Somerset Wildlife Trust

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January - New Year, New Start?

 10th Feb 2016


Frosty Mornings on the third residential in Wiltshire, maintaining infrastructure on the reserves , planning ahead for the summer, project managing, photoshoots and more... Familiar jobs and some new ones as we start the New Year, read on...



It feels like we have only just started 2016 and it’s the end of January already! I think these next few months are going to fly by. I started the month working with the Magnificent Meadows volunteers at Chancellors Farm, installing a new fence along one end of a meadow to make it secure for the cattle to come in and graze.

Ralph, Olivia and I took part in a course on basic tree survey and inspection. I found this really useful as it covered what to look for when assessing a tree and the law around monitoring and removing dangerous trees.

As our interpretation panels get old the posts, boards and stickers need replacing. Olivia and I have been out to Yarley Fields and Harridge Woods installing new posts and panels so people have all the information about the reserve when they visit.

New Interpretation board LB   Harridge Woods Panel

                             New interpretation boards at Yarley Fields...                                       ... and Harridge Woods


I spent a day in Wells on bat roost visitor training with Adrian Bayley and Dave Cottle. It was great to learn about bat biology, the law and conservation of bats. The course is made up of three training sessions then I should be able to volunteer as a roost visitor, so hopefully I’ll be able to carry this on in the future.


We had an awesome week in Oxenwood for our third residential hosted by the Wiltshire trainees. Along with Wildlife law and CV writing, we had a day of weeding and mulching at Help for Heros in Tidworth, a session bird ringing at Langford Lakes followed by wildlife photography with Iain Green, a great talk on Deer by Cora and a session on leadership skills. I was full of flu for the week but still had a great time and got to see a great spotted woodpecker up close and hares boxing on a frosty morning so can’t complain really!

Tedworth Gardens  Weeding the Borders at Tedworth House


January has been a month of unusual workdays.

I was up in the Mendips at the beginning of the year to attend a Tree Safety surveying course for the whole of the reserves team. It was good to get an idea of the various potential risks a tree could pose and more prosaically the need to ensure there is a paper trail demonstrating an ongoing inspection/monitoring regime to avoid potential litigation. We then had the chance to put the principles into practise on an inspection tour of Cheddar Woods and on the way back appreciate the view from the wood edge at the top of the hill line:

view from cheddar wood edgeSplit Ash Tree

Exmoor ponies and glorious sunshine at Cheddar Wood edge                                  A somewhat unsafe Ash found on our survey


Our fundraising team is in the process of putting together an appeal to fund ongoing habitat management across the trust’s reserves and at the same time increase our library of stock images of the reserves and staff. So on the 13th Mark and I were joined on the Poldens by Kirby Everett and photographer Matt Sweeting for our photo-shoot. It turned out the ‘action’ shots had already been fulfilled by the Mendips team so our brief was to look smart and presentable as we surveyed our reserves. Cue slightly self-conscious shots of gazing wistfully into the distance and trying not to smile like a sociopath in my, reasonably clean, SWT Fleece.

Stihl Chainsaw trousers promotional material

Mark and I modeling chainsaw trousers on Gilling Down- should try selling this to Stihl as promotional material...

Then we had the Wiltshire residential at the Oxenwood centre: crisp, clear mornings and hares dancing in the low sunlight. We had a full day at Langford Lakes reserve, bird ringing in the morning netted (hur hur) a Robin, Great tits, a Blackbird, a female Chaffinch, dozens of Blue tits and even a Great Spotted Woodpecker and I learned some handy tips for sexing/ aging birds.

  • Broad black stripe on chest= male Great tit, thinner and more patchy = female.
  • Distinct colour variation between the inner and outer primaries = juvenile, uniform colour= adult.

Something that I found striking too was the chance to fully appreciate the variations in a bird’s patterning and colour up close. It is only when you have a supposedly ‘dull’ bird like a female chaffinch in the hand that you become aware of the beauty in the detail, the pale edging along the primaries like gilding, the delicate green above the tail, golden-yellow rings around the eyes.

At the end of the month was another slightly out of the ordinary task as we planted a couple of heritage apple trees at Whitefield reserve, purchased with funds raised at the local summer fair. Joined by volunteer reserve warden Bron Bradshaw we created some simple post, rail and wire guards to protect the saplings as they get established and also wrapped the existing trees in chicken wire to prevent any further bark gnawing from rabbits, deer or the sheep when they are put back on in the spring.

Whitefield Apple trees

The new apple trees in place at Whitefield, complete with guards

So, a far from typical month, but variety is the spice of life aint it?


Much of my winter time is spent in the office planning and plotting for surveys in the spring and summer months on ArcGIS software, so I have been continuing to work on my Quantock Hills project and mapping hedgerows in the Selwood area for Matthew. It’s not all that exciting but I sometimes get out of the office to walk along the Tone, and have seen kingfishers, fungi, grey wagtail, moorhen and little egret (whose Latin name is the rather lovely Egretta garzetta ) whilst out and about on my lunch break.

To break up the time in the office, I have been out on Bird surveys with Ben at Hinkley Point and at Huntspill Island – the weather has been a little on the windy side and the tides are higher than usual, so it’s not always been that easy to see huge numbers of wading birds. Nonetheless, it’s always good to get outside and blow the cobwebs away – and I think my bird ID skills are gradually getting better!

Hinkley Bird survey Becky

Searching for Seabirds at Hinkley Point

I have also been out and about with Matthew on his Selwood visits, which are now focussing on natural flood mitigation strategies in the upper catchments through the Hills to Levels project.  This involves working with landowners and managers, with the help of expertise from FWAG (Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group). FWAG are just one of many organisations working on the project, and I have learnt a lot from these sites visits about leaky ponds and debris dams.

I managed to fit in one training course during January – a Brown Hairstreak survey training day near Somerton with Butterfly Conservation.  After a morning of theory and guidance on what to look for, we went out to a site where we found a good number of Brown Hairstreak eggs. These small rare butterflies only lay their tiny white eggs in the joins at the base of spines on young blackthorn, so in windy weather they can be very tricky to find. However, I did manage to find a little cluster of four eggs – although unfortunately two of them appeared to have been eaten or damaged, I hope some of those we found will survive at least to become caterpillars!

Brown Hairstreak Egg

Nestled on a slender blackthorn stem, you can appreciate just how tiny (and hard to spot!) a Brown Hairstreak egg is

As always when they come around, the residential was the highlight of the month, and I particularly enjoyed the day out doing a decent bit of gardening in the frosty winter sunshine at the Help for Heroes residential centre at Tedworth Hall and the CV workshop I’m sure will prove invaluable when I come to applying for jobs again.

Wiltshire frost Becky

A frosty morning in Wiltshire



2016 started off with lots of time in the office for me. However this has meant that I have managed to get stuck into some new projects that will see me through to the end of the traineeship. I have been working with Tim, the director of land management to come up with visitor engagement plans for some of our main reserves. As well as working the PR and communication team to create a database of media contacts, to make future press communications run more smoothly. This will definitely keep me busy until the weather improves and I can get out and about more often.

I have also been working on developing an eco-orienteering event at Black Rock. This will be an event for families to come along and follow a compass trail with activities during half term. It has been really good to not only be involved in delivering events but to be involved in the planning process as well. I had great fun planning the activities and doing a reccy of the walk to make sure it works, now just to hope for good weather and that it will be a success!

This month also included the third of our core training residential weeks, this time hosted by Wiltshire. We spent a very cold and frosty week at Oxenwood learning more about volunteer management and wildlife law, as well as getting to have my first experience of bird ringing. The week also included a wildlife photography workshop held by Iain Green (check out his twitter @naturebygreen), which was really fun and informative – I finally know what all the settings on my camera do! So watch this space for some (hopefully) better photographs as I put these skills into practice! Here’s one of my first attempts, a reed bunting that I spotted at Westhay.

Reed Bunting

Practising my zoom! After much deliberation (and help from twitter), decided it was a Reed Bunting.

I have managed to get out a few times this month, attending a Save Our Magnificent Meadows volunteer work party at Chancellors farm where we were installing new stock fencing in one of the fields. This was a new experience for me, and I used my very limited practical skills to supervise and lend a hand carrying lots of equipment! We’ve also been taking Priddy school out to Westhay to learn about birds, and created our very own bird orchestra! This is a game where each child gets a card with a picture of a bird and the sound it makes, we then have a nominated conductor to instruct the children to make their bird calls – resulting in a very unique, never heard before dawn chorus. We even got the chance to see an otter from the Viridor hide during one of their visits – or at least some of the children did. I have yet to catch a glimpse of the elusive beast!

bird orchestraChaffinch song AR
Practising the bird orchestra with very own conductor                          I was a chaffinch - one of the more complicated bird calls

Edge of the seat stuff folks, be sure to tune back in: does Leighann get to survey a bat roost?  how will Abi ever manage to see an Otter? will winter ever really arrive? who killed Laura Palmer? discover all next month...