Our six-mile-walk started from Frimley Lodge Park and used a stretch of the Basingstoke Canal to reach Deepcut Bridge. After a short walk along roads we then continued north through woods, part private and part belonging to the MOD, until we reached Frith Hill, just south of the Frimley fuel allotments. From here we followed a route through the woods, bringing us out in the centre of Deepcut to view the Garrison Church of St Barbara, an interesting building being mainly built of corrugated iron. Our trail then followed a track way, just north of the canal and adjacent to the now disused Deepcut barracks, taking us to the first of the Deepcut flight of locks (Lock 28) between Deepcut and Brookwood. At this point we crossed over the canal and followed the towpath back to our starting point in Frimley Lodge Park.
photo – Clive Andrews
There were many reasons for this choice of route. Primarily the course was designed to view the various woodland colours and contrasts of mid-autumn, including the greens and yellows of the many sweet chestnut mixed with pine on the trails up to Frith Hill, and the russet colours of a magnificent stand of beech lining the banks of the deep canal cutting where the canal passes through Deepcut (it is from this cutting that the local settlement derives its name).
photos – Clive Andrews
The recent closure of the barracks, due to the movement of the Royal Logistic Corps to Worthy Down, and the subsequent disposal of the land by the MOD for residential development, means that Deepcut, currently a small ‘shanty town’ beside the army barracks, will, within a few years, evolve into a township of some 1,000 dwellings; so the walk and its repeat in 2014 is a chance to see the area prior to the impending considerable change.
Also the locality has much of interest to the local historian. The Frimley fuel allotments, an area formally dating back to the late 18th century, was then a plot of land set aside to enable the poor to cut turf or wood for their domestic fires. The Frimley Fuel Allotments Trust still actively exists and owns 250 acres of the woodland just north of Frith Hill as well as an adjacent golf course. Before the first half of the 19th century the area was sparsely inhabited, largely uncultivated, covered with heather and trees, and was then part of the Thames Basin heathland area. Although some large houses were built here in the later parts of that century, the building of Blackdown Barracks in 1903 triggered the expansion of Deepcut. Among the more interesting aspects associated with the army was the construction of a prisoner-of-war and internment camp on Frith Hill in August 1914, and the construction of a short-lived railway link between the barracks and Brookwood, via Bisley, during the years of the First World War; part of our route followed the course of this former railway. In 1915 the German artist George Kenner was interred here and created a few sketches and paintings of life at the camp.
The Garrison Church of St Barbara, now a Grade 2 listed building, is unusual for a church being constructed of corrugated iron, although a number of similar churches were built in the early days of the garrison in Aldershot. It was first dedicated on the 29th September 1901 as St Michael and All Angels but took the current name in 1967.
photo – Clive Andrews
This walk, led by Mike Waterman and ably assisted by Bernard Baverstock, generated lots of enthusiasm from the 18 people that came. Most were surprised by how many different fungi there are once they looked. Mike is brilliant at rummaging through woods, brambles & cow pats to find and identify fungi eg. he found some very large lactarious fungus (they exude a milky substance when touched).
If he can’t identify it then he takes a sample away for later ID with microscope, spore prints etc. He will produce a spreadsheet of what we found and log them on the national fungi database. The English names of some of the fungi we found are fascinating: Ear fungus, Candle Snuff, Witches’ Butter (a black jelly), Elder white wash.
An example of the interest sparked came from a friend by email after the Fungus Foray. “Early in the walk we spotted a number of yellow grassland fungi with thin white stems. The young ones had a completely yellow cap, and the older ones had a larger cap, mostly grey with just a yellow tinge in the centre. Mike identified them as a species whose name begins (I think) with ‘B’ but I didn’t write it down, thinking I would easily find it in my mushroom books. Unfortunately I can’t. Could you find out from Mike what it was?”
His next email said “I found it in Phillips! It’s Bolbitius vitellinus and is the only member of the genus.”
photo – Ken Bigrave
Dead wood provides a great habitat for fungi – you can see above that everyone as their eyesdown hoping to spot something unusual.
Thanks to Peter for these excellent photos of Trametes gibbosa, on the big trunk and Crepidotus on the bramble.
photo – Peter Edwards
photo -Peter Edwards
There were also fungi in the grass meadow as can be seen in this photo by Ken Bigrave. This white one may be on dung and is probably Stropharia semiglobata.
photo – Ken Bigrave
After the very dry summer, fungi have enjoyed the recent rain and are popping up everywhere. Below are two types that have been seen in local woods – a Common Earthstar and two Fly Agarics.
photos – Don Cload
We are very lucky to have such a variety of local habitats. I wonder what you will find in your local woods.
Our six-mile circular walk, starting from Sandhurst Memorial Park, linked up some of the open areas on the outskirts of Sandhurst, making use of that precious and often well visited countryside on the doorstep of our urban areas. In particular the walk linked up the Memorial Park, Ambarrow Court Reserve, Wildmoor Heath Reserve and finally the small park at Snaprails.
Sandhurst Memorial Park started in 1949 when the parish council purchased six acres of an area known as Brookside Field to form a recreation ground. Since then successive Parish/Town councils have acquired adjacent farm and woodlands to bring the park up to its current size of 70 acres.
From our start we first followed the Blackwater Valley path as far as Sandhurst station. From here we crossed the Yorktown road and made our way along Scotland Hill on route to Little Sandhurst. Scotland Hill took us past a curious small monument – the Sandhurst Well. This Grade 2 listed building was erected as a memorial to Harriet Walter Vyvyan of Forest End who died in 1874; the well is now filled in and covered over and only the well head, with the inscription to Harriet, now exists.
We next followed an alleyway that ran approximately parallel to the Reading – Guildford railway, to emerge in the village of Little Sandhurst
Ambarrow Court. This reserve is on the site of an old Victorian mansion, built for Lieut-Col. George Sheppard Harvey in 1885. It was his retirement home after having served his country in the Royal Artillery, particularly in China. The Royal Aircraft Establishment moved in during the war to work on radar development, but after that the house became derelict and was demolished in 1969.
Subsequently the gardens and surrounding woodland, having been left derelict for a number of years, have been developed as a local nature reserve with a variety of habitats including ancient woodland, hazel coppice, marshes, ponds and pools, birch coppice and meadow.
We then made our way back to Little Sandhurst to join and walk along a small portion of the Three Castles long distance path, passing through woods owned by the nearby Wellington College to emerge just south of Crowthorne and into Edgebarrow Woods on our way to Wildmoor Heath. The Three Castles path runs for 60 miles between Winchester Great Hall and Windsor Castle – the third castle being King John’s Castle (beside the canal) at Greywell.
Wildmoor Heath is a large 250 acre lowland area of open heathland and wetland bog that provides a rich habitat for wildlife, and is the collective name for Owlsmoor Bog, Edgbarrow Heath, and Wildmoor Bottom. The areas of open heathland and peat bog are interspersed by pine and broadleaf woodland. I noticed that many of the broadleaved trees were sweet chestnut, suggesting perhaps that these were locally coppiced in days gone by. At this season of the year, the wooded areas are good for interesting fungi, as Bernard was quick to show us.
Taking a route from Edgebarrow Woods at the north of the reserve we walked through the reserve, from the highest regions where there is a fine view across Wildmoor with Blackbushe and the Chobham Ridges on the horizon beyond. Our path took us along a long board walk that passed through the wetter regions and allowed us to observe these close up. From the reserve, we emerged back in the residential regions of Sandhurst where we visited Snaprails Park before making our way back to the Memorial Park.
Snaprails Park is situated in the former grounds of a 19th century house demolished in the 1970s after it fell into disrepair, although the park lodge still stands at the end of the main drive. The original resident of Snaprails House was a keen plant collector and landscaper and today the park benefits from a range of mature trees and ornamental shrubs including a few giant redwood trees. The park features a small brook, draining from Wildmoor Heath and running the entire length of the open space. There are a number of recently restored paths around the park which also features an ornamental pond fed by the stream. The park was transferred into the ownership of Bracknell Forest Borough Council and opened to the public in 1985.
It was a great walk and thank you to all who came along and joined me on the day, especially Paul
Saunders who helped as official backmarker and brought along refreshments for a halfway stop.
There was a good turnout at Shepherd’s Meadow for the latest of our ever popular Bat Walks led by Steve Bailey – 22 people including ten children, and a good mixture of ages with several families. The evening was dry and the moon meant that torches weren’t really required, though some children couldn’t resist trying out their head torches! Steve’s initial talk about bats – their fingers, lack of feathers and what they eat, was received with interest and a lot of questions! He also dispelled some myths about vampire bats. After a quick lesson in tuning the detectors to different frequencies we went into the meadows.
The bat detectors were essential to the success of the walk. A noctule bat was heard at 20Khz. These fly high and gave excellent views if you were looking in the right place! Most of the group had to be content with capturing the bat’s ‘chip shop’ calls as it flew around, but it was a great start to capture the children’s interest.
Then to our surprise a bat was detected in a bush! But Steve was on hand to identify it as a bush cricket that also communicates at 20Khz. You learn something new every time! Pipistrelles’ clicks were the next detected at about 50Khz in trees near the river. Again very hard to see, the bats were flying fast and circling round the trees. The detectors allowed the children to follow the bats by their clicks.
Then it was on to the lake where Steve used a spotlight to pick out the bats and follow them round – a first real view of a bat! These were water bats – Daubentons. The children enjoyed using their detectors to predict where a bat was going to be then the spotlight was turned on to see if they were right! Then it was back to the car park.
Most people were local to Shepherd’s Meadow (eg Bracknell, Crowthorne, Sandhurst ) and had heard of the event via publicity from Bracknell Forest Rangers – one of whom, Marie-Anne, came to help.
A small but determined band of 11 volunteers spent a day doing a much needed clean up of the site at Grants Moor on Monday 19th August 2013.
The first task was to remove the bramble and weeds that were choking the hedgerow planted at the end of last year. This will ensure that the saplings can flourish and do not have to compete for nutrients and water with other plants and weeds. The saplings have been very successful, with only a small percentage of casualties, and they will hopefully be replaced this winter if we are successful in getting another batch of plants from an application we have made to the Woodland Trust.
These pictures show before and after shots. The pathway was mown by the Partnership days prior to our visit so it was only necessary to do a small amount of cutting back over hanging vegetation to open them up.
We also had a good bonfire (see below), burning all the brash that the contractors had cut down underneath the overhead power lines which had been left on a small area of heather. The removal of some of the bramble and other invasive species was done to encourage the heather to grow.
There is still lots of work required on the site and future work parties will be organised, so if anyone feels that they want to help please contact the Trust via the website.
– Dave –
After a dry spell the weather set in with rain in the morning for our walk three days later. Luckily it just about stopped before the off but did deter a couple of booked participants. However ten walkers joined me for an exploration of this area where the Trust has been helping to improve the wildlife diversity of the site.
It takes five minutes to reach the site from the car park and after a short stretch of rubbish strewn path, supposedly cleared by the fast food outlet, we met with Partnership volunteers and staff maintaining the official path.
The path leads under the road and is squeezed between the railway line and river – buddleia grows here but we had to wait for our return to see any butterflies on these bushes. Just under the road is where our hedge planting begins, as described in an earlier article. In time this will be a better habitat than the wire fence and brambles, as long as the Trust can maintain it.
The river is still somewhat hidden along this path and soon disappears under the road, while we continued into an area of heather vegetation which makes this site so interesting. The heather formed on the site where the gravel sorting equipment left a thick layer of sand. This is an area that the Trust has been clearing and the recent activity of the electricity company has helped to open up once shaded areas of heather. With continued management we hope to improve the site for the insects and reptiles that live here, like the slow worm I was able to show before returning it to the refuge of a metal sheet. There are a number of different refugia within the site to help us monitor the population, but we didn’t see any of the grass snakes that live here. There are a number of nesting boxes for the birds and the one near here was used this year by blue tits which raised 11 young from 13 eggs, a very high success rate.
The next area was a small patch of acid grassland which earlier in the year had many butterflies and other insects feeding on the knapweed and other flowers. But most flowers had gone to seed and there was no sign of the common lizards that can sometimes be seen here. This site will need some extra work to remove the many trees that were cut down from beneath the pylons, a good winter volunteer task.
Passing through a shaded part of the path where the ground remained damp, I picked up a stick with an unusual fungus on it. It looked like a normal toadstool shape but had pores instead of gills under the cap. This was later identified as Polyporus tuberaster.
Then we came to the start of the interconnected ponds that are the remnants of the pits that were created during gravel extraction. This patch was where the Trust started work by contracting tree clearance to open up the densely shaded ponds. The electricity company’s work has extended this clearance and a common lizard was seen and photographed on one of the log piles. It was becoming sunny and a few butterflies and dragonflies were flying around the pond and patches of bramble and stinging nettles.
We made a quick visit to overlook the Grants Moor South site and by the time you read this, the path will probably have been cut to give easier access to this area. Returning to the start we passed alongside the old railway sidings boundary, where there is a very old coppiced hazel tree which we hope the new owner will continue to protect.
This is a small area of the BlackwaterValleywhere we hope that wildlife can be the priority, and although surrounded by roads and railway it is home to many species which will benefit from some subtle management from the Partnership and the Trust.
– Bernard –
This was the third of the four guided walks organised by BVCT this year. Although the 20th of July was during the recent spell of very warm weather, much of the route was through or adjacent to wooded areas giving us welcome shelter from the heat of the day – so the walk was really pleasant.
Our route started from the Canal Centre at Mychett, chosen for its handy car parking, cafe and other facilities, and then took a shady path through the coniferous woods just east of the canal coming out at Windmill Lane and the canal bridge at Frimley Green near the Kings Head pub. The lane derives its name through its proximity to a tower windmill, of perhaps 18th century origin, the remains of which were later, in 1914, incorporated into a large private house (The Old Mill). The site of this mill is a few hundred yards to the east of Windmill Lane but unfortunately not visible from the path).
We then followed the canal towpath across the Frimley Railway Aqueduct, through Deepcut to the Curzon Bridge which is situated near Pirbright Junction. The Basingstoke Canal, which was started in 1787 and completed in 1794, originally ran from Basingstoke to the River Wey navigation near West-By-Fleet – a length of some 37 miles. The civil engineer who surveyed the canal was William Jessop who was a pupil of John Smeaton of lighthouse fame. This section of the canal passes through a deep cutting of 1000 yards in length, which gives the locality its name. Built at a pre-mechanisation time, when such constructions could only rely on the muscle power of the navies using wooden shovels and wheelbarrows, the cutting must surely represent one of the civil engineering achievements of the canal. Here, the canal is wooded on both sides, and the north bank of the cutting is lined with mature beech trees. In the autumn, this section of the towpath is particularly colourful and well worth a visit.
Across the canal, and hidden from our view by the woods is the now redundant Deepcut Barracks, soon to be developed for housing. The barracks date from 1894 but were expanded during the Great War and then featured a rail link to the main line at Brookwood. I understand that the terminus at Deepcut was a log-timbered building, constructed by Canadian troops, and that it was as late as 1950 when the track was finally lifted.
This section of our walk took us past the first three locks of the flight of 14 locks required to lower the level of the canal some 95 feet between Deepcut and Brookwood. April of this year (2013) saw the reopening of the locks after a longish period of refurbishment during which the locks were dry. The area adjacent to the first of the locks, with its picturesque lockkeeper’s cottage, is particularly scenic and always good for a photograph or two.
After reaching the Curzon Bridge we turned south away from the Canal, crossed the railway, and made our way through a small area of mixed deciduous/coniferous trees with a small stream flowing through; this area is named on the map as Hodge Bottom, and the path comes out adjacent to the Gapemouth plantation.
The final leg of the walk proceeded in a SW direction to cross the low pine-covered gravel hills to bring us back to the start of the walk at the Canal Centre. The initial part of this stage entailed a moderately steep uphill incline until we reached the old Guildford Road, at a point near Tunnel Hill. The north side of these hills, presumably because of their soft composition, have a number of scenically interesting steep wooded gullies that can be quite challenging to ascend but seem to delight the off-road cycle enthusiasts by taxing their skills. However we chose to proceed along the main path because of its more moderate slope!
Just before descending to our starting point we made a slight diversion to admire the view across Farnborough and the Blackwater Valley, looking towards Blackbush and Minley. In the foreground, both Farnborough Hill School and the dome of the Mausoleum of Farnborough Abbey are clearly seen. This scene brings to mind the historical association of Farnborough with Napoleon III of France, for it is in the mausoleum that the body of the Emperor and his son (killed in the Zulu wars) was laid to rest. Farnborough Hill was constructed in the 1860s for the wealthy publisher Thomas Longman, and was later purchased in 1880 by the Empress Eugenie after the death of her husband. (For those not familiar with this historical association, note that after the French suffered total defeat at the Battle of Sedan in 1870, Napoleon III and part of his army was captured by the Prussians, and on his release he fled to Britain, where he died of an infection as a consequence of a botched operation to remove a kidney stone. His widow then moved to Farnborough and had the monastery and abbey church built in his remembrance. )
With temperatures heading for the 30’s and weather forecasters warning of a heat wave, we set up base camp at Ash recreation ground in anticipation, waiting for the event to open up at 1pm. As the temperatures soared a few hardy families drifted our way looking hot and bothered, but that was soon forgotten once the youngsters got involved in the ‘pond dipping’ set up by Laura, as well as an owl pellet survey ably managed by Bernard. With kids up to their armpits in canal water chasing water boatman and larvae, and young fingers breaking apart owl pellets looking for mammal bones etc., the day became worthwhile.
As the day moved on, with bands marching and tug-of-war events taking place, our thoughts were more around the shady area in our marquee which was diminishing fast, but we still managed to talk to a number of people who showed interest in BVCT. In doing so we got people thinking about the river environment and managed to gain a few new members.
Looking back, the most memorable part was the youngster who was so engrossed for over 30 minutes looking for mammal bones using tweezers to pull apart the owl pellets. Her mother looked on in admiration at her daughter’s involvement and commitment.
Oh, and the other memorable part was the large ‘99’ ice cream that I treated myself to later in the afternoon – delicious.
Yes, a hot and somewhat uncomfortable day, but overall a successful one. My thanks to Laura, Sue, Bernard and Colin for making it so.
The Royal Engineers based at Minley handed over the refurbished outdoor ‘Science Area’ at Holly Lodge School on the 25 th June 2013 after a week of clearing the site, cleaning up the ponds and restating formal paths. They also installed lots of bench seating so that there is plenty of room to hold outdoor classes and replaced wooden decking and fencing around the ponds that already existed.
The Trust first visited the site in November 2012 and were keen to advise the Head of Science and the Head of School, who wanted the area to become a usable resource again, but did not know the best way forward. The Trust did some initial scrub clearance in the spring of this year to establish what was needed and confirmed the plans to get the Army involved to provide the manpower to do the work.
This has now been completed and the School are delighted with the result. These pictures show the before and after, and speak for themselves.
Thanks go to the Royal Engineers, without whose help this would not have been possible, and the enthusiasm of all at Holly Lodge School who wanted this project done. Hopefully this area will encourage the children to learn and appreciate the environment around them.
For a press report on this story, click here
Worms1, The Rest 0
The Trust held its third annual worm charming event on Saturday 15th June, returning to HollyLodgeSchoolas part of their school fete activities. This was the site of the previous year’s event, albeit a little earlier this year.
We had plenty of helpers to set up, plenty of room for as many three square metre plots as we wanted, plenty of time to charm the worms (30 minutes), ample rain so that the ground was not too hard, a huge amount of enthusiasm from the nine teams who actually braved the elements to take part, and plenty of volunteers to count them at the end.
The only element that we had no control over was the worms. The winner found ONE, yes – believe it or not – one solitary specimen that came out of the ground, probably only to look at what was going on. No one else got a single one. I don’t think we could have selected a more barren (wormless) section of earth to use and we had plenty of space to choose from – our practice plot had produced two, so we were not concerned. Last year the top three teams found 195 worms between them, so we were always confident that worms were there for the taking – but how wrong can you be?
The ‘worm-off’, to decide the runner up, was conducted by agreement on a different section of the playing field and almost immediately produced results. The winner (‘Worminators’, with young Toby and one worm) had been a contestant in all three events so far and was, according to his grandparents, desperate to win, so his wish came true (see photograph). The second, a team called ‘All The Best’ had been winners at the first competition.
We need to take a bit of time now to rethink our strategy for overcoming our defeat by the worms, but I am sure we will be back next year so don’t forget to come along and join the fun.
Despite the unsettled weather, 13 people turned up for the 4.5 mile walk, including myself and Paul Sanders who acted as back marker. The weather kept fine during the morning, we encountered no difficulties, and completed at about 12.15. As a circular walk of about the correct length I recommend that we stage it again some when next year.
Having won Best WildlifeGarden in Surrey Heath in Bloom and being well-known for our eccentric garden, Bernard was persuaded to offer guided tours for Blackwater Valley Countryside Trust members.
The first date was Sunday 19th May, and the previous week the forecast was for good weather every day except Sunday. However they were wrong, and we had warm sunshine the whole day. Ten people met at 2.30pm and were shown the array of wildlife attractions – including 23 bird and bat boxes, a hibernaculum under part of the shed with resting up places under the other part hoping to attract everything from slowworms to badgers, the pond with an obliging frog and many newts but sadly no dragonflies, the rotting tree stump which has been dug out by the badger, the swarms of male Red Mason bees hanging about waiting for the females to emerge, and the many piles of logs and standing dead wood to attract beetles – to name but just a few!
Fortunately, the front garden was very colourful with the flowers we include to attract the insects, and the many bee houses were being well used. Continuity is essential and we try to have something in bloom almost the whole year.
We subsequently had two more rather smaller groups and managed to avoid the rain although it was quite cold. We welcome visitors and if you missed out on these dates do feel free to contact us for a tour.
Joan and Bernard Baverstock
As one of the visitors in the later groups, I can only say that I was totally unprepared for what we saw. It is certainly the most unusual private garden I’ve ever laid eyes on, with a surprise round every corner, and each one forcing you to smile! It’s a garden with a real sense of humour – as well as the flora and fauna Joan lists above, there are numerous official signs telling you things like not to park here (in Spanish), a bus stop, a tree growing round a bike, a ten-foot crocodile (plastic), a huge pair of red lips up in a tree, and many more glorious eccentricities – and then there’s all the wonderful bonsai displays and tableaux. If your tastes include gardening and the slightly offbeat, take them up on their tour offer.
The Trust had a stall at the Sandhurst Donkey Derby held on Bank Holiday Monday where the weather was for once very kind with not a drop of rain to complain about.
This event, the first one the Trust has attended, is very well supported by the local community who come along to enjoy the spectacle of real donkeys (over 10 were there) competing in a race of 6 donkeys ridden by children completing a set course. There were many more stalls for the enjoyment of the crowd the one opposite us was a local scout group who offered a ‘crockery shy’ which attracted quite a crowd seeing people breaking plates etc with wooden balls.
We had a pond dip that attracted a lot of interest from parents and children and as the photograph shows the Army Cadets and our display boards and information section.
Four new members were recruited and a small amount collected towards the Trust’s current Tern Appeal. We spoke to a lot people and hopefully managed to educate a few more of what a great resource we have within the Blackwater Valley.
The Trust held the first of four planned circular walks this year, starting at the Horseshoe Lake Water Sports Centre, crossing the field to Ambarrow Lane, and then going past spectacular scenes of bluebells and wild garlic rising to the heights of Wellingtonia Avenue. Then onwards to Simon’s Pond and returning via Finchampstead Ridges and Moor Green Lakesand back to the starting point.
The weather was very kind to the 16 walkers who all completed the five and three quarter mile distance in under two and a half hours.
I have never seen such a profusion of bluebells; the late spring meant we had timed the walk just right. The picture (one of many I took) shows one of the sites with bluebells in the background and white wild garlic in the foreground.
All in all a very enjoyable walk, with many thanks to Clive Andrews, our leader, and Wendy Stevens, the back marker.
On a cold but bright April morning a hardy group of Trust Members braved a 5.30am start to hear the early morning birdsong at Rowhill Nature Reserve.
Migrant birds are late this year, but after a while Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps started to make their presence heard. King of them all, the first to start singing is of course the Song Thrush – incredibly loud and singing its ever varying but always repeated phrases, it belied the reported reductions in numbers we have heard about over the years.
The Wren was abundant as expected, with a song that outweighs its size by some measure, and its singing from high and low entertained us throughout our walk. Great Tits and Blue Tits were everywhere, Great Tits making the task of teaching birdsong extra difficult with their variations always confusing. Woodpeckers were heard and seen and the usual Magpies, Jays and Carrion Crows.
Perhaps the highlight of the morning (after a demonstration of the song using an iPhone lest we missed them!) we encountered a pair of Goldcrests. As we get older, this is one of the first birdsongs to be lost by fading hearing, but these tiny birds gave us a great display of mating on a branch right in front of us with the male raising his golden crest to show the red feathering underneath.
Colin Wilson, the Trustee event leader, then repaired to the local supermarket café where a full cooked breakfast was another reward for such an early start!
A generous £14 donations were collected towards our ‘Homes for Terns’ Appeal.
The weather on 28 April 2013 was cloudy with sunny intervals, cool – indeed chilly for a brief period after lunch when a brisk breeze picked up – ideal conditions for around 160 walkers who turned out to Walk The Path 2013. Our course covered ten and a half miles from Sandhurst to Swallowfield, generally along the Blackwater Valley Path although at three points the generosity of local landowners allowed us to deviate across private land to avoid busy roads. Other landowners allowed us space to park cars and pause for refreshments (and the loo). Local supermarkets were generous too, donating the biscuits, squash and hot drinks with which scouts, family and friends refreshed us at morning and lunchtime breaks.
A fortnight earlier, inspection of the path had revealed difficult terrain. A high water table caused floods near Finchampstead; mud churned by the hooves of horses impeded the way a little further on; and bramble and holly made it hard to squeeze past obstacles. Fortunately the weather over the following two weeks dried the soil; while rangers and volunteers working for the Blackwater Valley Partnership displayed their secateur-wielding and duckboarding skills to good effect.
The Sandhurst town crier donned rich red robes and turned up to start us off. At 10.00 he rang his bell, raised his voice, and declared that we were ready to Walk. Away we went. In this cold spring when growth has been late to start few trees were clothed with even a dusting of green leaves, yet the first bluebells were displaying their purplish blooms near Swallowfield. Primroses, wood anemones and celandines abounded, dandelions scattered gold around the grasslands, an early alkanet cast sapphires in a hedgerow near Eversley, and forget-me-nots reminded us of the pleasures of the season to come. Timorous terrestrial creatures were easily frightened by the passage of so many clumping feet, but herons and egrets populated the valley lakes, the flash of a kingfisher was seen skimming the water, overhead the ornithologically knowledgeable identified early swallows, buzzards and red kites, and even a cuckoo was heard.
Even after ten and a half miles, we found a spurt of energy to bring us to the Crown Inn in Swallowfield where food, ale and coffee awaited. The smiles on walkers’ faces showed that, in time-honoured words, a good time was had by all! Thank you to the trustees and other helpers who organised it and made it such a great day.
A very successful bird walk was organised by Richard Horten of the Tices Meadows Birders, covering the area around the now worked-out Farnham gravel quarry located at the roundabout at the end of the A331 Blackwater Relief Road.
The group met up at the bridge crossing the Blackwater River in the Badshot Lea road and consisted of some 30-plus participants, made up of local residents, Blackwater Countryside Trust and Partnership members, and Tices Meadow and local birders. A heavy frost the night before made walking on what would have been muddy tracks easier, and the group made their way to a series of viewing areas overlooking the wetland area. The water level was higher than usual, due to recent rainfall and water extended into the grassy surrounding areas. This gave the bird life a large area to forage and made it quite challenging to identify. Gulls were numerous. but the prize sighting was a single black-tailed godwit. Shoveler, pochard, and tufted duck were also present together with several cormorants and Canada geese.
Richard led the group through the redundant quarry workings, the walking area being defined by boundary fences, and explained the future plans for the development of the site. Gravel processing equipment was still present behind a fenced off area, partly submerged by the high water level, but is due to be removed in the near future.
The walk back to the meet up area, via the wooded area on the Surrey side of the Blackwater river also proved interesting for birds. Redwings and long tailed tits were observed foraging amongst the saplings together with the more common tit family and regular British resident birds.
The Trust held its annual bird box building workshop at Rowhill Nature Reserve on Saturday 9th February. Unfortunately this year was not as well attended as previous years, and only four boxes were sold out of 24 kits that had been carefully assembled by Bernard Baverstock in his garage over the last couple of months.
The event was planned to coincide with National Bird Box Week, but maybe the weather on the day (cold and a bit snowy) was enough to discourage people from turning out, albeit that we were inside the Rowhill Visitor Centre and not subject to the cold outside.
The time, however, was not wasted, as 21 boxes in all were built – these will go up in the Blackwater Valley in the next few weeks so that our feathered friends can use them this spring to bring up the next generation.
Especial thanks to the Rowhill ladies, Sheila and Kathy, for the supply of refreshments to the workers.
Paul Sanders conjured up a wonderful winter walk around Cove Brook, which lasted around three hours plus and definitely shook off the winter blues. It was the first BVCT event of the year and got us off to a great start with over 16 walkers participating on a cold and frosty day. The near zero temperatures helped keep the ground hard where a few days before would have had us sloshing around paths sodden with water. On the way Paul pointed out many sites of interest including an area within the army grounds that has been regularly used for film sets.
During the walk we were even lucky enough to see a white egret flying alongside the brook as well as a number of black-headed gulls and various other waterfowl. Overall a great walk and perfectly timed as the very next day we had a very heavy fall of snow which would have made it nigh on impossible…. maybe Paul is not just a conjurer but a manipulator of weather as well!