Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christmas Post

When I first started this blog it mainly described my exploration of the flora and fauna of the lovely chalk downland valley in which I live but a year later I had discovered the work being carried out by the Downlands Project to restore and maintain chalk downland sites in and around Surrey (which included some of my area) and I quickly became a livestock volunteer helping to look after the conservation grazing animals. While doing this I was introduced to many other wonderful places and thanks to the Grazing Officer learnt a lot about conservation and livestock management.  It was a good time and so featured regularly in my blog posts. However over the last few months, because a lot of my time has been spent supporting my mother, my garden has begun to feature a lot more.

The chair I sit in to watch TV  looks out to the garden bird feeders and while watching a film the other day I was distracted by a Parakeet that was hunkered down in a cleft of the cobnut tree. There were no other Parakeets around which was unusual and this one looked odd as it was not moving. After about half an hour another Parakeet flew in and went over to the dormant one and gently got hold of it with its beak and pulled at it, very obviously trying to get it to move off with him.  It was interesting and touching to see this level of concern between birds outside of the breeding season and even more moving when the dormant bird fell off its perch, showing that its left foot was completely missing and its right foot was hanging useless and deformed.  There was nothing I could do to help this poor bird as his wings were working well and he flew off and I haven't seen it again but they rely on their feet to grip while they feed so I don't expect it will survive for long :(

My mother is beginning to settle in to her care home a bit so I have been able to get out to do some livestock volunteering again. During my absence I seem to have lost the ability to stay on my feet and have managed to trip over in brambles, fall down a rabbit hole, slither down a bank, trip over absolutely nothing and on several occasions slip over in mud :)))))

One of the worst places for catching me out is an area of Hutchinsons Bank called Slimming Down.  This has recently had the biggest scrape dug out that I have ever seen. It was done using heavy excavators so, with the recent wet weather, it is now quite gloopy to walk in and very slippery, especially the approach to the field.  This is unfortunate as after Christmas we need to move the sheep off this field and we won't be able to get the trailer down, so will have to put up loads of netting to run the sheep up...oh well that's what us volunteers are for :)  The scrapes have been put there for plants like Kidney Vetch to grow in as they don't compete well with other plants.  Hutchinsons is very rich in Kidney Vetch which is the host plant of the struggling Small Blue butterfly so it is probably worth while if it doesn't get infested with ragwort first.

It has been lovely to get out and about again and over the last couple of weeks I have helped with....

A pony move....this is Rufus enjoying his new pasture on a very cold frosty morning...

A goat move....our trainee seems to have a special relationship with our notoriously difficult to catch goats, as he caught them first time...

And hoof trimming of this year's female lambs. Unfortunately the very wet weather in early summer and the present wet weather has taken its toll on their hooves all of which needed a lot of attention to try to prevent future problems.

The only sheep whose feet were fine was Granny Alice.  This is an older and very sweet natured Jacob that we put in with the lambs after they are weaned to basically act as granny and show them what to do, e.g. come when called with a bucket of nuts to make catching them easier...she's my favourite :)

Now for a little Christmas amusement.....

It was a cold snowy day when Tiny Tim, wrapped up nice and warmly, was taken to visit the sheep in a nearby frozen field, "Happy Christmas sheep," the little boy called out to them.
The cold sheep were not amused and crossly replied, "BAAAAAAAAA...Hum Bug!!" 

Well I found it funny:))))))  The poor sheep just wanted to go in a cosy baaa..rn :)

Have a Very Happy Christmas and a 
Great New Year

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Life Difficulties

Living things are so fascinating.  How does a fungus suddenly materialise, that can kill huge Ash trees?  How do parasitic worms mutate to become resistant to worming medicine or bacteria to antibiotics?  Life is interesting but it is so closely linked to death.  This is played out daily, right outside my living room window. The badgers snuffle in the lawn eating the worms, the bats eat the moths, the fox stalks the pheasants and the Sparrow Hawk makes regular sweeps of the feeding station to catch unsuspecting birds.  It is a side of nature that I find hard to come to terms with but the need for sustenance is intrinsic to life so has to be accepted however brutal.

This poor pigeon was not quick enough to avoid the agile Sparrow Hawk and was taken down just inches from our living room window.  The Sparrow Hawk remained devouring its prey, even when I went out to get the clothes in from the washing line, which was about 12ft away, and it carried on eating well after night fall. When he eventually flew off there was not a bit left other than feathers.  How can one begrudge a hungry bird like this its supper.

Another recent,  rather macabre scenario, happened in our bathroom the other day.  I went in there one evening to see a rather chunky spider walking across the ceiling.  It was cold outside so I left him to his wanderings, telling him not to go in the bath (I usually catch them and put them out the window..I never kill them). Sure enough the next morning, Chunky was in the bath, so I slung a towel over the side and left him to find his own way out which he quickly did, disappearing from view.  Then a little while later I noticed him, back on the ceiling again, heading fast to where a thin, long legged spider had made a web in the corner.  They started fighting but in an instance and before I could rescue either of them, Chunky had been killed..I felt quite sad and thin legs was, needless to say, deposited outside!

It really is survival of the fittest and this is the one thing that makes me feel better about all the death in nature as not only does it assure a the strength of a species but it can also save a lot of suffering by ending the lives of sick, weak and injured creatures that may otherwise suffer long painful deaths.  The trouble is, humans mess it all up, even for our own species.  I don't know what the answer is but it worries me that, with an ageing population, I keep meeting old sick people who are very unhappy and say they are tired of life and just want it to end and yet on the other hand there is my son's partner wondering if it is ethical to have children when the world is overpopulated (my opinion is that is is vital to have at least one child as we need young people to carry the country forward and provide for all the old people:)

All this deep thought about life and death has come about because my 89yr old mother, after two years of struggling with Alzheimer's, has now got a place in the best care home I could find but she is very unhappy and is desperate to go back to her bungalow again.  This has left me in a quandary.  Do I give up everything and become her full time carer (but is that fair on my husband) or do I get people in to care for her (something she is adamant she doesn't want) or do I make her stay in this lovely care home even though she doesn't want to?  I don't know what to do and I feel overwhelmed and very upset.

All the problems with my mother hasn't left anytime to do my livestock volunteering with the Downlands Project and I am missing it greatly.... I feel the need to hug a sheep:)))  We have just about managed to keep up with our livestock checking though and with two flocks of sheep and the two ponies to visit, it has been a welcome break from the stresses of my mother's predicament.  The ponies, who are now back on Saltbox SSSI, are suffering with burs caught in their manes and tails, particularly Tavey who now looks like he is wearing some odd kind of hair accessory:)).  They will eventually fall out themselves, although, when they allow we are giving them a helping hand as they are quite prickly so probably a bit uncomfortable.

It is around this time of year that the rams are put in with the ewes so I hope that all goes well.  I have heard that the young Jacob Ram has a lot to learn about females!!:)))))

It is so nice at the end of these rather distressing days, to get home and snuggle up with hubby and a glass of wine, in front of our new wood burning stove.  The room still needs decorating but that can wait.  At the moment we are just enjoying being warm:)))

Lastly ( if you haven't got too bored) this is a poem I found when I was cleaning my mother's bungalow today.  She had carefully copied it out from somewhere (author unknown) and it sums up how she always tried to look on the bright side of life..I hope she can again:))

The best is never over, the best is never gone,
There's always something lovely, to keep you struggling on.
There's always compensations, for ever cross you bear,
A secret consolation, hidden well somewhere.
Ends are new beginnings, and one day you will see
The best is never over, the best is yet to be.

Sunday, 14 October 2012


I always find Autumn to be a peaceful time.  There is a sense of things settling down for a well earned rest and, to be honest, I would like to join them as I feel tired.

It would probably help if I could pull myself away from watching the badgers snuffling around under my living room window each night but I can't as it is a glimpse at a nocturnal world that I should not really be part of.  The cream badger is especially captivating as, besides his colour, he is different from the others.  My grandson says his nose looks like a mole's nose and it does as it is very narrow, pointy and looks particularly attractive when covered in mud from digging holes with it in my lawn:)))  He also has quite a shaggy coat compared to the others which makes him look rather cuddly except that his claws, being clear coloured, stand out like those of a lion.

The autumnal weather has been very evident while out on tasks with the Downlands Project.  I usually enjoy working with the Project's livestock regardless of the weather but I recently had a day which was just awful.

We were gathering in all the ewes to decide which ones to breed from.  The first group, taken from last year's lambs, were penned and sorted with no problem but the next group proved to be very difficult.  They were this year's breeding ewes so were well used to coming to a bucket of sheep nuts (they were the same ones that knocked me over twice with their enthusiasm for nuts during lambing).  However this time there were two groups of Beulahs and one Jacob that just did not want to oblige.  I blamed the weather as it was very windy and it can make prey animals spooky as they can't hear or smell so well.  We eventually got them penned late in the afternoon by which time it was also pouring down with rain.  By the time the job of sorting them was done it was late and we were all cold, tired, fed up and soaked to the skin.  Unfortunately hubby and I still had to stock check the goats which we just managed to do before nightfall...not a good day.

We have also recently had another frustrating day in the rain trying to catch the goats again.  After the last unsuccessful attempt we have spent a long time making sure that all six will happily go into the holding pen and not panic if the gate is closed but, although everything was just as normal and the trailer wasn't anywhere near the field, when we came to get them into the pen they would not all go in...I think there are a couple that are mind readers:))

The Project has also acquired some new additions as we now have a breeding flock of ten Herdwick ewes and a ram.  I am not too pleased about this as, although the Herdwicks have the potential to be an asset in the future, at the moment the Grazing Officer, who left in June, still hasn't been replaced so there is no one that is experienced in lambing problems and both the grazing assistant and the trainee are already overstretched with work and may not even still be employed with the Project come next year's lambing. It therefore seems a bit worrying to add to the situation with more breeding animals.  There are also a few other issues I have with this decision but I won't go in to that here and although I feel disgruntled I can't help but admire the very handsome ram.

Unfortunately, the already very tired assistant grazing officer, was called out last Saturday because of a dog attack at one of the sites at Chipstead, Surrey.  The victim was one of this year's beautiful Jacob lambs and was so badly injured it had to be humanely destroyed.  It seems people just don't get the message that whilst their dogs might be lovely at home, when they come across sheep even the smallest dog can quickly revert to being a predator:((

It is this time of year that hubby and I usually start regretting that we didn't get more done in the better summer weather but although it has been a busy year, we have not done too badly.  Hubby has sorted the leaks in the roof so we should soon be able to finish the new bathroom which we have been trying to do for the last two years!!:)).  He has also nearly finished painting the rendering and we have also at last ordered a wood burning stove which will be fitted at the end of the month...this has only taken us three years of planning and indecision!!))

It is also this time of the year that Monty Roberts does his British tour demonstrating his non-violent methods of horsemanship, so last night we sat shivering in the cold at Hadlow College, watching this great man work with horses with issues varying from a head shy horse, to a successful dressage horse that was incredibly spooked by lots of things, to backing a youngster and having a bad loader, that at first ran at the sight of a horsebox, happily walking on and off of it in a matter of minutes.  Regardless of what the horses are doing Monty stays so quiet and calm, it really is magic to watch and so good to see these horse's problems dealt with with such understanding and kindness.  Horses are wonderful, intelligent animals who are so willing to work with can anyone use violence to train them.  I am just so pleased that Monty Roberts has shown that there are more successful, easier, non-violent methods and that even at the age of 77 he is still teaching the world this better way.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Nocturnal Visitors

The local badgers must have picked up on my concern for their west country cousins (see previous post) as since then we have had some very welcome nocturnal visitors.  We always used to have badgers coming to our garden until we got new neighbours who had several Rottweilers.  The three that are visiting now enter directly from the field.  They look fairly small so I think they are this years cubs and one is cream coloured which is a genetic trait of badgers around the Saltbox area. There is one problem, I am getting sooooo tired sitting up at night watching them but they come right up near the window, are totally captivating and I feel so lucky that I can't draw myself away:)))))))))

I apologise that I couldn't get my link to work for the e-petition against the badger cull on my last post but I urge you not to give up if you want to sign but go to the governments e-petition web site or use one of the other links on the many other sites of people that obviously understand computers a bit better than me!!!  Simon King and Chris Packham on Twitter also have some good links to other people's more scientific views as well as links to the petition. I can sort of see that, as a protected species with no predators, the numbers of badgers are perhaps too high and at some point there may need to be a cull to maintain a healthy population but I still can't see that just shooting a whole load is going to give a long term, sustainable solution to Bovine TB unless there is a vaccination program in place.

Enough of my ranting.  After watching an episode of Miranda (who some people liken me to !!??!!:)) I have realised that over this summer, which has been a bit intense with one thing or another, I have become rather 'serious' and this needs to change so, as I haven't included any silly jokes for a while, I thought it's about time I did.  I don't want to joke about badgers as their situation is just a bit too serious at the moment but other visitors to my garden, whose antics often make me laugh, are the squirrels. Soooo....

Q:  What did the squirrel say to his girlfriend?
A:  I'm nuts about you

Q:  What did the girl squirrel reply?
A:  You're nut so bad yourself.

Q:  What did the squirrel give his girlfriend on Valentines Day?
A:  Forget-me-nuts.

So how did I get in this 'serious' frame of mind?  Well firstly there was our spell filling in for the absent Grazing Officer...I enjoyed it but took it very seriously as I didn't want to make any mistakes.  Then there is my mother.  Her Alzheimer's is progressing and she flits form wanting to go into residential care, to wanting to stay in her own home, but I think it has reached the point where, whether she likes it or not, she will be safer  being looked after full time.  This is such a hard decision.  It was her who gave me the love of the countryside and the respect of all things a young child she would make the countryside come alive with stories of fairies and elves interacting with nature...if we passed a tree with a hole in it she would make up tales like a poor, cold fairy helping a hungry woodpecker to find food and the grateful woodpecker in turn making a hole in the tree for the poor cold fairy to live in:)) and any pool of rain water caught in the V of tree branches were always places where the fairies and elves went to bathe:)) I loved going for country walks with her so much and she has never lost that desire to be surrounded by nature but now she can't walk far and when she does she gets lost...very worrying when goes off to walk in the the fields!!!!  I feel so bad that by going in to a home her freedom will be restricted but at least she will be safe, have company and will probably be taken out more than we can manage so maybe she will be happy which she isn't really at the moment.  I wish I didn't have to make this decision:((

When my mother was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's we were helping with lambing and the then Grazing Officer and other volunteers were so supportive listening to my worries.  However the Grazing Officer has now moved on and since the Countryside Day, where some people got upset with each other (it is no easy task putting on such a big show), I haven't seen many of the other volunteers...hence I'm off-loading onto all you blog readers:)))

Right I feel better for that, so back to my resolution not to be to serious...well actually I can't think of anything funny at the moment but I promise I will start looking at life with a smile on my face and as we are planning to catch those naughty goats again next week,  I should soon have a tale or two to tell.

Lastly, for those who know our sheep shearer.  She told us that she should be shown shearing Alpacas in one of the episodes of the TV program, Kevin Mcloud's Man Made Home, channel 4, Sundays at 8pm.  From what she said it is quite different from shearing sheep so if you are interested keep a look out for her.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Gripes and Groans

I try to avoid moaning via my blog but several things have occurred that I feel I must mention.

Firstly the immanent proposed badger cull in the west country.  I totally understand that something must be done to prevent the spread of bovine TB, however, I cannot see that culling is the answer. When our neighbouring farmer started having pheasant shoots, he shot all the foxes in the area but, within months, new foxes had moved in, which then had to be shot and so it went on until now I think he has given up.  Surely the same will happen with the badgers but worse still, I wonder if, because it is encouraging badger movement, it may cause TB to spread to areas not at present affected. Also every living thing has a part to play in the eco system.  When the farmer shot the foxes there was an explosion of rabbits which he then poisoned, this in turn killed off the birds and animals that fed on carrion (including a beautiful Barn Owl!:(  There was also an explosion of rats and mice which made life very difficult for us nearby residents.  I wonder what legacy the death of the all these badgers will leave.  I can't help feeling the cull is just a cheaper, short term solution so that the government can pass the buck to future governments.  Farmers, the cows and the badgers deserve better. The National Trust and various conservation groups are vaccinating badgers and this would offer a more permanent, sustainable and eco-friendly solution.  If you feel like I do then please sign the e-petition at

My nest gripe is about the export of live animals for the meat market.  Last week the RSPCA and Animal Health stopped a four tiered lorry full of sheep for live export at a ferry port. Two sheep were immediately euthanized, one had a broken leg and after inspection a further 41 were also euthanized. These animals were already suffering from painful conditions like foot rot but had further been injured in transit due to the bad state of the lorry.  Can you imagine how these animals would have suffered if their journey hadn't been intercepted!!!  Unfortunately this is not unique. Every day in Europe horses, cows, sheep and other animals have to endure long journeys of hundreds of miles, lasting days, with little or no water and often already ill or injured. Those that survive arrive at their destination just to be slaughtered.  In this age of refrigerated lorries it is so unnecessary to transport animals live.  It makes me feel physically ill to think what these animals go through. Please, please,please sign the petition against live export at

My last gripe is a bit closer to home. Our neighbouring farmer has part of the Saltbox SSSI which I have been informed is in a Higher Level Stewardship agreement, so, the farmer will be receiving a considerable amount of tax payers money to look after this important area of land.  However, apart from an initial clearance about 4 years ago he has done virtually nothing.  The site has not been grazed, there is considerable regrowth of scrub and areas that haven't scrubbed over again are covered in Golden Rod, Asters, Ragwort and brambles.  When we first moved here and before it was even designated a SSSI, this area was amazing with a bank of flowers adjoining the then cultivated field and going up to a small line of scrub, behind which the steep land opened up like a magical secret garden full of many different orchids, wild flowers and clouds of butterflies.  It could be like that again if only the farmer would manage it properly as he is being paid to do. Another part of the Saltbox SSSI is owned by the London Wildlife Trust and along with the Downland Project  this area is looked after properly and is coming on really well.  I wonder how many other farmers reap the rewards of HLS agreements without doing the work. The picture below shows the dense cover of Golden Rod... not what I call good management. 

I did come across one nice thing while visiting the site..a rather cute little field mouse taking in the evening sun.

Now for the groan.  I have a twisted my knee and it is very sore:(((  I first damaged it climbing over hurdles while carrying bales of hay and straw during lambing but I always feel that given long enough these things clear up on their own.  Trouble is this didn't and after carrying some heavy hurdles around and then going horse riding I have now properly messed it up.  It is very annoying as I have just taken delivery of the guide book and map for the Thames long distance path that hubby and I intend to do.  We are still going to do it but we will have to limit it to just a three or four miles a day so I doubt we will get to the more rural stretches in time for the Spring Flowers.

I am still trying to keep up my work with the Downland Project's Livestock though.  The Ewes and lambs have now been separated and neither seemed to mind...infact the ewes looked quite relieved:))  One lot of cows have been sold and another lot bought which are reportedly very friendly and as they don't have horns will be easier to work with. Some of the sheep were taken to the recent Countryside Day where they behaved very well and received a lot of attention.

On a happy note, we have just returned from a short break in the Aylesbury Vale where we had such a good time.  One of the places we visited was the Berks, Bucks and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust site of College Lakes and I really recommend it. The reserve was made from an old chalk pit.  There are lakes with hides all around, wildflower meadows heaving with butterflies, an area of standing bird feed crop, a visitors centre with cafe and more. It seems like a very pro-active site with lots of volunteering opportunities. In the afternoon we attended a very interesting talk about work they are doing investigating the propagation of old corn field flowers and we also saw some gliss-glis that were nesting in a bird box that had a camera in it. A very good day and can't wait to go back.

We also met up with our son and his partner and went to Dunstable Downs where there were masses of Autumn Gentian

Lastly, I have a new friend in the garden.  This beautiful Darter (at least I think that is what he is) had been flying around the garden for a while and when I went near him I was sure he was looking at me so I held out my hand and amazingly he flew onto it:))))))

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Hand Back

We have now handed back the Grazing Officers job...all the animals survived and all the sites are looking good and so we are now freeeeeee again:))))  It has been a good experience but both hubby and I agreed that we wouldn't want it as a permanent job as the hours are just too long. Nearly every evening we worked late and every weekend we had to go out to see to something or other.  It wasn't too bad as we were doing it together but if one or the other of us were at home waiting for the other, it would have been very hard going.  It certainly isn't a job that is conducive to a social or family life.

The last few weeks have been quite challenging with several odd things to contend with and we have learnt a few things along the way, one of which is that Wild Parsnip has a nasty sting in its tail..... 

I was helping our trainee set up electric fencing to make two enclosures for his project, comparing the grazing habits of Herdwick and Beulah sheep.  The site was steeply sloped and I wasn't well at the time with severe dizziness if I moved suddenly, so I was very carefully making my way down the steep incline and was just passing a patch of Wild Parsnip, when I fell down a very deep rabbit hole.  As my leg disappeared, the world started was a real Alice in Wonderland moment:)))  I was left floundering in the Wild Parsnips.  A day later I noticed by arms had several big blisters on them and on investigation it turns out that Parsnip makes one very hypersensitive to the sun.  I now have some lovely purple scars but can't help at being amazed that a simple plant can have such a powerful effect.

One part of the job that I have really enjoyed is the planning of what, when and how to do things.  There are so many jobs and not enough time so one had to prioritise things which wasn't always easy. 

On the morning of the day we had arranged for Reigate Animal Health to come to take blood samples from the goats, we also discovered a lamb which looked like it may have fly strike.  This is where flies have laid eggs on the sheep and the resulting maggots start feeding off their flesh.  It has the potential to kill a sheep surprisingly fast so it had high priority and we needed to get it sorted before going to the goats..... 

Unfortunately the lamb's mother kept leading it away every time we tried to catch it (really frustrating when you're in a hurry!!!) so it ended up with myself, hubby and the trainee having to round up all 76 ewes and lambs just to treat that one. It was well worth it though as the lamb did have fly-strike and, because it was treated early, not too much damage had been done so it should recover well. This was the third lamb to get fly strike so we have now sprayed all the lambs with a fly repellent..... 

The main problem came when we then tried to catch the goats later in the day as we were not left with very much time.  The goats very obligingly came over several times to the holding pen where we had rigged up some netting to stop them jumping out but they are clever animals and sensed something was up and so scarpered each time to the other end of the field and eventually we ran out of time.  Thankfully Reigate Animal Health were sympathetic and will come back another day...and as we have handed the job back, it has the bonus of no longer be our responsibility:)

The thing I will miss most is the Landrover.  I found it very comfortable (hubby didn't) and I liked being higher up and able to look over the hedges as we drove along and best of all was being able to take it off road to get to the various sites, taking everything we needed with us in the back.  I also felt quite proud to be driving around with the Projects details on the side.

So what now?  We have a lot of catching up of important work around the bungalow to do.  The main jobs being to sort out various leaks in the roof...lets hope we don't get much more rain!  I will also leave time for exploring the wildlife of 'my valley' something I have been missing a lot. It has started well with the wildlife actually coming to me (a bonus of the garden looking like a jungle).  Instead of getting up early to rush around making packed lunches etc., I can now get up early to just look out of the living room window for wild goings-on.  Around 5 am I have found the deer are coming to the end of the garden to feed of off the bindweed growing up the sheep netting...

And one of my friendly pheasants is also bringing her four babies to visit the garden which I am so pleased about as I thought I had missed them all this year.  She seemed so happy to see me at the window again and ran over, chicks in tow, remembering I will throw her a handful of grain:)  The Buzzards seem to be missing though so I will have to see if they have moved down the valley...I just hope they haven't been shot.

I am also formulating a plan for something else.  When my husband retired from the fire brigade we started a project to walk round the coast of Britain.  We have completed the South East corner but to carry on will need us to stay away from home which I am not keen to do too often as I need to be around for my mother as she has Alzheimer's, so I am now thinking of starting to walk the Thames Path as most of it can be done as day trips.  I think there should be a good deal of wildlife too and if we get tired we can take a boat:)  I might even make another blog site about our progress. 

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Sunny Dry Days

What a good week.  The sun has been shining, the sky clear blue and the rain has stayed away. We have therefore been able to get all of the weather dependent jobs done with the sheep.  I think the sheep were happier too.  The teaser who had been showing signs of bloat, has deflated, the fly strike lamb's sore back is healing nicely and we have had no more lame sheep.  The good weather has also brought on the wildflowers and I was pleased to discover, when checking a boundary hedge, some Nettle-leaved Bellflowers...I never realised how hairy they were.

The warmth has also got the butterflies going.  Each year I intend to get to grips with identifying the different Blue butterflies that are so common in this area but I never seem to find the time.  This year is no exception and again I keep seeing different Blues but don't really know what they are.  This is one I saw at Saltbox SSSI the other day.  I think it is an Adonis Blue as there is a lot of Horseshoe vetch there and it was a very bright blue but if I am wrong please let me know:)

Last year I caused some controversy by mentioning that we were pulling Ragwort at Saltbox SSSI as some people thought it shouldn't be done because it is a valuable plant in its own right.  Besides it being listed as an injurious plant under the Weeds Act, the picture below shows another reason why one has to try to control it. This is the same area of Saltbox that we cleared the ragwort from last year but it is there in abundance again. No one would dispute that this attractive yellow plant is valuable to invertebrates but if it isn't controlled it quickly chokes out other valuable plants. Now, because there was not time to gain control of it before flowering and seeding, it will pose a threat to the whole site as well as the neighbouring grazing land and livestock:((

I have enjoyed this week so much more than the previous week where I felt quite stressed with the various ailments of the sheep. That was until the old grazing officer phoned and said, "You seem to be coping, so why are you worrying?"  It was a very good point.  I have never had any doubts that I could cope, one has to when looking after animals.  Also my husband pointed out I am not doing this alone as besides him there is also a very competent trainee, other staff members, plus a great bunch of volunteers who have all had years of experience with livestock.  When I actually stopped to think about it, I felt quite silly, but it shows how quickly things can get out of perspective when one gets tired. Thanks P for the phone call and pleased to hear you, your family and Jack are settling happily into life in Wiltshire

One of the jobs that needed to be done in dry weather was to spray the sheep with a fly repellent.  The first lot we did were the 30 breeding ewes. We also had to dose their 46 lambs with wormer so that meant that all 76 sheep needed to be collected in. We no longer have Jack the sheepdog so, expecting it to be difficult, we asked all our livestock volunteers to come along but ended up with rather too many people. Consequently the first attempt went a little awry and there was a farcical few minutes with people and sheep running everywhere but getting nowhere.  If it hadn't been so hot, I would have found very funny:)) We decided to let everyone, sheep and humans, cool down and calm down. After an early lunch we put out some more netting and had another attempt but with just myself, hubby and our trainee rounding the sheep up while the volunteers hid behind the landrover. Thankfully it was successful.  It was a good opportunity to check over the animals who were all fine and because we needed to weigh some of the lambs to work out the correct dosage for their wormer, we were very happy to see how much weight they had gained in just one month.  Even the younger Jacobs are looking good and robust.

The next group to be sprayed were the replacement ewes who are grazing a small scrubby enclosure up a steep bank.  There is, at the moment, no entrance that is accessible by the landrover so we hauled the hurdles up the bank by rope and handed them over the fence.  All went well and again I was pleased to see a sheep, who a few months previously had suffered a dog bite to her muzzle, was now looking much better and was regaining the weight she had lost.  Another interesting discovery at this site was that of a nude sunbather !!:))) Quite amusing but also a nuisance as we feel that the lone females should not stock-check this secluded little site so my husband and I will have to do their days until the sheep are moved on. You will be pleased to know I don't have a pic of Nudy Man..not a pretty sight!

The last group for spraying were the boys.  Firstly, the ones still at the farm following shearing, had to be transported to a field at Tatsfield, a site pleasantly situated on the side of the North Downs and this time I managed to refrain from telling hubby how to drive :) Four of the sheep were Herdwicks that needed to be reunited with the other Herdwicks who were grazing an adjacent field.  All went well and we were all feeling well pleased when the phone went.  It was Reigate Animal Health who have to do various inspections of animals in their area.  In this case they were wanted to arrange an appointment to inspect our goats where they will need to take blood samples from them all.  When one considers that it took us 10 hours the last time we caught them to trim their hooves and move them to their present site you can imagine we were not too happy.  We have referred it to 'the boss' but meanwhile hubby and I have been working out some tactics.  A few days before we had managed to catch one of the goats by hand to replace a lost ear tag and I know a couple will go into the holding pen for food so I think it will be a matter of using a combination of methods.

They might be difficult to catch but they are still well worth having as they have done an amazing job of controlling the regrowth of scrub at Saltbox SSSI in the areas that have been cleared.  This picture shows how it was last year before the goats.  The whole area was covered in regrowth and a vast number of Aaron's Rod...

Now, after four months of the goats grazing, it is looking a little less like a jungle with an emerging covering of wild Marjoram, Wild Basil, St John's Wort, Birds-foot-trefoil and more:)

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Sunday Drama at Little Chump

I was just poised over the computer ready to do a post when the phone went.  Overnight a car had demolished a section of stock fencing at Little Chump, the field that holds the Downland Project's 76 ewes and lambs.  Our trainee, who was stock checking at the farm, kept the sheep in the field and luckily there was a group pulling ragwort in another part of the farm who were able to get over and help put the sheep in another field.  The car, a Mercedes, had apparently crashed at around 2.30 am!  It must have been a bad crash as it demolished a double line of fencing including several heavy straining posts but all that was left in the morning was debris and a number plate.  How the car had been removed we have no idea.  I am just pleased the sheep hadn't strayed through the large gap that was left.

We are half way through our time filling in for the absent grazing officer and assistant.  It has so far been made difficult by the weather but today the sun is shining and the forecast is for a dry week:))))

Last week we gave the boys (sheep that is) a health check, trimming their hooves, checking their teeth etc.  All were in very good condition except for our teaser (he does as his name suggests, teases the ewes with his good looks, personality and a few hormones to get them in the mood before the ram is put in)  Unfortunately he has been showing signs of bloat ever since we brought back to the farm for shearing. His stomach is very distended but strangely he is still eating, ruminating and going to the toilet as normal and didn't show any signs of discomfort when he was sheared.  The vet confirmed it looked like bloat from the photo but as there were no other symptoms just to monitor him. I am very worried about him as he has now been like it for over a week, however, today I think he looks just a little less fat, so fingers crossed he will soon be back to normal as he is rather an important chap.

We have had quite a few other problems especially with lameness but I think the wet weather has had a lot to do with it so hopefully, if things dry up, it will all improve.  We have also had a lamb with fly strike on its back, a ewe with an abscess on its neck and a lamb with what looked like Shelly hoof where the wall of its hooves were separating from the underlying tissue.  Unfortunately a stone had gone up one of the hooves and when removed it bled like mad.  These things all came to light on the same day after we had finished the boy's health checks so it was very late when we got home and I was filthy covered in sheep poo, puss, blood and maggots..for once I didn't feel like eating:)

I am finding it all quite stressful and spend half the nights awake worrying or looking things up on the computer.  Luckily my husband is his usual calm self and very tolerant of me especially when we are towing a trailer load of sheep where I become a very bossy back seat driver, even telling him (an ex-fireman who drove fire engines) when to change gear! I feel awful but can't seem to stop myself.  I am not usually like this and even when I was with the old grazing officer, who was driving quite fast down some narrow lanes because we were running out of daylight, I managed to keep my mouth closed, although, I did have my eyes closed too...perhaps I that is what I should try when my husband is driving:)

Suddenly I am finding that I am quite envious of the volunteers going off to do tasks like ragworting and when we cleared the barn of all the bedding from where the sheep had been housed prior to shearing (to keep them dry), it quite went to my head and I enjoyed every moment of it (I had had rather a lot of caffeine though, which might have helped:)

I always thought I had quite a wildlife friendly garden but since it has been so neglected this year it continues to surprise me with even more wildlife than usual.  Without the demarcation of the cut lawn several common lizards have found their way in to be discovered under discarded weed collecting bags left from last year, a Blackcap has been visiting the Hogweeds which have an abundance of mating cardinal beetles on them and some of my favourites... a Green Woodpecker has been a regular visitor, searching out bugs from the lawn..

A beautiful Comma butterfly has been visiting the Lavender..

And a good variety of dragonflies and damselflies have been visiting the ponds..

I really must make sure that I somehow retain this level of wildlife in the garden next year.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

I Wish I was a Frog

Why are frogs so happy?
They eat whatever bugs them:))

After the freezing temperatures of the last few winters our garden frog population seemed greatly reduced despite having three deep ponds in which they could hibernate. I am therefore really pleased to see their funny little faces popping up from the ponds again especially as we have an explosion of Mosquitoes...

The garden continues to be neglected due to our lack of time but the self sown wild flowers are making the garden look quite pretty.  In particularly the Red Valerian and Purple Toad flax...

It is a great relief that the garden isn't looking too bad as time is so short.  We have now completed one month working for the Downland Project, filling in for the absence of a Grazing Officer, and have just done our first week without even the Grazing Assistant to advise us.  So far all is good, although the days are long and physically very demanding.  The longest day (so far) was the first of the shearing days when we started at 9am but didn't finish until 9.50pm!  Unfortunately the shearer's trailer had broken so she was 4 hours late arriving but at least we got the job done.:)

The sheep being sheared in this first batch were the non-breeding ewes, the Herdwicks and the breeding ewes, 58 sheep in total.  The ewes and lambs needed to be separated so we took the opportunity of dosing the lambs against a parasite called coccidiosis which a faecal egg count had shown they had in high numbers. They didn't mind having their medicine but they did object to being separated from their mums and persisted in making a terrible din...

The mums didn't seem to mind one bit that they were not with their progeny and happily awaited their turn at the hairdressers...

........and then, turning their backs on their offspring, enjoyed a tasty hay supper:)

The shearer was also able to tell us what to do about a horn that had grown uncomfortable close to one of the Herdwicks eyes....

"Get some loppers and chop it off," she said, so we duly passed the loppers to our trainee lad saying it would be 'good experience' for him!!:))) So under the shearers guidance the deed was done and I'm sure the Herdwick (who didn't seem to feel a thing) will be a lot more comfortable.

Now the sheared sheep need to be moved out from the farm and back to their conservation grazing sites.  Last week we took he non-breeding ewes to Hutchinsons Bank, a largish area of chalk grassland that has expanding areas of Kidney Vetch, the food plant for the Small Blue butterfly caterpillars.

The sheep were going into a small scrubby enclosure yet to be clear enough for Kidney Vetch to survive as it doesn't like competition from other plants. However the enclosure is adjacent to an area where scrapes have been dug into the bank for the Kidney Vetch and where it is growing prolifically.  We wondered if we would have trouble encouraging the sheep up the steep bank into the enclosure but we needn't have worried as with one shake of a bucket of nuts they trotted up with no hesitation (there is actually netting running along the right side to stop the going on to the scrapes on their way up)...

We have also just put the ponies on to another enclosure at Hutchinsons Bank that does include several scrapes with areas of Kidney Vetch in. In general the ponies don't eat many of the wild flowers but we are monitoring it carefully.  The ponies looked like children in a sweet shop when they first arrived as they had come from a field of predominantly rather boring grass.  Tavey immediately started pigging out on Hog weed and was eating like there was no tomorrow.... not good when he is already overweight.....

Needless to say by the next morning he had a tummy ache and didn't look too happy.......

Young Rufus, who is more sensible, was ok though and as we got to the field gate the next morning, he buried his head into the long grass and lifted it up with a bucket in his mouth that he had pulled out from under the water bowser.  Then, looking very pleased with himself, he proceeded to wave it up and down in greeting to us. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera but I'm sure you can imagine it.......

I have become very fond of the ponies, especially little Rufus.  He was so brave when he first arrived  at 18 months old, just a baby really. My husband and I were their first stock checkers and being  horsey people, we soon became involved in working with them so that they could be caught and handled without problems. Tavey was fairly confident when he first came but unfortunately someone must have frightened him when he was grazing a site in Chipstead as he is now very difficult to catch. It will take a lot of input to regain his confidence.  Rufus, although nervous to begin with, is now a lot better.  He always tries so hard to understand what is wanted of him and really wants to interact.  He's very intelligent and inquisitive and I love him to bits.  Unfortunately, because I am one of the few people that have consistently been around him since he first came, he is beginning to form a bond with me (and me with him).  That would be ok if he was my pony but he is not and I am not always happy at where or when the ponies are sent to graze, especially this latest move (for several reasons which I won't go into) and I am beginning to find it quite upsetting. So I have decided that when the assistant grazing officer returns I must try to back out of their care and return to just being a stock checker for them:(((