Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Making a start

For some time I've been waiting to make a start on surveying Matt Moser's land. I arrived home a few days ago to find that he had dropped a map of his farmland through the letterbox and I can begin to make plans. It will be a big job - in truth a never-ending one - so I am keen to make a start.
Over the past couple of years I have walked small areas of his holdings and, by and large, ecological conditions are not ones which encourage wildlife. To be fair, Matt knows this and explains why he plans to introduce a more benign system of management.
The problem is, in one word, sheep. With slopes varying from the gentle to the very steep arable crops could be tricky so, from a farmer's point of view, sheep seem a reasonable option. The hills between Daventry and the Oxfordshire border and, of course, through the Cotswolds, support huge flocks, mainly raised for their meat.
These landscapes are much admired; the rolling contours of the hills are clear to see, a consequence of the constant nibbling of the sheep. There are woodlands and, where sheep are kept out, scrub develops and, given time, yet more woodlands would become established. Matt has fenced off some areas of woodland and a good range of trees is present but any seedlings which attempt to grow outside the fence are soon nibbled off by hungry mouths.
Farmers like Matt are in a tricky position: as I say, sheep farming is probably the best option on this land and yet, without generous C.A.P. subsidies the industry would surely collapse.
Anyway, today, 10 January, the weather and other factors have come together allowing me to make a start. As I crossed the very busy A45 I was struck by the rich growth of lichens on the roadside trees. It is true that only a few species were represented but it appears that pollution from the road is not too severe.
Tree trunks had up to about 80% lichen coverage. Near Daventry.
10 January, 2018
It was clear too from the oak marble galls it had created that the gall wasp, Andricus kollari, had enjoyed a good 2017 - at least in this area.
Oak Marble Galls, the work of Andricus kollari. Between Daventry and
Newnham. 10 January, 3018

How tempting it would have been to take a few samples of lichen for identification later. However I had another group of organisms in mind  - spiders.
The number of lichen species present was rather limited.
A few flies would probably be around despite the chilly conditions - the temperature hovered around the 6 degrees Celsius mark - but I felt a little more confident of securing some spiders. Beneath leaf litter and in the core of grass tussocks they are surprisingly active even in the depths of winter.
I concentrated on grass tussocks and in the event I took a dozen or so spiders but usually only sexually mature specimens are assignable to species. In the event there were six identifiable invertebrates: three spiders, one harvestman, one plant hopper and one woodlouse (plus one beetle yet to be identified). More were present but very cold, wet grass put a limit on the time I was prepared to give to their extraction.
When a group of starlings works its way across a patch of grass it is creatures of this type (with the exception of the unpleasant-tasting woodlouse) that are being sought and each bird must be responsible for consuming vast numbers each day. Even our garden lawns contain these mini-beasts in great numbers and as for mature meadowland, to make an adequate survey is a huge undertaking.
For those birds seeking seeds and berries lots of food was available as hawthorn berries are still plentiful. It is no surprise that redwings, fieldfares and, if we're lucky, waxwings come to Britain to share the bounty.

Plenty of hawthorn fruit was still available for birds. Between Daventry
 and Newnham. 10 January, 2018


No comments:

Post a Comment