1st October – Earthworm Day – by Mike Swaddling
Simply charming !!
The British are known for their eccentricities and worm charming has to be up there along with Bog Snorkelling, Nettle Eating and Cheese Rolling. So when the first South of England heat for the World Worm Charming Championships took place at King’s International College in Camberley on Saturday 1st October the atmosphere was one of fun and joie de vivre.
Altogether 16 teams took and they really got into the spirit of the event. Some team members were dancing to attract the worms, others played musical instruments, although the most successful method was to place a garden fork in the soil and just waggle it about, worms respond to vibrations in the soil.
Organised by the Blackwater Valley Countryside Trust it was the first South of England heat for the World Worm Charming Championships – which takes place in Cheshire next year – and the event was a great success. Despite the warm conditions the worms were obliging and altogether a total of 983 worms was collected. Winners were Oliver Florence and Richards Skeggs who managed to garner a massive 193 worms. When asked what the secret of their success was they said: “We just put the fork into the soil and moved it around. The real skill was spotting the worms as they emerged and getting hold of them before they disappeared back down into the soil.”
Oliver and Richard received the winners’ trophy – a specially hand-crafted copper worm – from John Bailey who devised the first event back in 1980. Oliver, who comes from Walton-on-Thames and Richard, who had flown down from Glasgow on Saturday morning especially to take part, also entered this year’s World Championships in Cheshire but only managed to collect 39 worms on that occasion. They will be going back next year to have another crack at the title.
Thanks must go to The Camberley Natural History Society who helped with the event and to the Earthworm Society of Britain who ran an informative workshop about worms, passing on some fascinating facts and figures about these undervalued creatures. Pictures and details about the event can be seen at www.blackwater-valley.org.uk
So what exactly is worm charming? The rules are very simple. Each team – comprising a charmer and gillie (helper) – are allocated a three metre square plot and at the sound of the starting bell they spend the next 30 minutes doing whatever they can (within the rules of course!) to entice the worms to come up and see what’s going on. Once a worm appears the gillie picks it up, puts it into an earth-filled container and so it continues. After half an hour the finishing bell sounds and then the number of worms each team has collected is counted. The team with the most worms is the winner.
10th September – Go Green in Aldershot by Mike swaddling
On Saturday 10th September we took our ‘message’ to the people of Aldershot! The venue was quite different from the usual shows and fairs – right in the middle of a busy shopping centre, as part of Go Green, an environmental event organised by Rushmoor BC. We had a small covered stand, with the RSPB on one side and on the other was Specsavers, who were celebrating their fifteenth anniversary – they had hired a clown to attract attention, which benefitted all of us in that part of Union Street.
The stand worked well, despite space limitations. We used our new display boards and a roll-up display, plus an A-frame about Worm Day, and the combination attracted a steady flow of interest. In the end we didn’t sign up any new members on the day, but a fair few membership forms were handed out, as well as loads of Worm Day leaflets. As you would expect from Aldershot’s main shopping street on a Saturday there were a lot of people and so it was very good publicity.
More pictures can be found by following the link at the end of the report on the Blackwater Valley Partnership website here
23rd August – The Back Paths of Farnborough and Grants Moor
The forecast was for heavy rain but in the event the weather settled down to a fine although persistent drizzle. Fifteen people (and a dog) assembled at Farnborough Gate for a six-mile walk along some of the back paths of Farnborough to North Camp, returning along the Blackwater Valley Path and through Grant’s Moor.
We enjoyed conversation with old friends and new. We admired good views of Farnborough Hill and St. Michael’s Abbey from their less well known, eastern, sides. We walked through the short cuts built into modern housing estates to keep people away from road traffic, and discovered that it was possible to walk from Ashdown Avenue to Lynchford Road entirely off-road. Even local people were introduced to new routes, and more than one said it was wonderful to learn of a safe cycle route which they would certainly be using again.
Returning we suffered the 200-yard stretch of path alongside the A331, a key link but surely the least attractive piece of the whole Valley Path. After that, we found that the hazels in Gerry’s Copse were flourishing, and the hedgerows were heavy with blackberries, elderberries and crabs after the hard winter, fine spring and moist summer – like it or not, the English climate doing its best for native flora.
Grant’s Moor, under new and improved management thanks to a generous donation from TAG (see under the Projects tab) was looking good. Although the weather dissuaded butterflies and damselflies from performing, slowworms and grass snakes were discovered sheltering in the cool, damp places they love.
7th July – Dragonfly Walk – (Damsels and Dragons)
Wednesday, 7 July started wet and windy – not a good day for the Trust’s first Dragonfly Walk at Moor Green Lakes. Although the weather did improve a little by the start of the event only one Trust member came along to join Chris Bean to search for dragonflies and damselflies around the margins of Colebrook Lake. The dragons decided to stay hiding in the bushes and reeds around the lake, but the warm and humid weather did persuade fairly large numbers of Common Blue Damselflies to show themselves. We also saw small numbers of Red-Eyed Damselflies resting on floating leaves on the lake, Blue-tailed Damselflies amongst the reeds and Banded Demoiselle with their graceful butterfly like flight flittering amongst the Himalayan Balsam along the banks of the River Blackwater. The Trust will arrange another Dragonfly Walk in 2012 and keep our fingers crossed for a better day!
July – A Volunteer’s Diary #3
While I was out and about carrying out a Dragonfly survey in the Blackwater Valley a few days ago I came across a rather interesting little plant growing around the edges of a small pond on a patch of heathland. The plant was a Sundew and it must rank as one of the most interesting plants to be found in the Valley, because it is insectivorous. Sundews supplement the meagre nutrients found in the acid, wetland soils by absorbing minerals from insect prey.
The flat, rosette of long-stalked, reddy-coloured Sundew leaves are, perhaps, the most interesting part of the plant, and certainly the most dangerous,( for insects that is!) as they have evolved to hold tight and absorb unsuspecting midges and other insects foolish enough to land on their sticky surface.
Each Sundew leaf has hundreds of hair-like tendrils, all tipped by droplets that, just like dew, glisten in the sun, giving these plants their common name. On contact, insects quickly become ensnared; the surrounding hairs bend towards the victim to prevent escape, and the whole leaf eventually curls over to enclose the unfortunate creature. The dew drops also act as digestive juices that dissolve the softer parts of the insect’s body before the resultant liquid is absorbed by the plant – a gruesome fate, indeed.
In former times, Sundews were thought to posses many powers. The herbalist John Gerard, writing in the late 16th century, referred to physicians who thought: ‘this herbe to be a rare and singular remedie for all those that be in a consumption of the lungs, and especially the distilled water thereof: for as the herbe doth keepe and hold fast the moisture and dew, and so fast, that the extreme drying heate of the sun can not consume and waste away the same; so likewise men thought that heerwith the naturall and lively heate in mens bodies is preserved and cherished’.
Gerard also rather intriguingly noted of Sundews that: ‘cattle of the female kinde are stirred up to lust by eating even of a small quantitie’! When distilled with wine, it was also said to alternative name – youthwort.
Sundews don’t often seem to flower but that afternoon they were putting on quite show as this second image shows. It just goes to show what you can see if you closely about you as you walk around the Blackwater Valley.
A Volunteer’s Diary now has been moved to its own space under the new ‘Features’ tab – click here
8th June – Orchid Day at Eelmoor
The advance blurb said that June was peak orchid time on the SSSI at Eelmoor. But this year has been running early. All around we have seen plants blooming weeks ahead of their normal season, and as the day of our visit drew near we began to fret that the June highlights we wanted to see would all be over. Would a July wilderness await us?
We need not have worried. The long spring drought had broken, but the rain held off as fifteen BVCT members joined Betty Hansell, the conservation officer at the Qinetic site in western Farnborough. What she had to show us was Eelmoor Marsh, 79 hectares designated as a site of special scientific interest for its diversity of heath, grassland, bog and mire habitats which provide a home for over 360 species at risk.
Apart from trees the biggest things we saw were the animals brought in to add selective grazing to the management techniques used on site – Przewalski’s horses (bless you!) which are being assessed for reintroduction to the Mongolian steppes where they have become extinct, and friendly horned highland cattle.
Both add shades of brown to the landscape. Yet there is colour aplenty. It comes from the blue butterflies, scintillating damselflies, poisonous cinnabar moths gaudy in red and black, and flowers galore. We saw orchids indeed – hundreds of them, delicate spires of pink and purple. Elsewhere on the site as we moved through the different habitats we saw heaths and heathers opening their purple bells to complement the richer purple of meadow thistles, the tiny pink blooms of bog pimpernel, the froth of creamy bedstraws, tall elegant helleborines, white tufts of seeding cotton grass, red sundew leaves laid open to the sun as they waited for insects to capture and digest, and lousewort – a plant parasitic on the roots of others, barely an inch high, the pink flowers still encased in small buds like tiny clumps of hooded horsemen.
And all around the air was filled with bird song. It was a wonderful experience, and one the Trust hopes to offer again next year to members unable to join us this June.
2nd May – Yateley Fair
The Trust kicked off the ‘events’ season by attending the Yateley Fair on May 2nd. The stand attracted a lot of visitors and resulted in 23 new memberships. It was the first outing for the new display boards, but because it was a windy day and the back of the tent was closed, they couldn’t be shown to their full effect. What really caught the eyes of passers-by were the ‘wormeries’, supplied by Chris Bean and Bernard Baverstock – display cases with layers of different types of soil, showing how worms make tunnels in the ground. Younger visitors had the opportunity to colour in Eric the Earthworm and even make him out of strips of coloured paper. It provided a great preview for our Earthworm Day later in the year – details can be found here.
15th April – Grants Moor Progress Update 2
this item can now be found on the ‘Projects’ tab
17th March – Wildlife Photography Workshop
On Thursday, 17 March, 35 people joined Trustee, Chris Bean at Rowhill Nature Reserve for two Workshops aimed at helping them to improve their wildlife photography skills.
Chris, an experienced photographer, described some of the basic principles of composition and explained how to take control of a camera, rather than leave it on its automatic settings, to achieve good results. He encouraged participants to get out into the Blackwater Valley to look for subjects to take, pointing out that there were lots of flowers, animals, insects as well as trees, ferns and fungi on which to practice their skills.
The workshop was free to the 8 members who attended the workshop and we were pleased to see that 21 other attendees decided on the day to join the Trust.
19th February – Build a Bird Box
It was a busy morning for Bernard Baverstock and Dave Pilkington at the Trust’s Build a Bird Box event held at the FBC Centre, Finchampstead on 19 February. Together with their two helpers Jane Heritage and Yvonne Orchard, they helped local residents to construct 15 bird boxes. The event took place as part of the British Trust for Ornithology’s National Bird Box Week which began on 14 February.
It is the time of year to build nest boxes to replicate bird’s natural homes that are now in short supply as the countryside and gardens become more tidier. With 15 new homes now completed and ready for occupation over the next few days as the ‘builders’ place their boxes in their gardens using the information sheet provided by the Trust, we can only hope they will be quickly occupied and provide a source of pleasure and enjoyment for them.
BUILD A BIRD BOX – UPDATE July
It was lovely to hear from one of our members who came along to the Build a Bird Box event held at the FBC Centre, Finchampstead back in February that within days of putting it up a pair of blue tits were viewing it. Shortly afterwards they started nesting and reared a brood of chicks. Unfortunately, the brood left the nest whilst our member was away, but not before she managed to get this charming picture of one of the adult blue tits leaving the nest box.
The Trust will be organising another Build a Bird Box in 2012 so don’t forget to keep an eye out on our list of Forthcoming Events for the date. If you come along and build a bird box who knows you might have the pleasure of seeing the coming and going when the box is occupied.
11th February – Wildfowl walk – By Christine Reeves
The Trust’s first event for 2011 was a Bird Walk around Frimley Hatches on Thursday 10th February. Unfortunately the day was grey and wet but the English bulldog spirit prevailed as 22 people turned out to attend.
Starting from The Quays at Mytchett leader Colin Wilson took us to the Blackwater Valley Path and he headed north. We soon spotted a group of thrushes flitting through the tops of a line of trees. Those of the group with binoculars and good ID skills informed the rest of us that there were some Redwings amongst them.
As we walked along the path we saw very little of the smaller birds normally frequenting the hedgerows, but once we entered Frimley Hatches and saw the lake we knew our luck had changed. The Frimley Hatches site owned by CEMEX is now closed to the general public but as the Trust have been carrying out extensive habitat improvement work there over the past two years we had permission to walk round.
Looking across the lake the first birds we noticed were the Cormorants both on the island and swimming in the water. Up until a couple of years ago the island was overgrown and covered in scrub, clearing it was part of the improvement habitat work carried out in the winter of 2008/9 and the results have been significant. Over the last two summers both Common Terns and Black-headed Gulls in scores used the island as a nesting site.
Continuing on our way one or two of the group who were right up front noticed a pair of Bullfinches flying into the bushes ahead, but they quickly disappeared from view. Looking towards the lake we spotted a Great Crested Grebe diving. These birds frequently disappear as they dive down into the water to feed, often popping up some distance away; the one we saw was characteristically elusive.
We stopped at a cleared edge at the southern part of the lake and out came the binoculars and telescopes as everyone peered across the grey water to see what species were out there. There were a huge number of Coots as well as Mallards and Moorhens, but over towards the eastern bank were Wigeon, Pochard and Gadwall. There is a great camaraderie amongst the birding fraternity with the experienced pointing out to the novices exactly what birds can be seen and where they are. The group spent quite some time just surveying the lake.
Then we spotted what was probably the highlight of the day, a pair of courting Great Crested Grebes, engaging in their wonderful courtship dance, their long elegant necks gracefully forming heart-shaped patterns as they carried out this wonderful ritual. We forgot the rain and the cold, we forgot the rain spotting our binoculars and getting down our necks, this was a sight you don’t see every day and one we all thoroughly enjoyed.
There was perhaps one other interesting ‘sighting’ spotted as we were leaving the site. There on the ground were small, thin, light grey ‘sausages’ of what looked like cigarette ash. On your own, without someone to tell you what they are, you would just walk pass, but we were fortunate and had an ‘expert’ with us who informed us they were Green Woodpecker droppings – we would never have guessed. On closer inspection we actually saw the ant remains within. It’s fascinating what you can discover about wildlife