BT Volunteers at Whiteleaf Hill

Last week our regular Whiteleaf & Brush Hill Volunteer team were joined by five keen and hardworking corporate volunteers from BT. Lesley, Shanna, Aliya, Deborah & Nicky, all of whom were new conservation work, were thrown in at the deep with a tricky job of replacing protective fencing around the Juniper trees growing on the steep scarp slope. This low level fencing is important in giving the Juniper seedlings the best chance of successfully establishing themselves.

The volunteers did a fantastic job replacing four of the enclosures.

Lesley from BT said, ‘The volunteering with The Chiltern Society was a great opportunity for us to get together as a team and invest some of our time into doing something really worthwhile. The team found it really energising helping with the repair and protection of these conservation areas, learning about the plant life and understanding a little about the importance of the archaeological features. The conservation group we joined were really welcoming, coffee and brownies was certainly a highlight! Every member of our team have expressed how much they enjoyed themselves.’

We look forward to working alongside another group of BT volunteers who will be coming out again to help out in June.

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Box Woodland Creation at the Wormsley Estate

Following the successful planting sessions last year on the Wormsley Estate, as part of their Box woodland creation scheme, we are continuing our support for the next phase of the project with a series of work parties focusing on a new planting area. The first of these took place on 14th March and was a great success. Sixteen volunteers made great progress preparing the area for planting on the steep wooded valley slopes – the main jobs of the day were collecting up hundreds of old tree guards, clearing areas of scrub and bramble and some selective thinning of previously planted Beech. The volunteers will be returning for two more sessions in April with the aim of planting over 5,000 trees, predominantly Box and Juniper, to establish this addition to the Box woodland extending through the valley.

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Bring Back the Hazel Dormouse!

The hazel dormouse (or common dormouse) is in decline across the country, and sadly we have seen that populations have plummeted here in the Chilterns.

The reasons for their decline are likely to be complex and may include competition for food and space with introduced pest species including American grey squirrels which eat hazelnuts before they ripen fully, and Fat Dormouse (Glis glis) which may also predate them. We found that the population of Hazel dormice in the Chiltern Society’s Bottom Wood crashed at the same time as Glis glis were first found in next boxes.

Other factors to explain their decline may include changes in woodland characteristics; if woodland is not managed properly or is densely shaded with little understory, there is less dense young tree growth that hazel dormice thrive upon. In addition to the age of trees, the impact of large numbers of deer browsing and removing the undergrowth is another possible contribution factor. In addition, climate change may be altering the flowering times of key food sources (pollen is an important food in spring) along with insects that they also feed on.

So what can we do about it?

In Bottom Wood we need to replace the Dormice nest boxes so the population can be monitored (Dormice are a European Protected Species and require Natural England licenced handlers). We also need to continue to improve the habitat by roughly laying the hazel hedge in certain areas of the woodland to create a dense tangle of undergrowth, including bramble and honeysuckle, that we hope will be more suitable for them and will encourage numbers to increase.

The dormouse is a species that can benefit from positive woodland management. Leaving a woodland unthinned, or coppice uncut, eventually reduces the understorey and the quality of the habitat for dormice. The shrub layer and understorey of woodland needs to be enhanced and it is also important to develop a flowing network of connecting belts of scrub and suitable habitat that is necessary to sustain thriving dormouse populations over time.

But in order to do this we need your help!

The dormice of the Chilterns would be extremely grateful if you could make a donation to help their cause. A portion of the proceeds raised will go directly to the Chiltern Woodlands Project; a charity that specialises in local woodland management, and helps us to maintain some of our own woodland reserves.

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Bird Box Installation in Chesham

We were delighted to team up with Impress the Chess to participate in National Bird Box Week.  Local residents sponsored bird boxes along the River Chess, to provide nesting opportunities for species including blue tits, great tits and robins.

Ten sponsored boxes were installed by our volunteers in Meades Water Gardens, Chesham to give the small bird population a helping hand. We will monitor the boxes as the bird breeding season progresses to see if the boxes are being used.

This project was initiated by the Impress the Chess group as the first of a series of improvements to habitats along the River Chess. Impress the Chess is a Chesham Town Council-led partnership of local authorities, conservation bodies and community groups that works to protect and restore the River Chess in Chesham. The partnership has created an Action Plan to help conserve this rare chalk stream environment and is actively working with landowners and volunteers on schemes like this.

Having already run a similar scheme at some of our own sites, we were pleased to be able to lend a hand.

The volunteers were pleased to be working in the early Spring sunshine and were watched by a number of birds as well as interested passersby, so we are hopeful that the bird boxes will soon be investigated by birds look for an ideal nesting spot!

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Scrub Bash at Whiteleaf Hill

This week we hosted the Chiltern Conservation Board’s annual Scrub Bash at Whiteleaf Hill Nature Reserve. Over 80 volunteers turned out on a wonderful winter’s day to help restore the important chalk grassland on the steep scarp slope.

Our regular volunteers were joined by others from a whole host of different groups and organisations including students from the Berkshire College of Agriculture, staff from CCB, Chiltern Rangers, Butterfly Conservation, The National Trust, Chiltern Woodlands Project and the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.

The focus of the day’s work was to clear encroaching scrub from the chalk grassland to improve the opportunities for wildflowers to flourish and to support species such as the endangered Chalk Hill Blue butterfly. A huge effort was invested by everyone who attended, only stopping to to have a BBQ lunch and admire the stunning views. Over the course of the day the volunteers managed to clear almost half of the slope which will be a huge help to the regular Whiteleaf Hill volunteer team in their on going efforts to restore and manage this habitat in years to come.

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Woolly lawnmowers on the move

The flock of Herdwick sheep that had been grazing our Brush Hill site have now returned to Prestwood Local Nature Reserve to help us manage the important chalk grassland there. By grazing the more aggressive grass and plant species, they make room for a more diverse range of wildflowers that will, in turn, support a wide range of insects and bird life.

Herdwicks are particularly suited to this type of work – a hardy breed, brought up on the rough grazing and steep slopes of the UK’s upland areas, they are used to being outside in all weathers.

If you visit the site, please help us keep them safe and healthy by:

  • Keeping your dog on a lead and under close control
  • Giving the sheep plenty of space
  • Sticking to the footpaths

If you notice that the sheep are in difficulty, or if you have any concerns please call us on 01494 771250.

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Restoring Whiteleaf Cross

Our volunteers have put in a huge amount of effort over the last month to give the Whiteleaf Cross a much needed make over. Taking advantage the wonderful Autumn weather, they have made great progress by meticulously weeding and scouring the surface of the cross revealing the bright white chalk beneath giving this iconic hill figure a new lease of life.

Following the additional work by a three man team of specialist contractors who spent two days cleaning the lower and much steeper slopes beneath the cross, the restoration is well on its way to being complete.

Read more about Whiteleaf Hill and its heritage here.

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Sponsor a slice of nature…

Over the next twelve months, we’ll launching a number of special projects to help protect Chiltern woodlands. 21% of the Chilterns is covered in woodland, which is double the national average, and over half of that is ancient woodland that’s been in existence since before 1600.

Unfortunately however, many difficult challenges including disease, climate and poor management pose major threats to our woodlands’ survival. If we are to preserve local woodland properly and encourage the native wildlife to thrive, it will require meticulous management and careful planning. We are giving you a very special opportunity to help us do this by offering the chance to sponsor an acre of woodland at one of our sites.

You can choose to sponsor an acre of either ancient woodland or newly planted woodland. A wonderful way to mark a special occasion, remember a special person or just celebrate your countryside, your sponsorship will go a long way towards helping us to manage local woodland properly and, in turn, provide local wildlife with the best possible habitats.

With only a very limited number of acres available for sponsorship, and given that areas will only be dedicated once, this is a very special opportunity for those who wish to invest in the preservation of their local countryside.
We are also offering tree sponsorship, the proceeds from which will also help us to manage Chiltern woodland more effectively.

Acres and individual trees can be sponsored in the following locations: Bottom Wood, near Stokenchurch; Captain’s Wood near Chesham; and Penn Jubilee Wood, a newly planted site.

To find out more, and to apply for sponsorship, please click here.

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