All posts by David Rowell

Help save this butterfly

There’s a chance for you to be involved in a project which will bring one of nature’s most beautiful butterflies back from virtual extinction in this country.

The Rockingham Forest ‘Back from the Brink’ project has seen the Chequered Skipper take to the wing in England for the first time in more than 40 years.

Now there are plans to hopefully re-introduce the butterfly back into Castor Hanglands this summer, where the last specimens were seen on the wing in 1973.

Langdyke is looking for volunteers to help with the preparation for this to happen.

There will be a working party on Tuesday, March 12 at Castor Hanglands – designed to help the ‘Back from the Brink’ project team prepare for the reintroduction.

The aim is to start to create suitable conditions for the Chequered Skipper to be re-introduced and thrive.

The work party will be at the Hanglands from 10am until 3.30pm that day.

Anyone wanting to volunteer is advised to make sure they are wearing the appropriate clothing for the weather, sturdy footwear and a pair of gardening gloves. A packed lunch is also advised.

Langdyke trustee Mike Horne is the person to contact if you need more information. You can email him at mikehorne@langdyke.org.uk

Langdyke’s annual meeting last year heard from Roots of Rockingham project officer Susannah O’Riordan about the work that had taken place at Rockingham.

It all started in Belgium, where – after being granted the necessary licence, a team managed to find and collect just a few dozen of the butterflies, and then carefully transported them back to this country.

In May of last year 42 adult Chequered Skipper butterflies were released into Rockingham Forest, and flew in England for the first time in – appropriately enough, 42 years. TV personality and Conservation expert Chris Packham was on hand to witness the reintroduction.

After that a dedicated band of volunteers were on site every day following the release to monitor the behaviour of the butterflies, looking at how far they moved from the release points and seeing if they could observe any egg-laying behaviour.

Only time will tell whether the project is a success and whether similar success can be gained at the Hanglands.

How to get there:

Meet at the Natural England compound in the Hanglands, off Helpston Road. Drive through the double black metal gates and down the track around 400 metres and you will see the wooden buildings in front of you

Chris Packham interview

Chris Packham

TV wildlife expert Chris Packham was at the Rockingham Forest launch. You can watch one of the interviews he gave here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ie-eHKPVpsA

 

About Rockingham Forest

Rockingham Forest is a collection of ancient woodlands that once formed William the Conqueror’s favourite hunting forest. It is situated in North East Northamptonshire between Stamford and Kettering.

Search is on for lost ‘manor house’

There’s a chance for you to be involved in helping with an exploration of a lost ‘manor house’ site in Ufford.

The next Langdyke History and Archaeology Group (HAG) event at the venue is over the weekend of February 23 and 24.

During the weekend the group activity will include a survey and test pitting examination of an area of woodland in the north end of Ufford parish, which appears to be the site of a manor house abandoned in the late 1600’s and now completely hidden above ground.

This will be the group’s first visit to what may well become a major project. All help is welcome, regardless of whether you have done anything like this before with help and guidance on offer from the regular team.

Weather permitting, the visit is taking place at this time of the year because later on nettles will be covering the site.

Please dress according to the weather forecast as this is an outdoor activity.

Refreshments will be available, though a packed lunch is advised.  Strong gloves are recommended.  All tools and equipment will be supplied.

All welcome for one or both days.  Please book your place with either Frieda Gosling on 01780 740343 or Mike Clatworthy on 01780 764062. Alternatively you can email Mike: mikeclatworthy@hotmail.co.uk

 

 

 

Wassail was great success

We all went a’wassailing … and what a day we had.

This great family event was held at Langdyke’s Etton High Meadow – attended by around 100 people.

Traditionally the event involves groups of wassailers drinking lots of alcohol and moving from orchard to orchard – singing, shouting, banging pots and pans and even firing shotguns in an effort to make as much noise as possible to awaken any sleeping tree.

Our event wasn’t anywhere near as riotous – but it proved a fantastic fun afternoon out for the family with dozens of children taking part in the wassailing as well as helping to build a bug house and make bird feeders out of apples.

There was also food, mulled wine and cider for the adults. Entertainment was provided via traditional music by Alan Wood and friends.

The site hosts a number of fruit trees and a recently planted community orchard with more than 70 fruit trees including local heritage varieties such as Lord Burghley and Peasgoods Nonsuch.

The idea of the wassail was to awaken them to bear bountiful crops of fruit next year.  Only time will tell if it worked!

Here are some of the images of the day, taken by Langdyke treasurer Brian Lawrence

 

Pressing apples to make juice

 

A recently planted apple tree in the community orchard gets some wassail encouragement
Enjoying the event
Braving the cold

 

New date for Bainton walk

The walk to explore Bainton Heath – called off because of high winds – has been re-arranged for Saturday, March 9.

Bainton Heath – described as ‘fragile’ because of its unique content – is not open to the public.

So this walk to the  site will give participants the chance to explore a unique site, which includes a small wood and a large pond.

Photos by Brian Lawrence

It is a former landfill site filled entirely with fly ash from northern coal-fired powerstations and the railways in the 1960s.

As a result many species of moss and lichen grow there which are not natural to Cambridgeshire – but are more northerly species.

The landfill area has grown over with dense scrub to the north gradually thinning out to open grassland in the south with some bare patches with lichens growing directly on the fly ash. 

It is surrounded on three sides by mature mixed woodland with a good variety of large trees and shrubs.

It is currently the home of National Grid and supports two electricity distribution systems and a sub-station. Ironically, the tall pylons have become a home for wildlife. 

As a result it is not open to the public and visits can only be made there for events like the one on February 9. 

Organisers Chris Topper and Stuart Irons will be on hand to point out the many items of interest during the walk which will leave the Torpel car park at 1.30pm – returning at around 4pm.

Anyone needing more information can email Stuart at nebria@ntlworld.com

 

More details about Bainton Heath here

Tree sparrows back at pit

It is always good to see new developments on our reserves – often as a result of the hard work put in by volunteers to encourage wildlife.

A welcome recent development has been the return of tree sparrows to Swaddywell Pit.

The tree sparrow is a close relative of our house sparrow, but a slightly tidier, prettier bird with a prominent chestnut cap and black cheek spot. At Swaddywell Pit there have been many sightings with up to nine on occasions using the bird feeders by the cabin.

Tree sparrow

When Langdyke established the reserve in 2005, flocks of more than 130 tree sparrows were recorded, but they had disappeared in recent years, so it is good to see them back. 

They seem to have a tendency to population booms and busts, but let’s hope they stay for a while.

High water levels could lead to a Spring bonus

Anyone visiting the Etton Maxey reserve will have been surprised by the high water levels over Christmas and the New Year period.

Most of the lower meadow areas have been knee-deep in water.

This was intentional – to a degree – but the amount of water on the site was exacerbated by the fact the on-site pump was out of action.

The pump normally controls water levels by siphoning water off the site into the nearby Maxey Cut. It will be back in action shortly.

In the meantime the water levels have become a haven for bird life.

Etton Maxey

Langdyke member Bob Titman said: “The wildfowl are certainly enjoying it.”

On one visit he spotted five pairs of Shovelers, 100+ Teal, around 50 Wigeon, 20 Mallard and two Mute swans

Other notable birds on the reserve the same  morning were 65 Fieldfare, 2 Song thrush, 1 Red kite  as well as a Common snipe and a Jack snipe.

Trust chairman Richard Astle said: “It looks very good.

“I am hoping that the impact of the raised water will create a lot more bare ground, mud and surface water in the spring, which should be good for waders in March/April!”

Why not plan a visit to the site – but don’t forget to take your wellies!

Time to come a’wassailing

Get out those old pots and pans – because we’re hosting a wassailing event.

Traditionally the event involves groups of wassailers drinking lots of alcohol and moving from orchard to orchard – singing, shouting, banging pots and pans and even firing shotguns in an effort to make as much noise as possible to awaken any sleeping tree.

We’re not expecting our event to be quite so riotous – but it will be fun and is aimed at providing an afternoon out for the whole family.

It is taking place at Etton High Meadow on Saturday, January 26.

The site hosts a number of fruit trees and a recently planted community orchard with more than 70 fruit trees including local heritage varieties such as Lord Burghley and Peasgoods Nonsuch.

We hope the wassail will awaken them to bear bountiful crops of fruit next year. So please bring some pots and pans to make a noise.

The fun starts at about 3pm and will go on until about 5.30pm.

As well as the traditional wassail (in a more civilised form) there will be musical entertainment with Alan Wood singing traditional songs and various events for children including making bird feeders out of apples.

It is expected to be cold so we will be using the barn (basic, but at least sheltered) and we will be having a bonfire to help you keep warm. We’re also hoping to turn this year’s crop of apples into some  very drinkable juice. There will also be refreshments

Traditionally the celebrations vary from region to region.  

In some cases a wassail King and Queen lead the assembled group of revellers, comprising the farmers, farm workers and general villagers, in a noisy procession from one orchard to the next. 

In each orchard the wassailers gather round the biggest and best tree, and as a gift to the tree spirits, the Queen places a piece of wassail soaked toast into its branches, accompanied by songs such as:

“Apple tree, apple tree we all come to wassail thee,
Bear this year and next year to bloom and blow,
Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sacks fills…”

The wassailers then move on to the next orchard; singing, shouting, banging pots and pans, and even firing shotguns, generally making as much noise as possible in order to both waken the sleeping tree spirits, and also to frighten off any evil demons that may be lurking in the branches.

The custom of apple tree wassailing is celebrated across the country, on either the new or old Twelfth Night.  An original house to house version before Christmas was designed to obtain gifts from the Lord of the Manor in exchange for a blessing.  This has evolved into what we now know as carolling.

How to get there

Etton High Meadow is on the Maxey Road just outside Etton.  

From the Helpston road go past the Golden Pheasant pub and through the village towards Maxey.  You will come to a small hump back bridge. Cross it and Etton High Meadow is about 150 yards on the right through a gate.  

There is parking on site but please drive carefully because children may be already there. It is advisable to wear warm clothing and a torch might be useful because it gets dark early.

Stroll into the New Year

Make a resolution to join our annual New Year’s Day walk – a gentle three-hour stroll through Langdyke countryside giving you the chance to shake off the old and get set for the new.

This year the walk will set off from the Hills and Holes car park, off Wittering Road, Barnack, at 1pm prompt.

The route has been planned by Langdyke member David Alvey who will also be one of the leaders and who knows the area well.

He says: “I’ve mapped out a route which I know well from multiple dog walks and will recce it a few days before to check for any specific issues, in particular muddy stretches.”

That said, it will be important to make sure that if you are taking part you wear the appropriate clothing and footwear.  

The route takes in several interesting nature sites across grazed grassland, typical arable fields (with two distinctly different forms of cultivation), some spinneys, hedgerows and even a spring fed pond and related stream/ditch. 

It provides a good overview of the Langdyke countryside.

Dependent upon the weather it is possible you could see  Red Kites, Buzzards, Yellowhammers, Skylarks and possibly Redwings and Fieldfares. 

Independent of weather it is likely you will spot corvids and, of course,  wood pigeons

The proposed route

Walk across Hills and Holes from the car park and out at the South-west corner along the public footpath that runs alongside Walcott Hall grounds.

Join the old Ermine Street route across the Western boundary of Walcott, past Southorpe Roughs SSSI and straight on to the southern end of Southorpe. Then back along the road through Southorpe  (a little narrow and with no footpath in places but is now a 20mph limit). 

We pass the Wildlife Trust reserve (SSSI), Southorpe Meadow and then continue out of the village towards Barnack picking up the public footpath along the old disused railway (through ‘Ufford Bridge Station’ which is potentially the only really muddy bit of the route). 

Turning left back into Barnack to enter near the cricket club and back across the road into the Hills and Holes. This takes about 1:30 hours walking the dog but that is at a brisk pace.

Short cut

There is a short cut across to the north end of Southorpe for those wanting a shorter walk (or weather is bad) and an extended route to take in a fourth SSSI (Southorpe Paddock) further to the south of Southorpe. This means a walk along a narrow unrestricted road and over a blind bridge so whilst New Years Day should be quiet on the roads I think it does present a more significant risk to participants.

  • Suitable walking footware is only really required if we have particularly heavy rain (or snow) or the local hunt or agricultural machinery has churned up sections of the path. The going underfoot is fairly dry and stable even in mid-winter.