An update from Sara Messenger of Bradley Stoke’s Three Brooks Nature Conservation Group.
As the days get colder and the nights draw in, the reserve is changing, replacing her verdant skirts with a more subdued autumnal attire, but the cooler days don’t mean there is any less fun to be had! Just substitute blackberry picking with kicking up leaves, and splashing about in puddles and bird watching with squirrel gazing, as they sprint chattering overhead with mouthfuls of nuts to hoard away for their winter larders.
The Thursday Green Gym, when not helping to landscape the skate park and clearing the school entrance paths of bramble have been working extra hard to keep out the chill, and although a little early for coppicing hazel, they have cleared an area by the entrance to Savages Wood and have used the wood to replace the tired old fence with a new woven hazel one. Sadly, much of our time this month has been taken with litter picking and graffiti cleaning, although, regrettably for Meadowbrook School, not before they came down for the day, as their teacher was spotted trying to shield the more obscene graffiti from view! Although we are still waiting for Street Care to repair the damaged gate fence, we did remove the sharp broken edges to make it a safer.
Ponds and newts
Another of our autumn tasks is to make good the ponds and create more hibernacula for the newts to hibernate in, so we headed over to Dewfalls Pond, which is again in need of attention. Although previous surveys showed that this pond once had a great many protected great crested newts, none were found during our surveys this year, and although we planted up this pond again this year, it may have been in vain as the pond is now dry. The Huckley Way pond that we maintain is also very low on water this year, as is Davies Pond (on Jubilee Green). In fact, the pond on The Common East is the only one to have had more newts in it this year than in 2015, which is a worrying trend. Six of the group have newt licences and each year undertake additional night time surveys to review our resident newt populations, so if you see a strange person with a clipboard and high-vis jacket shining a torch over a pond in the dead of night, it may well be one of us!
The weather was kind this year and 25 people joined us and the knowledgeable and engaging Chris Sperring MBE for our annual owl prowl. After a brief talk, we headed off down the path, where we turned our torches off and Chris made the first of his tawny owl calls. Receiving no response, we walked into the woods where we stopped under a cherry tree to search for evidence of mice, and we found plenty, the ground was littered with fruit stones split in half by mice who eat the kernel. Torches were off and another few calls went out into the darkness. The silence was broken when without warning Chris then performed his famous ‘caught mouse’ distress call, although he received no reply we then all had the rather uncomfortable feeling that we were being watched through the darkness.
Moving on to the lower newt pond (near the Ellicks Close tank bridge), there is an area which is shielded from the ceaseless glare of the streetlights and Chris decided to give us an impromptu but very interesting astronomy class! As we moved onto Bowsland Meadow, through the branches we caught our first glimpse of an owl as he silently followed us curious as to what we were up to. Mr Sperring was very impressed with our management of the meadow and the rest of the site and was surprised to discover that we’re all volunteers, which was very heartening for the group to hear.
Lights, camera, action!
Local sixth form student Freya Smith joined us for several workdays and despite some dismal weather and the drone camera getting bought down by the wind and rain has made several video for us to highlight the reserve volunteers and the tremendous work they do. In addition, for Bradley Stoke Town Council, she has made a film record of all main paths on the reserve. Despite her interviewing me after I really had been through a hedge backwards, we think they’re really very good. So if you’d like to see if you or your pooch made it to the final cut, they can be viewed on the Three Brooks Nature Conservation Group channel on YouTube.
Photos: 1 Hedgelaying in the nature reserve. 2 Freya Smith (right) making a video about the work of the conservation group.
This article originally appeared in the November 2016 edition of the Bradley Stoke Journal news magazine, delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH, to 9,500 homes in Bradley Stoke, Little Stoke and Stoke Lodge. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.