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Friday 5th June

This dry spell continues to have an impact on our flowers … and hence our butterflies. Normally I would expect to find quite a few Common Spotted Orchids around the reserve. Today I only found one, and that one is rather underwhelming; although still rather lovely!

Common Spotted Orchid

Common Spotted Orchid

One of our other specialities, Dropwort, is looking much more promising with quite a few just starting to open up.

Dropwort

Dropwort

Today was a bit cool and breezy to expect to see many butterflies, but quite a few Meadow Browns were out and about. Earlier this week, when the conditions were rather more favourable, one of our visitors found (and photographed) a couple of Dark Green Fritillaries; one to look out for when the weather improves! The long, dry, warm spell seems to have had an impact on some of our other butterflies with both Marbled White and Small Skipper seen; both on dates far earlier than I have ever recorded them before … as is the Dark Green Fritillary.

Tuesday 26th May

Todays wander around the reserve produced quite a few Meadow Brown butterflies – into double figures anyway. Other species were rather thin on the ground (and the air for that matter).

Meadow Brown

Meadow Brown

Two new dragonflies for the year list today. A very smart Scarce Chaser posed nicely as did a Black-tailed Skimmer. The Scarce Chaser really is that stunning colour with a hint of smoky wingtips to clinch the identification.

Black-tailed Skimmer

Black-tailed Skimmer

Scarce Chaser

Scarce Chaser

 

It was just two summers ago that we had drought conditions. Again, the Common is looking in much need of some rain – although it had more than it needed this winter. Today I completed my first butterfly survey of the year and found very low numbers on the wing. However, this Large Skipper was my first of the year.

Large Skipper

Large Skipper

Another observation – a lot of Yellow Rattle either in flower or coming into flower. There seems to be rather more than usual and, in contrast, rather less in the way of grasses.

Another Hairy Dragonfly was found hunting over the grassland, a species that seems to be having a good year locally. Speckled Wood butterflies, like the one below, are usually found in the shadier areas of the common and I don’t tend to give them much of a look in. They are lovely little butterflies and particularly welcome on days like today when almost everything else is ‘hiding’.

Speckled Wood

Speckled Wood

Sunday 17th May

It has been good to make the odd visit to the reserve recently and see what a good condition it is in. Butterfly numbers have been a bit low but Brown Argus, in particular, seem to be doing rather well. Nice to see a few Hairy Dragonflies hunting over the grassland the other day as well. They seem to be having a good year.

I’m indebted to Andrew Jones for a few photos following his recent visit. He mentioned that the ‘Highlight of the day was undoubtedly a Little Thorn in the woods along the path between the hill and the quarry. This is the third year in a row that I have seen one on the Common and we are very fortunate to have such a nationally scarce moth frequenting the Common.’

Little Thorn

Little Thorn (Photo by Andrew Jones)

 

Saturday 11th April

I am indebted to Peter Evans for a few photos taken on the common this weekend. Peter’s photos have graced this blog a few times before – and they are very welcome! Especially good to see Green Hairstreak making an appearance as well as a great shot of Willow Warbler and Brimstone.

Green hairstreak

Green hairstreak

Willow warbler

Willow warbler

Brimstone on Bluebell

Brimstone on Bluebell

 

Tuesday 17th March

Tuesday 17th was our final work party for the time being. There was a good turnout of 9 of us … and we largely completed the work planned for this winter.

Our year is divided into three distinct segments.

At some stage in August, or thereabouts, we start to think about our annual hay cut. The start time depends on whether ‘most’ of our wildflowers have set seed. We will usually start on areas that aren’t as rich as the others, leaving the ‘prime’ areas until they have started to die back. Just as important as the cut is the raking off of the arisings. Depending on how luxurious the growth has been during the summer, this can take us well into November. This year was particularly challenging and much was left un-raked after a mechanical cut. The weather didn’t help!

Once our hay cut is complete we start on our ‘winter works’ programme. Recent years have seen us work on the management plan to reinstate grassland that has reverted to scrub and invasive tree saplings. We have also thinned out areas of woodland and made sure that our archaeological features are kept clear. Next year we will have a new scrub management plan to work to. We don’t anticipate running out of work for quite a few years yet!

The summer period, between the end of our winter works and the start of our hay cut is very different. There are a number of tasks to carry out such as maintaining our steps and keeping paths open. However, this is the period when we carry out our monitoring activities. There are botanical surveys to carry out; there are weekly butterfly transects to walk; reptile activity to monitor and, of course, rather more casual observations to make i.e. enjoying the beauty that is Walton Common in the summer. This summer we were due to start a new monitoring activity being promoted by Buglife to count pollinators e.g. bees, hoverflies etc. etc.

The summer is also the period when we have most of our visiting groups … of which there have been many over the years. Various sections of Bristol Naturalists (ornithology, invertebrates, botanists); Somerset Rare Plants group; Butterfly Conservation … and others! It is also a great time to join one of our guided walks.

With everything on hold at the moment, including my regular visits, it is left to our small herd of dexter cattle to carry on their good work. We hope to back up there with them in the not too distant future.

Stay safe.

 

Tuesday 4th February

For much of the winter we’ve been coppicing on the north side of the reserve. However, we have also been dealing with a few of our alien trees. In particular, we are trying to clear out Turkey Oaks and Holm Oaks. One small area near the quarry contained two mature Turkey Oaks which have now been cut down. This has enabled us open up a bay in the tree line which will let in a lot of sun. We have also built up some excellent log piles which should prove useful for all sorts of fungi and other invertebrates to flourish.

Turkey Oak

Turkey Oak (photo by Owain Thomas)

Our wonderful herd of dexters continue to help maintain the reserve. Below is a picture of them above the village of Walton-in-Gordano working hard to keep the grassland in prime condition. In fact, a hundred years ago, the area looked very different to that found today. However, a hundred years ago would have been around the time that the area had a healthy population of rabbits and grazing of the common by various animals was still taking place. Only now are we starting to reverse the decline in the condition of the grassland. It would be good if rabbits returned but, in my time as warden, I have still to see one here.

Dexters and the village

Dexters above the village (Photo by Owain Thomas)

The black and white photo below (from the ‘Britain from above’ website), shows how different the landscape was in 1930. There are hardly any trees to be seen other than on the very steep areas surrounding the plateau! Just to the left of the centre of the image there is a bright white area of the quarry. However, it isn’t our intention to restore the reserve to its 1930 condition!

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