This blog is written by Jake - residential volunteer at RSPB West Sedgemoor, Swell Wood and Greylake. 

Hello everyone! I’m Jake, the new residential volunteer at West Sedgemoor, Swell Wood and Greylake reserves. I’ll be spending the next six months here and look forward to sharing some of my experiences with you.

As I approached West Sedgemoor last week, my eyes were drawn upwards to a tall, grand monument surveying the surrounding floodplain from a thickly wooded hill. Being in a county famous for a certain fermented apple drink, I was amused to find that this was the Cider Monument, erected after a tax that levied the production of cider was successfully overturned in the 18th century. Cider flowed freely once more! Local legend has it that a cow with a taste for heights made a number of attempts at ascending the 172 steps to the top of the monument, getting stuck twice (and successfully coaxed down) before meeting a grisly end on its third and final attempt.

 three parasol mushrooms in grass in the foreground with the Cider Monument in the back on a background of blue sky and white clouds

Parasols and the cider monument 

Back to the here and now, my first week volunteering for the RSPB was a wonderful whirlwind of practical conservation and estate work and lots of wildlife sightings.

Monday morning and I was right in the action, helping to move a herd of cattle at West Sedgemoor. As livestock handler Helen encouraged the cows down the drove, Assistant warden Paul and I positioned ourselves further down the track to guide them to the right field and not on a magical mystery tour of their own choosing. Cows are an important conservation tool at West Sedgemoor and Greylake and keep the grass and other vegetation at heights which are attractive to breeding waders. Lapwing, for example, prefer a predominantly short sward to nest in. Snipe and redshank prefer more tussocky grass. The cattle are key in creating these diverse habitats.

 

Cows at West Sedgemoor

Later in the week we were at Greylake to do some habitat management of our own, cutting back the willow pollards that grow along the central drove. Attracting breeding waders was again the aim as the likes of lapwing, snipe and redshank won’t nest in areas close to trees, branches and leaves being the perfect perch and cover for hungry birds of prey in search of their next meal. 

 

Pollarding willow at Greylake to attract breeding waders 

As we worked, loppers and pruning saws in hand, we were lucky to meet two curious critters. The first dropped right into Will’s hand (Estate Worker) from the tree he was working on - a wonderfully metallic looking carabus granulatus beetle . Carabus beetles are one of only a handful of ground beetles that have maintained their ability to fly although they spend most of their time on the ground hunting insects, worms and snails. 

Later in the day we met an araneus diadematus or european garden spider although ‘mushroom spider’ (as coined by fellow volunteer Erika) seems a more fitting name considering its fly agaric like body! 

 

Carabus granulatus 

Araneus diadematus 

The amount of dragonflies flying around has also been incredible to see. Before arriving at West Sedgemoor, I’d be lucky to see one or two a year, but they are everywhere here. One landed on my shoulder the day I arrived which was a nice welcome. Here’s one on top of a parasol mushroom:

 

Look forward to sharing more with you soon!

's Jake

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