Bird Monitoring at Whiteleaf & Brush Hill
With the help of a dedicated team of volunteers, we have been monitoring bird boxes on Whiteleaf and Brush Hill for the past 4 years as part of a British Trust of Ornithology (BTO) monitoring scheme. The boxes are primarily inhabited by Great Tits and Blue Tits, and since March the team has been busy checking the boxes around the reserves on a weekly basis to see the progression from the nest building, to eggs, to chicks hatching, ringing and eventually fledging. All of the chicks and some adults are ringed by Dave Short and the 4 trainee ringers (Rachel, Robyn, Veneita and Paul) before being ‘posted’ safely back into the nesting boxes. So far this year, out of the 35 boxes installed on these two reserves, 22 have either eggs or chicks present, indicating a healthy population of tits within the sites. Raptor boxes for larger birds such as barn owls and kestrels have also been placed across Whiteleaf Hill – although previous years have seen the intended birds nest in these larger boxes, only squirrels and stock doves have been found so far this year!
The group also carry out mist netting 3 to 4 times a year, to investigate the wider bird population on the sites. Here fine nets, that are hard to spot with even human eyes, are set up in a clearing at dawn, into which a huge range of birds fly into including Dunnocks, Jays and Woodpeckers. The birds are then measured, weighed and ringed, and the results are sent to the BTO as part of the wider UK monitoring scheme, this also includes all ringed at the nest boxes. These results are then kept by the BTO for nesting and population trends in the area and also longevity of the birds.
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Volunteers Return to the Wormsley Estate
On a beautifully sunny and warm day in February, our volunteers returned to the Wormsley Estate near Stokenchurch to plant some more trees- another 1300 to be precise!
Volunteers were joined by Alexander Getty, future heir to the estate, who got stuck in and helped them with their planting of Yew, Juniper, Box and Privet trees. The woodland has been thinned by 30% to let more natural light through and to allow for this species diversity to flourish.
The volunteers have been planting trees on this particular site on the Estate for many years, so it was great for them to see how the trees they planted years beforehand have matured and settled into their surroundings.
Another group of volunteers assisted with the removal of old tree guards from trees that have adequately matured and no longer require support.
After a morning of hard labour, volunteers were rewarded with a fish and chip lunch.
The project is funded by Network Rail as part of their Bio-diversity Offset Programme, and is also supported by The Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment who have played a key role in facilitating the conservation work.
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Largest Ever Conservation Project in the Chilterns is Awarded National Lottery Funding
An ambitious project to restore and enhance the wildlife habitats, landscape features and cultural heritage of the Central Chilterns has been awarded a National Lottery grant of £2.4 million. The Chalk, Cherries & Chairs Landscape Partnership Scheme, spearheaded by the Chilterns Conservation Board will also work to educate and inspire communities to become protectors of their local heritage and landscapes. The Chiltern Society is proud to be a key partner in this exciting initiative and we have been working hard with a range of partnering organisations and community groups over the last two years to help plan the project.
Thanks to National Lottery players the five-year scheme will encourage people to connect and reconnect to the wildlife and cultural heritage of the Central Chilterns through a number of individual but interweaving projects across three key themes: Wildlife & Landscape, Heritage & Landscape and People, Communities & Landscape.
Key aims of the scheme include; protecting declining wildlife; reinvigorating Chilterns Orchards; Solving the Mystery of Grim’s Ditch; Exploring the biodiversity in the headwaters of the Chilterns; Revealing the untold history of the Chilterns’ chair Bodgers.
Supported through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), High Speed Two Ltd through the Community Environment Fund (CEF) and Wycombe District Council through the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), the project will leave a lasting legacy of improved conservation and land management, partnership working, skills, volunteers, and engaged and aware communities caring for the future of wildlife and their heritage.
Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive of HLF said: “As well as being part of a nationally protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty –, the Central Chilterns has a wealth of heritage stories dating as far back as the Neanderthal hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic era and continuing right through to the present day. We are thrilled that with money from the National Lottery we are able to fund Chalk, Cherries and Chairs to preserve this important natural heritage for future generations, allowing them to forge stronger connections to the fascinating history of the area, and create their own stories through the scheme.”
Commenting on the award, Kath Daly, Countryside Officer said: “We are absolutely delighted that we have received this support, thanks to National Lottery players. This major partnership will provide opportunities for people to get involved and volunteer; to increase and improve wildlife spaces; and for communities to learn, create and take action for heritage.”
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Volunteers get back to work at Whiteleaf
On a cold January morning, a group of volunteers gathered for the first Whiteleaf Hill work party of 2019. Around 20 volunteers turned up ready and eager to work of the excesses from the festive period. The group split into 3 with one group raking up cuttings from last year, another cutting a new area of scrub at the back of the reserve and the third group checking all the nest boxes.
Scrub is cut on a rotational basis and the Chiltern Society is keen to restore as much chalk grassland habitat as possible. With this in mind, a new area was identified to be cleared which consists of a lot of blackthorn and scrub. Volunteers worked to clear this away to open up the area, and at the next session they will burn the scrub that they have removed. They will continue over the coming months to clear this and we are hopeful that, in time, both flora and fauna chalk grassland species will return to the area.
The bird boxes were checked at the site and cleaned out, making the homes ready for the nesting season in April. There was evidence of glis glis in some of the great tit boxes but the volunteers were hopeful that the birds had fledged before the glis glis made an arrival. Glis glis will move into a birds nest box and build their nests on top of an exiting birds nest using leaf material and are considered a pest in this part of the country.
If you’d like to join our volunteers and help to care for the Chilterns, please email our volunteer coordinator.
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South Oxfordshire District Council employees lend a hand at Kingwood Common
On the morning of the 3rd December, employees from the South Oxfordshire District Council met at Kingwood Common, to join Chiltern Society staff and volunteers for a day of volunteering.
It was a miserable, damp December morning, but once the work briefing had been given (under the cover of the gazebo!) the group were split into two groups and set off enthusiastically for work.
Under the watchful eye of Gavin (Head of Conservation), one group worked in Oval Glade clearing gorse, holly and bracken – opening up the overgrown area of grassland. Meanwhile in Butterfly Glade, Matthew (Kingwood site co-ordinator) and our ranger Fiona helped the second group to clear birch saplings, bracken, bramble and rake up leaves from the glades floor.
The group also tried their hands at scything which was used to clear the bracken and brambles. After lunch, the groups joined together and made a combined effort at clearing away all cut arisings and stacking these in two large habitat piles which will benefit the local fauna. The second group also tried scything, and helped to clear the woodland edge of bracken. The result of a day’s work was remarkable and the group never tired of the work or the incessant drizzle from the sky! The Chiltern Society would like to thank the volunteers for such a great days’ work and for helping us to care for Kingwood Common.
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Scrub Clearance at Bottom Wood
Last week our rangers and volunteers spent a day clearing scrub from an area of Bottom Wood that will be replanted to create a new Hazel coppice.
Once cleared this area will be planted with Hazel and managed as coppice to link up with existing coppice areas to create a more continuous habitat. This continuity of habitat is vital in supporting a range of species and in particular the Hazel Dormouse which likes these larger are of continuous Hazel coppice.
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Annual visit to Studham Common
Earlier this month the Wendover Woods Volunteers made their annual visit to Studham Common in the North Chilterns. The Wendover team have been supporting the work of the Friends of Studham Common for over 5 years now and it is always a hugely popular event in the calendar for the volunteers.
Studham Common’s unusual combination of clay soil overlying chalk supports an interesting variety of plants which offers a refuge for a diversity of habitats and supports a wealth of insects, birds and small mammals – 200 plant species, 26 species of butterfly and over 20 species of birds – including Skylarks and Hazel Dormice. The Common’s eastern boundary is an ancient hedgerow dating back to medieval times and is a breeding site for the Hazel dormouse. 25 of our volunteers carried out work to help maintain and enhance this habitat by clearing scrub and removing old growth from the ancient hedgerow. They worked so hard that they also managed to move to another area to clear Blackthorn from encroaching on the open grassland areas.
After the mornings hard work they were rewarded with the legendary Friends of Studham Common lunch – a variety of delicious soups washed down with cakes and wine – no doubt everyone will be back next year!
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Working at Whiteleaf with BBOWT
On the 2nd October, our head of conservation Gavin and our ranger Fiona were joined by BBOWT at our Whiteleaf reserve to clear some areas of scrub. BBOWT brought along their alpine tractor which was used to cut a large section of scrub from an area on the hillside.
This was the first time we have been able to use this machinery at Whiteleaf, and we are hoping that this will help us to make a greater impact on the amount of scrub we can clear in the year. It is important to keep scrub down to a minimum on the grassland areas; if left to grow the scrub will outcompete the chalk grassland plants that are so important to the reserve and the Chilterns. We also had four brush-cutters in use, clearing areas of dogwood and other scrub from the steep hillside banks. We are grateful to BBOWT for their time in helping make a positive start early on in the season.
Our regular volunteer group of volunteers at Whiteleaf went out later in the week to rake the areas that we had cut and our volunteers will continue to cut back the scrub and burn the arisings during the Autumn and Winter months. We are hopeful that by repeating this type of habitat management over time that there will be a reduction in scrub and more grassland plants will flourish, which in turn will provide a great variety of fauna too.
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Learning to scythe at Kingwood Common
The Kingwood Common Volunteers enjoyed a days scythe training this week with local scyther Clive Leeke. The team spent the day learning how to use and maintain these low-impact tools with the aim of using them to help restore and maintain the important open grassland and heath habitats on Kingwood Common. Reducing the dominance of bracken and bramble is a key task for our volunteers, and the scythes offer an efficient and rewarding method of carrying this out throughout the year.
Bracken is very invasive and quickly dominates the open glades if it isn’t controlled. Regular cutting reduces the bracken’s vigour and dominance allowing space for a diversity of wildflowers and grasses to develop.
This is part of a wider partnership project at Kingwood Common supported by the Nettlebed Estate and TOE2 with funding from Grundon Waste Management Ltd.
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Box Woodland Project at Wormsley Estate
This week, 30 of our volunteers returned to Wormsley Estate to help kick-start start the next phase of an exciting Box Woodland project that is being funded by a £50,000 grant from Network Rail. The funding will allow thousands of new tress to be planted on site, and we’re delighted to play an important part in the delivery of the project.
Building on the success of several years of creating Box Woodland in the Ibstone Valley, this project supported by Network Rail’s Woodland Creation Grant is a big step forward by supporting the creation of approximately 38 hectares of new Box Woodland and scrub habitat.
England’s first new Boxwood forest since Queen Elizabeth 1st is proposed on a steep, elevated chalk scree site recently cleared of beech forest by a storm, within a parcel of beech woodland. The site was selected in 2011 on a search to find a location similar to the 3 SSSI box woodlands in neighbouring counties. Small trial plots on the site 2012-13 have established a solid working method.
Box woodland has become scarce in England with less than a total of 20 hectares in the south east. Many locations favourable for box are now used for other purposes. Box is a native tree with a rich invertebrate fauna, and a long history as very useful to humans before the discovery of tropical hardwoods, particularly in music, tools, and art.
Network Rail is making funds available for biodiversity following unavoidable habitat loss resulting from the electrification of the Great Western Railway line. The aim is to support biodiversity projects that provide long lasting improvements to wildlife habitats.
The Chiltern Society have been working with The Estate for several years on this project and will continue to support the project with three practical volunteer work parties carrying out a variety of work from site preparation to planting to collecting seedlings.
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