Saturday, 12 September 2015

Getting out from behind the desk!

Since becoming a Team Leader in June, I've not been out on site for work, which has come as a bit of shock to the system - I'm used to spending at least one or two days a week out in the countryside marvelling at some of the most scarce habitats and species in the country (and sometimes in Europe!).

Finally, on Friday, I was able to get out and show colleagues how working with farmers and fishing clubs can reap great rewards, by visiting a farm on the upper reaches of the River Itchen, near New Alresford (north of Winchester).

The farmer is in an agri-environment scheme - paid for through EU (and a bit of UK Government) funds, encouraging farmers to farm for wildlife and protect the environment. This particular estate is large (about 1000 acres I think) and has the River Itchen Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of conservation (SAC - internationally important) flowing through it. We've worked really closely with them to establish a suitable grazing regime with his wonderful Hereford cattle on the sensitive banks, and liaised with the fishing club to improve conditions for wild brown trout. Indeed, when we visited, there were several huge trout beneath one of the bridges - an indicator things were going OK!

The river is looking great on the whole - so inspiring to see after all that hard work, with the banks having a wealth of plants, connecting the river with the floodplain derelict watermeadows. The chalk stream was filled with aquatic plants ('macrophytes') including water parsnip and starwort - but none of the water crowfoot. Even this high up in the catchment, the water quality is not good enough to support it in places, a result of runoff from farms and other land uses (septic tanks for example).

But it was still great to see the site looking so beautiful - I hope to return invigorated to work on Monday (but also slightly more motivated to get things done as I'm off to Scotland for a week and a bit so no blog next couple of weekends I'm afraid).

Saturday, 5 September 2015

A different Down

Last weekend I managed - in between an amazing baking spree and rain showers - to have a yomp up Camp Hill Down.

This is a piece of SSSI chalk grassland only 20 minutes' walk away from me - the journey there, however, is a tad on the dangerous side.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW 2000) designated many patches of unimproved grassland and heathland as open access - meaning people could walk across it without sticking to any paths. Camp Hill is one such place - the trouble is, quite a lot of these don't actually link up with footpaths, so to get to them is a bit tricky. To get to Camp Hill, I have to walk a bit along the Avon Valley Path - fine so far. Then I come to a rather busy 60mph B road, with limited verge to walk along. I have to walk along this for about 10 minutes, BUT the reward is worth it - if you can find the bit of fence to climb over that isn't covered in barbed wire (I'm really selling this aren't I?!).

I quickly surprised a hare in the grass, as I walked up to the top of the downland, accompanied by a herd of sheep. At this time of year, the flowers are mostly over, but it is devils bit scabious season, so there were quite a few of these dark-purple flowers in among the grass and knapweed. There was also carline thistle - a strange flower in that it looks dried up when it is actually fresh and growing!

Turning around to look at the view, there is a stunning panorama over the river Avon and Woodford valley, with historic parkland estates and old houses and cottages - with views stretching all the way up to Salisbury Plain.

It's not a big site, so once you've admired the view and done a bit of botanising (lots of dwarf thistle!), it was time to once again take my life in my own hands and quickly walk back home. Such a shame there isn't a footpath!