November 2012


At this time of year, wet weather permitting, the ranger team, supported by specialist contractors get stuck into a wide range of practical tasks.

Butser Hill, which is a National Nature Reserve covers some 750 acres and is recognised as the highest point on the South Downs. This is difficult terrain to walk let alone to fence, cut scrub or thin woodland.

The Winter’s work can be broadly split in to three areas; Firstly, cutting the coarse grasses, thorn and dogwood to achieve a balance between the downland sward and scrub communities.

The first tool here is the grazing animals, currently some 300 sheep and 30 beef cattle. The back up is a tractor and topper for the coarse grass, a tractor and the aptly named ‘destroyer’ on the light scrub, and the final resort where the scrub is well on its way to becoming woodland is to use a ‘hand team’ with chainsaw and brush-cutter.

Secondly, there is 1 kilometer of fencing to be replaced each and every year, and finally the woodland blocks are thinned or coppiced on a rotational basis. These last two subjects will be covered by later posts.

Back to the scrub control, this is being carried out in the top of Target Valley on the southern slopes of Butser Hill. This area has suffered from rampant growth by Hawthorn and Ash in recent years and the aim is to bring it back to a stage where the combined efforts of grazing animals and light machinery will be able to keep it under control in the future.

The team is provided by a local company called Natural Land Management which is based at Eames Farm on Thorney Island. NLM is a sister company to Rother Valley Organics, the Farm Business Tenant on Butser.

After this area has been cleared the team will move on to the northern slopes of the hill as part of the ‘Dukes on the Edge’ project funded by Butterfly Conservation.

Target Valley was so named because of its use as a military training area since Napoleonic times. Old ordnance regularly turns up thanks to the efforts of rabbits and badgers. At the end of the valley are two parallel mounds of earth which provided a back stop for the bullets and shelter for those dealing with the targets. These can be clearly seen in the second image.

For more information about NLM go to http://www.naturallandmanagement.com

To find out more about other work priorities the site management plan can be seen on the web-site at www.hants.gov.uk/qecp

Three artists have joined forces to put on an exhibition in the Country Park theatre. This will run until Friday the 4th January and will be open every day from 10.00am to 4.30pm.

The three artists are;

Lara Firth is a self-taught artist, who moved here from Russia some 12 years ago. She mainly uses acrylics and paints landscapes and natural scenes.

Mark Davies studied art at A level before an enforced break courtesy of a 22 year career in the Navy. Now a landscape gardener he draws inspiration from the great outdoors and works mainly in acrylics.

Ros Croft is a self-taught artist interested in water colours, acrylics and mixed media. She likes to paint seascapes and explores more abstract forms of art.

The Park is hosting a second exhibition, also running until the 4th January. This can be found in the cafe and celebrates the Olympics with a series of interpretational panels. These explore the links between Olympians and Paralympians, both past and present, and the county of Hampshire.

Modern stars such as Iwan Thomas the 400 metre runner from Southampton and Kate Hoey the Judo medallist from Andover are featured along with Hampshire venues used during the 1908 and 1948 games.

This year the Olympic flame passed along the A3, through the Park on its way to Petersfield, and in 1948 it was carried by a relay of runners going in the other direction  from Wembley to Torquay where the sailing was taking place.

For more information about these and other exhibitions taking place in the Park go to www.hants.gov.uk/qecp

 

 

Lara Firth and Mark Davies

Lara Firth and Mark Davies

 

Road surveyors are currently working in the Park as part of investigations in to a potential new cycle route. This will run alongside the A3, adjacent to the southbound carriageway from the Park Centre to Petersfield.

A cycleway already exists running south from the Park to Clanfield. This has been in place for a number of years and is very well used.

The A3 carries an estimated 47,000 vehicles each day and where it goes through the Butser cutting there is currently no provision for cyclists who are forced to use the hard-shoulder.

This situation effectively prevents mountain bikers wanting to cycle in to the Park from the north, and road cyclists and commuters who are wanting to pass by from either direction.

In a month that has seen both Bradley Wiggins knocked off his bike, and Shane Sutton the GB Cycling Team coach involved in a serious road traffic accident, anything that makes cyclists safer and promotes greater use is important.

There is an e-petition which has been set up by the Cyclists Touring Club which can be found at…

http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/cycle-route-through-a3-butser-cutting.html

 

For more information about the the CTC and their campaigning work with regard to road safety go to www.ctc.org.uk

30 cattle are now grazing on the very top of Butser Hill. They have been on site since the start of July and are slowly working their way from compartment to compartment to help keep the important chalk grassland in favourable condition.

whereas the sheep will graze the sward very close, the cattle are better at browsing the shrubs, tree saplings and the longer coarse grasses. The cattle will between then consume over 1 tonne of forage each and every day.

Due to the rough nature of the grazing, particularly all the thorn bushes, the cattle do not have traditional ear tags as these can be easily torn out. Instead the tag, which must be carried by all beef animals to comply with DEFRA regulations, is attached through the loose skin on the dewlap.

A month ago there were 65 cattle and 400 plus sheep and lambs all grazing on the hill. However as we move towards the end of the year with its poor weather and low quality grazing the younger cattle have moved elsewhere and the bigger lambs gone to market.

The livestock are all managed under a 5 year farm business tenancy by a family owned company called Rother Valley Organics which is based up the road in Rogate. The land and livestock are all registered as organic and the area is also designated as a National Nature Reserve.

The cattle are either pure or cross-bred Aberdeen Angus which are reared until they are 30-36 months old. When they are ready they are processed by the company’s own butchers.

Rother Valley have some 600 cattle which are managed as a closed herd, where all female breeding stock are home reared and the bulls are brought in having been carefully tested.

Beef, lamb and mutton are available from the Rother Valley web-site at www.rothervalleyorganics.com

A limited range can also be found in the Park’s shop together with venison, pheasant, wild boar and other game.

The National media has been covering the subject of this new disease in some detail so there is little to add except to say that the Forestry Commission has come up with some advice for users of the countryside so that they can play their part in reducing its impact.

More information can be found at http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-8UDM6S

Additionally, the Government’s emergency planning committee COBR met on the 7th November and put together an action plan which can be seen at www.defra.gov.uk/news/2012/11/09/wms-ash 

Thankfully the Country Park does not have the disease and staff are remaining vigilant to ensure that this situation is monitored very closely.

The site remains open to the public. Please see the web-site for details of opening times www.hants.gov.uk/qecp

On the 31st of October our regular group of White Witches and Druids gathered to celebrate the festival of Samhain.

This is an ancient celtic festival which marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the winter or ‘darker half of the year’. The event marks the mid-way point between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice.

Samhain has been linked with the Christian All Saints (or All Hallows Day) and both have strongly influenced the secular customs of Halloween.

It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints Day, and All Hallows Eve provided the last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving to the next world.

 

In order to avoid being recognised by any soul who might be seeking such vengeance, people would wear masks or costumes, a custom which forms a key part of the current Halloween celebrations.

Although the Americans take the blame for another part of modern Halloween,Trick-or-Treating, this practice can be also be traced back in our own history, and their only claim to fame is the pumpkin, a vegetable which originated in the USA.

The QECP Halloween activities, whilst aimed at a younger audience made reference to common themes, promoting respect for nature, the oral tradition with storytelling and the wearing of masks and costumes.

More information about the White Witches and Druids can be found in an earlier post from the 23rd September.

The Samhain celebration was part of a seasonal programme. The next event takes place on the 21st December which is the Winter Solstice. More information can be found on www.dorsetgrove.co.uk

Saturday saw another of the regular volunteer work sessions in the Buriton Chalk Pits Local Nature Reserve. The task involved clearing undergrowth from alongside the two short permissive main trails that run through the site.

The aim being to make the site feel a little more welcoming and to let some light and air on to the trail surfaces to dry them out a bit. With the weather being so wet a fire was not possible so the brash will be dealt with on a future

occasion.

No work day would be complete without snack breaks and particularly the kelly kettle. This is a brilliant way to boil water for teas and coffees using only a handful of twigs. A safe and easy way to avoid luke warm thermos flasks. More information at www.kellykettle.com

 

The group meets again on Saturday the 1st December at 9.30am when the refreshments will take on a festive feel. Anyone is welcome to come along and help out, with tasks to suit all abilities. For more information go to the Buriton parish web-site on www.buriton.info/buriton_chalk_pits or contact the site’s ranger, Abi Peett, directly  at abi.peett@hotmail.com

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