April 2011


Skylark

Skylark

Spring is a busy time for many bird species on Butser Hill as they establish territories and find mates. There are many pairs of Skylark made obvious by the males long loud song, delivered in flight from 30-40 metres above the ground. The nest will be among the ground vegetation and their diet will be seeds supplemented by insect life when young are present.  

Skylark prefer open farmland with grassland, cereals or other low arable crops. It is now well established that many such birds have declined dramatically over the last 30 years due to changes in agricultural practice and intensification. Farmland represents the largest single habitat in Hampshire and the 750 acres that make up the County Council’s holding on Butser provides a key resource for this and other species. Public pressure and specifically the effect of out of control dogs in the bird nesting season are the only negative factors.

Butser Hill
Butser Hill

Other bird species seen in the last few days include the Wheatear and Ring Ouzel, both summer visitors. For more information about bird sightings in Hampshire look on the web-site  goingbirding.co.uk/hants where you can search by site or species.

The RSPB 'Love Nature' marquee
The RSPB ‘Love Nature’ marquee

Many of our visitors already know all about the RSPB. Specifically the organisation is positioned as ‘the UK charity working to secure a healthy environment for birds and all wildlife, helping to create a better world for everyone’…and recently they have been visiting the Park with their ‘Love Nature’ marquee together with staff, volunteers, and telescopes and binoculars, to help visitors to learn more about the spring wildlife.  

With frogs and toads still spawning in the visitor centre pond and a newly arrived pair of mallard, there has been plenty to see. In addition the RSPB team provide information on their campaigns, reserves, membership and volunteering opportunities.  
Spinners in the visitor centre

Spinners in the visitor centre

The Park has its own  group dedicated to demonstrations of spinning and other wool crafts, both on site and at local shows. They meet fortnightly on Friday afternoons and welcome new members.  The Park shop has an excellent display put together by members where you can buy everything from wool to the finished article with jumpers and scarves.   

The next meeting date is May the 20th.

150hp Valtra tractor with 'Destroyer'

150hp Valtra tractor with 'Destroyer'

The winter work as mentioned in previous blogs involves scrub control, fencing and woodland management and needs to be completed by the end of March. Pictured here is a large 150 horsepower Valtra tractor with a Destroyer attached. The tractor provides all the power needed to tackle heavy scrub. One of its best features is called a ‘rear-steer’ where the driver’s seat can be reversed along with the controls. This enables the operator to work directly over and above the mower unit.  So effectively the tractor goes backwards. The Destroyer is a very robust blade mower. Three one inch thick blades can deal with hawthorn and ash scrub that would otherwise need a bow saw to cut down.

The machinery is owned and operated by Rother Valley Organics, the farm business tenants on Butser hill, who look after the Parks sheep flock. One part of this family run company carries out contract mowing and habitat management, and there is also a butchery and outdoor catering units. 

Slopes of Butser Hill where the Destroyer has been used

Slopes of Butser Hill where the destroyer has been used

On steep slopes the tractor will go straight up and down to ensure that the operation can be carried out safely. On this slope bramble is the target species. This will be cut on a rotation to leave mosaic of scrub and grassland of mixed age.  A valuable plant when in the correct balance. One scarce Red Data Book species that uses its dead stems to over winter is the Blue Tailed Carpenter Bee .

Bramble scrub with the top of Butser hill in the background

Bramble scrub with the top of Butser Hill in the background

Once cut the bramble regrowth will be grazed by the Parks sheep flock. The machinery works on the hill for 5 days each year and compliments the work carried out by the site ranger team and volunteers.

Bramble scrub after cutting

Bramble scrub after cutting

Roe doe on the bridge by the Park Centre

Roe doe on the bridge by the Park Centre

On a recent Sunday morning a visitor came in to report a dead deer, unusually close to the Park Centre. It turned out to be a large female, or doe, which had been killed by a dog. Several times each year this unfortunate incident is repeated with the same consequences. Even when injured the deer are very susceptible to stress and rarely survive the trip to the vet.

Typical signs of dog attack

Typical signs of dog attack

Not pleasant viewing, but it is important that everyone is aware of the dangers of uncontrolled dogs. The signs are obvious with damage to the hindquarters during the hunt, and then to the neck at the end. The deer will often try to seek shelter around the buildings, car parks or people as a last resort.

Typical dog damage

Typical dog damage

Where the evidence exists the District Council Dog warden and police will be involved. Under the Deer Act 1991′ it is an offence to enter any land without the consent of the owner or occupier or other lawful authority in search or pursuit of any deer with the intention of taking, killing or injuring it’.   

And under the Hunting with Dogs Bill 2005 which relates to all dog owners ‘it is illegal for more than two dogs to chase wild mammals, for example deer in the woods. The dogs may not be owned by the same person.  

The Park has a good resident population of Roe, a local herd of Fallow which moves over a wider area and a small number of Muntjac. These days there is a very good chance of meeting one of these beautiful animals at any time of the day in any part of the Park. 

The deer population is rising nationally and is controlled by local ‘deer groups’ which include the Forestry Commission rangers. This ensures healthy individuals, reduces inbreeding, and limits damage to agricultural crops and sensitive woodland flora.