Nether Heyford Community Wildlife Area – April 2020

View from The Wildlife Patch

I was looking round the patch today. It is wet, cold and at first sight inhospitable. Yet there is lots going on really.

We have 4 Blue Tit boxes on the patch and at least one is occupied. The prospective occupants were twittering angrily at me as I took a close look at the box. This indicates they have decided to take up residence there again. These Birds almost entirely depend on the larvae of the Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata).

This moth is an interesting species in itself. The sexes differ in that only males have wings, the females being entirely flightless. As the name would suggest adults are only active in winter having developed means of generating heat from inside their bodies. The female hatches from the pupae in Late Autumn/Early Winter. She emits a Pheromone (aerial hormone) which wafts through the cool air to attract an eager male. After mating she lays eggs at the base of the buds of many species of deciduous trees. The Larvae hatch in early spring. They feed first in the expanding buds, then on the leaves of the same plant. They pupate in Late May to hatch in Late Autumn. These are the Small Green Caterpillars that are often seen hanging from mature trees and shrubs in Late Spring.

Being unable to fly could mean that these would struggle to distribute their species to new locations and areas. These caterpillars overcome this by a means of Aerial distribution. They let out a silk thread from their tail end. When this becomes long enough to be caught by a breeze, the caterpillar lets go of earth to fly as if on a parachute. Of course they have no means of steering or governing height but it works for them.

Many species of invertebrates use this form of Aerial distribution. Spiders, mites as well as Lepidoptera all “fly” in this manner. So many in fact that different species accumulate in the air to form a sort of “Ariel Plankton”. A reduction in the volume of this Plankton Layer must surely be a factor in the shortage of Swallows, Swifts etc. we are experiencing today.

Now back to Blue Tits. In Late Winter/ Early spring these birds can be seen in parties of 6 or more pecking at the Buds of deciduous trees. When they do this they are thought to be searching for Winter Moth Eggs. It is believed that the amount of eggs consumed by the birds has an effect on the amount of eggs the Tits lay in that the more moth eggs the birds eat, the more eggs the birds lay. Moreover, it is thought that Blue Tits are so closely tied in with Winter Moths that they react to a substance in the developing Moth egg that stimulates the birds breeding behaviour. This enables the birds to have an abundant source of food timed to feed the hatchlings at the right time.

One more thing. If anyone fancies making a couple of Hedgehog Hotels (plans on the internet) we can find good home for them on The Patch.

Dave Musson

Davemusson073@gmail.com 07942 674867

Nether Heyford Community Wildlife Area – March 2020

View from The Wildlife Patch

I have never really explained the underpinning belief that provides our framework for planning development of The Wildlife patch. Before Spring “springs” and there are many other subjects waiting to be aired I will now attempt to remedy this.

You will already know that as a team we seek to recreate local habitats (often “micro habitats”) that existed on this site in past times. In doing this we try to provide as many ecological niches as we can in the available area. Before doing this we consider likely species and their lifestyles. We know that each species needs its` own unique conditions in order to thrive. They need to eat and to drink, they need to be safe night and day, winter and summer and they need to perpetuate their species. Each species needs to do this without competing with other species.

We narrow our search to seeking to attract sustainable populations of insects and invertebrates. Some would ask “Why focus on these? Why not try to attract Birds or Mammals? Or a really varied flora maybe?”

The answer is that Invertebrates (insects are invertebrates) underpin the entire Ecosystem of life on Earth. Life on Earth depends on Invertebrates thriving. A recent study measured the effect of restoring neglected farm ponds. This demonstrated an increase of insects due to this restoration which led to an increase both in numbers and in species of Farmland Birds feeding nearby. They attributed this rise in birds to the rise in insects numbers stating that these creatures (invertebrates) are “at the very heart of nature’s food web) (Waterlife Magazine, Spring 2020).

We believed this when we put the wildlife pond on the site but it is gratifying to see good research supporting this belief. The same report found that active ponds can act as “insect chimneys” pouring vastly greater numbers of insects into the surrounding countryside. We decided to put our pond in as there had previously been a brook flowing alongside the patch. We could not recreate the brook so a pond is the next best thing. In addition to the pond we have piles of logs-and are hoping for more. We have a pile of dry grass mowings with a hedgehog nest box inside. It is used by something, maybe not hedgehog. We are intending to create and maintain a bare earth area for Mining Bees, maybe a sandy patch as well. We already have 4 or 5 bird boxes ready for occupation.

The area is just entering its second year as a Wildlife Patch so is still in its infancy. Necessarily we have destroyed some good habitat in creating the pond and reshaping that area generally to provide better habitat. It will be interesting to find at the end of next year if we still have our 19 species of butterfly etc. on the site. Our hope is that due to work completed in this first year the count will rise and continue to rise in following years. That will be the measure of our progress to an ideal species rich local habitat.

Dave Musson

Revitalising the Allotments – March 2020

Weather
I started last month’s article talking about the weather and, yet again, I think I’d better make mention of that much-loved topic. This time it is the wind. The roofs on allotment sheds seem to have stayed in place, a testament to sound construction by their owners. I am afraid the same can’t be said for all manner of other allotment paraphernalia. I have never seen so many runaway compost bins, cloches and cold frames. I even spotted one item lodged up against the tennis courts. Where possible, anchor things down and hope for the best.

Getting Ready to Grow
Although the ground is soggy, it is amazing how quickly the soil on the allotments drains (and the same seems to be true for the Playing Fields as well). Those hardy souls who have begun preparing ground for the earliest of crops like shallot and onion sets and a first sowing of parsnip seed, will have been surprised at how well the ground turns over.

Now is also a good time to dig out perennial weeds, particularly couch grass. It really takes hold later in the year by spreading a clinging net just below the surface and clings on for dear life. Wise gardeners dig it out and try to ensure they leave not a scrap of root behind, for it regenerates with a vengeance from just the tiniest of root segment. Rotavating the soil when couch (or any other perennial weed) is present in the soil will result in an even more dense net of weed later in the year. The ground might look good when you finish your rotavating, but beware of what lurks beneath the surface.

There is still time to prune bushes and trees, but as mentioned last month, plums, cherries and other stone fruit should not be touched until April as they are susceptible to a fungal disease called “silver leaf” if cut during the winter.

The Community Orchard, Jam Patch and Cut Flower Beds
Our pruning of the apples and pears in the Community Orchard is now complete and, after a general health check on all the trees, we can report that all are doing well.

Signs, indicating where the community areas are situated, have now been printed onto special weatherproof aluminium sheeting and they will be erected in the next few weeks. We have clearly identified the orchard, the jam patch, the cut flower borders and the wildlife corner, as well as the community seating area. We hope that will enable you to find your way around the allotments and make good use of the space, particularly once the weather warms up.

Allotment Volunteer Days
Throughout March we will be holding a series of volunteer days. We invite allotmenteers and anyone in the village who’d like to help, to join us on Saturday mornings, from 10.00. until 12.00. to finish clearing the few remaining derelict plots, tidying up the paths, covering vacant plots with plastic sheeting and weeding around the fruit trees/bushes and painting the tables and chairs in the community area. Every little bit of help is valued and enables us to continue to make the allotment an important part of the village.

Equipment
A range of equipment is now available for allotment holders to borrow when working on the allotment site; this includes mowers, rotavators, wheelbarrows, brooms and watering cans. Many people will own some or all of the above, but for those who wish to get access to such equipment, please contact either Bill Corner (sue.corner@sky.com 01327 342124) or Mike Langrish (langrish_heyford@hotmail.com  01327 341390). We can ensure that you get the equipment you require at a mutually convenient time.

Allotment Holders
As always, if you are considering growing your own fruit and veg and you want to try a small tester plot, or something larger, here are the usual telephone contacts: Sue Corner on 01327 342124 or Lynda Eales on 01327 341707.

“And there will come a time of great plenty,
A time of good harvest and sun.
Till then put your trust in tomorrow, my friend,
For yesterday’s over and done.”

John Tams

Mike Langrish

Heyford Gardening Club – March 2020

Heyford-Gardening-Cluband-allotments

Our February meeting featured the welcome return of Liz Taylor of the Woodland Trust who explained the different types of natural woodland to be found in Britain and their associated flora. She also demonstrated how to tell apart the two types of oak to be found here (sessile oaks have stalked leaves; pedunculate oaks have stalked acorns).

We also held our annual arts and crafts show, which again highlighted the range of talent amongst our members.

The photograph section was won by Mike Langrish, Tom Dodd came second and Tony Clewett third.

Philip Reeve won the visual art section with an exquisite miniature painting of a heron, Jean Spokes’ cross-stitch took second place and I managed a third place.

The craft section was won by Mary Newstead with an embroidered bag, Chris West got second with a quilted wreath, and Lynn Ashbee took third with her cupcake quilt.

Our next meeting will be on the 9th March when we will have a talk on snowdrops from Anita Thorp. The evening will also feature the annual daffodil and narcissus show (assuming that there are still daffodils in our gardens by then!).

I am writing this article whilst the second storm in two weeks is lashing the trees. We have already had a very wet winter although there has been little frost so far. Snowdrops are already over and daffodils are fully out and I notice buds nearly bursting on our lilac. This leaves a dilemma, if the season is so advanced, should I get on sowing seeds now to get an early start, or are we likely to get cold weather in the weeks to come? The soil is so wet now that, even without further rain, it will take a while to dry out so perhaps it would be wise to wait a while.

Speaking of plants in pots, I planted some anemone corms in pans in the greenhouse in the autumn, but some creature has been digging in the pans and nipping the developing buds off, I’m not sure whether this is due to mice or renegade sparrows, but it’s all very frustrating.

Things to do in March
1. Top dress container grown plants with fresh compost
2. Prune roses
3. Lift and divide crowded perennials.

Mark Newstead

~/~

www.heyfordgardenclub.com

For more information visit the Heyford Gardening Club & Allotments page

Heyford-Gardening-Cluband-allotments

Revitalising the Allotments – February 2020

Weather

It’s soggy on the allotments at the moment and too cold to do much sowing of seed, although bare root fruit bushes and trees can be planted, as long as there is no frost in the ground. It is also the perfect time to prune bushes and trees but plums, cherries and other stone fruit should not be touched until April as they are susceptible to a fungal disease called “silver leaf” if cut during the winter.

If you grow rhubarb you can also cover a few crowns with an old bucket. This will force the rhubarb to seek light and in a month or so you should have beautifully pale but succulent fruit to pick.

If that doesn’t give the allotmenteer or fruit and veg gardener enough to do, these early months of the year are a good time to do structural work such as building compost bins or raised beds.

The Community Orchard, Jam Patch and Cut Flower Beds

These community areas go from strength to strength, although the prospect of carrying out our first major prune is a little daunting. The trees have grown well but if we want them to thrive and take on the attractive shape that marks out a really productive tree, they need some fundamental cutting back. If it looks as though someone has given our young trees a serious haircut, it is all for their good. It means that we should all have more succulent fruit to pick in the years to come.

Several volunteers have recently brushed up their pruning skill by attending fruit tree pruning courses at Waterperry Gardens and with Andy Howard, from the Heritage Fruit Tree Company.

The Jam Patch is looking good and there are now three rows of raspberries, two beds of strawberries and a good range of currant and gooseberry bushes. Once they begin to fruit later this year we will let you know so that you can come and “pick your own”. Depending on how well things progress with the cut-flower beds we are also hopeful that villagers will be able to pick some flowers for themselves. Issues surrounding imported flowers, their carbon footprint and bio-security have led many people to consider the virtues of homegrown flowers.

If, when sorting our their gardens this Spring, any villagers find they have surplus plants, tubers or bulbs, we would be most grateful if they could consider us before disposing of them. Please contact one of the numbers below.

Signs

Further information about what is available and where to find things will be signposted in the next few months. We will be installing a number of attractive notice boards around the allotment making it clear what is a community resource and what is privately owned. Goodwill and respect will be important if our venture is to succeed.

Help

We have a small band of volunteers working on the community aspect of the allotments but are keen to enlist as many additional helpers as possible. This can involve heavier, more labour intensive activities such as digging and clearing, or lighter, low level work such as removing the weeds from around the fruit trees. As an example, if everyone visiting the allotment were able to pull up a dozen shallow rooted weeds from the bark chippings surrounding each tree, it would save a small group of people many hours of work.

A noticeboard outlining the range of different jobs to be done will be attached to the shed situated in the middle of the allotment site. We would like the community aspect of the allotment to be as inclusive as possible and although some people are able to give more time than others, it is, as a certain supermarket says, a case of “every little helps”.

Equipment

A range of equipment is now available for allotment holders to borrow when working on the allotment site, this includes mowers, rotavators, wheelbarrows, brooms and watering cans. Many people will own some or all of the above, but for those who wish to get access to such equipment, please contact either Bill Corner (sue.corner@sky.com 01327 342124) or Mike Langrish 01327 341390). We can ensure that you get the equipment you require at a mutually convenient time.

Although it could not be described as “equipment”, we also have a large pile of good quality topsoil available for allotmenteers to use on raised beds or for topping up existing areas of their allotment. This can be found in one corner of the orchard – you can’t miss it at the moment as it is many barrow loads tall! Please help yourself.

Allotment Holders

As always, if you are considering growing your own fruit and veg and you want to try a small tester plot, or something larger, here are the usual telephone contacts: Sue Corner on 01327 342124 or Lynda Eales on 01327 341707.

As the soils warms up and the evenings get lighter, now is the time to give it a go – and it is cheaper than the gym! They’d love to hear from you.

Mike Langrish

Heyford Gardening Club – February 2020

Heyford-Gardening-Cluband-allotments

We held our AGM at our January meeting at which Mike Langrish stepped down for a well deserved rest after ten years as our Chairman. Avril Minchin now takes over the helm for a year which looks to be full of exciting talks and events. We also held a competition for the best winter arrangement which was won by Chris Watts. Looking at the offerings on display our gardens are full of colour and interest even in midwinter.

After everybody had filled up with wine and cheese, I was allowed to update them on the progress on our wildlife area.

Our next meeting will be on the 10th February when we will welcome Liz Taylor of the Woodland Trust who will talk to us about woodland flora. We will also hold our annual Art and Craft competition; the classes will be

A photograph (on a theme to be decided)
A piece of visual art in any medium
An item of craft work.

Programme for rest of the year
March 9th: Anita Thorp: Snowdrops Mini Show – Daffodils
April 6th *: Clare Price: Propagation; Mini Show Tulips
May 11th: John Lee; Penstemons; Seed Swap ; Mini Show of Spring Flowers
June 8th: Patsy Raynor: Plants in Literature and Anecdote; Mini Show Roses
June 20th: Village Hall Fete
July 13th: Summer Party
September 14th: Autumn Show
October 12th: Philip Aubury: Garden Ponds
November 9th: Plant Swap
December 14th: Christmas Tree Festival
*(NB a week early due to Easter)

Things to do in February
1. Plant bulbs in pots for the summer
2. Plant bare root trees and shrubs
3. Sow broad beans and sweet peas.

Mark Newstead

~/~

www.heyfordgardenclub.com

For more information visit the Heyford Gardening Club & Allotments page

Heyford-Gardening-Cluband-allotments

Nether Heyford Community Wildlife Area – February 2020

View from The Wildlife Patch

Well, 2019 ended very wet and 2020 has begun just as wet. This has meant that not much work has been done on the patch since Autumn last year. Before the rain came we did put the pond in place and fill it with water. However, there is still some tidying up to do round the pond edge and the pond needs planting ready for use by frogs etc. We will choose plants which provide habitats that attract species already known in the area or even attract new species. Although we have still to make a detailed list of what these plants will be. We will mostly use plants that are known to grow in the wild locally, then after establishing them in the pond, allow it all to develop with as little intervention as possible.

On the rest of the patch, Mary and Mark have sown most of the available ground with a wildflower and grass mixture that should form a sward similar to that which would have grown in antiquity and still exists in some parts of the county. It is hoped by doing this we we will encourage more species to make a home in Nether Heyford. There is also another plot planted with the “Cornfield Annual” mixture that was so successful in providing pollen as food for a variety insects last year.

What have we learned in 2019? One lesson for me has been to be prepared to change plans with new knowledge. For instance the original plan was to have a lot of flower rich grass that we could mow once a year as in many wildlife reserves. Our insect count demonstrated that long unmown grass with flower rich grassland easily available is much more conducive to what we want to achieve. Another surprise was when our insect recording (especially Butterflies and moths) demonstrated that southern species are colonising suitable habitat well to The North of their previous strongholds. We recorded a Jersey Tiger Moth and a Cream Spot Tiger Moth. Both are unmistakable large, showy, southern moths that are steadily moving North as our climate warms up. I logged a Dusky Sallow Moth which is a new moth to me and is similarly moving extending it’s range to the North.

The identification and recording of wild species is major part of our work on the patch and is the main way that we gauge success or otherwise of the project. This work can be very time consuming yet exciting and rewarding. Mary and Mark have done wonderful job of recording Bees, Wasps, Beetles, Flowers etc.. I have recorded a few Moths, Woodlice and Molluscs. There is still much work to be done in 2020.

We also have a target to involve local children in the project but have yet to decide on what form this work will take.

Dave Musson