Nether Heyford Community Wildlife Area – December 2019

View from The Wildlife Patch

Right now much of the ground on the patch is cold and very wet. The difference between the ground that has been cleared, sown or made ready to sow and that still covered in old standing grass is very clear. The latter is still relatively sheltered with a few dry places even after all of the rain we have had. There is evidence of runs made by mice and voles in this whilst the bare earth is cold, wet and exposed to all elements. It is very clear that untouched grassland is much more conducive to the bio diversity that we desire than that managed by other means.

One of the things that I noticed, at ground level in the long grass was the presence of small pieces of “bitten off” green leaf seemingly placed around the aforementioned runs. This is often evidence of Wood mouse activity. Previously named “Field mice”, these are large (for mice), brown, with whitish tummies and bulging, black eyes that look about to fall out. If you grab one by the tail it will shed the skin of the tail to get away and you will be left with just a mouse tail skin in your hand. They are relatively numerous, you will almost certainly have come across a Wood mouse at sometime.

As far as is known they are the only British mammals that place “markers” to help to find their way round. The pieces of leaf are some of these “markers”. They do use other material but green leaves are the most noticeable. In autumn a family of two parents with 4 or 5 young will live in a nest which is usually a burrow but may be anywhere warm and dry. They line the nest with dry grass etc and build up a store of grain, nuts, berries etc to keep them through the winter. My Wife has a family in her greenhouse right now that has stored an incredible amount of chestnuts. Unlike House Mice they never breed in the winter but all snuggle up as a family throughout the cold weather whilst using up their store. In Springtime parents stay together whilst the young find mates of their own. They then feed on young buds and invertebrates such as Caterpillars, Worms, Beetles etc. and start to breed again. In Spring and Summer months the broods are larger with 7 young not unusual. Populations are kept down due to a high level of predation.

As a young man I spent many winter months ploughing with tractors much smaller and slower than today’s tractors. There was usually a Kestrel or two watching the plough from a comfortable perch. There were also Carrion Crows doing the same. I often ploughed up Wood mouse families that were over wintering as described. Often alive but exposed they would run like mad to find shelter. The Kestrel would come down to pick one up, then take it to its perch to consume at leisure. A Crow would fly down. Then hop from one mouse to another, despatching each mouse with its huge bill. It would then pick them all up in one “beakfull” and fly off to eat them on the edge of the field. There must be lesson there somewhere.

Merry Christmas

Dave Musson

The Prattler – December 2019

ThePrattlerChristmasHeader

The Prattler is run by an active voluntary committee comprising of Sue Boutle, Christine Watts, Vicki Hamblin, Jez Wilson, Nick Essex, Richard Musson and Mary Rice. If you would like to submit articles or have any suggestions for future issues, please get in touch.

The Newspaper is supported by donations from the Parish Council, the Parish Church, the Baptist Church, Heyford W.I., Heyford Garden Club, Heyford Singers, the Bowls Club, the Village Hall and Heyford Picturedrome as well as the advertisers.

Thanks are also due to the volunteers who distribute it every month.

Please note that this issue covers December and January. The next issue will be
available on 1 February 2020.

In the meantime, we would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a
Happy New Year.

The Prattler – November 2019

The Prattler

The Prattler is run by an active voluntary committee comprising of Sue Boutle, Christine Watts, Vicki Hamblin, Jez Wilson, Nick Essex, Richard Musson and Mary Rice. If you would like to submit articles or have any suggestions for future issues, please get in touch.

The Newspaper is supported by donations from the Parish Council, the Parish Church, the Baptist Church, Heyford W.I., Heyford Garden Club, Heyford Singers and Heyford Picturedrome as well as the advertisers.

Thanks are also due to the volunteers who distribute it every month.

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

Archaeologist Dr Den Does It Again – October 2019

The installation of the Basketball/Netball Courts at Heyford Playing Fields was
brought a stage nearer over the weekend of 7/8 September by the efforts of local
Archaeologist Dr Dennis Taylor.

As part of Nether Heyford Playing Fields Association’s (NHPFA) aspirations, the
construction of the new courts was planned on the recently purchased land adjacent to the existing playing fields. The project was estimated to cost £30,000 by Sports Courts UK. Funding has been obtained by a grant of £20,000 from the London Marathon Charitable Trust and a £10,000 Capital grant from South Northants Council. Planning permission has been requested, however the County Assistant Archaeologist applied for a condition to be placed on the application. This meant that an archaeology investigation needed to be undertaken to identify the age and character of crop marks which showed on aerial photographs held in the County Archives.

The cost of this investigation had to be borne by the Planning Applicant. NHPFA
had no funding for this, consequently the whole project was in jeopardy of being
cancelled. The only solution was for the investigation to be undertaken, at no cost, by volunteers. When approached, Dr Den Taylor of South View Nether Heyford, despite being retired, agreed to supervise the investigation. Mr Daryl Welsh of Flore offered to loan and operate his digger for a weekend and Mr Dan Musson of Bugbrooke also offered plant assistance. A further crew of 6 able bodied volunteers was formed and the investigation was organised and carried out 7/8 September.

The County Assistant Archaeologist Liz Mordue and Cllr David Harries visited the
site on the Sunday morning and Dr Taylor showed them the excavations. After
discussions, Liz Mordue agreed that the particular area was of no further
archaeology interest and that the County Environment Records could be updated
accordingly.

This was the second time that Dr Den Taylor had come to the assistance of NHPFA,
as he carried out a similar investigation in 2012 to enable the Bowls Club to build their changing rooms.

Dr Den is an interesting village character. After leaving university with a degree in archaeology, he joined the RAF as a navigator. He flew in De Havilland Mosquito and Super Sabre planes with the 58th Squadron and is now one of two surviving members of his time in the Squadron; he says ‘it makes reunions easier!’. With 14 years service, he left the RAF as a Squadron Leader and worked at several jobs, including being a bricklayer.

On retirement, Dr Taylor returned to Archaeology and after several projects earned his doctorate. He has 4 children who paid for him to pass his Pilots Licence as a 86th Birthday present. Dr Taylor is now a very spritely 92 and serves on the Village Hall Committee.

Thanks again Dr Den, the Basketball/Netball Courts project is now back on track.

Submitted by Geoff Thorneycroft on behalf of NHPFA

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The Prattler – October 2019

The Prattler

The Prattler is run by an active voluntary committee comprising of Richard Musson, Mary Rice, and the rest of the team as detailed on the back page.

If you would like to submit articles or have any suggestions for future issues, please get in touch.

The Newspaper is supported by donations from the Parish Council, the Parish
Church, the Baptist Church, Heyford W.I., Heyford Garden Club, Heyford Singers
and Heyford Picturedrome as well as the advertisers.

Thanks are also due to the volunteers who distribute it every month.

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