Monday, 30 August 2010

Pony Visit

It has been a week of doing lots of horsey things.

Firstly we eventually found the time to visit Rufus and Tavey on their new site that they are busy conservation grazing and I am pleased to say that it is beautiful. It is quite an open enclosure with a lovely sunny slope covered with lots of sweet smelling wild herbs, like marjoram, basil and thyme. Both ponies have put on a healthy amount of weight which will set them up nicely for the winter and both look very happy. Better still there is a lovely country pub at the end of the footpath which is a good place to round off a visit to them. Unfortunately the site quite a long way away so we are not able to be their stock checkers while they are there but hopefully they will be coming back to our area again in the autumn.

My next horsey caper was to have a go at western riding. Ever since seeing Monty Roberts (horse whisperer) riding western at one of his demonstrations I have been wanting to have a go. I like the fact that they only have the lightest contact with the horse's mouth and they don't constantly keep nudging the horse in then ribs which must be so annoying for a horse. I was very nervous as I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to control my English riding habits and that I would confuse the horse but I needn't have worried and by the end of the lesson I was happily weaving in and out of cones.

My last horsey activity was to visit the Edenbridge and Oxted Agricultural show. We go most years but this time The Old Surrey Downs Project had a stand which we were helping with. Luckily the stand was in a good position where I could look over to see what was happening in the main arena and we also had some time off so we were able to watch some of the horsey classes in other arenas. My favourite was the lead rein class..such cute ponies and children..very Thelwell.

Amongst all this week's activities I have managed to get over to Rufus and Tavey's old site where I am helping with a survey of the reptiles there. I have put out 25 reptile refuges (bits of roofing felt or metal that reptiles like to go under for warmth and to keep dry) and wanted to check what was under them. There were several common lizards and some slow worms including the one in the picture below that is clearly pregnant and ready to pop any day:-)))

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Embrace your Weeds

This is a picture of the field just the other side of our garden fence. You can now see why we are fighting a losing battle with weeds in the garden. I would like to complain to the farmer but I am worried that he may use a herbicide which would get rid of the invasive weeds but would also destroy the orchids and other chalk downland flowers that are now appearing after years of it being set-aside land so instead I try to embrace the weeds as wild flowers...which I suppose they are really:-)

I find that if I zoom in on the weeds the photos often show that they are actually very beautiful plants. Here are some examples of self sown incomers to our garden:

One advantage of lots of weeds is that the insects like them and this in turn attracts the birds. I am pleased to say that friendly Robin has raised his/her brood and is back to following me around the garden. The first picture was taken before the breeding season and the second after. She looks a bit the worse for wear in the second picture but then raising offspring can do that to you (you should see my before and after pictures...not a pretty

When all the garden work gets a bit too much to enjoy it is lovely to be able to go up on to the North Downs to do the stock check of the sheep but, unfortunately, the last time we went we found one of the sheep had been attacked by a dog. Poor thing was in a sorry state and as a consequence the flock have been taken back to the farm so that the injured one can be treated and the others checked for bites. This leaves us with no stock to check as the ponies are still grazing another site quite a long way from us. I think we are going to be given 16 sheep to check on another site but it isn't quite as nice as it adjoins rather a rough estate and is notorious for vandalism and dog attacks. I have heard that Lamas and Alpacas are good at protecting sheep from dogs...maybe I should suggest that The Old Surrey Downs Project should get some of them:)

Saturday, 14 August 2010

More Comings and Goings

I have just realised that it is nearly 2 months since I have posted anything on my blog. My excuse is that I've been busy, although, on looking back, I can't think what has been sooo time consuming:-) So to summarise what has been going on:

The ponies on the SSSI have now been moved to another site to allow the land to recover before the winter. Rufus (the baby) took 3 hours to load into the trailer so I am pleased to say I wasn't involved. Their new site, which is another area of chalk downland, is a fair distance away but I have been told they are very happy as there is better grazing there. Hopefully they will be back in the winter.

I am pleased to say that the Bee Orchids (referred to in my previous post) survived the pony's hooves along with plenty of Pyramid and Common Spotted Orchids. These all finished finished flowering a few weeks ago and it is now covered with a carpet of wild Marjoram, giving a wonderful scent as we walk through it and lots of butterflies.

Since the ponies have gone I have put down 25 reptile refuges on their old site to see what reptiles there are following the scrub clearance and grazing. So far there have been a lot of slow worms and a few and common lizards. It will be interesting to see which will breed this year.

We still have the sheep to stock check and we have also become a lot more involved with all the sheep that are owned by the Old Surrey Downs. We are now proficient human sheep dogs and (if the sheep are willing) can flip them on to their backs and give them a wonderful pedicure. If they are not willing they flip us on to our backs :-))))

In the garden, the Lavender seedlings are now strong little plants and most have been planted to form lavender hedges alongside the paths (can't wait for next year when they all come into flower...the bees will love them). Otherwise there is the usual selection of weeds, perennial sweet peas, roses and a glut of runner beans and courgettes.

We have recently returned from a lovely holiday in the lakes and mountains of Italy to find that we have some new neighbours. I am not sure they are really welcome though, as it is a family of rats. They are incredibly cute as they gobble up the fall out from the bird feeder but as they are quite close to the house and ponds and knowing how fast they reproduce I don't think we can let them stay. I am not quite sure, at the moment, how we will get rid of them, because, as I am sure you will understand from the photo of baby rat, there is no way I could kill them.