Sunday, 24 June 2012

Garden Jungle & Naughty Pony

With our busy life that we have at present, the garden has turned into a jungle, but the wildlife is loving it.......

I have had so many families of baby birds in the garden this year that it resembles a big birdy nursery full of fluffy bundles with beaks open wide, while their rather battered and tired looking parents try to keep up with their demands...

Bees busily visit the self sown corn flowers and geraniums and a group of Foxgloves that we grew from seed but didn't have time to plant in the flowerbeds, so were dumped rather quickly into an area of the veg plot, have grown up to provide a busy buzzing pollen bar for masses of bumbles

The veg garden, including the polytunnel, has been taken over by many of the weeds/wildflower seeds that have migrated from the adjoining field and the whole area seems to be a mecca for Hover flies.  The only veg planted in the plot are some early onions which are on the verge of flowering. 

Slow worms are to be found in any warm patch, anywhere in the garden but especially under some old weed suppressant covering on the bank.

The whole of the back garden looks awful but I have to say I am rather enjoying it:))  We have never really gained control of the garden since the adjoining field became set aside land around 17 years ago. The field is now mostly covered with invasive weeds that can look quite pleasant when in full flower....

Increasingly though we are seeing more and more typical chalk grassland flowers springing up between the invasive plus quite a few Pyramid and Common Spotted Orchids. The next field along now seems to have more chalk flowers than the section of Saltbox SSSI that it adjoins. This section is privately owned and not managed as it should be, so has scrubbed over again (another letter to Natural England required!). The bordering edge, however, is covered in swaths of Horseshoe Vetch, the plant food of the Chalkhill Blue and Adonis Blue caterpillars.  Sadly with the cool wet and windy weather we've been having this year there have been fewer butterflies and moths around here but usually the two fields are filled with many varieties, especially the blues.

I have not had much time to walk in the fields behind us and I also haven't had the energy as we are doing long days of physically demanding work while filling in for the staff absences in the Downlands Project (see previous post).  We have also had a few extra tasks such as the 'Open Farm Sunday' that took place last weekend.  We were very fortunate to have a sunny day for the event and had what we estimate to be in the region of 300 visitors. Firstly I was involved with a demonstration of how we do our sheep health checks (trimming hooves, checking teeth, condition scoring them and sending them through a foot bath) then I was sent up to the lambs field to tell people about our sheep as visitors followed a trail around the fields. Back at the farm there were a variety of children's activities, including face painting, all themed around nature.  There was also the information trailer, displays, refreshments, our cows and some more sheep, one of whom was recovering from a dog attack.

The lambs field was unfortunately covered in a lot of tall grass so it was very hard to actually spot any lambs especially as they all tended to be on the far side of the field where the shorter grass was or sheltering in the shade of a tree covered dip.  However the Project Manager valiantly led groups of interested people over to visit the lambs throughout the day, taking them into the field and then gathering the sheep with the help of a bucket of nuts.  By the end of the day the sheep had begun to get rather bored with this and were not so willing to come over but the P.Man. persevered and even the last group of the day managed to see at least some of the lambs:))

It has been a busy week gathering in the sheep from their various grazing sites around Surrey ready for shearing this coming week and then giving them all a health check.  Unfortunately, one of the days involved an early 7am start as the grazing assistant needed to be at a meeting by 9am and in the hurry to get the job done I made my a very silly mistake...I won't go into details as it's embarrassing but suffice to say if the old grazing officer had still been there he would have exploded like Vesuvius!!  I certainly won't make the same mistake again.

The next day was not much better as we had the farrier visiting to trim the ponies hooves.  We were at a team meeting all morning and by the time we got to their field it was pouring with rain and the wind was blowing.  Rufus allowed us to catch him with no problem but, although we had been catching Tavey with no problem on previous days, he decided he was not going to allow anyone near him and not only that, he was determined to get Rufus to join him, so he kept storming past Rufus at the gallop, who by this time was having his hooves trimmed.  Rufus was soooo good and only tried to pull away a few times which was very good for such a young, relatively un-handled pony. The farrier eventually left saying if we ever managed to catch Tavey he would come back.  It took a long time to calm Tavey down enough for us to put his headcollar on and I am very grateful to all the hints we have picked up from reading Kelly Marks' books and going to Monty Robert's demonstrations as we needed to use quite a bit of horse psychology to win him over and to keep Rufus calm all this time.  We couldn't let Rufus go as he was the only thing keeping Tavey near us.  Eventually we were able to call the farrier back and the job was done by which time we were all very wet and not too happy.  So next time you see this beautiful little pony in the field you will know he is not as innocent as he looks!! Lets hope he behaves himself next Friday when we plan to move them to another site.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Whatever happened to May?  It flew past in such a flurry of activity that it's as if it didn't happen and things are destined to continue in the same way as my summer is now officially booked up right until the second week of September.  I am very fed up about this. Last year's summer was so busy I was determined that this year I would have time to enjoy my valley again, catch up on work around the property or, as several of my friends do, go off travelling. I feel like spitting the dummy but it would do no good as it is just a combination of unfortunate circumstances so best to just get on with it and look forward to next summer.  Hopefully we will have a good Autumn especially as we have several essential jobs we must do before the winter such as doing something about the cracked rendering that is letting water in to the bungalow when it rains and replacing the garage roof which has mostly disappeared!!  Anyway, enough moaning.  There have been a few good things happening...

In April we moved the Project's six goats to Saltbox SSSI.  It was a difficult move that took 10 hours, mainly due to two of the goats refusing to go in to the holding pen. As Saltbox is one my stock checking sites I have since been watching their behaviour and it would seem that these two goats are not particularly worried about people but more nervous of their fellow goats as they are at the bottom of the pecking order so, especially when their is food around, they stay well away from the others.  No wonder they wouldn't go into the confines of the holding pen when we were trying to catch them with buckets of goat nuts!

The goats are doing a fantastic job of eating the scrub regrowth and large areas are now covered in bare stalks..

We were  a bit concerned that they may also eat the Orchids so I have also been monitoring this carefully.  Thankfully they are only interested in the scrub and there is an abundance of Orchids making an appearance.  I counted over twenty Man Orchids in just one spot and every day now another Bee Orchid pops up...they really are so beautiful and a bit magical the way they appear in totally different places to last year..

This bit of Saltbox SSSI is such a special place and getting better all the time thanks to the care of the London Wildlife Trust and the Downlands Project. 

Can't resist a rather amusing goat joke my grandson told me....

Patient,   "Doctor, doctor I feel like a goat."
Doctor,   "How long have you felt like this?"
Patient,   "Since I was a kid."

Another recent, very enjoyable livestock move was when we took 24 sheep to the appropriately named Happy Valley.  The sheep needed to be herded across the site to an enclosure on the other side so the Grazing Officer sent me down to the bottom of the valley where there were two entrances so I could stop walkers entering with their dogs.  The field was covered with Cowslips, the valley echoed with bird song and rabbits hopped in and out of the hedgerow.  I was just thinking things couldn't get any better when I glanced over my shoulder to check on the sheep's progress only to find a fox peeping out of a hole so engrossed in also watching the sheep that for a few minutes he was totally unaware of me standing behind him.  Just one of those wonderful unforgettable wildlife moments:)))

Unfortunately because of our busy summer we have had to cancel our holiday so we decided to just go away for a couple of days for our wedding anniversary and my birthday.  We didn't want to waste too much time travelling so decided on the North Chilterns.  We spent our anniversary at the N.T. Ashridge Estate (amazing they don't charge for parking as everywhere around our way does!)  It has wonderful woodland with a good variety of trees and plenty of fallen trees left for wildlife which I always like to see..    


These plants are growing on a very large, old, decaying, fallen tree...

As time went on the woods started to get a bit busy so we took a footpath down into the valley through chalk grassland fields of grazing sheep where there was large areas of Sainfoin..

Along the tree line there was a group of Fallow Deer and unusually many were black backed..

It was a lovely day, finished off with a great meal with plenty of plonk, so a suitable way to celebrate 36 totally happy years of marriage.

For my birthday I decided that I would like to meet up with my son and his partner and visit Whipsnade Zoo.  I am not a great 'zoo' person but find the way Whipsnade keeps its animals to be acceptable and they do valuable research  and breeding programs.  The rain fell in sheets and the wind blew but it had its advantages as by the afternoon it seemed we were the only visitors left and so we had no trouble seeing the animals and didn't have to suffer loads of screaming children (although I was amazed at how knowledgeable some of the quieter children from the morning were).  I particularly enjoyed the lions that were separated from the public by a glass screen and conveniently they wer sitting just the other side so one could stand right next to them and look at them in've got big mouths and feet!

One of the things we will be doing over the summer is filling in for the Project's Livestock Officer and Assistant.  The assistant is visiting her homeland of Hungary for six weeks and the Livestock Officer has left to take up a job as Senior Livestock Officer for Wiltshire Wildlife Trust.  It sound a great job being involved in the management of some very special places and also doing some interesting work like Badger Vaccination trials.  Having been a member of the West Kent Badger group for many,many years, I am horrified at the thought of mass culling of badgers to control TB in cattle but I can also see something urgently needs to be done to get on top of the problem.  Therefore I am really pleased when I hear that certain groups like the National Trust and various Wildlife Trusts are prepared to  work on badger vaccination as I just can't see that killing badgers will solve anything long term.  This is an albino badger that used to visit our garden prior to our neighbours getting Rottweilers..

I will miss the Grazing Officer as I enjoyed working with him. Besides making a big difference to a lot of chalk grassland sites in this area, he made the livestock volunteering tasks interesting by sharing his knowledge of grazing and conservation and when he was in a good mood (which was most of the time) he could be quite amusing.  He also put up with us volunteers which can't have been easy!!:))  Hope he and his family will be happy.