux's eagle owl. A large, impressive owl with 'ear' tufts – most dignified until you saw its pink eyelids! The Ospreys which breed in the UK and overwinter in this area of West Africa were a common sight as they fished in the rivers. The Hooded vultures dominated the sky and did a grand job of clearing away carrion and other edible rubbish. Steve spent time at the municipal rubbish tip where Kites and Vultures were joined by other scavenging birds.

To remind me of the 100 or so exotic species shown in Steve's presentation I shall log onto his website at which has a fantastic range of pictures of all his adventures.

Friday 14th March 2014

Wildlife and the Washlands

Martin Chapman gave us another interesting illustrated talk about many aspects of farming and wildlife conservation. He started by telling us about life in rural Saltfleetby when he was a boy, and discussing the changes as farms have become larger and more mechanised.

In the early 1990s Martin began to develop land in Manby into a wildlife-friendly zone - the LWT group had visited the area in 2012. Encouraged by FWAG Martin created the wildlife pond, now known as Lucy Mae’s Pond, in 1½ acres that was too wet to crop. Fascinating pictures showed the topsoil removed to reveal 3 feet of boulder clay with peat beneath. After excavation of the pond the top soil was replaced and seeded with a grass and wild flower mix. The original bushes had been carefully preserved, and quickly the area became a wildlife haven with reeds and other plant species.

A 25-acre area adjoining Lucy Mae’s pond became Martin’s next project. This was developed to become a washland, taking flood water from the Long Eau River, and becoming an appropriate habitat for water birds. Ray Woodcock told us he had recently counted 27 bird species there.

In the final part of his talk Martin showed how he manages hedges, ditches and arable fields to provide a range of plant species, feed sources for birds and insects, and a desirable habitat for many animal species. RG

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Bog Myrtle, Myrica gale

This versatile shrub grows in the wet woodland area of Kirkby Moor where a number of members rubbed the leaves and smelt the distinctive aroma when we visited the site in May. Carolyn Goodwin, who took the photograph, has provided some fascinating facts about this deciduous plant. It would be interesting to know whether these uses are historical or current.

'The leaves are often dried to perfume linen, their odour being fragrant but they taste bitter and astringent. The branches have been used as a substitute for hops in in Yorkshire and put into a drink called Gales Beer. The catkins can be used in in candle making, the bark is in tanning and for producing a yellow dye.
The Swedes use the bark in a strong decoction to kill insects, vermin and to cure the itch as well as using the dried berries as a spice in broths whilst in China the leaves are infused as a tea and used as a stomacher and cordial'.
Ray Woodcock

Wednesday, 21 May 2014


28 group members assembled in the car park at Kirkby Moor on a beautiful, sunlit evening where the midges and small, biting flies appeared to enjoy the flavour of the insect repellent that had been liberally applied. However, they did not detract from the two and half hour walk and talk given by the erudite Dave Bromwich, Head of the Mid-Lincs LWT Reserves. He made a special effort to obtain the group's opinions on certain matters of site management to enable him to reflect these views from LWT members when the ongoing plans for this site of 2,000 acres were discussed.
The area of the 'Moor' embodies the LWT property of Kirkby Moor and Kirkby gravel pits together with a management consideration of surrounding farmland and the Forestry Commission's Ostler's Plantation. Soon it will officially include the old Woodhall Spa airfield. As always I was amazed to learn how much control and work goes into preserving these areas to make them look 'natural' and to create a living landscape. The LWT management aims for the site are quoted as:-
"to maintain the heathland and encourage more heather and wet heath conditions; reduce the area of bracken; control the spread of scrub onto the heath, while maintaining some developing scrub; and sustain the floristic diversity of some areas by regular mowing and by grazing with sheep."
We did not explore the open space of acid heathland that one crosses to reach the car park. There was no heather in bloom but swallows were zooming across at low level to pick off the insects and I saw five of them having a dust bath in the middle of the track. The 15 foot layer of sand deposited here in the last Ice Age overlays a bed of clay. The sand acts a as a natural filter for surface water and the clay prevents it from draining away. Consequently there is a supply of fresh water which is captured in a small reservoir nearby. We later saw channels with sluices that had been built in Edwardian times to drain the area.

As we moved through the mixed woodland of Willow and Ash along specially cleared grassy paths Dave asked us whether the underlying scrub and some of the smaller trees should be cut back to allow more light to permeate with the resulting increase of plant diversity or whether it should be left to develop naturally into secondary scrub. We were pleasantly surprised to be consulted, especially when Dave added that some members of the public wrote angry letters of complaint to the LWT, 'every time we chop down a tree'. We felt that the scrub should be cleared particularly as the work would be carried out by a contractor free of charge who would sell the wood for domestic use to cover his costs.
The Wood sage and Climbing corydalis growing in the lighter patches were relics from older Oak woodland and this area was the best site in the UK for the Hazel pot beetle which lives in the Birch and Hawthorne scrub. A further management dilemma was that of Sycamore trees which were spreading north and could become a dominant species. They cast such a shade that little can grow underneath them, so no biomass. We saw a woodland clearing where the Sycamore and many other scrub plants such as Birch and Hawthorne seedlings had been reduced to let in more light. Here the Heather was rapidly regenerating.
At this stage we heard a Cuckoo - some of us actually saw it - and heard the barking of a Muntjac deer. We learned that 9 species of bat live in the woods and we saw evidence in the tree trunks of Great spotted and Green woodpeckers. Sadly we did not see these species but there was great excitement when a Slow worm slid across our path. The reservoir was a haven of peace with the Silver birch trees and Cow parsley forming a backdrop to the reeds. A Common tern provided an aerobatic display whilst a few Mallards and a Coot paddled about looking for food. Here was another management dilemma. Beneath the surface are Pike and smaller fish, probably Perch and Rudd, which Dave grouped together as 'silver fish'. There too are insect larvae small crustaceans , water fleas and bacteria all forming part of a complex food chain. If one attempts to control any of the species it causes an imbalance in the chain. When consulted, opinions were divided and even flippant varying from, 'take out the Pike' to 'eat the ducks'. I think that the status quo should remain with cycles being accepted in the food chain whereby some species succeed and fail and in turn are replaced by a different set of dominant species.
We moved across a water channel where the sluices had been adjusted to permit the passage of Eels. The delicate blooms of Lady's Smock peeped through the grasses lining the water courses. This plant is known locally as the Cuckoo flower because it it blossoms in early May when the Cuckoos start to call. We skirted the edge of a field where the LWT herd of Lincoln Red cattle were grazing. The breeding herd consisted of cows and calves in the company of a large bull called Timothy. This stroll brought us onto the old Woodhall Spa airfield runway. Although we were standing in the middle of 550 acres of grassland and gravel pits with cattle and sheep grazing not far away it was not difficult to imagine the activities that had taken place here within living memory. I was not the only one who reminisced about the sound of Lancaster aircraft and the activities of RAF Bomber Command during the Second World War. The grassland would, in time, become a public access area with paths mown to prevent aimless wandering.
Decision time again, do we cut down a considerable number of trees to extend the grassland or leave them? I was pleasantly surprised to hear that one of group had changed his view point and thought that the trees made an excellent screen and wind break to an already extensive stretch of meadow. Again the grassland had to be managed; the Dandelions, Vetch, Cowslips, Yellow Rattle and Red clover growing amongst the various species of grass were okay. But the White clover had to go! It is so efficient in fixing nitrogen that the soil becomes too rich for wild flowers.
Our final change of scene was a venture in the wet side of the woods where we saw the attempts being made by spraying to eradicate an invasive species. The Piri-piri burr is thought to have been introduced to the old airfields on the kit bags of New Zealand servicemen. Its hooked burrs mean it is easily spread in the wild by sheep and other animals. Within the woodland a 13 foot deep sink hole had been created to act as a sump. In turn it has become the home of Palmate newts, We think we saw one amongst the murky, iron coloured water. The wetland area is the home of the fragrant Bog myrtle, Bog pimpernel, the blue flowered Green alkanet and Bog bush crickets.

It was nearly dark, we were still getting bitten and some folk were looking very tired. But what a tour, so much information, so many habitats and the chance to influence the management of one of our LWT sites. Thank you Dave Bromwich. We accept your offer to visit again in a couple of years to see if any of our proposals have been implemented. RW  

Monday, 19 May 2014


Sixteen    surprisingly  alert,  muffled­up  people  assembled  at  the Visitors'  Centre  at  4.30am. Six were  from  Louth;  three  of  whom  were  LWT  members.  Warden  James  Forrester's  briefing  was interrupted by the calls of Robins, Song thrushes and Blackbirds. These birds are the real early. As  we  moved  stealthily  through  the  woods  the  volume  of  noise  increased  together  with  the number of songsters. Chaffinches joined in, the Chiffchaff was easy to identify as were Pheasants coughing in the undergrowth. The silver and grey vegetation slowly turned to shades of green as the dawn broke when we began to see some birds; Blue tits and a Willow warbler sat on branches above our heads. The Wrens and Blackcaps were definitely heard but not seen.
The vista opened out to reveal a couple of Whitethroats  singing and leaping in the air from a hedge of brambles. This  was  mating  behaviour  not  the  effect  of  the  bramble  thorns.  Our  old  friends  the  Collared doves and Wood pigeons could hardly be heard as we approached the  din of the rookery at the far end of the reserve whilst  a Jay and a Corn bunting flew past. I am sure that we saw other species but I was enjoying the peace and very fresh air so much that I did not make any notes. Birds were not the only noise makers; the bark of the Muntjac deer sounded just like a dog. We smelt Fox and James caught a glimpse of one. On the way back to Louth we saw a Muntjac and Hares on the road as well as Rabbits.
I have been on a few 'Dawn Chorus' outings and have never failed to enjoy myself. But part of me says why not go into the garden with a cup of tea in my hand or down by the Navigation at six o'clock  in  the  morning when  I  know  that  I will  hear Robins, Song  thrushes  and Blackbirds  and perhaps Blackcaps whilst Blue tits, Great tits and Coal tits are active all day long. And if  I were to stand quietly by the canal bank I would most likely see a Kingfisher.
Ray Woodcock 05/05/2014

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Spring Wildflowers

It's the Bluebell season. The native English Bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, seen now carpeting many of Lincolnshire's broadleafed woodlands, is under some threat from hybridising with the Spanish Bluebell, H. hispanica, often grown in gardens, to form the cross, H. × massartiana.  The English Bluebell has white pollen and tends to have darker blue flowers all hanging one side of the stalk, whereas the Spanish has blue pollen and the paler, wider flowers spread around the stalk.  The hybrids show a complete range of characteristics between the two.  Curiously, in Spain and Portugal, both species are native and grow in different areas without hybridising, possibly because their flowering times are slightly different, inhibiting cross pollination.  In Britain the later spring squeezes flowering times.  Here's an information sheet to download.

Bluebells, watercolour by Mary Findell of Horrncastle.

It's also orchid season, at least for the Early Purple Orchid, Orchis mascula.  Look out for them on our local road verges.  On Furze Lane, for example, between Legborne and the B1200 near Manby, there are about 200 flower Orchid spikes anongst hundreds of Cowslips, Primula veris, within a fifty yard stretch of ditch bank.
Photo: Jane Woodcock.
Here's a list of the species identified from this site in early May 2014:

Anthriscus sylvestris Cow parsley
Borago officinalis Borage
Cerastium fontanum Common Mouse-ear
Cirsium vulgare Spear Thistle
Epilobium hirsutum Great Willowherb
Equisetum arvenis Horsetail
Filipendula ulmaria Meadowsweet
Galium aparine Goose Grass, Cleavers
Geranium disectum Cut-Leaved Crane's-Bill
Geranium robertianum Herb Robert
Glechoma hederacea Ground Ivy
Heracleum sphondylium Common Hogweed
Hypericum tetrapterum Square-stalked St. John's-wort
Lamium album White dead nettle
Orchis mascula Early Purple Orchid
Oxalis acetosella Wood Sorrel
Phragmites communis Reed
Picris echioides Bristly Ox-tongue
Plantago lanceolata Ribwort Plantain
Plantago major Common Plantain
Primula veris Cowslip
Ranunculus repens Buttercup
Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum Watercress
Rosa canina Dog Rose
Rumex obtusifolius Broad-leaved Dock
Silene dioica Red/Pink Campion
Succisa pratensis Devil's-bit Scabious
Taraxacum officinale Dandelion
Urtica dioica Nettle
Veronica chamaedrys Germander Speedwell
Viola riviniana Dog Violet

No doubt others will emerge later in the season.

An unusual plant was spotted growing on sand-dunes at Sutton-on-Sea.  Thorow Wax, Bupleurum rotundifolium, was once a common weed in wheat fields but herbicide use has seen its extinction on our farmland.  There are few recent records in the British Isles as can be seen on the BSBI Distribution Map and it is one of the three hundred or so plants listed in the Red Data Book and it's conservation status is of concern right across Europe where modern agriculture has pushed it to isolated communities. It is growing well on newly accumulated sand blown in by the wind over the winter.  Where the seeds came from is a bit of a mystery.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Woolly Wildflowers

Calling all knitters and crocheters - we need your help to knit woolly wildflowers to celebrate the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust’s new Wildflower Meadow Network project.

The Meadow Network project will inspire local communities to create and restore wildflower meadows, developing a network of wildflower-rich meadows through Lincolnshire’s rolling hills in the south-west, the Lincoln Edge and the Lincolnshire Wolds.

First we need the knitting and crocheting community help to knit, crochet or needle felt wildflowers. All the flowers will be gathered together to create a meadow sweeping through the landscape: helping to illustrate a living landscape of wildflowers for Lincolnshire that will be displayed at the Lincolnshire Show.

Submitting your woolly wildflowers:
Try to make your woolly wildflower roughly life-size and as similar as possible to a wildflower found in Lincolnshire (no daffodils or tulips please). Please note we are not able to return any woolly wildflowers.

Please send your woolly wildflowers by post or drop them off at:
Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust
Banovallum House
Manor House Street

By Monday 9 June 2014 at the latest - we would appreciate them before so we can start to create the meadow.