Friday, 18 July 2014

We're hitting the busy summer time.

As you may have guessed from how little I'm blogging at the moment, we have hit the busy summer time. All of the rangers have lots going, from fencing and mowing to rounding up animals!

So the first big news is that there are now cows across the whole of Tubney Fen. All the fencing is now cow proof, and so far they seem to be really enjoying there new space. It also means that they will be able to do their full grazing job, keeping the vegetation at a good level to let flowering plants germinate, while not letting other plants take over and out compete all the rest.

We've been gearing up for big changes with our own livestock in the last week or so. The grazing team are putting together the grand plan for moving our Koniks over to Burwell Fen. This is quite a major operation, that is planned with military precision taking into account which family groups will be moved in which order, and which stallions are getting castrated. It is an exciting time also though, as it is the next step in expanding the extensive grazing system run at Wicken with both the Koniks and the Highland cattle.

Last week I went to Fen Ditton Primary School to help one of our volunteer's, Lesley, make an insect hotel in their wildlife area. Every child at the school helped, filling each layer with different things. We had a wood layer, a pine cone layer, a layer with bricks and broken terracotta pots and a layer with bamboo cans and twigs. The different layers create different habitats for a wide variety of insects, with leaf litter layers near the bottom for woodlice and bamboo canes near the top for hibernating solitary bees and ladybirds. We also found lots of insects around the wildlife area that were getting added to the hotel, including a Violet Ground Beetle.

Fen Ditton's New Insect Hotel
I had rather nice day on Tubney on Wednesday, strimming round the gates and mounting blocks at the entrances. The weather was superb and the wildlife was abundant! I stopped on top of Reach Lode Bridge for 10 minutes and watched the dragonflies and damselflies fighting for ladies and territory. Then I spent lunch in the hide by the mere accompanied by a swan family, a coot family and a canada goose family! Then a Hobby pop in to catch his lunch, terrifying the baby coots and the lapwings near by. They had nothing to fear though, as he was completely focused on the dragonflies that were right in front of the hide. Then to add to the wildlife spectacular, Martin and I counted up to 10 grey herons on Burwell Fen yesterday morning.

The view from Reach Lode Bridge, looking towards Reach, with Tubney Fen on the right, and Hurdle Hall on the left

Tubney mere, with the swan family in the background

The calves on Tubney were getting very interested in my strimming!

Monday, 7 July 2014

Tree Work at Gutterbridge

We had the guys from Acacia Tree Surgery at Gutterbridge Plantation last week. They have been completing the work on trees that have been deemed dangerous by our tree health survey, because they had the potential to fall on footpaths or the road that runs along the front of the wood. We had done some of the work ourselves, but had to ask the experts in to deal with any trees that involved climbing, as none of the Rangers have the qualifications to use a chainsaw up a tree. I was told by Niki, that the Acacia guys are fearless, cutting tree limbs, while haning from the same tree, with the cut branches zooming past the to the ground.
The work involved felling a couple of trees that were rotted out at the bottom, thinning the crowns of a few more and clearing some that came down during the high winds last winter. One of the most important aspects of the task was surveying each tree before it came down. They checked there were no birds nests or bat roosts in any of the trees and have felled some in such a way that the main trunk of the tree has been left standing, providing ideal potential nest and roost sites. The small bits of wood that came down have been left in habitat piles for lots of different invertebrates and small mammals to find a home in, and the larger chunks are going to be used by the Swaffum Bulleck work parties as benches and table in the glade areas of the wood.

An Acacia Tree Surgeon, doing his stuff.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

More Babies and New Dipwells

We shall kick off today with the new arrivals at the fen. Firstly we have Splat, Meg's first little boy. You may be able to guess why he is called Splat when you look at the large white patch spread across the middle of his head! Bellow that we have Apple, Gale's new little girl calf. She is nearly two weeks old now and has been named Apple after her Grandmother's and her mother's fondness for apples. 

Young Splat with mum Meg

Baby Apple

And with mum Gale keeping close watch
Ruby, John and Pete have been installing new dip wells out on Verrall's Fen. They have grand plans to replace three and create 9 new ones. They replaced 2 new ones on Friday, and put in a whole new one. They have also built some extra protection around them as the Ponies and Cattle like to scratch on the poles and break them.  The dip wells are how we monitor the water levels around the fen. They are a 3m pipe, with 2m below ground, and we literally just measure how far down the pipe the water is. We have also gone more technical by adding soil moisture tubes, which will help us to correlate the water levels with how the water is moving through the soil.

Pete and John discussing how to get the tubes in
And just like magic, its done!

I went to the Cambridge Conservation Forum Symposium yesterday, which was focused on Ecological Restoration. It was fascinating, and we heard from lots of speakers, including case studies from Lakenheath and the Great Fen Project. It was a good chance for me to catch up with people from all parts of the conservation sector and it was great to hear all the positive work going on, although it was highlighted that more could be done, particularly convincing governments how important this work is.

Friday, 20 June 2014

It'll be a quick one today as I haven't had time to take many pictures this week. We've been really foucsing on our weed control so John, Ruby, Carol, Andy and I have all been taking it in turns to top areas of the wider reserve where the creeping thistle is very dense. Creeping thistle is classed as an injurious weed so we are obliged to keep it under control on our land. We have to time mowing it carefully so that the insects that like to feed off the flowers have had a chance to eat, but we must top it before it goes to seed. This also has the added advantage of taking a lot of energy out of the plant, meaning it is less likely to grow up again next year. Unfortunately our big flail mower broke on Wednesday, but Mike Overall came to our rescue and welded it all back together. We've had to do some final tinkering with it this morning, just to get the mower spinning properly, so Jack, Carol and I got to practice our angle grinding skills, while lying flat on our backs!
Carol taking an Angle Grinder to the Mower
Other than that I only have this picture of a cool bug I saw down at Tubney. Joan has informed me that it is a Wasp Beetle, not rare, but also not common!

The Wasp Beetle

We've had a new foal and a new calf this week. Currently they are both doing ok, and both their mothers are well. I am especially pleased about the new calf as her mother, Gale, has always been one of my favourites but she is a bit of a loner in the herd. I'm glad shes going to have a friend now! Gale is also Cannach's daughter, who is everyone's favourite red cow that is often seen behind the visitors centre. I will get the grazing team to post some photos in the next blog.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Minions at the Fen!

Andy and Niki have helped me to take down the electric fencing on Oily Hall this week. We had fenced the cows out of some areas to allow us to do some weed control of the creeping thistle at Oily. It's a surprisingly big job as there must have been over 1km of wire to reel in on massive spools. As ever the job was made more interesting by the cattle taking a keen interest in what we were doing.

Chock-a-block vehicle after collecting in half of the fencing!

Its disconcerting to see this in your mirrors while driving across a field!
After we'd collected int he last of the electric fencing yesterday, Nikki and I went to improve the visibility of the new bollards at the bottom of Reach Lode Bridge. They have had reflectors stuck to them since they were put in, but we've sprayed them a brighter colour and added some reflective tape. it was only when we stood back and took a picture that we realised how much they look like minions from Despicable Me!

The now highly visible bollards
Minions on the fen!
I've been enjoying having the tenant livestock back out on the wider nature reserve. They all have their own characters that are very different from our Highlands. I have decided that this little chap on Tubney is currently my favourite as he is smaller than all the other calves but is so much more curious and brave!

The brave little blonde calf on Tubney
Tree bees have nested in the roof of the docky hut this summer. Last we while we were enjoying a tea break in the yard, we noticed a larger bee being mobbed by the smaller bees. The large bee crashed to the ground with two smaller ones on top, where I managed to get this picture. Fresh off their bee course, Lesley and Lois have suggested that the larger one is possibly the queen and the two smaller ones are males trying to mate with her.

Tree Bees mobbing a possible queen?

As part of our 50 things challenge some of the rangers are bringing up butterflies! These little Tortoiseshell caterpillars are now twice the size and eating more nettles than I can throw at them! 

Two of my 50 things caterpillars
We had a film crew at the fen yesterday. Ruby's reward for coming in early was to be able to stand next to a Red Epic 3D camera set up, which she informs me is very exciting and expensive!

Ruby in her element!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Work Party and Reach 24 Opening

We've been back out on Tubney Fen over the last couple of weeks, trying to get all the box strainers finished. Pete did a great job chainsawing the notches into the strainer posts to secure the transoms, while Andy and I hid in the car out of the rain. We did jump out once he was finished to help put them all together and wrap the wire around to make them super tight and secure. We also went back last Tuesday to finish off the rest, and I couldn't hide from the rain then as I was the one chainsawing.

The view from the vehicle as Pete chainsawed in the rain

The beautiful box strainer result of Pete's work.
 While Andy and I were out on Tubney we found a rather strange looking lump of pink goo. We have no idea what it is. It felt like blancmange when I accidentally stuck my elbow in it, and our best guess would be a fungus or some sort of insect cocoon?
Mystery pink goo, any ideas?
A big thank you to the guys and gals from UK Power Networks who came for a work party last Friday. They've done a fantastic job finishing off the corral on Oily Hall, and they got bonus points for feeding the rangers who were running the day!

UK Power Networks testing out the newly built corral
A group of us rangers ave decided to have a go at the 50 things to do before your 11 and 3/4. Clearly we've missed the age target by a large margin, but we're not letting that stop us! We kicked off with a snail race after work one evening last week. My snail, Viktor, put in a valiant effort, and came 2nd and 3rd in the two races we had. Andy had the clear winner, Dorothy, who won both times!

And they're off...
Viktor, I was quite attached to him and didn't want to let him go!

Reach 24 Acres had it's grand opening on Sunday, with lots of British Summer festivities, including a Bake Off, fancy dress competition and a cricket match between Reach Village and the National Trust. Reach 24 is a plot of lad on the outskirts of Reach that the National Trust has leased to the community of Reach. The steering group has been getting lots of views on how to use the land and so far have planted a community orchard, some woodland and created a cricket pitch. We had a great time on Sunday, with fantastic weather to help us. Lois, Jenny and I were running activities for the children, with willow weaving, geocaching and bug hunting on offer. John and Pete did a fabulous job on the NT cricket team, and though it was a well fought match we did manage to have a National Trust win!
An Ermine Moth found sweep netting during the bug hunt.
Mine and Lois' entry for the cake competition.
Amongst all the fun and games we have been doing serious work. Lots of mowing to keep the paths neat and tidy, and lots of courses to keep us working to the best of our abilities!  Anyone who read our last post will be glad to hear that Ruby, Niki, Pete and I all passed our Vet Med assessment last Thursday.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Mowing, work party and Wimpole Farm

I've finally managed to get out with the big tractor and mower this week. The Lodes way on Burwell Fen was looking lovely by the end of last Tuesday, it's probably grown a bit more now! It was a good day to be in the tractor too, with handy mounting blocks en route to stop and have a picnic lunch.
Ready, set, mow!

Picnic lunch anyone?

Freshly mown Burwell footpath

We had a work party in on Sunday, a large group from the Lion's Trust. We went up to Verralls to finish clearing some of the piles of cut down scrub that were moved around by the digger earlier in the year. They were very enthusiastic and got a good amount of work done while avoiding trampling the newly discovered Fen Violet, well done!

The Lions Trust work party at Verralls
Nikki, Ruby, Pete and I went over to Wimpole Farm for our Safe Use and Storage for Veterinary Medicines training on Wednesday. Though the information we learnt was quite daunting we enjoyed being on the farm and getting to meet the animals, especially the piglets and the shire horses. Wish us luck for the assessment on Thursday!

Cute Wimpole Piglet!