For the past two years I have been monitoring a colony of House Martins in Lower Froyle as part of the British Trust for Ornithology’s House Martin survey. The aim is to shed light on how the UK population is faring and what might be affecting them. Over a thousand people across the country are taking part in the BTO survey, submitting records from over 4,600 nests. The Froyle site – our house – has over 20 nests, putting it in the top 3% of all sites being surveyed based purely on nest numbers.
Considering House Martins nest under the eaves of many houses across the country, relatively little is known about them. We know something about their numbers, a little about their diet, but hardly anything about their social life. Precise locations where they winter in Africa are not clear, largely because tracking devices are not yet available that can be carried by such a little bird. Some birds have been ringed but only a few have been recovered in Winter, all in Africa. The oldest recorded bird is 15 years.
My first House Martin sighting in 2017 came on 16th April with the first arrivals after their long trip from Africa. Around 20 birds returned to the Froyle site this year. Numbers have gradually decreased in the 13 years we have lived here. In mid-May we had some rain following a lengthy dry spell for this time of year. This signalled the start of repairs to nests weather damaged during Winter and three new nests were started. A thousand beak sized mud pellets are needed to construct a complete nest. Less than 50% of the Froyle nests were occupied at the time, so the need for additional nests is not clear.
House Martins have 2 or 3 broods during their time in the UK between April and September. One of my challenges doing the survey is trying to differentiate the young from the adults as they fly from and to nests. All the birds are black on top while the youngsters have brownish grey rather than white underneath, but they are so small and move at such speed that a clear identification is often tricky! I hope my observation skills will prove better tuned this year.
The House Martins are active much of the day, but the best times to see them are early mornings and in the evenings when they appear particularly active at varying heights catching insects. Also between May and August we are fortunate to be able to see (and hear) Swifts chasing around the sky. The sight of House Martins and Swifts sharing the sky on a warm sunny evening is one of Froyle’s finest wildlife spectacles during the Summer months.
A talk on “Wildlife of the River Wey” by Glen Skelton, Thursday 27th April 2017, 7.30pm Froyle Village Hall.
Our rivers have been called ‘Nature’s Super Highway’. The talk will cover the North Wey describing the ingredients for a healthy river ecosystem. The wildlife species present on our local river depend on habitats including instream and the flood-plain. Current impacts such as pollution and invasive species can be partly offset by river restoration techniques. Glen Skelton has the experience of being involved with the Wey Landscape Partnership and Surrey Wildlife Trust.
Do come along and find out more about our river in Froyle and its wildlife, all welcome. Doors open at 7pm for 7.30pm start, entrance £2, non members £3, children free, refreshments.
Update after the talk:-
Glen Skelton, from the Surrey Wildlife Trust, gave an interesting talk about rivers being ‘Nature’s Super Highways’ at the end of April. After rising from a chalk aquafer in Alton, the Northern branch of the River Wey flows through Upper Froyle, and Farnham before joining the South Wey at Tilford, and ultimately joins the River Thames. This chalk stream is an approximately 80km wildlife corridor. There are only around 200 chalk streams in the world and 85% of these are found in England, so we are fortunate to have the River Wey in Froyle. Coming from groundwater aquafers, the water is of high clarity and good chemical quality, making it precious for certain wildlife species, potentially supporting a rich flora and fauna. However, unfortunately man’s activities are having a detrimental effect on rivers including the Wey. Consequently volunteers, including those led by Glen, do restoration work with the aim of improving the biodiversity and health of the river, to enable them to function naturally.
A meandering river, as Nature intended, is an ideal situation. Where rivers are artificially straightened this effectively turns them into fast flowing drains with minimal wildlife opportunity. Some areas of the Wey, such as near Kings Pond, have had diverters placed to create meanders, allowing varying river water flow rates. A meander allows fish fry to develop at the slow inner bend, and fish such as Pike to live at the faster outer bend.
Well vegetated banks are used by small mammals, butterflies and damselflies for shelter and basking. Channels provide fish, such as the Bullhead or Miller’s Thumb, (a fish of international importance for conservation), with shelter from predators. Bank restoration has been carried out upstream from the watercress beds in Alton, removing trees and shrubs allowing light in, enabling the bankside vegetation to improve. In other areas bankside trees provide valuable perches for Kingfishers looking out for their next meal of fish or aquatic insect. In addition, caterpillars falling from tree leaves into the water provide food for fish.
There are many ‘riffle’ areas on the River Wey, where the water flows over the rough surface of a gravel bed. This enables oxygenation of the water, allowing fish eggs to develop and provides good habitat for aquatic invertebrates. This equates to the ‘larder’ of the river. Invertebrates include Freshwater shrimps, Banded damselfly and Dragonflies. Clean gravel beds also allow marginal plants to establish, which are important as cover for small fish, invertebrates and birds such as coots and moorhen.
Otters, the apex predators of the river, are tentatively recolonising our rivers, having died out in the 1970s through sheep dip pollution in rivers. However, the last sighting on the River Wey was 2 years ago near Frensham. Unfortunately, water voles are also currently not seen on the Wey, through habitat fragmentation and mink invasion. On a more positive note, harvest mice, that like wetlands, have been found near the Wey source at Alton.
There are opportunities for volunteer river conservation work through Glen, involving mapping, monitoring for possible water vole return, and restoration.
Butterflies not only brighten our gardens with movement and colour but also, along with moths, provide vital food supplies for other species especially birds and bats. We can help by providing nectar for adults and in some cases food plants for the larvae. To see notes from a Froyle garden click on the link ‘On the wild side, A flutter-by summer’.
NECTAR PLANTS (a selection of garden and wild flowers)- Primrose, Chionodoxa, Pussy Willow, Bluebell, Aubrietia, Hyacinth, Cuckoo Flower, Forget-me-not, Perennial Wallflower – Bowles Mauve, Honesty, Sweet Rocket – Hesperis matronalis, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Lavender, Marjoram, Bramble, Mint, Hyssop, Perennial Pea – Lathyrus latifolius, Hebe, Buddleia, Verbena bonariensis, Field Scabious , Hemp Agrimony, Teasel, Phlox, Ice plant- Sedum spectabile, Cone Flower, Inula hookeri, Michaelmas Daisy. Annuals include Candytuft, Tithonia, and Single dahlias. Flowering Ivy is an important late season nectar source for many insects including the Red Admiral. It’s a larval food plant of the Holly Blue butterfly and the Brimstone will hibernate in it. Birds find shelter, build nests amongst it and eat the berries in winter. The juice from rotting windfall fruit is often a magnet for Comma and Red Admiral.
Aim to provide a continuous source of nectar from early spring to late autumn. Butterflies seek out warmth so try and position your nectar plants in sunny areas sheltered from the wind. Many of the plants will also attract other invertebrates including Moths, Honey Bees, Bumble Bees, Solitary Bees and Hoverflies.
LARVAL FOOD PLANTS – The adult female must search for the right food plants to lay her eggs. The Peacock seeks out Nettle, the only plant her caterpillars (larva) will eat. Small Tortoiseshell, Comma and Red Admiral are the other nettle feeders. Cabbage Whites, can be tempted away from our brassicas by planting Nasturtiums. The Holly Blue lays on Holly in the spring and Ivy in the autumn and the Orange tip on Sweet Rocket, Honesty, Ladies Smock and Garlic Mustard –Brimstone larvae will only eat Buckthorn or Alder Buckthorn. Again these plants need to be in sunny sheltered areas and of course chemicals should be avoided.
SPECIES TO LOOK OUT FOR IN OUR GARDENS – Brimstone, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma and Red Admiral, are the first species on the wing in spring having hibernated as adults. By May Holly Blue, Green-veined White, Orange Tip, Small Copper, Speckled Wood, Large and Small White (collectively known as Cabbage Whites) will be flying and perhaps the migrant Painted Lady. Others to watch for during the year are Common Blue, Meadow Brown, Large and Small Skipper, Gatekeeper and Ringlet. These are the most likely species to turn up in our Froyle gardens but others could make an appearance. A list of the 35 species recorded in the Parish can be seen here.
BRITISH BUTTERFLIES – There are 59 species of butterfly found in Britain, 46 in Hampshire, most require exacting habitat conditions to exist which includes an abundance of the larval food plant. These food plants differ from species to species and comprise specific native flowers, grasses trees and shrubs. Nectar is also required for the adults giving them vital energy to fly and breed. Some of the richest habitats are traditionally managed woodlands, chalk downlands, meadows and heathlands but vast areas have been lost in the past 60 years with agricultural intensification and habitat destruction taking their toll. Consequently invertebrates dependant on these plant communities are seeing worrying declines which include three quarters of UK butterfly species. Some butterflies are less particular in their requirements – hedgerows, copses, flowery field margins, track and roadside verges all play an important role in their survival but wild flowers have declined here too. For more information see Butterfly Conservation.
A talk on ‘Wildlife and Hedgerows’ by Jon Stokes, Thursday 16th March, 7.30pm Froyle Village Hall (doors open 7pm).
It’s surprising that the hedgerow network represents Britain’s largest nature reserve. Jon Stokes from the Tree Council will show us the importance of hedgerows and the how to improve them to boost their wildlife potential. Hedgerows adjacent to roads, green lanes, tracks and wooded ground tend to be particularly species-rich and can act as wildlife corridors.
All welcome, members £2, non members £3, children free, Refreshments.
Our application has been approved by the Charities Commission to become a ‘Charitable Incorporated Organisation’. This registered charity number 1171997 has the name ‘Froyle Wildlife’ and is proposed to replace the existing ‘Froyle Nature Conservation Group’.
On Thursday 16th March 2017 at Froyle Village Hall 7.30pm, there will be a brief Extraordinary General Meeting for members of ‘Froyle Nature Conservation Group’ to hear about the proposals and vote on the changes. Membership can then be transferred to the new charity, see notice for the EGM.
The committee of ‘Froyle Nature Conservation Group’ (FNCG) recommends the proposal to convert to ‘Froyle Wildlife’ (FW) a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO).
Benefits of being a CIO include:
• It is a company with a limitation of liability
• It is not taxable (being a charitable organisation)
• We can get gift aid back (so increasing our income)
• Compliance requirements are light
• It is free to set up
The existing committee are trustees of the new charity FW, see the list of trustees. The constitution of FW is based on a standard template available from the Charities Commission, see the constitution (20 pages). The aims of FNCG are maintained in the constitution of FW but written in a style to comply with the Charities Commission purposes, see the list of purposes and activities. Transfer of assets from ‘Froyle Nature Conservation Group’ to ‘Froyle Wildlife’, see the transfer agreement.
So come along on Thursday 16th March 2017 at Froyle Village Hall 7.30pm, for the brief Extraordinary General Meeting to hear about the changes and for members to vote on the resolutions.
Updated on 17th March: At the EGM, members approved becoming a charity by voting unanimously in favour of the resolutions.
This month we are delighted to welcome Dr Andy Barker of the charity ‘Butterfly Conservation’ www.butterfly-conservation.org/ as our first speaker of 2017. A talk on the Butterflies of Hampshire, Thursday 23rd Feb 2017 at 7.30pm, Froyle Village Hall (door open at 7pm).
There are 45 species of butterfly which can be seen in Hampshire and Andy will especially highlight those found in our local area (Froyle, East and North East Hampshire) and give us tips on identification. We’ll also hear of important habitats such as woodland, chalk downland and heathland which sustain many of the less common species. So forget the winter for a while, come along and be inspired to seek out some of these fascinating and sometimes elusive insects.
All welcome, members £2, non-members £3, children free, Refreshments
In January 2017, aerial photographs recorded the wildlife pond and surrounding ground area, thanks to Izon Aerial Imaging. This should help us to monitor how the vegetation changes in the coming years.
A virtual 3D model of the pond area can be visualised at this link.
Areas were sown with seed mixtures for wet or chalky soils depending on ground conditions that were disturbed by digging the pond. A list of the species sown can be downloaded as a .pdf. The tussocky grasses sown in April 2016 and the wildflower meadow seed sown in September 2016 germinated well, although weed seedlings such as thistles, nettles and docks also came up.
The pond surface was still frozen when this photo was taken at normal ground level.
Thanks to the volunteers who helped to cultivate/weed the ground area and build the hibernaculum. This project was funded by developer contributions through East Hampshire District Council and completed with the kind permission of Froyle Park Ltd.
All are invited to our short AGM at 7pm followed by a talk ‘Return of the Red Kite’ on Thursday 20th October 2016 in the village hall. There will also be a display showing some of the local wildlife seen and an update of this year’s events in Froyle. Non-members are welcome and drinks and nibbles will be available during the evening.
Our excellent speaker Keith Betton has been studying Red Kites for seven years and is the Hampshire county bird recorder. Red Kites were exterminated in Hampshire in 1864 and have now returned only with help. In the 1990s chicks were brought over from Spain and released in the Chilterns. These were the ancestors of the birds we see in Froyle today. Keith will tell the story of their return and give us an insight into their lives.
The talk will start at 7.30pm, doors open from 6:30pm.
The Mill Farm walk and talk was on 8th September 2016 with thanks to Nick Shaylor for an inspirational evening.
We enjoyed a lovely late summers evening for our walk and talk at Mill Farm Organic, bordering Froyle and Isington. Owned by the Mayhew family, the farm extends to around 600 acres and has been managed organically for over 16 years, certified by the Soil Association. The main enterprises found on the farm are a herd of South Devon and Aberdeen Angus beef cows, a flock of Black Welsh Mountain and Easycare sheep and a herd of traditional breed pigs. These all produce meat which is sold at the farm shop and at local Farmers Markets.
The farm covers a diverse range of habitats ranging from traditional water meadows bordering the River Wey to larger rotationally cropped fields and several pockets of ancient woodland. Managed with a close eye on conservation, many initiatives have been adopted to try and preserve and create important habitats for wildlife. Over the last sixteen years over 5 km of new hedgerows have been planted and many new native trees. Six metre grass field margins surround fields that are rotationally cropped. These are left completely undisturbed and provide a vital buffer between the rich hedgerow habitat and the more intensively managed farmland.
The farm has been gradually increasing the diversity of its pastures for several years. A species rich mixture of up to fifteen different varieties of grasses, legumes and herbs are now commonly sown. These mixed swards are much more resilient to drought conditions (due to the inclusion of many deep rooting species such as chicory and red clover). They also are great fertility builders, adding organic matter to the soil and helping to feed the soil food web – which is crucial as no chemical fertilisers or pesticides are allowed under the organic standards. When in flower these leys are a magnificent colourful sight and are rich in wildlife especially pollinators and butterflies. Newman Turner, who was a great advocate of herbal leys described them as his “fertiliser merchant, food manufacturer and vet all in one”.
The farm also benefits from a range of traditional farm buildings which have been left largely undeveloped. Several pairs of barn owls have been nesting in these this year.
A key focus of the farm is to offer as much diversity as possible. This is currently achieved in many ways, including the several different livestock enterprises present, the range of crops that are grown (and the season in which they are established), species rich grazing leys, hedgerows that are only cut every three years and pockets of land that are left completely undisturbed. The aim of the farm has and continues to be to develop and maintain a sustainable farming system, ensuring that plenty of room is left for nature.