One month in already!

How has July been and gone already?! This last month has been crazy with so much going on! The last few weeks (ignoring last week when I was in Italy) have seen me getting out on the reserves, trying to work out where everywhere is and getting my hands dirty. Everyday has been different; even when we’ve been doing the same tasks it’s been at different reserves and there has been a lot for me to take in. I’ve just had to resort to my Twitter and Instagram feeds to remember what I’ve done when as I’ve been that busy I haven’t been writing things down! Ooops!

My first weeks out on the reserves have been based mainly with Liz on East Mendip. The general theme has been ragwort, thistles and bracken though we have had plenty of other jobs. We pulled ragwort in small bursts, doing a few hours at different reserves, such as Yoxter and Edford Meadows, across the week. We also went to Hollow Marsh which was simply stunning. The Knapweed and Betony gave the meadow a beautiful pinky purple cast and there were butterflies galore. The Peacocks must have just emerged as they were perfect and Marbled Whites managed to avoid my many attempts to get a photo (there may be quite a few butterfly photos in this post – I just can’t help myself!).

What an view! When this is your office for the day you really can't complain about anything!
What an view! When this is your office for the day you really can’t complain about anything!
Small Skipper
Small Skipper

On the Tuesday of my first week with Liz we kept our fingers crossed that the rain would hold off as we were helping with some seed harvesting at Edford Meadows. The Trust has been collecting Wildlflower seed from various reserves to spread else where. The seeds are collected using a Brush Harvester; as the name suggests this machine has a big brush that rotates, knocking off the seeds which are caught in a container behind. This seed is then taken to a nearby farm where it is dried out before use. The brush can be set to different heights which changes what seed you can catch. Ideally you need dry conditions but it did start to rain whilst we were at Edford. Luckily it was only a light drizzle and the seed didn’t feel too wet. We had better weather when we did the seed harvesting last week at Chancellors Farm. That really was a test of my plant knowledge as before hand we were collecting some seed by hand. I’ve just about managed to get my head around what the plants look like when they were in flower and now I was having to do it whilst they were in seed. I was given nice distinctive ones to do such as Eyebright and Bluebell so it wasn’t too difficult.

Seed Harvesting at Edford Meadows
Seed Harvesting at Edford Meadows
Seed harvesting at Chancellors
Seed harvesting at Chancellors – it’s very obvious where the seed harvester has been
Male Gatekeeper. Didn't need the book for this one!
Male Gatekeeper at Edford where we did a bit of ragwort pulling. I must be getting better as I didn’t need the book for this one!

I’ve been helping Liz out with some brushcutter-ing as well. My brushcutter course is all booked for the beginning of September but as I’ve used one before and wasn’t working on my own we made use of having an extra body. At Cockles Fields we were tackling the Creeping Thistle that was attempting to take over. I had a quick lesson in Thistle ID as there was also Marsh and Spear Thistle present (I now know 6 species of thistle! I didn’t even realise there was that many!). It was rather a warm day for lugging a brushcutter up and down a steep hill but it broke my new steel capped boots in nicely! We also did some brushcutting of bracken at Edford that has started to encroach onto the hay meadows.

Rather a warm day for lugging a brushcutter up a hill!
Rather a warm day for lugging a brushcutter up a hill!

I’ve also spent some time on West Mendip with Neil and James. One of our tasks was to put in the new posts for the nature trails at Black Rock. The posts have all been made from timber that was felled on the reserve previously. We were lucky in that the ground wasn’t as rocky as we’d first thought although the last post was quite hard work! I have a bit of a soft spot for Black Rock as that is where my interview for this traineeship was.

New nature trail post at Black Rock
New nature trail post at Black Rock

Once the post were in James and I headed off to Middledown (I think that’s where we went but I didn’t write it down so may be wrong) to do some ragwort pulling. I loved the herd of Exmoor ponies that roam the reserve; I want to befriend one but I’m not sure quite how tame they are.

Cockles Field
Middledown looking rather yellow
Small Copper - one of the highlights of ragwort pulling is the inverst
Small Copper – one of the highlights of ragwort pulling is the inverts

I got introduced to the Mendip Hills Conservation volunteers last Wednesday. The group meet every other week to carry out practical conservation tasks on West Mendip. We were working at Rose Wood for the day. This is an area of land that has been left to the Trust by Chris Smith, one of the founding members who was extremely dedicated to their work. A management plan is currently being written for the reserve but we were there to put up a fence to mark a boundary and erect some signs. I really enjoyed having a chance to go out with the volunteers, as I’d missing the Staffordshire mid-weekers. They were all very friendly and welcoming and I’m looking forward to spending more time with them over the year. The fence was a little problematic as it went over a slope, making the stock wire difficult to pull tight, but after a lot of deliberating James managed to come up with a solution.

The results of our efforts
The results of our efforts
Common Blue
Common Blue

As well as going out with the Mendip Reserves team I have also spent a day with Christopher Hancock, better known as Kiff, the Senior Ecologist for the Trust, learning a lot about wildlflowers. We spent the day on Yoxter Range and were joined for some of the day by Somerset Botany Group. We spent the morning doing some monitoring work on one of the compartments, walking transects and noting down certain species every 40 or so strides. It was a really informative morning, Kiff is so knowledgeable and was more than willing to share what he knows with me. After lunch the botany group left us so Kiff and I had a wander around the rest of the Range, looking at the different species of plants that occur on different soil types. Whilst we were there we also had a hunt for the Tormentil Mining Bee, a rare species that was recorded on site for the first time earlier this year. We found plenty of potential nesting sites, though these holes could belong to other bees, and a brief glimpse of a bee that looked the right size. As we were looking at flowers there were lots of butterflies around; we counted at least 8 different species feeding on one patch of Hemp Agrimony.

Plant monitoring on Yoxter Range
Plant monitoring on Yoxter Range

Once we were finished at Yoxter we headed just down the road to Draycott Sleights so Kiff could point out a few more species to me. By this point my head was stuffed with with plant names but we saw plenty of Chalkhill Blues which was a first for me. The view from the top of the hill was also amazing. You could see right across the Levels and was well worth the climb to the top. It was a really useful day and I feel like I’ve learnt loads from it. Now I just need to keep practising so I don’t forget it all!

Male Chalkhill Blues
Male Chalkhill Blues
What a view - the camera on my phone really hasn't done it justice.
The top of Draycott Sleights. What a view – the camera on my phone really hasn’t done it justice.

I was rather excited last week to go along with Liz whilst she did some dormouse box checks. I was warned before hand we were unlikely to see any as there haven’t been any records at Harridge for a while, but I haven’t done any mammal work before so was looking forward to just learning about it. About 50 boxes are set up and Liz needed to check each one for any signs of Dormouse activity. The data is sent to the PTES dormouse monitoring scheme and Liz also records any other activity in the boxes, whether they’ve been used by birds or woodmice etc. We didn’t find any dormice, but there were plenty of inverts that had used the boxes and empty bird nests. We found a couple of Wood Mice nests and in one of them two rather charming Wood Mice! One of them was absolutely huge! I thought he was a rat to begin with. I think Wood Mice are lovely with their big ears and pale underbellies and they may not have been Dormice but I was still grinning like an idiot. Another upside of the work is that, as you are off the beaten path, you get to see more of the reserve and it’s wildlife than normal. I had a Roe Deer stag walk within 10 meters of me before he realised I was there and scampered off. Mammals are my main love really, but they can be so difficult to see and there just aren’t as many of them as other taxonomic groups. This Traineeship has given me some good mammal encounters so far though (Still not over our otter sighting) so it’s all good on that front.

Hello not-so-little Wood Mouse
Hello not-so-little Wood Mouse

So we’re one month in with just another 11 to go! I still feel just as excited, if not more so, about the Traineeship; I’ve learnt so much already and had some brilliant wildlife encounters and I feel like it’s just going to keep on getting better. I can’t wait!

Beth 🙂

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