Staying In An Countryside Idyll.

Well, here we are in the far west of Wales in the Gwaun valley nestling below the Preseli Hills Mountains; the weather is wall to wall sunshine, not too hot at the moment but that might change…

On the drive down on Friday, 22nd taking the scenic route to the north of the Brecon Beacons, we saw many dying ash trees – ash dieback I wonder?  Upon arrival at our little cottage, greeted by swallows, house martins and swifts!  Indeed, upon driving around, there are quite a number of swifts over countryside and the local towns -so this is where all our swifts are?

Geologists list it as one of most important meltwater channels in Britain from the last Ice Age.  The valley is pure rural idyll, thick with beech and hazel, ash and oak.  Sightings of pied flycatcher, wood warbler, redstarts, marsh tit, nut hatch and tree creeper are recorded.  We watch from the cottage, buzzards, kite and (our) four young swallows on the overhead cable opposite.

Up on the mountains, bog aspodel, sundew, cotton grass, heathers, western gorse(?) and a small pink flower I shall have to look up upon my return oh and ponies!  Farming appears to be fairly benign , it mostly on the intermediate middle ground just above the valley.  The road verges are quite floristically rich – the foxgloves are spectacular at the moment!

Thoughts on Farming and Rivers

June 17.  A dear friend of mine went for a walk out from Alfriston today, in the heart of the South Downs and through the Cuckmere Valley.  He was commenting on the “crops gently swaying in the breeze. How lucky we are to have such diligent farmers growing our fine food.”  I don’t know about diligent, they and the agro-chemical industry have certainly messed-up the once wonderful balance that used to exist between farming and wildlife.

There is a middle way of doing things, note The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Allerton Project is based at Loddington in Leicestershire – (https://www.gwct.org.uk/allerton/about-the-allerton-project/ )  Or the RSPB’s Hope Farm, a 181-hectare (450-acre) arable farm in Cambridgeshire (https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/conservation-and-sustainability/farming/hopefarm/the_farm.aspx )  The government and public opinion just need to encourage and finance farming post Brexit along that route.

Yellowhammer RSPB

He wrote on: “The Cuckmere river is in a state, either side of white bridge it can’t be more than 6′ [feet] wide, strangled with weed & silt!”  Man interferes with rivers at his peril – note all the Environment Agency schemes across the country reinstating river’s natural features and their courses, back to how they naturally once were in various places across the country. So maybe as it’s not built over, its time to consider breaching the Cuckmere’s banks and let the river re-connect with its floodplain?

News from ‘British Wildlife,’ January 2017

Flooding.  Two reports have recently been published concerning streamlining and enhancing of the countries response to do with flooding and associated issues: these are by Prof. Dieter Helm, Chairman of the Natural Capital Committee and EFRA’s Future Flood Prevention.  they cover such issues as: natural capital systems, flood defence, remunerating landowners for ‘Payments for Ecosystem Services’ (PES), ending the current dysfunctional organisational structure in favour of a more holistic structure, building on floodplains and insurance of building liable to flooding, protection of soils.  See  http://bit.ly/2exR8kg  and  http://bit.ly/2fghJPD.

Pesticides and Bees.  Recent report written by the Uni of Sussex’s Dave Goulson and available on the Soil Association’s website at  http://bit.ly/2fSepfQ  draws a surprising conclusion.  A majority of the toxic cocktail of chemicals detected in honey and nectar from honey bee and bumblebee nests, seems to be coming via wild flowers such as poppies, hawthorn, buttercup and hogweed even when oilseed rape is in flower.

Weedkillers and Rare Plants.  A study recently completed in western France confirms previous work that herbicides on arable crops are eliminating rare arable flowers and having little bearing on the farm crop yield.  It suggests that current yields could be maintained with an approximate cut of 50% in the use of herbicides.  See  http://go.nature.com/2fSrhCy

Bats and Wind Turbines.  More work is required as to why wind turbines are killing more bats than was previously expected according to the Uni of Exeter.  Better mitigation is required and to discover wht bats are drawn to turbines.  See  http://bit.ly/2fSiwbB

New Threat to Earthworms.  An invasive flatworm which can measure up to 7cm has now been found in the UK and is also spreading on the continent.  It feeds on earthworms and land snails.  It is thought to have arrived on horticultural produce from Brazil.  the Obama worm was first discovered in 2008 on Guernsey.  See http://bit.ly/2fzw9fv

Otters Catching Too Many Fish?

images

Now that Otters have re-established themselves following decades of habitat pollution and destruction, sections of the fishing community are claiming that they are now ‘eating all the fish.’

Recent studies have shown however, that for instance during the summer, the percentage of fish in the otters diet is about 31% rising to about 68% during the winter.  During the summer months, 70% of fish eaten were of the non-fishing specie, the common Bullhead.

The Connection Between Nitrogen Fertilizer and Air Pollution

Good article explaining the connection between nitrogen fertilizer and manure, and air pollution.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/17/farming-is-single-biggest-cause-of-worst-air-pollution-in-europe?CMP=share_btn_tw

Farming is ‘single biggest cause’ of worst air pollution in Europe

Fiona Harvey, Tuesday 17 May 2016.

Farming is the biggest single cause of the worst air pollution in Europe, a new study has found, as nitrogen compounds from fertilisers and animal waste drift over industrial regions.

When the nitrogen compounds are mixed with air already polluted from industry, they combine to form solid particles that can stick in the fine lung tissue of children and adults, causing breathing difficulties, impaired lungs and heart function, and eventually even premature death.

The compounds come from nitrogen-rich fertilisers, which have been in common use for decades. Nitrogen, the major content of the air we breathe, is essential for plant growth, and enhancing that growth has led to a massive industry in putting nitrogen – already naturally present in soils – back into the ground in greater quantities.

Ammonia, whose chemical composition is nitrogen and hydrogen (NH3), is a by-product both of fertilised fields and of animal waste, as it can come from the breakdown of livestock excretions.

Links between fine particulate pollution and ammonia from agricultural sources have been slow to be firmly established, but an increasing body of research suggests that this is now a leading source of air pollution.

Europe, much of the US, Russia and China have been found to suffer from the problem, in the latest research from the Earth Institute at Columbia University, in the US, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

When ammonia in the atmosphere reaches areas of industry, the pollutants from combustion, which include nitrogen oxides produced by diesel vehicles, and sulphur compounds from power plants and some other industrial processes, the chemicals combine to create very small particles, about 2.5 micrometres across.

Although invisible to human eyes, their tiny size means these particles penetrate deep into people’s lungs when they are breathed in. Not only can they cause breathing problems, particularly in the young, the elderly and people more vulnerable, but they can even cause heart disease.

More than 40,000 people a year have been found to die prematurely in the UK alone because of air pollution, prompting MPs to declare the problem a “public health emergency”.

But while MPs have called for remedies such as scrapping diesel cars in favour of petrol models, and excluding the most polluting vehicles from large parts of cities, the problem of how to control pollution from agriculture has been left largely alone.

That is partly because such diffuse pollution – which by its nature travels easily across long distances and international borders – is so hard to deal with.

Counselling farmers to use less fertiliser is one way, but it will not solve the problem. Susanne Bauer, an atmospheric scientist at Columbia, said: “This is not against fertiliser. There are many places, including Africa, that need more of it. We expect population to go up, and to produce more food, we will need more fertiliser.”

She said that controlling other sources of industrial pollution, which are the agents that turn agricultural pollution into its harmful forms, should be the priority. Cutting down on coal-fired power stations and their sulphur emissions, using more efficient vehicles and potentially electric cars, and regulating polluting industries more tightly would all have an effect, she suggested.

However, other tiny particulates can also combine with ammonia, including dust such as the Saharan desert sands that contributed to a major pollution event in the UK two years ago.

Excess fertiliser use is also one of the biggest causes of pollution in the oceans, as run-off creates “dead zones” in the seas where oxygen is virtually eliminated and fish and other marine life can no longer exist. The fertiliser that runs off or reaches the air is no longer helping the crops it was intended to grow, so if farmers were forced or encouraged to use less fertiliser, but use it more efficiently, the amounts that find their way into the seas and air might be reduced.

 

British Wildlife News, April 2016

I came across these stories (which I’ve abridged), reported by Sue Everett in the April edition of ‘British Wildlife.’

Carbon, Peat and Fresh Waters. Upland waters are getting browner, thanks to dissolved organic carbon (DOC) leaching from soil.  According to long-term monitoring undertaken by CEH, levels of DOC in upland reservoirs, lakes and streams have roughly doubled over the past quarter-century.  While degraded pear bogs are a significant source of this rising DOC, it is also suspected that declining levels of sulphur deposition from acid rain have more recently contributed to the increase.

Volunteer for Water. Clean water for wildlife is a nationwide citizen survey to find out about the extent of nutrient pollution.  Details are available at http://bit.ly/24MIK3H.

Natural Action on Flooding. A study (http://bit.ly/1prlF5F) caied out for the EA, has shown that strategic planting of trees on floodplains could reduce the height of flooding downstream by up to 20%.  [But how about] more attention paid to reversing some land drainage and thus restoring rush pastures, flushes and floodplain meadows as a means to slow down water coming off landscapes.

Chemicals and Cetaceans. Researchers from the ZSL have completed a major study of more than 1,000 stranded whales, dolphins and porpoises.  Many of the carcases contained high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) though these were banned during the 1980’s.  most of the 300,000 tonnes of PCB’s produced in Europe are thought to be on land and not properly disposed of.

Managing Mammals. Concerning the future population size of beavers, wild boar and badgers as they have no natural predators.  With regard to badgers, Peter Cooper explores this theme in his blog of 7th March (http://petecooperwildlife.com) – ‘Are Badgers Over-Protected?’  I agree that it would be a good time to have a grown-up conversation on the species’ population and management.

Carbon Fields. A nationwide survey has revealed the huge store of carbon associated with UK grasslands. The study also shows however, that decades of intensive farming across the UK, involving high rates of fertilizer use and livestock grazing, have caused valuable soil carbon stocks to decline.  The team found that the largest soil carbon stocks were under grasslands that have been farmed at intermediate levels of intensiveness, receiving less fertilizer and with fewer grazing animals.  Synopsis at http://bit.ly/1RDOFjn.

Week Ending, Saturday, May 8th

Monday.  Well, it was Bank Holiday and the weather gods took full advantage of this fact!

Tuesday.  And spring returned with a gorgeous day.  As I drove back over Ashdown Forest mid-morning, a solitary swallow flew high over the road with that characteristic care-free flight action that is so pleasing.  My heart went up to this small, solitary traveller from South Africa.

wild garlic (uck)

Wild garlic in bloom above the River Uck today.

 

We moved the ponies at Berwick on to fresh grazing taking in the old, grassed-over chalk pits on the side of the downland escarpment.  This area used to be good for orchids but is currently grossly neglected with bramble and thorn bushes gaining a footfold.  Late afternoon and I watched a whitethroat in a thorn bush at close quarters, singing its heart out to its mate in a nearby young wayfaring tree.

Wednesday.  Did my ‘annual’ walk for 90 (yes, 90!) ten year olds from a Hailsham school at the Seven Sisters Country Park.  the weather was kind for the third year running and they were a great bunch of kids shepherded by nice teachers and helpers.

Sadly, there was a absence of chalk grassland flowers and of the early butterflies one would have expected, if one were taking this walk years ago.  The slope where the early spider orchids ought to be in flower has been tightly grazed until recently and on a cursory inspection, there were no flower spikes.  Perceived wisdom is that grazing should cease before the end of winter for this specie.  A pioneer patch of the invasive tor grass is being full rein to spread.  So sad.  There appears to be few concessions to encourage the flora and fauna on this important area nowadays…

orchid.early spider

Early spider orchid photographed on this site years ago.

Spotted during the early afternoon, two swifts wheeling about, high above Crowborough.  Reports of others seen elsewhere today for first time.

Parrotfeather – An Invasive Water Plant

Yesterday, I stopped off to view West Dean Brooks, situated in the Cuckmere Valley near Seaford, part of the Seaford to Beachy Head SSSI… I was alarmed by the amount of Parrotfeather growing in the roadside ditch.  I recall that some 20 years ago, when part of my remit was a management input into this area, I would occasionally stop-off and carefully hand rake out, the small quantity then growing.  Routine mechanical weed clearance by the EA over the years has very likely spread this weed along the main feeder ditch.

weed_parfeather2_gm parrot image

No ecological benefits are associated with Parrotfeather ( Myriophyllum aquaticum), it being an introduced specie native to the Amazon in South America. It prefers a warm mild climate although it can survive temperate winters.  Parrotfeather grows best in still waters such as lakes, ponds, quiet streams and drainage ditches and is also able to survive in rivers. Vegetative reproduction is the only likely dispersal agent because female plants are not found in the UK.  Fragments can be carried by water birds and floodwaters from one location to another.

Parrotfeather readily takes over lakes, ponds and streams outcompeting native plants. It is an especially problematic plant because it is so difficult to control.  Once it enters into a water body, it takes a considerable and costly effort to eliminate it.

Parrotfeather provides an ideal habitat for mosquito larvae and the mass of the plant can increase the likelihood of flooding occurring. It may also block passage for fish species when they navigate up watercourses to spawn.  In addition, it can cause pH and other water quality issues in still water areas.  The tough stems make it difficult to boat, swim or fish.

While Parrotfeather may provide cover for some aquatic organisms, it can seriously change the physical and chemical characteristics of lakes and streams. Infestations can alter aquatic ecosystems by shading out the algae in the water column that serve as the basis of the aquatic food web.

Treatment Options.

Various herbicides are produced which can be applied to aquatic habitats but they are indiscriminate with regard to native plant species, are of course poisons and chemical treatment is expensive and would probably require several applications.

Physical Removal Options.

Mechanical cutting, nets and rakes can be used to control Parrotfeather BUT without great care, fragmentation is very likely to cause further dispersal as even tiny fragments can re-grow.  Therefore, mechanical control is not recommended unless the waterbody in question is significantly infested.  Cleaning and inspection of machinery and tools before being transported on to another aquatic site is recommended.

Plant Description.

Parrotfeather is an herbaceous aquatic plant that grows to a length of 6.5 to 16 feet. Its stems are greenish blue with numerous small leaves that resemble feathers. The leaves are either submersed or emergent and grow in whorls of 4 to 6 around the stem. This species is easily confused with the native water milfoils but those don’t have above water leaves.

Look for:

  • Bright green fir-tree-like; emergent leaves and stems
  • Leaflets arranged in whorls (4-6) around the stem
  • Leaflets with feather-like leaf arrangement
  • Dense mat of intertwined brownish stems (rhizomes) in the water
  • Reddish, feathery-leaved, limp, underwater leaves may be present

News From February Ed. of ‘British Wildlife’

Catching-up on my reading and came across these stories (which I’ve abridged), reported by Sue Everett in the February edition of ‘British Wildlife.’

From Environment Agency report on ecosystem services: Exmoor, where moorland rewetting by the blocking drainage ditches has reduced storm flows to 32% of the pre-restoration level, equating to approx. 8,000 cu metres per hectare per year across the 460ha of the project area.                                                                                Boldventure, Devon:  Some qualification of effects created by beavers.  Beavers have constructed 13 dams holding up to 650,000 litres of additional water.  This equates to 21.6 litres of surface-water storage per square metre of land.  They also had a positive impact on water quality. See @AliDriverEA

H of C’s Climate Change Committee reported in 2012 that between 2001 and 2011, 200,000 homes were built on floodplains. Since 2011, the rate of building on floodplains has been at nearly twice that outside of floodplains.  Currently, there are 9,000 homes planned to be built on areas that are partially or fully at risk from flooding.

Report from The Pasture-Fed Livestock Association showing that it is possible to finish livestock on grassland and semi-natural vegetation with no recourse to being fed cereal or manufactured feed and still produce a profit. See @PastureForLife

 

Last Week of March

Last Week of March.

I haven’t seen the large flocks of fieldfares and redwings which have often frequented areas of woodland in the Ashdown area that I drive past regularly; presumably they have departed on their journey to their summer breeding areas. Have become aware recently of bullfinches in a couple of areas; have their numbers increased or have I just been fortunate?  A sighting of 13 firecrests was reported as being seen within just a ¼mile, near Cuckmere Haven on Sunday.

Good Friday. Helped by a number of volunteers, we gathered in the ponies from off their winter grazing area on Ditchling Common Country Park.  The whole operation went well with the task being completed by early afternoon.  Whilst ferrying the ponies over to Chailey Common, I noticed two brimstone butterflies on the wing.

The Force 10 storm (‘Katie’) which struck late Saturday evening/early Sunday caused widespread but limited damage. Gusts were reported of 106mph at The Needles and 81mph at Shoreham.  Driving between pony herds on Sunday afternoon I noticed a number of trees down with one having brought down power cables at North Chailey.  A lot of small woody debris and leaves laying along the roadsides generally.  The level of the Ouse at Sheffield Park bridge was quite high after the heavy rainfall during the night.  None of the three lots of electric fencing currently in use with our ponies were badly damaged but did require a little attention on the exposed sections up on the Downs.

A continual procession of storm clouds observed offshore in the afternoon moving up the Channel with some impressive mountainous peaks below which, squally shadows of rain could be seen falling.