Saturday, 11 July 2009

Season on the wing

The advancing season is evident at Blashford in several ways, the geese on Ibsley Water are starting to fly again after completing their moult, the Lapwings have either given up or finish breeding for the year and the Darter dragonflies are out and about.

This Common Darter was basking on the picnic tables behind the Education Centre when I was having lunch on Thursday.

Another less welcome sign of the season's movement is the sight of the vivid yellow flowers of Ragwort. Although I say less welcome, this is only because of the management work that having it growing so prolifically on site involves. The flowers are a great nectar source and in an ideal world it would be welcome for the huge numbers of insects it attracts. Unfortunately, as many will know, it is also toxic to livestock, although they rarely eat it if there is other food available unless it gets mixed with hay. Ragwort is a very conspicuous and contentious feature of the post mid-summer scene.

It is particularly hated by keepers of horses and these are many around the fringes of the New Forest and towns throughout the country. Many of the reserve's neighbours are horse keepers and whatever the case for Ragwort as a valuable nectar source good neighbourliness demands that we do undertake control on the reserve. This is especially difficult as we cannot clear it until the nesting Lapwings have finished and we cannot use chemical control. This leaves us with control by hand in a short time-slot in late June and early July if we are to get it before it starts to seed.

Traditionally the plants are pulled up by hand, but this is problematic at Blashford because the dry sandy soils mean that a large bare patch result from this technique, ideal for new Ragwort seedlings to establish. It has been found that cutting below the lowest leaf usually kills the plant and does not break the ground and this is how we control it on the reserve. Our biggest problem areas are around the shores of Ibsley Water and here we are controlling this plant and a number of other large "weeds" with the aim of producing a short grass sward suitable fro grazing wildfowl in the winter. This has the advantage of producing a useful habitat and a tight sward is much more difficult for Ragwort to seed into, so we should have less work to do in the future. However the site history of soil disturbance and the longevity of the seeds may mean it is my successors that see the reduction in this particular work-load.

So the volunteer task on Thursday was Ragwort control, never the most popular of tasks, the one compensation was that it involves going to a part to the reserve that we usually only see from a distance. The view below is one the average visitor will never see as it is from an inaccessible part of the site. Perhaps surprisingly there are several parts of the reserve that even I hardly ever visit, leaving them as undisturbed as possible unless there is a job to do.

Bird nest update

The Little Ringed Plover chicks continue to grow well as does at least one of the Lapwings chicks, both to be seen from the Tern hide.

The Common terns on Ivy Lake continue to do well with more reaching the flying stage each day and the first being seen away fro this lake as they get more accomplished at flying. I am fairly confident that about 30 will ultimately fledge this season, a real bumper crop.

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