To celebrate Valerie's birthday (and the first work party of the 2017/18 season) Liz brought along some lovely cake.
The cake was presented and once Valerie had done the honours blowing out the candles we all tucked in. It was very well received by all present! (Who's birthday is next?)
Oh, and we also tidied up the area around the fallen oak and planted four new oak saplings.
A short video of a roe deer eating our newly planted hazel whips.
The midweek team had a productive session this morning installing a new double width Nature Watch sign in the main entrance to The Copse alongside Jubilee Avenue. The sign highlights the ecology of an oak woodland such as Holt Copse, and the multitude of invertebrate life to be found in a decaying log pile. Thanks go to Wokingham Town Council for funding the purchase of materials for the sign.
We took down the old wooden bat boxes that were in poor shape after being vandalised by squirrels and we installed three new boxes. These new boxes were a different design with two different sized chambers to accommodate different species of bat. Derek Harding kindly donated one of the boxes and we bought two more identical boxes from the RSPB. The boxes are installed as a group of three spaced equidistantly around the trunk of a large oak. This is to allow the bats to move around during the day to the box with the most suitable temperature. The design of these boxes means that we should be able to spot any inhabitants with a pair of binoculars without causing any disturbance.
The fresh green of the hazel catkins is one of the first signs that spring is on its way. But take a closer look and you will see the small red female hazel flowers waiting to be pollinated by the male catkins.
Here are a couple of views of the area in compartment one that we have been clearing, coppicing and planting this winter. We have removed a lot of holly, lightening up the area considerably. Come springtime this area should be looking fabulous with bluebells and all the new hazel we have planted.
Our early work involved removing a lot of holly, coppicing any large hazel that still survived and planting more young hazel. Since about 2010 HCCV have planted between 1500 - 2000 bare root hazel plants, virtually all supplied by Nicholsons Nurseries. (A few plants came from members’ gardens, seedlings from nuts probably buried by squirrels.) Being in a wood the plants had largely to look after themselves once planted, but the majority still survived even in dry springs.
We usually plant hazel in groups of three to simulate a single-stemmed plant one or two years after coppicing. While the plants are small and cast little shade brambles thrive, and so for the first few years after planting HCCV’s other big task is ‘bramble bashing’ - digging or pulling them up by hand. Although essential this isn’t our favourite job but with most of the roots growing in the thick layer of leaf mould present in the wood, it is easier than you might think. We also get quite a sense of satisfaction after a team has cleared a sizeable area! In the last two years we’ve invested in small hand mattocks (c. £10) which are ideal, so if you have to do this sort of work I strongly recommend them.
Nicholsons sell various sizes and ages of bare root hazel plants and because of our bramble problem (and our almost stone-free soil which makes planting easy) we find bare root transplants superior to the equivalent sized seedlings. They usually have a number of stems and a bigger and more fibrous root system, so they establish faster and make plants that compete with the brambles at least one and probably two or more years sooner than seedlings do.
Over the years HCCV have put up almost 40 bird nest boxes in Holt Copse. They vary in size and shape as they are designed to attract different species. We check them each winter when we record whether or not they have been used, the number of any unhatched eggs or chick skeletons present and we clean out the boxes. Old nest material is full of invertebrates such as caterpillars, beetles, spiders and particularly fleas and if it is not removed birds will seldom use the nest box again for some years. We have done this exercise now for 10 years.
We’ve put up boxes designed for tit species, tree creepers, nut hatches, wrens and owls and ones designed for a range of species like robins, blackbirds and flycatchers. The majority (75% +) are used most years although the numbers of eggs and/or skeletons in the nests vary considerably. When ‘fatalities’ are present in the occasional nest it is probable that something happened to one or both parent birds, but when it happens in many cases there may well be an underlying cause such as bad weather or lack of food (which are often linked).
Although the boxes are designed for different species, blue, great and coal tits don’t seem to realise this and often use boxes intended for tree creepers and nuthatches! If they use one of the latter, which are much larger than nest boxes designed for tits, the birds have to make much bigger nests and some are truly remarkable - and very cosy-looking! (See photo). Tits will use natural and manmade materials to make their nest and we often wonder where some of the latter comes from, although the commonest, a fluorescent yellow fluff probably comes from tennis balls lost by dog owners and their pets. Individuals birds (or pairs) would seem to vary in their preferences for nest building material, because some nests are made mainly of natural materials (grass, moss, dog hairs and feathers) while others in the same locality are made almost entirely of manmade materials (See photo).
We wondered how far birds foraged for nesting material, so last spring we cut some bright red wool into short (c. 5 cm) lengths and put these in a small net that we hung up in the Copse. Last week when we examined the boxes we checked if this wool was in any of the nests, which it was. Not unexpectedly the largest amount was in the nest box near where we hung the wool, but there were at least 7 strands in the elaborate nest built over 120m away - as tits fly!
It isn’t just birds that inhabit nest boxes not intended for them; bees do too! We realised there were bees in one box when we checked it last year when it was warm and the bees were active, so we left well alone! It was much colder last Saturday, so we took the front off the box which contained four honeycombs (See photo). They were so beautifully made we put the front back on the box and hung it back up; the bees are welcome occupants.