Michael's latest report:
Rewilding is very much in the news these days, with landowners allowing the whim of nature to dictate how a habitat develops, nudging to one side the contractors with chainsaws and bulldozers. Instead the land managers are livestock, preferably old breeds of cattle, horses and pigs, which eat some of the developing scrub, create a seedbed by churning up the ground and stop ponds from disappearing under a dense mat of vegetation. Perhaps the most famous example in the south east is on the Knepp estate, six miles south of Horsham in West Sussex. There a 3,500-acre unprofitable farm has been given over to wildlife, and it now boasts one of the highest concentrations of nightingales and turtle doves in the country. Innovation is to the fore, with work carried out to convert the river Arun into a much more natural feature – shallow, with meanders and plenty of opportunity to flood; the owners are even partway through a project to reintroduce white storks to England. You can, however, see rewilding in miniature right next to Blean Woods: part of Kent College’s farm backing onto the reserve’s rifle range (the old brick wall) was arable fields up to the 1990s, but was then abandoned, allowing scrub – mainly willow and birch, but also wild rose, oak and several other species – to take over, and for nightingales to move in. Bits have been mown subsequently, but the College’s cattle also roam through at times, helping to break up areas of dense scrub, so prolonging its suitability for the nightingale, a species in steep national decline.
If you tell visitors that wood spurge, with its green flowers, is one of our more exciting plants, they aren’t going to be too impressed, but the flowers are a really vivid lime-green, almost luminescent in bright sunlight, and this spring seems to have been a particularly good one, with drifts of spurge here and there. The flower proper, complete with nectar glands, is quite tiny, nestling at the centre of the large sepals that take the place of petals, in a complex arrangement known as a cyathium. It reacts positively to coppicing, but can also survive under moderate shade.
A less welcome addition to the reserve’s plant list is the Spanish bluebell, a small clump of which has turned up in a glade. With its larger, paler blue flowers that don’t form a nodding spike, this alien is a common garden plant that hybridises freely with the native species, so weakening the genetic distinctiveness of our iconic bluebell.
A stuttering succession of reeled notes on 5th May gave away the presence of a wood warbler, a close relative of the chiffchaff and willow warbler, but breeding mainly in mature woodland with bare floors in the west of the UK. This lovely little bird, more brightly coloured than its cousins, used to breed in Blean Woods occasionally, but has not done so for about twenty years, and this individual was doubtless just pausing here on its way further west.
Blean Woods Walks
These walks start from the car park at the RSPB Reserve in Rough Common. They must be booked by phoning 01227 464898 or emailing email@example.com. The cost is £3 for members and students, £5 for non-members, and children under 16 are free.
Saturday 1st June Nightjar walk 8.15-10.00pm
Saturday 8th June Nightjar walk 8.15-10.00pm
Wood spurge clump...
..and close-up of flower
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