Nether Heyford Community Wildlife Area – November 2019

View from The Wildlife Patch

We have been busy preparing the patch in preparation for sowing the wildflower seed on the designated meadow area. We have removed the weed smothering covers and raked over the soil ready to receive the seed; all we need now is for the rain to stop and the seed can go in.

We were extremely pleased to find during the uncovering operation that our resident toad is still in situ.

HeyfordResidentToad

We shall have to ensure that we keep an area covered over for it to lurk in. Toads, unlike frogs, are very conservative creatures and will only lay their eggs in the place where they themselves were tadpoles, so it is unlikely that we will have toad spawn in our new pond. However we shall almost certainly find frogs and newts in there fairly soon.

As the days shorten and cool, the amount of insect life in the patch is reducing, but the flowering ivy is still producing things of interest. Recently there has been a group of large black flies with showy orange wing bases hanging out there; these were noon flies, something I don’t remember seeing before. A large orange flying insect also appeared, looking at first like a hornet, but it turned out to be a species of hoverfly. This creature not only looks like a hornet, but flies and moves like one too. Its larvae actually live in hornet and wasp nests where they eat the rubbish in the bottom of the nest, and so are tolerated by their hosts.

On a recent trip to Suffolk (prior to the wet weather) I was astonished to see on lawns and patches of grass numerous little bees flying just above the ground. These were mining bees which had just hatched from their burrows in the soil. This is something that would normally happen in the spring (I have seen that at Harlestone Heath in the past) but September would seem too late for the bees to get enough pollen and nectar to make the nests to raise the next generation. If we keep an area of close mown grass we can hope for a similar colony of bees on our own patch in due course.

Mark Newstead

Nether Heyford Community Wildlife Area – October 2019

View from The Wildlife Patch

The heads of Ivy in the bordering Roadside Hedge are now in full bloom and providing a bounty of nectar for a variety of insects. Right now there are several species of Wasp, Hover Fly, Bee, Butterfly and many more insects, including massive European Hornets which are really just huge Wasps. On warmer nights, nocturnal insects, especially moths will be found on the same flowers.

Elsewhere, we have cut down as much of the long grass as we are going to. This has been collected and put in heaps. One of these has a cavity underneath which will hopefully be taken up by a Hedgehog.

Grass has been cut and removed from the area where the pond will be. Most of the area exposed thus will be cut quite short and covered with spoil from pond digging. This will be planted with a wildflower /grass mixture though some will be kept as bare earth. This being essential for some solitary Bee and Wasp species.

Early in October we will sow the Cornfield Annual patch with the same mixture as the new ground and those patches now covered with plastic sheeting will be stripped bare and sown with Cornfield Annuals. The seating/picnic area will be sown with a Wildflower Lawn seed.

When the pond is in we will need to provide a barrier to keep small, unattended children from the pond. One of my Grandchildren, when younger, tried using my garden pond net as a trampoline which was not good idea. I think we will need to put a fence round the pond with a gate for access. This should be much safer.

Molehills are usually very much in evidence at this time of year. They live singly and feed mainly on a diet of Earthworms. Each mole digs series of subterranean tunnels which it “cruises” along, picking up any worms which drop into the tunnels. Earthworms migrate up and down vertically in the soil according to outside conditions. For example they go deeper in times of drought, then Moles dig their burrows at a lower level to trap them. When they dig these new tunnels they push the spoil to the surface to create Molehills.

I know that some gardeners believe moles eat vegetable roots from underground. This belief is erroneous. Moles cannot digest any form of vegetable matter, they are not rodents and just do not have the dentition to gnaw roots. Moles need to eat every few hours and dine EXCLUSIVELY on earthworms and insects. Having said that I did find a beetroot on my allotment that had been well and truly gnawed below ground underneath was what appeared to be the top end of a Mole Tunnel. A closer look at the damage showed very clearly the double tooth marks of a Rodent. This was no doubt the work of a Brown Rat which had modified a moles tunnel to burrow up to my Beet.

Dave Musson

Revitalising the Allotments – October 2019

About two years ago we began to despair that the main allotment site in Nether Heyford was going to rack and ruin. Those conscientious souls who kept their plots in good order were often fighting a losing a battle, as weeds from abandoned plots encroached onto their veggie beds. Trying to find a way through the site involved hacking your way through a jungle of tall grass and vicious brambles and at the same time trying to negotiate your way round abandoned car tyres, scrap metal and various wooden obstacles. The allotments, taken as a whole, looked a mess.

Fast forward to the present and what a change has occurred. Thanks to the support of the Parish Council, a group of volunteers have been able to make the allotments not only look good but once more become productive – in so many ways.

A section on the site that had long been abandoned was cleared and, with generous support from local businesses, organisations and individual residents, over thirty heritage fruit trees were purchased and planted. As we approach the first anniversary of that planting, I am pleased to report that they are thriving and have put on a considerable amount of new growth. In the next few years we look forward to harvesting our first crop and inviting you to share in this bounty.

Maintaining good pathways around the allotment site had always been a problem. Several allotment holders went above and beyond their remit of keeping their own area in order and often mowed whole sections near to their allotment. But that became the exception, not the rule. Over the past two years that has changed and thanks to volunteers and more individual allotment holders, the pathways are in good order. No longer do you hazard life and limb when you enter the allotments.

Following on from the success of the community orchard, a “community jam patch” has been created, again using several abandoned plots and utilising fruit bushes that have been rescued in the clearance work. We try to ensure that nothing goes to waste. Plans are afoot to extend this by including a “community cutting garden”, made up of annual and perennial flowers.

Another, long abandoned area of the allotments, has been turned over to a “wild area”. This is not an excuse to simply abandon land but is a carefully managed space that includes a wild flower area, nesting boxes for birds and smaller mammals as well as areas for tall grasses to flourish and a host of butterflies, beetles and other mini-beasts to thrive. Pathways have been mown through the area for safe access and a clearly defined perimeter rope has been fixed to posts to show where the area starts and finishes. As this is an area of sensitive growth and development the wildlife volunteers would ask that anyone seeking to visit first contacts one of them to arrange a convenient time. The next development for this area will be the creation of a wildlife pond.

Having a place to sit and eat lunch after a hard session on the allotment or for just taking the opportunity to sit and admire the orchard and the surrounding allotments, requires a community seating area. Again, thanks to the generosity of villagers and fellow allotmenteers we have been able to create a green space with tables and chairs. It was a joy to be able to gather here several weeks ago and share a drink as well as BBQ some food. As the sun went down it was good to reflect on what a lovely village we live in.

For those intrepid, long standing allotmenteers who have cultivated their plots over the years, despite the sea of weeds and the piles of junk, a big thank you. If you hadn’t battled on regardless then the allotments could have been in real jeopardy.

Finally, and probably most importantly of all, it is wonderful to report that more and more allotments are being cultivated. Ever since I began reporting on the refurbishment of the allotments I have always included an invitation to everyone out there to take on an allotment. I think it is beginning to pay off. Once abandoned land is now being put to good use by villagers and from folk in the surrounding area. It is so heartening to see this change in fortune, and whilst we’d never want to deny anyone an allotment, wouldn’t it be an achievement to say that we had a waiting list!

So here we go again…If you are interested in trying out an allotment (you can have a small “taster plot” free for one year – or you can plunge straight in and select a more permanent plot that suits you) then contact either Sue Corner on 01327 342124 or Lynda Eales on 01327 341707.

Come and join us.

Mike Langrish

Heyford Singers & Allotments – September 2019

We’re neither pure nor wise nor good;
We’ll do the best we know.
We’ll build our house, and chop our wood,
And make our garden grow.
The final chorus from “Make Our Garden Grow”
from “Candide” by Leonard Bernstein 1955

Normally Jill Langrish writes a piece for the Prattler on behalf of the Heyford Singers and Mike, her other half, waxes lyrical about the joys of allotments, orchards and all things green. For this September article we thought we’d combine what little talent we have and write about the effect that both music and growing things can have on making us feel good. So this article is a sort of a dialogue; a chance for us to share that sense of contentment, happiness, belonging, achievement, and well being that we believe comes from both activities. Easy? Just read on……

Jill. Music is a very social activity. Whether you play in a band or orchestra, sing in a group or a choir, sit or stand in the audience for a concert, you are sharing that unique experience with lots of other people. You are helping to contribute towards the collective outcome, a shared achievement. As well as the social benefits of music, it also contributes hugely to our physical and mental health. There has been considerable research recently about the value of doctors giving a “social prescription”. In July, Naomi Paxton hosted a BBC Proms panel discussion on music and wellbeing with epidemiologist Dr Daisy Fancourt and GP Dr Simon Opher. Both are enthusiastic advocates of social prescribing and of using music to support health.

“Social prescription is a fairly new idea,” says Dr Opher. “A doctor might give a normal
prescription for a medicine, but they can also give a prescription for an activity.
That could be singing, music, art, poetry, exercise or anything – but not a medicine.
Music can help everyone, but it can specifically help certain conditions – and we
know this from research. One of the areas of the brain that really lights up when you
listen to music is the pre cortical area. That’s one of the last areas that is damaged
with dementia – so people with dementia, for example, retain their ability to enjoy
music. I’ve seen more effect with music for patients with dementia than any kind of
medication.”

Mike. Gardening, whether it be wandering round the tiny patch of ground outside your back door or maintaining an allotment or huge vegetable patch, vastly improves both our physical and mental health. And the sort of evidence that applies to music is to be found in abundance when it comes to digging and weeding. Kathryn Rossiter, CEO of Thrive, one of the UK’s leading charities in disability and gardening says that

“as well as the strong therapeutic value of gardening it can help people connect with others, reducing feelings of isolation. It makes us more active, gaining both physical and mental health benefits.”

Jill. Then there is the intellectual side of music. Listening to a new song or unfamiliar piece of music demands attention, it keeps the brain’s cells active. And whether it be trying to make sense of all those dots and squiggles in music notation, learning new songs, understanding the different voice parts, learning and playing an instrument, all these are essential in keeping the “little grey cells’ active.

Mike. Now this is a generalisation, but doctors believe that gardeners have lower
levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, leading to improved sleep patterns, relaxation and mental wellbeing. Although sometimes I think it is just exhaustion that makes me sleep!

Jill. And what about the fun side, the enjoyment of it all. During August there was
delightful series on the radio entitled “A Singer’s Guide to Britain” which explored different aspects of British culture through the songs we sing. In the first episode the presenter said that, “a song is like an imaginary magic carpet. You climb aboard and it flies off, it takes you on an adventure”. Now this can be interpreted in so many ways. Special places, special people or special memories are all evoked by the song. It is powerful stuff.

Mike. That first snowdrop can make you feel really good. The flowering of the rose you pruned, a lettuce you grew from seed, the blackbird singing just for you. These are small things but all positive and have healing powers that medicine sometimes tries to mimic. It is no surprise that, like music, doctors are seriously considering prescribing gardening as a cure for some conditions. Monty Don, the man that appears on our TV screens on a Friday evening accompanied by two dogs and who isn’t bad at gardening either, says in a telling way that “When you plant something, you invest in a beautiful future amidst a stressful, chaotic and, at times, downright appalling world”

Apologies if we have just taken this opportunity to indulge in our two great passions. It doesn’t matter if you think you can’t sing a note in tune (something we dispute) or you kill everything you plant (also disputable), there is so much to be gained from both activities. A good way to start would be to join Heyford Singers and/or get an allotment.

Jill. The next rehearsal of Heyford Singers is on Friday 6th September at 7.15 pm in the village hall. It will be an Open Evening and everyone is very welcome. Come and meet us, watch, listen, join in and I guarantee that you will go home feeling energised and happy, having sung, laughed and made new friends. If you feel that you would like to know more then please do contact Mary Rice, myself or someone you know who is already part of this community choir.

Mike. If you are interested in trying out an allotment contact either Sue Corner on
01327 342124 or Lynda Eales on 01327 341707. We can offer a range of allotment
sizes, to suit every need. Help is also on hand to offer advice and encouragement.
There you are, two articles in one

Jill & Mike Langrish

____________________________________________________________________________________

If you would like to find out more, visit the Heyford Singers page or our website:

www.heyfordsingers.org

 alternatively come along to one of our rehearsals in Nether Heyford Village Hall.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Jill Langrish

Nether Heyford Community Wildlife Area – September 2019

View from The Wildlife Patch

As Summer draws to a close we are beginning to evaluate our first two season’s activities, What has gone well? What have we learned? Do we need to modify plans? etc. Whilst there are no disappointments so far, lessons are being learned all of the time.

A real success has been the sowing of a mixture of “Cornfield Annuals” on the only bare patch available to plant. Some are still in flower as I write this in late August. They have been nothing short of magnificent. Looking absolutely wonderful, attracting a whole host of pollinating insects day and night, as well as suppressing all other plants which some may term as “weeds”. We will certainly plant this mixture this Autumn on the patches that have been cleared of vegetation during Summer. We will still plant original patch with a “Flowering Meadow Mixture” as planned.

Cornfield Annuals are ultra easy to establish and being natural wild plants need minimal after care. They are inexpensive to buy as seed, ultra easy to establish, only last for one season, look gorgeous, attract insects and suppress weeds. Why would you not want some? They include Corn Chamomile, Wild Cornflower, Corncockle and Corn Marigold.

I will be ordering soon and will buy ready mixed, loose seed in quantity. I can order extra for anyone who needs them. Plant at 4/5 gm per square metre, just scrape the soil and sprinkle them in – so simple -. Contact me on 01327 344461 or davemusson073@gmail.com if you would like to give some Cornfields Annual a try.

The other success was the decision to leave a large proportion of the site unmown for the whole season. I admit that before I was involved in this, I was only vaguely aware of the value of this habitat.. A number of our butterflies and moths live on grass and spend 8-10 months as caterpillars and another month or so as a chrysalis so depend on uncut grass, as do most of our Small Mammals, and a host of creatures too numerous to list. In the light of this, our original plan to have the area very largely as “ Flowering Meadow” type habitat is now under review. We will be mowing and removing long grass soon and have yet to discuss which we will treat thus. We may end up with more permanent long grass habitat than was originally planned, however this is likely to be modified with the introduction plants such as Hogweed, Knapweed, Teasels etc. to further increase the species that this will support.

Dave Musson

Nether Heyford Community Wildlife Area – July 2019

Take the time to just stand back and watch the bees in your garden and you will be amazed at their variety. Its the sound they make that is so wonderful, from the high pitched hum of a bee swimming in the stamens of a poppy to the deep drone of a queen bumblebee.

On the wildlife patch on the allotments I have counted ten different types of bee so far. They come in all shapes and sizes ranging from the tiny “hairy footed flower bee” (I think that is the best name ever) that darts about and hovers in front of flowers. The females are black with orange hairs on their back legs for collecting pollen. Red and buff tailed bumble bees on the other hand seem huge in comparison, and the flowers bend under their weight. Honey bees and bumble bees are social insects, where the queen lays eggs and daughter workers do all the work. Solitary bees work on their own and make their own nests in different locations, from a hole in the ground or brick or cob wall. You will often find their holes grouped together but each nest is completely separate.

Amongst the bees that I have spotted so far are two that are called nomad bees that on first sight appear to be tiny wasps for they have bright yellow and black markings, but in fact they parasitise solitary bee’s nests. They lay an egg inside host’s nest and the nomad grub then destroys the host’s egg or grub and proceeds to feed on the food store.

The best thing we can all do for bees is to grow a variety of flowers in our gardens particularly those which flower early and late so providing nectar for the longest possible period. Different species of bees have tongues of different lengths so need flowers of different lengths of tube. This doesn’t stop some short tongued bees from cheating. You can see this happening if you stand by a clump of comfrey; not all the bees will be entering the flowers but some will bite a hole at top of the flower to get the nectar. This unfortunately prevents the flower from being pollinated.

For the allotment holders having such a number and variety of bees in the wildlife patch is good news for they will be out and about pollinating the fruit and vegetables. The best crop of runner beans we ever had was when the beans were planted next to our lavender bushes (a good reason to grow some flowers amongst the vegetables, which also looks beautiful).

To make a solitary bee nest site:
1. Cut the top off a plastic drinks bottle.
2. Fill the bottle with lengths of hollow woody plant stems, reed stems or bamboo cane to make lots of tunnels for the bees to crawl into and make their nests.
3. Hang the bottle up in the garden (at a slight angle so the rain doesn’t get in) where it will get some sun but not be baked all day..

Mary Newstead

Revitalising the Allotments – July 2019

Tasty
I know it sounds a bit ‘holier than thou’, but gardeners and allotmenteers will all agree there is nothing quite like picking and eating something you have just grown. Some would also add that taking an item of fruit or veg from the freezer in the middle of winter and reflecting on the fact that it was grown on your patch of land during the warmth of summer is even more satisfying. There aren’t too many food miles (or nasty chemicals) involved in that and as for taste, nothing compares.

Caring for what we have
Bearing that in mind, we on the allotments are aware that our little patches of borrowed land are not hidden behind high wire fences or locked gates. Indeed we have actively encouraged the community to join us and to eventually share in the fruits of our labour on the community jam patch and in the community orchard.

However, the produce from the individual plots that fellow allotmenteers have nurtured remains the fruit of their labour and we would ask everyone in the village help us ensure that applies. If you see someone on the allotments who looks as though they should not be there, or is using it for purposes for which it was not designed, either report the incident to someone from the Parish Council or Allotment Working Group or, if you are feeling confident enough simply ask them what they are doing. As with Neighbourhood Watch we can all do our bit to help eliminate vandalism and theft if we work together.

Community Orchard
The trees continue to grow on well and the recent rain has been a blessing, even if it has meant more work cutting the grass. We are keen to add some signage to the allotments, particularly the community areas and, following on from the previous section, we hope that will help steer villagers towards the shared areas that we can all enjoy. Watch this space for more updates.

Thank You
A special vote of thanks goes to those good people who continue to mow the pathways and open spaces on the allotment. Your hard work really is paying off and makes the place not only look good but also a joy to work on.

Tester Plots and Renting and Allotment
If you are interested in trying out allotmenteering contact either Sue Corner on 01327 342124 or Lynda Eales on 01327 341707. We can offer a range of allotment sizes, to suit every need. Help is also on hand to offer advice and encouragement.

Food For Thought 
‘I was just sittin’ here enjoyin’ the company. Plants got a lot to say, if you take the time to listen.’
From Winnie the Pooh by A.A Milne.

Mike Langrish