It has been a great year for dragonflies, including this female Common Darter posing for her picture on an old Bramble stem. We’ve also seen many Emperor dragonflies and some rather beautiful Migrant Hawkers (pictured below). Dragonflies are bit like posts on this blog, you don’t see any for months and suddenly there’s a whole bunch of them. We’ll try and be a bit more regular. See new posts below on coppicing, meadow scything, dormice and the random sheep. And don’t forget our Flickr photo diary at A Sussex Woodland .
This is Andrew Coates (above), from Wilderness Wood wildlife park near Uckfield, helping to remove coppice wood from last winter’s coupe. A big thank you to him for doing an extremely professional job. Last winter’s coupe was one of the densest in the wood, containing some very old Ash coppice stools that were last cut around 1960 and had many cycles of coppicing before that. In normal times the Ash would regrow instantly, but Chalara Ash Dieback will certainly have very significant effect. But this coupe already has regeneration of Field Maple, Hornbeam and Hazel, and it is a very good candidate for Oak seedlings. Some of the wood has gone to the nearby cottage. The rest is awaiting collection. There is some timber, and we are awaiting the return of the mobile sawmill, see our post 20th May 2017 for this incredible contraption.
We’re well into our seasonal meadow mowing pattern in Pheasant Field. Our free 2016 illustrated PDF A Guide to Pheasant Field explains a lot about what we are doing and why. We monitor the distribution of grasses and flowering plants in areas we have scythed regularly, and it is heartening to see many traditional meadow grasses and flowers gradually increasing in abundance. Fleabane (picture below) has hugely increased its range from a single patch in 2013. So has Agrimony, Field Bindweed (with its pink and white flowers), Red Bartsia and Black Knapweed, and at different times of year, Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Field Forget-me-not and Tufted Vetch. It is very encouraging, but large parts of the meadow are still too dense and over-fertile for traditional wildflowers. The soil conditions still favour thistles, brambles, nettles and invasive species like Ragwort. We hope to mechanically mow the whole meadow again later this year, weather permitting. It might look a bit drastic but it is an important part of creating a unique wildflower meadow with native local flowers which are at home in this all too rare type of environment.
Volunteer Clare from the national dormouse monitoring scheme has placed a number of dormouse boxes in the bramble scrub to see if we can find dormice taking advantage of the abundant blackberries. Blackberries are a big part of the very seasonal dormouse diet. Our dormouse monitoring is in conjunction with The Woodland Trust at Butchers Wood, between us we form a single survey site. If you like to pick blackberries (for your own consumption) please don’t try and make inroads into the bramble scrub, it is a habitat for many of our small mammals and birds as well as dormice. We, and the dormice, would also be grateful if you could resist the temptation to look inside the dormouse boxes or disturb them in any way. Many thanks.
You may have seen small groups of sheep in both the meadow and the wood. We were somewhat bemused to find them apparently able to appear and then vanish at will. The reason was quite simple. Our neighbouring farmer removed his flock from their summer pasture on the downs because the drought in July had left them without enough to eat. They were moved to their winter pastures around Lag Wood where grass was more plentiful. During the winter the stream is an effective barrier to sheep but in summer it is low enough to allow the more intrepid of our ovine friends to cross into the wood, and from there the meadow. Every flock of sheep seems to have an escape committee whose motto is “The grass is always greener…”.