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 detail...wow...they'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.