Saturday 27 March 2010

Ranunculus tripartitus and Upupa epops

We had a walk around the farm this afternoon in the hope of seeing an Alpine Swift and finding the Hoopoe that was reported yesterday. On the way over to Ruan Pool we stopped to peer at a single specimen of Three-lobed Water-crowfoot (one of our specialities) growing in a muddy gateway, found nothing of note on the pool, then on the way back, up it went - a flappy, floppy pink, black and white Hoopoe! As usual it was pretty unapproachable, but we saw it several times over the next hour or so. It would disappear off over the hedgerows, then a few minutes later, come flying back again. This was the third I've seen here in the last three years. We didn't see an Alpine Swift of course but we left happy.

Thursday 18 March 2010

Second time lucky (historical perspective Part 3)

It's the late 1990s. The Society's metamorphosis from an old-style natural history club into a more dynamic conservation organisation is complete. There are some great people on the committee and good work is being done. Buying Maer Lake hasn't bankrupted us, funds have built up again and we are looking for a new reserve, preferably in the west of the county.

I'm not sure how it comes about, but there is a discussion with a certain charitable trust about a possible partnership to purchase Windmill Farm on the Lizard. Apparently the elderly owners are retiring from farming and want the land to be managed for nature conservation. A joint application for funding is submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund....but it fails.

We assume the farm is being sold elsewhere. Time passes. Suddenly it's back on the agenda. Now we're talking about a joint venture with the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, with whom we've been working well at Maer Lake. Negotiations grind on. There's a new lotteries bid. It's approved. The legal people do the business. We have a new reserve. And it's almost on my doorstep. Nice!

Monday 15 March 2010

On the right track

15th March 2010

The contractors arrived on site in beautiful spring sunshine this morning. They are here to continue the restoration of about 400 metres of old cart-track (photo left, following the edge of the willows) which hasn't been used for many, many years. When these ancient thoroughfares across the Lizard heathlands were in regular use, they provided ideal habitat for some extremely rare plants such as Pygmy Rush, which requires repeated ground disturbance to survive. In Britain, the plant has only been recorded from the Lizard but even here it has undergone a severe decline.

When we enlarged Ruan Pool in 2004, all the spoil was carried off by tractor and trailer along a short section of this track. Andy Byfield of Plantlife, the wild plant conservation charity, was very pleased about this as, in so doing, we had restored it to how it would have been in former days.

Things looked encouraging when a large colony of Slender Centaury, another Red Data Book species, appeared along the route the vehicles had taken, and then, last year, over 40 Pygmy Rush plants were discovered. Their seeds had obviously been lying dormant in the soil all that time.

So Andy, who is always bursting with enthusiasm for the work we do at Windmill, has very kindly arranged funding for the rest of the track to be cleared.

After helping the contractor sort out the route he needed to take, I had a bimble round, hoping to find an incoming migrant or two. There weren't any in yet, but I had three lingering Fieldfares, a Woodcock, ten Teal and a male Dartford Warbler just over the fence on the perimeter of the adjacent airfield. Nice to see, considering the very cold winter he's endured.

Sunday 14 March 2010

Night of the Bouncing Pencil (historical perspective Part 2)

We are into the 1990s and the Society's committee is steadily becoming more dynamic. I've even got my wife Helen on board to give us extra firepower (she'll kill me when she reads that). There's money in the bank and we want to spend it! Maer Lake, at Bude, comes on the market and a proposal is made to buy it, in partnership with the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. We can afford it, especially with an appeal for extra funding.

There follows one hell of a committee meeting. One member says it will bankrupt us. He hurls his pencil down on the table and it somersaults across the room. He can keep sharpening it until it's an inch long but it will never write again. Viv Stratton asks whether we are a birding society or a building society. Eventually the chairman puts it to the vote, adding that he will resign if it goes through. The proposal is carried by 14 votes to nil, with one abstention. Vive La Révolution!

Saturday 13 March 2010

Wow - a Pochard! (historical perspective Part 1)

Shortly after we move down to the Lizard in 1985, I'm persuaded to get involved with the Cornwall Bird-Watching and Preservation Society, which is apparently in need of new blood. As soon as I attend my first committee meeting as the new Secretary I can see why. They're nice people but the most proactive decision is probably the date of the next meeting! They do churn out a very good annual report every October (which is all down to one person) and they also own a reserve, the Walmsley Sanctuary, a wetland site on the floodplain of a tributary of the River Camel, near Wadebridge.

A trip is arranged for the committee to inspect the reserve one cold winter's day. In its heyday it had been a great site, with a regular flock of Greenland White-fronted Geese, lots of other wildfowl and waders and had turned up a few rarities. So I am amazed to discover that there is hardly any water and the place is birdless. The river-channel was recut some years ago as part of a flood alleviation scheme. No flooding means no water on the reserve.

I spot what has got to be a Sociable Plover amongst the flocks of hard weather movement Lapwings flying high overhead. I get Dave Flumm on to it. Half the flock appears to land on the other side of the distant road, whilst some of them carry on west. We leg it. Some time later, having failed to relocate it, we return to the group like naughty schoolboys and we feel their displeasure. They have found a Pochard on a tiny pond and seem pleased. What we need is a revolution!

I become the Society's Conservation Officer and we are gradually attracting more people who want to see change. Alma Hathway, Bruce Wotton and I propose a plan to create some pools on the reserve by constructing a series of bunds. We get approval for an engineer's report and it turns out to be feasible. Alma and Bruce establish a good working relationship with the farmer (who has a full agricultural tenancy!) and South West Water and they devote themselves to seeing the project through - despite, it has to be said, considerable animosity from one or two of the old guard. Bruce's lack of ownership of a tie could be an issue for some.

The transformation is astonishing. Birds are drawn to the reserve like a magnet. In 1998 the Environment Agency builds more embankments to create new pools outside the tower-hide. Today, with ongoing management by Adrian Langdon and his team, the Walmsley Sanctuary continues to attract birds in their thousands.

Next instalment: are we a birding society or a building society?