Wildlife


On Monday the 17th May BBC South Today and BBC Radio Solent came to the Park to see ‘adder tagging’.

This is not some traditional countryside pastime of old but rather an innovative way of monitoring this scarce and fascinating reptile, and only the second time that this project has been carried out in England.

The Park has a very healthy population of adders which happily co-exists with the many recreational users. This project will hopefully inform and improve the management of both the snake’s habitat and also the way our visitors use the site.

Ten adders have now been radio tagged and for the next 6 months the rangers and volunteers at QECP will be following their every move. 

The tags are attached using clear porous tape and need to be found and retrieved should the adder shed its skin.

This project is supported by the QECP Volunteers and the South Downs National Park.

For more information about the adder tagging there will be a reptile walk as part of the 24 hour BioBlitz on Sunday the 11th August. Pre-booking is required. For more information go to www.hants.gov.uk/qecp

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Butser Hill in the Spring is covered in the flowers of the Common cowslip, particularly on the northern and western slopes but also along the A3 verges and the South Downs Way.

The Cowslip’s name is thought to originate from the old English for cow dung as its flowers were commonly seen in grazing meadows. Traditionally the flowers were used to flavour wine and vinegar.

This semi-evergreen perennial is found throughout Europe and Asia although in this country it has been threatened by the agricultural improvement of grasslands.

 

The slopes on Butser have not now been disturbed for 50 years and  as a consequence numbers of Cowslip are growing every year.

Additional benefit from the large numbers comes from the fact that the leaves are a key food plant for the larval stage of the Duke of Burgundy butterfly.

This extremely scarce butterfly is found over much of Butser Hill and we are lucky enough to have what is probably its largest stronghold in the UK.

Over a 24 hour period from 4pm on Saturday the 10th August through to the same time on the 11th, there will be a BioBlitz event at the Country Park. This is open to the public with the simple aim to find as many species as possible across the Park. Last year over 600 were identified. More information at www.hants.gov.uk/qecp

A small work party has just finished clearing the ‘small quarry’ at the Burton Chalk Pits Local Nature Reserve. This same area was first cleared of undergrowth last year with the intention of establishing some valuable open space in the quarry.

20 years ago the older residents of Buriton can remember the presence of snakes and butterflies,  both now sadly lacking. With each clearance the task becomes easier and it is already possible to see the changing nature of the vegetation.

The site is owned by East Hants District Council and run in partnership with Buriton Parish and the Country Park. We are coming to the end of three years of Heritage Lottery Funding and at that point the site will have to rely even more on volunteer help.

Many improvements have been made during this time period and the one major project yet to be realized is the restoration of the pond at the top of the site (see earlier posts). The relevant grant application has been submitted so fingers crossed that it will be successful.

New volunteers are always welcome to these regular work parties. For more information go to the Parish web-site at http://www.buriton.info

There will be a guided walk looking at the bird life and bird song in the Chalk Pits which will take place on Wednesday the 8th May, starting from the Buriton Pond at 6.30pm. Stout shoes or boots are required and steep gradients are to be expected.

Throughout the year the Park is a haven for bird life of all sorts whether the familiar residents or occasional migrants. And with 2,000 acres and divers habitats such as chalk downland and beech woods the variety can be staggering.

Regular visitor and one time staff member Mike Wearing has been out and about recently with camera in hand looking at the Park’s birds of prey.

These two species are not easily seen particularly around the main facility areas and visitors will need to get to know the site well or to attend one of the many guided walks that are put on by the rangers or volunteers.

The sparrowhawk is perfectly adapted to hunting other birds in confined species. Having evolved for woodland work this adaptation suits suburban gardens and it is the bird of prey that you are most likely to see at home.

The males are smaller and can tackle birds up to starling size whilst the female is much larger, seen here with an adult wood-pigeon. Unless the hawk has caught something and is on the ground you only generally get a fleeting visit. Often the pile of feathers from the recently plucked prey is the only sign of what has taken place.

The barn owl is much harder to see being less common and largely night flying. Prey species are chiefly rodents and this bird prefers the grassland and open woodland areas.

The most likely place to spot one is if you are taking part in an evening barbecue on the lower slopes of Butser at the Cannonball or Coneyacres sites.  

On Sunday the 12th May there will be a chance to see many of our bird species on the annual Dawn Chorus Walk. This starts at the crack of dawn (4am), and ends with an organic bbq breakfast cooked by the volunteers.

 The walk must be booked in advance from the visitor centre on 02392 595040. Cost £6.00 per person.

 

The plainly titled ‘Concrete pond’ is hidden away on the southern slopes of Butser Hill adjacent to the A3. Once an ancient dew pond it was concreted over at the turn of the last century and  then fell in to disrepair from the 1960s.

One of its last functions was to act as a safe store for all the ordnance ploughed up on the lower slopes during the 1950s when barley was being grown on the hill. Target Valley lies immediately to the south-west and was used as a military range from Napoleonic times.

By the year 2000 the pond was dry and full of spoil. This was all removed and a new reinforced concrete bottom laid. Two thirds of the brick walls were replaced and rendered, and the pond has held a perfect level ever since.

It provides a home to dragonfly and damselfly species, a small number of amphibians, and is used for drinking water by a wide range of wildlife.

The pond contains a great many Ramshorn snails and quantities of these are being removed from the water to be eaten by something. We have no idea what this could be and are appealing for information from anyone who might have seen this before.

Whatever it is tends to select the largest shells which can be almost an inch across, and then keeps a tidy pile of all the arisings. There is no shortage of snails in this pond and our concern is simply to find out what happens to them.

If you can help a small reward awaits.

Work continues on the restoration of Holt Pond which is filling with water and nearly complete. The area will now be fenced off to create a wildlife zone where public access can be managed. The bare earth will be sown with wild flower seed harvested from Butser Hill during last Summer.

Pond weed will be brought across from the ‘concrete pond’ on the other side of the A3. This pond was restored some years ago and has large quantities of Water milfoil and Curled-leaved pondweed.

The Holt Pond has a good population of Palmate newts and these need aquatic plants on which to attach their eggs which are individually wrapped one per leaf.

 

 

The old rotten concrete slabs will be used to create a hibernaculum or reptile refuge. This will be built in a such a way that will allow the Grass snakes, Adders, Slow worms and Common lizards to hide away from the freezing Winter temperatures. And also being South facing they will be able to warm up quickly when the sun does shine. The blocks will be covered in soil and the grass kept short to aid this process.

Much of this work is carried out by the park’s volunteers who meet every Tuesday morning for practical work sessions across the site. More information can be obtained from the web-site at www,hants.gov.uk/qecp

 

Work is underway restoring the old Holt Pond. This has been is a sorry state for a number of years and funds have recently been secured to  do the job with a welcome donation from the Park’s own volunteer group.

The process has involved getting in a 9 tonne tracked digger to remove the accumulated sediment and rotting vegetation, being careful to leave this close by to help relocate some of the flora and fauna. At this time of year the pond was effectively asleep and the Palmate newts which are one of its key features had yet to return for breeding.

This was originally an old dew pond constructed with a thin layer of clay. The clay was concreted over at a later date and it was this that had broken up causing all the water to drain away. Some 20 tonnes of old concrete was removed and the profile of the pond restored.

Next we added a layer of soft sand, the liner, followed by a protective layer of geo-textile and finally another layer of top-soil. This sandwich of materials will ensure that the pond will hold water for another 40 years and also that the aquatic and marginal vegetation will quickly take hold.

Within a day of starting to add the water the first three newts had arrived. It will be some while before the water level is spot on, in the meantime the volunteers are working hard turning the environs in to a wildlife area starting with a hibernaculum (hibernation home for reptiles) made out of the old concrete.

The area will be fenced off as before and used for wildlife encounter sessions throughout the season.

The Park’s second annual BioBlitz event will take place on the 10th/11th August. This is a 24 hour nature hunt where we try to find as many different species as possible, with over 600 identified last year. It will be interesting to see how many  species will have moved back in to pond site by then.

For more information about this ad other related events see the Park’s web-site on www.hants.gov.uk/qecp

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