Bears seen in Northwood

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Alice showing off her hula hoop skills

The sun shone during our annual Teddy Bears Picnic last week, a huge contrast to last year’s event (heavy down pours and soggy sandwiches). We had an activity packed afternoon in Northwood including hunting for hidden treasure, face painting, as well as lots of teddy related fun such as teddy zip wire and numerous lawn games.  Unfortunately, due to the very dry weather we only found one snail for our snail racing so we decided it was a bit unfair to race him on his own so we set him free!

A big thank you to the National Trust Volunteers for helping out with this event, they did look like they were having just as much fun as the kids. Also, thanks to volunteers Anne and Dave for test piloting the teddy zip wire from their bathroom window……

Wildlife surveying week in Northwood

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We recently had our annual Slindon Survey Working Holiday Group in to survey an array of wildlife within Northwood. This is the second year of running this Working Holiday and already we’ve gained some valuable records for the ‘Rise of Northwood’ project.

Volunteers used standardised methods to collect data which we will be able to compare with last year’s results and hopefully future results too. During the week, we used quadrats to assess the local distribution of plants, sweep nets to capture insects and box traps (using light) to entice moths.  We also walked bird transects and set up small mammal traps. All the data collected will go into our own database but will also be passed on to The Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre.  These guys collect, manage and circulate wildlife data, providing an information service for the whole of Sussex.

http://sxbrc.org.uk/

The highlight of the survey week for me was the sighting of two peregrine falcons during the bird survey. Not to mention the juvenile cuckoo floating around us as we were identifying flora within our quadrats.  The weather was very kind, almost too kind at times when we needed to seek shade from the midday sun.  It’s funny to think that this time last year we were having to finish the survey days early because of heavy down pours.  All these records will in time help us to manage this project in the best possible way for conservation.

A special thanks to the volunteers who took part in the survey week. I can’t thank you enough for all the records you collected, all the spear thistles you had to clamber through and for your patience with an excitable pup, Twiggy! A big thank you also to Dom from The Species Recovery Trust, Tony from Butterfly Conservation, Derek and Mike from Sussex Moth Group and Kerry, Chris and Graham from Chichester RSPB for joining us during the week and helping us to identify our collections.  Without you we would have been very stuck in places!

See the photos below for a comparison between our 2015 survey week and our 2016 survey week…..snow next year maybe?

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2015

Seeking shade from the miday sun

2016

When it rains, it pours

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Spot the team amougst the ragwort

During July we had a few heavy downpours over Northwood – good for the growing trees but bad for the volunteers who happened to be out in it.

On a particular wet Sunday morning the South Downs National Trust Volunteers (SDNTV) arrived at Northwood to help with the ongoing task of clearing space around the young saplings, removing any weeds in the way.

Some volunteers travelled over an hour to get here so we weren’t going to give up that easily. After a quick pep talk in the car park, they set off to the Northwood fields in search of trees in need of help. Working our way through the fields we could see that hazel was easily the most successful of all the 23 species originally planted here. This isn’t surprising though as it is a drought tolerance tree and most of the trees were planted here two winters ago, shortly before we had a very dry spring.

Eventually and conveniently at lunchtime, the rain eased off and even the sun came out for a few moments. We weren’t that lucky though as we still had the odd shower throughout the afternoon but at least our sandwiches didn’t get soggy. Our hard work paid off as we spotted a harvest mouse nest at the base of some ragwort – a first record for this field. After we’d all had a look, we marked the area off and left it alone so not to disturb the occupier and home.

Breeding nests (like the one we found) are the most obvious sign indicating the presence of a harvest mouse. It’s also the only British mammal to build a nest of woven grass above ground level. It’s fantastic to see it find a home in Northwood just two years into the project.

At the end of the day a soggy group of volunteers walked back to their cars still laughing and joking, the weather never dampening their spirits – get it….

I can’t thank the SDNTV’s enough for all the hard work they put into the day and for not quitting early. They did a fantastic job and covered a lot of ground. Thanks also to Harvey (a regular Slindon Estate volunteer) for joining us for the day. A good day had by all, but maybe a bit more sunshine for when they come back next time please.

South Downs National Trust Volunteers and Harvey at the end of a very wet day - thanks for sticking with it

 

Wet Wet Wet

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Well the last few weeks have been a bit of a washout haven’t they? Not only have the slugs been having the time of their lives, it looks like the Northwood weeds have been enjoying themselves too.

Northwood volunteers taking on the ragwort

Of course, it’s nice to keep a few weeds, particularly for pollinating insects (it’s only a weed if you don’t want it), but the new young trees of Northwood are now desperately competing for sunlight and space because of them. How can we save them I hear you cry…..with ragforks and mulch mats.

Ragforks are specially designed for removing ragwort by the roots, greatly reducing the chance of re-growth.  This yellow flowering plant can grow quite large in the summer and could easily out-compete the slower growing trees or at least slow their rate of growth and development. Therefore we will  be targeting the ragwort growing directly next to the young trees. The degradable mulch mats will surround the base of the trees, coving the ground and prevent weed growth.  As well as suppressing the weeds, these mats will still allow water to soak through to the roots.

Over the coming summer months, we’ll be working our way through the Northwood fields in search of trees that are crying out for space. I have to thank the Northwood Volunteers and Slindon National Trust Volunteers who have already been out to help tackle these unwanted guests.  We’ve even had the Body Shop Head Office (based in Littlehampton) join in with the fun and games.  It was a particularly hot and sunny session with Bodyshop, but they trundled on through the thistles, docks and ragwort full of enthusiasm.  Chocolate biscuits may have helped them go on that little bit longer though.  Big thank you guys and hope to see you again soon.

It’s a big job to do this summer but with all the support we’ve had so far, I’m confident we’ll reach  our target area to clear and give these new trees a better chance of survival.  Our next task day is Wednesday 13th July if you’d like help us reach this goal.  I’ll keep you posted on how we get on.

Share your woodland story

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Click here to check out The Woodland Trust’s fantastic Tree Charter website.  I recommend you take a look because…. 1) it’s a website about trees, 2) it has an article about the ‘Rise of Northwood’ project and 3) you can even do a quiz to find out what tree you are….I’m an Oak!

One of many oaks planted for the project

The Woodland Trust are launching a Charter for Trees, Woods and People, a lasting legacy for the whole of the UK.  Find out more about it on the website and if you have a fond memory of your local woodland or of a particular tree, share your story with them like we have.

Seals and Weasels

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RSPB Pagham Seals and their visit to NorthwoodThis weekend I had the pleasure of taking the RSPB Pagham Seals kids group out for a walk around Northwood. Along the way they found out more about the project and its history but also learned to identify a variety of trees from their leaves and in some cases, just the shape of their twigs.  The species we looked at were: oak, hazel, sycamore, common ash, holly, beech, field maple, blackthorn, hawthorn and elder.  The Seals were very quick to learn especially as they already had a good knowledge of the environment (I was very impressed).  By the end of the walk they could even identify the very young saplings we’d recently planted.

We also spotted violets, cowslips and King Alfred’s cakes, but the star of the show was a weasel! We lifted up a reptile tin expecting to see a slow worm when a weasel was looking straight up at us.  I don’t know who was the most surprised!

Grey clouds ahead!

Throughout the walk we had glorious sunshine although we did have a nasty looking cloud following us around the whole time. It wasn’t until we were about a hundred meters from the car park though that the skies opened and boy did they open!  Part rain, part sleets, we all said our goodbyes in record speed and ran back to our cars.  Perfect timing!

Thanks to George and Pip from RSPB for the great photos.

Some tender loving care

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The saplings have all been planted but the work doesn’t end there. There is still plenty of aftercare to keep these trees in good health including regular weeding and monitoring.  This will keep myself and our wonderful volunteers busy for a while!

Mulching trees in Northwood

After surveying the planted trees from last year, we noticed certain areas of saplings looking a little sorry for themselves. Their leaves were not looking as healthy as some of the others and there were some areas where survival rates were unexpectedly low.  Hazel seemed to be the toughest tree with the best survival rate, whereas nearly all the yews looked brown and a bit pathetic.  There could be a number of reasons for this including competition from other plants (weeds), lack of water or even rabbit activity – particularity for those trees closer to the fence perimeter.

With help from our volunteers we’ve been working our way around the less successful areas and have been placing mulch mats around the base of the saplings. If you’ve not heard of them before, mulch mats prevent weeds and grass from growing up around the tree, reducing competition for water and nutrients. They also help preserve water by greatly reducing water evaporation.  To limit damage from rabbits, some of the trees have had spiral tree guards wrapped around them.

We’re also still working on the construction of our larger tree guards. The Thursday Slindon Estate National Trust volunteers came out last week and made two in just one day.  The afternoon guard only took them two and a half hours to complete…the record for the best time so far!  Only one guard left to construct now.