Join Greener Henley and help environment

Round & About

nature

Join Greener Henley and friends for Great Big Green Week and find out how together we can tackle climate change and bring nature and wildlife back to its full glory

The UK’s biggest celebration of community action to protect the planet is back, showing that people everywhere are wanting to help create a better tomorrow.

Greener Henley have organised a week of events for local residents to enjoy, bringing people together to celebrate, and get involved in, what’s happening in and around Henley for climate and nature.

From 8th to 16th June, we’ll have walks, talks, film, art sessions, gallery exhibitions, poetry, and a sustainability workshop for local businesses. Our Nature Discovery Day, down by the River at Mill Meadows, kicks off the week and includes something for everyone, with nature-focused activities for all ages. We’ll have conservation groups and local experts on hand to explore and discuss everything from butterflies and birds to fungi and river water quality, plus a wildlife photography session. Collect your free native wildflower seeds and take part in our Nature Squared campaign, helping Henley get closer to our total of 500m2 of plants for pollinators.

Why not bring a picnic, join the wildflower walk, butterfly sweep, or bug hunt and make a day of it. Pop into the River and Rowing Museum’s Kirkham Gallery to see work from our local students for our Schools Environment Science Challenge on the theme of ‘Pollution’, alongside artworks from the wonderful waterside arts & ecology project that is The Beautiful Blue. In the afternoon you can, let your creativity and love of nature entwine at The Gardening Drawing Club, a family friendly art and gardening session at Henley Library.

Our guest speaker, Professor Chris Merchant talks ‘climate’ on the evening of 10th June at the Town Hall Council Chamber, at ‘In Our Hands: Our Climate Future’. Find out about the key science that makes climate change a formidable challenge, and how ingenuity and determination can meet the Net-Zero target.

Kate Oldridge, Greener Henley’s Chair said: “GBGW is a wonderful opportunity for our community to come together to stand up for nature and fight climate change. There are a whole host of activities in Henley for everyone across the community to get involved in. We can all do something to help, whether that means taking part in our Nature Squared campaign by planting seeds for pollinators, continuing the conversation about something you discover at GBGW, or asking our local decision makers to support action on climate and nature. Let’s make this the biggest and boldest GBGW so far – come out, get involved, take action.”

Events currently planned to take place during Henley’s Great Big Green Week include:

Saturday 8th: Nature Discovery Day, 10am-2pm, Mill Meadows – participants include Henley Toad Patrol, Upper Thames Butterfly Conservation Group, BBOWT, Henley Car Club, chalk stream volunteers and many more.

Saturday 8th: Plant vs beef taste test: Which burger’s best? 12-2pm, outside Pavilion Foods.

Sunday 9th: Green screen: Elephant Mother, plus panel discussion, 2-5pm, Regal Picturehouse. Ticketed.

Monday 10th: ‘In Our Hands: Our Climate Future’ talk on climate change with Q&A, 7-9pm, Town Hall Council Chamber.

Tuesday 11th: Poetry Readings from ‘Tread Gently on the Earth’ poetry competition, 6-7:30pm, Henley Library.

Wednesday 12: Wilding, a special preview screening, plus expert panel, 8-10.15pm, Regal Picturehouse. Ticketed.

Thursday 13th: Greening Your Business seminar & networking event with speakers, 5.30pm-7.30pm, Thames Room, River & Rowing Museum.

Week-long events:

Fun scavenger hunt: Find the letters hidden in crafted flowers in 10 shop windows around town and work out the mystery word.

Henley’s Big Green Road: Choose from eight books that make for interesting reads and start the conversation!

Exhibitions in the Kirkham Gallery, River & Rowing Museum: running alongside each other from 23rd May to 17th June: Pollution: an exhibition of work by local students in response to Greener Henley’s Environmental Science Challenge and The Beautiful Blue: exploring water and our human relationship with it.

More information on individual events and how to book at GBGW 2024 – Greener Henley

Springing into life

Round & About

nature

Artist & tutor Helen Grimbleby takes much of her inspiration from nature for her artwork from her studio in West Berkshire

Like buses, you wait for ages and then Easter and May bring bank holidays a plenty!

Whilst many bank holidays are centuries old workers’ holidays, May Day Bank Holiday was a late comer in the 1970s. Even so, May celebrations have a long history and are entwined with changes we can witness in nature.

Our distant ancestors lived necessarily in close rhythm with the seasons. The month of May for the Romans brought a festival for Flora, the goddess of flowers, fertility and spring. For the Celts this was the time for summer pastures to open. For Pagans, celebrations were about fertility and new life.

Birds carry this heritage too and sing of new life. The musical dawn chorus peaks around now.

In spring, birds’ hormones change to enlarge the parts of their brains responsible for song. Bird song functions as a declaration of territory and to attract a mate. When the air is cooler in the morning, birdsong carries much further allowing males to broadcast to more females.

Only around 50% of our birds are resident here all year with spring and autumn migration bringing variety which changes according to the time of year. When some birds leave our shores, others return.

Spring migrators have been in decline but if we’re lucky we may still hear the sound of a tuneful cuckoo or the false cuckoo, the unassuming looking blackcap who visited my bird feeder recently.

Swallows and swifts fly elegantly, weaving intricate patterns in the air as they search for insects on the wing. Despite a long migration from Africa, their streamlined bodies are perfectly shaped to execute their aerial manoeuvres which continue until they leave us again in the autumn.

At the this of avian courtship and union, nature braids fine veils for spring brides and white blankets for newborns, dressing her hedgerows in Queen Anne’s Lace, hawthorn blossom and oxeye daisies.

Helen Grimbleby is a West Berks/North Hants based artist who is inspired by the natural world’s changing seasons. After exploring outside, she enjoys writing, illustrating and painting larger landscapes at her home studio (@helengrimblebyart).

Wildlife garden & nature photography competition

Round & About

nature

We’ve teamed up with Adam Henson to invite you to send us pictures of the wildlife in your garden – or local park – and win seeds to help improve biodiversity

One of the UK’s best-known farmers and TV presenter Adam Henson has launched a range of British Wildflower Seeds, the first product line to launch from his new online store, Wildscape.

Developed in collaboration with leading experts in ecology and sustainable agriculture, Wildscape promise to create beautiful spaces, bringing joy to all those who experience them and creating essential habitats to foster biodiversity.

“I believe everyone should consider growing wildflowers,” says Adam, “not only are they beautiful native British blooms, but they also support local biodiversity. No matter if it’s a small pot in an urban setting or large garden, wildflowers create a mini ecosystem right outside your window, attracting a variety of birds, insects, and other delightful creatures.”

Someone who is doing their bit for nature and enjoying it is Chris Waymouth who has shared some pictures of some creatures in his Buckinghamshire garden.

“I was brought up in a small village in Northamptonshire and my father was a lover of wildlife and the outdoors,” Chris tells us. “I used to roam the fields beside the River Nene, absorbing all that the countryside had to offer.

“I used to roam the fields beside the River Nene, absorbing all that the countryside had to offer.”

“As a youngster I wasn’t allowed to touch my father’s prized Rolleiflex camera. I had to make do with a Kodak Brownie, until I was given a simple Agfa for my 21st birthday and this really kickstarted my lifelong interest in photography.

“When I met my wife she had some pro-quality Canon kit and this took me to another level. Digital cameras arrived on the scene and this was another step forward. Finally, three or four years ago, I became pretty serious about my hobby and invested in a mirrorless camera with extremely high resolution and I’ve expanded my range of lenses to seven. These include macro for close-ups of insects and flowers etc, and very long telephoto lenses for bird and wildlife shots.

“My garden in Jordans backs on to beech woods. It is not a showpiece; I prefer a more natural look including a wild area at the back. It is through here that my four-legged visitors arrive: muntjac, roe deer, fox, badger, hedgehog, not to mention the two or three rabbits who are usually trimming my lawn when I pull back the curtains in the morning. Plus, of course, the squirrels. I enjoy stretching my longest lenses to maximum reach to get full-face shots of all of these.

“Then there are the birds. Lots of them! I have half a dozen feeders in the front garden and a couple at the back and clearly the word is out among our feathered friends that this place is good for a meal or two. The list of regulars include all the usual garden birds: robin, blackbird, song thrush, chaffinch, bullfinch, blue tit, great tit, long-tailed tit, dunnock, wren, jay, green and great spotted woodpeckers and just recently a brambling, not to mention the ever-present woodpigeon, collar dove, magpie, jackdaw, crow, green parakeet and the red kite circling majestically overhead.

“Although I do not have a huge array of flowers, there are plenty to attract bees and a variety of bugs and this is where the macro lens comes into its own, capturing the subject at 1.4x life size. With the high resolution of the camera (a Canon EOS R5) I can then “crop” (zoom into) the photo once it is on my computer and end up with some highly detailed, sharp images.

“I have something like 35,000 photos on my computer – here are just a few for you to enjoy.”

To enter, upload your pictures to Instagram or Facebook and tag @roundandaboutmag with the hashtag #RAphotocompetition to be involved and we’ll choose a winner to receive the seeds. The competition ends June 1st.

Call for Wittenham Clumps artists

Round & About

nature

The Earth Trust will welcome you on 13th November artists inspired to use nature to ignite passion for people and planet!

Wittenham Clumps, a source of creative inspiration for centuries, is set to ignite the passion of artists once again with the announcement by environmental charity Earth Trust of an exciting new Artist in Residence programme.


Earth Trust is committed to championing access to and engagement with natural green spaces, and is celebrating the role art can play in deepening our understanding of and connection to the natural world. The initiative aims to harness the transformative power of artistic expression to inspire people to address climate change, biodiversity and wellbeing through meaningful interactions with nature.
Renowned artists such as Paul Nash have long drawn inspiration from the beauty of Wittenham Clumps, producing a diverse range of artworks that reflect their experiences of this historic landscape.
“We’re aiming to ignite a sense of appreciation and understanding of the environment through art,” said Anna Wilson, Head of Experience & Engagement at Earth Trust. “We are excited to be welcoming a new artist who will interact with visitors and create works inspired by our mission and the green spaces of the Wittenham Clumps.”


Earth Trust’s Artist in Residence programme recognises art’s ability to forge renewed bonds between people and the planet, harnessing creativity and wonder to inspire us to build a future where both can flourish.
Once in place, the artist will engage visitors through open studios, talks and interactive activities, lead public workshops inviting participation in the creative process and produce a substantial artwork as a lasting legacy to inspire reflection. Artists working in any medium or style are invited to respond to the brief, and Earth Trust welcomes applications from artists at all stages of their artistic careers. The charity is particularly keen to hear from artists who champion inclusivity and appeal to diverse audiences.
Earth Trust is hosting an open morning event on Monday 13th November where interested artists can tour Earth Trust’s stunning green spaces and learn more about the residency. For more details, please visit earthtrust.org.uk/artist-in-residence/. Applications close on Sunday 19th November.

Wildlife campaign will support the NHS

Round & About

nature

Families are encouraged to join 30 Days Wild, the campaign by Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) to connect with nature every day in June, backed by the NHS.

Wildlife trusts across the UK have run the 30 Days Wild challenge every June for nearly a decade, encouraging people to take one wild act each day. This can be anything from watching wildlife from a window to listening to birdsong or taking a meal or drink outside.

For the first time the initiative has won the backing of the UK’s National Health Service. Liz Shearer, BBOWT’s community engagement director, said: “We are over the moon that the NHS has endorsed our challenge: we have always known that spending time in green spaces can have huge health benefits for many people, helping to lower heart rate and blood pressure and reduce anxiety, but now we have the official support of our fantastic health service. Try taking one tiny act to connect with nature and see what it does for you – you could change your life.”

Last year more than 500,000 people took part in 30 Days Wild, including more than 5,000 in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. Across the UK, 114,245 households, 11,740 schools, 898 care homes and 1,384 businesses joined in.

Anyone taking part can order a free activity pack, with different packs for families, individuals, businesses and schools containing activities, games and packets of wildflower seeds to sow. A survey of nearly 1,000 participants last year found that people’s favourite activities were watching wildlife and listening to birdsong (85%).

The NHS has decided to back 30 Days Wild as it celebrates its 75th anniversary celebrations this year. The Greener NHS programme at NHS England will showcase NHS gardens and green spaces that support biodiversity, improve air quality, and provide health benefits for staff and patients, both physically and mentally – across the NHS estate.

Join 30 Days Wild and download a free activity pack at 30 Days Wild.

Shooting stars in wildlife photo competition

Round & About

nature

Well done to all the wildlife lovers who took part in the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) competition who snapped some beautiful sights at local nature reserves and green spaces and showed how nature can help our mental health

Winning entries include this stunning shot of a buzzard in flight, this pin-sharp picture of a tiny shield bug emerging from a garden flower and a portrait of a pensive kingfisher.

The winner of this year’s children’s category was eight-year-old Roly Lewis from Oxford. The North Hinksey Primary School pupil took his fantastic photo of a shield bug, poking its head out of a flower in his own front garden.

Roly said: “I wanted to enter the competition, so I took lots of wildlife pictures all spring and summer. I thought this photo was my best one because the blossom was a nice background, and the shield bug had an amazing colour and pattern. This made me look closely at shield bugs which are really amazing. My mum told me I had won when I came out of school, and I was so excited I jumped up and down. I really wanted to win but I thought there would be so many good photos that I wouldn’t.”

Children Winner – Roly Lewis (8) (Sheildbug)
Children Runner Up – Hayden Denham (7) (Hummingbird Hawkmoth)

The Wildlife Trust restarted its popular photo competition this summer after a three-year break because of the pandemic. The charity, which manages more than 80 nature reserves across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, challenged everyone aged six and over to take fantastic photos of plants, animals and fungi at its sites, or to capture action for wildlife in their local area.

Roy McDonald took first place with his crystal-clear shot of a buzzard in mid-air at the Trust’s College Lake reserve near Tring. The 45-year-old former courier driver from Berkhamstead revealed after winning the contest that he has struggled with his mental health for some years, and that wildlife photography had helped. He said: “Nature helps me so much, it’s honest and calming and it doesn’t judge you, and just sometimes, if you are calm and patient, it will allow you to get up close into their world. I always take great pleasure when a creature trusts you enough to not scurry or fly away. But you don’t have to take photos: just being in nature and observing it can give you something to focus on.

“I had my encounter with a majestic buzzard on a cold and beautiful winter day. I had seconds to react once I spotted it, and just as my focus locked on, it spotted me and flew directly across my path. So close to me. I chose the first image of the sequence because it had the most amount of action and sense of place. It is by far and away the best shot of a buzzard I have ever managed. They have eluded me for years. I’m quite stunned and delighted to have won.”

Flora and fauna Winner (and overall winner) – Ray McDonald (buzzard in flight) taken at College Lake
Flora and fauna Runner Up – Adrianna Bielobradek (Poppy seedhead) taken at Buckleberry Common)

As overall winner, Mr McDonald won a top-of-the-range Panasonic Lumix digital camera and a wildlife photography masterclass. As well as receiving a printed canvas of his picture and having it appear in BBOWT’s 2023 calendar.

This year’s contest had six new categories: flora and fauna; nature reserve landscapes; people in nature; children’s category (ages 6-12), teenagers (ages 13-19) and Team Wilder, for shots of action for nature in the community. Helen Touchard-Paxton, a mum who lives Buckinghamshire, won the Team Wilder category with a snap of a frog in a garden pond that she and her family dug during the coronavirus lockdown.

She said: “I believe this photo shows that you don’t need acres of land to create a successful wildlife area: if you are interested – no matter how small your space – just have a go and see what works. I don’t have high-end expensive equipment, and I have no idea how to use photo editing software – the photo is very much ‘as taken’. I was absolutely amazed to have won the Team Wilder category.”

Team Wilder Winner – Helen Touchard-Paxton (frog)
Team Wilder Runner Up – Peter Massam (bug hotel)

The Trust received hundreds of entries, creating an extremely difficult job for this year’s judges. BBOWT communications officer Kate Titford, Trust magazine editor Ben Vanheems and professional photographer Steve Gozdz, who runs local nature safaris in Berkshire through his business GG Wildlife Experiences.

Teenagers Winner – Zachary Osbourne (14) Kingfisher
Teenagers Runner Up – Lucy Colston (17) (marbled white on scabious)

Mr Vanheems said: “It’s been a really laborious process with lots of debate going on because we want to get it right, but the competition entrants haven’t exactly made it easy for us.”

People in Nature Winner – Petra Mohr (girl on decking) taken at Weston Turville Reservior
People in Nature Runner Up – Lorraine Clarke (man in hide) taken at College Lake

Mr Gozdz added: “What I was looking for was composition, good use of light – an action shot would have been fantastic. What we’ve found is something quite stunning. A real in-the-moment shot with perfect angles and perfect light, and actually something I would have been very happy to have taken myself. In fact, when I first saw it I was quite jealous.”

Landscape Winner – Charlotte Day (sunrise landscape) taken at Cholsey Marsh
Landscape Runner Up – John Kearns (Warburg trees) taken at Warburg
The trust is grateful to GG Wildlife Experiences, Panasonic and Chroma for sponsoring this year’s competition.

£2 Million River Wildlife Project Success

Round & About

nature

A ground-breaking project created by BBOWT, (Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust) to create a new channel of the River Thames and restore long-lost wildlife habitat, has been completed.

The 450-metre watercourse at Chimney Meadows nature reserve near Bampton, bypasses a manmade weir and will enable fish to swim along a 30km stretch of the Thames, and spawn for the first time in more than a century.

Created by BBOWT in a £2 million project at its flagship nature reserve. The channel is already populated with native fish, birds and mammals.

Working with the Environment Agency, the trust also created shallow temporary pools called scrapes near the channel. The project has re-established a naturally functioning floodplain habitat. Which was once common across the UK, but was destroyed as rivers were straightened, land was drained and connection with floodplain was lost.

This wetland is now able to store floodwater for longer, helping to protect homes and land from flooding. Predicted to worsen as a result of climate change. The trust is also working in partnership with Bangor University and the EA. Who are undertaking research to demonstrate that active floodplains can store carbon and be part of the solution to the climate crisis.

Estelle Bailey, BBOWT’s chief executive, said: “This project is an amazing achievement for restoring vital habitats for wildlife, to move freely while tackling climate change. Our mission as a trust is to put nature into recovery. We want to see 30% of land in our three counties properly managed for wildlife by 2030. This is a golden piece of that wild jigsaw puzzle. We know we cannot tackle climate change without restoring nature. This project is a shining example to the whole world of how we can achieve that by working together to bring wildlife back.”

This is a golden piece of that wild jigsaw puzzle

The two-year project was funded by a £2 million Water Environment Grant. From the EU’s European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD). The project was managed by environmental consultancy JCTR, designed by environmental engineering consultancy Atkins, and main contractor on site was Hampshire-based FiveRivers. Which delivered all the environmental, wetland and improvement works.

One of the central aims of the work was to create a channel that would bypass Shifford Weir. A structure has existed at this site since the 1890s. When a new ‘short cut’ channel was dug to connect two parts of the Thames and enable easier transportation of wool from the Cotswolds to London. Shifford Weir is owned and operated by the EA and helps with the navigability and flood risk management of the Thames. But blocks the movement of fish. This is one of the reasons that, in recent years, the river environments in the area have been classified as having poor ecological status.

The new channel, in combination with a new rock pool fish pass at Duxford Ford, will allow fish to pass some of the last remaining barriers on the Upper Thames. Fish will now be able to freely swim around the Duxford Loop of the river. Even during low water levels, to access some 30km of Thames between Eynsham and Radcot, including 2.1km of potentially good spawning habitat. Crucially, this helps populations of native species including barbel, chub and dace to be far more resilient to environmental change such as hotter, drier summers, and to pollution events.

The new scrapes around the channel will help the nature reserve’s curlew. An iconic wading bird with a distinctive downward-curved beak that is in national decline. The curlew is an indicator of the wider health of the wetland. But they need wet pools to feed on aquatic insects and longer grass, in which to nest and hide from predators. Both have now been restored.

The project has also attached ‘baffles’ to Great Brook Ford which will further help fish to swim upstream, and planted new, native wet woodland around Duxford Ford. With hundreds of willow, alder, birch and hawthorn trees.

The entire project was overseen by BBOWT Living Landscape Manager for the Upper Thames, Lisa Lane. Despite the fact that she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the middle of the work. Lisa said: “It was really challenging to make this project happen for many reasons. It came close to failing a few times. Lizzie Rhymes at the Environment Agency has been a great support in particular, since we first discussed helping fish over or around the various barriers in the river back in 2010! I can’t wait to show people what we have achieved.”

Chilterns Walking Festival October highlights

Liz Nicholls

nature

Enjoy walk, foraging, local & literary history, cream tea, garden tours and more as part of Chilterns Walking Festival, 15th-30th October.

The tenth Chilterns Walking Festival features a programme of more than 50 walks and local events to help you enjoy the autumn splendour, the golden beech trees and hedgerows bursting with colour.

Highlights include Pipsticks walks on the day before All Hallows Eve for a spooky walk along the River Thames and lots of ghostly tales from the riverbank! Or take a Walk on the Dark Side with an exhilarating stroll through Bones Wood and Crowsley Park, tuning into the sounds and sights of the night, and ending at the pub for hot chocolate.

50 walks and local events to help you enjoy the autumn splendour

There’s also a foraging walk among the magnificent sweet chestnut trees to learn about and enjoy the bountiful autumn fruits of the forest. Literary walk discovering” in south Oxfordshire including the house where he once lived.

Discover and walk some of the ancient routes which criss-cross the Chilterns, exploring Drovers routes and the Slow Ways historic routes. There’s a nature walk at Aston Rowant to celebrate the 70th anniversary of National Nature Reserves. Join the rangers to see the wildlife that makes them so special, finishing with tea & cake.

Tour guide Bobbie Latter will take you on a guided walk around historic Marlow, followed by a hands-on lace-making experience and a delicious afternoon tea. Plus there are map reading courses, pub walks, local produce tasting, historic garden tours and much more.

Find out more

For full info please visit visitchilterns.co.uk/walkingfest

Heatwave help for your gardens

Round & About

nature

With temperatures set to soar again this week, a paucity of rain and impending hose pipe bans, how do you keep your garden going? R&A gardening expert Cathie Welch has some advice

As I write this we are being warned that temperatures are going to climb to over 40 degrees! Many people are asking how we deal with this in our gardens. Once it hits there is very little we can do about extremes of hot and cold that descend on us unexpectedly.

The lawn

Lawns naturally have a dormant season in the summer and there is no need to waste precious water trying to keep it green. Once the rains arrive in the autumn it will green up again but will need some tlc so get scarifying, aerating and topdressing. I found my grasses went brown very quickly but the lawn ‘weeds’ thrived.

The flower beds

You may have lost a few of your plants in the recent hot spells even though you tried your hardest to water them. Accept there was nothing you could do and move on. Make plans to improve the soil structure by adding organic matter and don’t forget to mulch as you weed. Consider installing drip irrigation for the future.

Pots

Plants in pots do not tolerate drying out but this can be alleviated by using a good quality compost such as wool which holds onto the water for longer. Once they have dried out it’s very difficult to get them wet again so consider plunging and soaking the root ball or top dressing with wool compost before watering thoroughly.

Lawns naturally have a dormant season in the summer and there is no need to waste precious water trying to keep it green

New plants

Do not even consider planting in the summer months unless you have an irrigation system or you are sure the water is reaching all the way down to the roots. If you must plant, place an upside down water bottle or piece of pipe next the plant to fill up each day. I’ve seen bags next to newly planted trees which act as a reservoir. Trees are notorious for dying in the drought and many suffer from ‘establishment failure’. Whether planting in the spring or autumn it is that first summer that is critical. When you have watered the plant check how wet it is by scraping the surface of the soil. You would be amazed how little the water penetrates despite spending hours of your time watering!

Old plants

Unfortunately I remember only too well the summer of 1976 after which many established trees suffered from dieback as the water table dropped below the depth of their roots in the Summer.

 

Moving forward

• Improve your soil by adding organic matter.
• Prevent evaporation by mulching.
• Irrigate if you can and at the very least harvest as much rainwater as you can by placing water butts and containers under every pipe and gutter.
• Learn from the plants that thrived in the heat and the ones that died.
• Think very carefully when planting new plants. If you are choosing Mediterranean plants, plant in the spring and not the autumn as they could rot over winter.
• Get to know your soil type and research the plants that would do well in your garden.

Find out more

More advice on this and other garden topics at www.cathiesgardeningschool.co.uk

Appeal to save wildlife from fire

Liz Nicholls

nature

Surrey Wildlife Trust is urgently asking for donations to help one of our most precious heathland habitats, and about 200 red deer that help maintain it, recover from a devastating wildfire.

In July, a wildfire broke out on Pirbright Ranges, one of the largest areas of lowland heath in Surrey and home to many rare and threatened species. Patches of ground continue to burn for three weeks and over 650 hectares of pristine heathland has now been severely burnt, at great cost to wildlife.

Surrey Wildlife Trust’s herd of red deer carry out a vital role by grazing the heathland to prevent scrub including Scots pine, common gorse and silver birch from taking over the site. This allows slower-growing dwarf scrub and specialist heathland plant species to flourish, creating the foundation of the unique and threatened heathland ecosystem. Following the fire, hundreds of meters of fencing and heavy-duty sleepers that keep the deer safely on site now needs to be replaced – and the ongoing welfare of the herd will depend on regular vet checks and inspections by SWT staff. Supplementary food in the form of haylage will also be made available to the deer to ensure they have enough food to maintain good condition heading into winter.

The immediate impact of the fire also includes the potential loss of hundreds of recently fledged rare ground-nesting birds including European nightjars, Dartford warblers and woodlark which may have been too young to fly away from the fire. The damage to the site will also have prevented their parents from nesting a second time this year and will change the availability of suitable nesting sites for years to come. Reptiles such as slow worms, grass snakes and adders have been unable to escape the fire, perishing alongside the many invertebrate species, including endangered heath tiger beetles that inhabit the remaining heathland fragments in the southeast of England.

WildNet
Pirbright_before_the_fire_(SWT)

Wildfires have put Surrey on the front line of the climate and nature emergency

Rising temperatures and a lack of rainfall has led to increasingly large, uncontrollable blazes that destroy large areas of heathland. The Pirbright Ranges Fire has potentially burned deep into the ground, affecting plant species including round-leaved sundew, marsh clubmoss and bell heather over hundreds of hectares.

About 85% of heathland in the UK has been lost over the past 150 years through agriculture, development and changes in land management. Surrey Wildlife Trust manages several areas of heathland, including Chobham Common National Nature Reserve and Wisley and Ockham commons that are particularly susceptible to fire in dry conditions. Strain on resources in the years ahead are set to be severe for all who manage and protect these diverse and sensitive habitats.  Dealing with the impact of the Pirbright Ranges fire is expected to account for more than 30 additional days of SWT staff time this year alone.

Surrey Wildlife Trust’s director of reserves management, James Herd, says:

“Wildfires have put Surrey on the front line of the climate and nature emergency – and we urgently need extra support to meet the challenge.  Whilst the heathland will regenerate over time, it is likely to be eight to twelve years before it returns to full health.  The deer will perform a unique and irreplaceable role in ensuring the lowland habitats recover during this time.  All donations we receive will go directly to ensuring their welfare and the continuing safety of Surrey’s heathlands and their unique plants and animals.

“With the help of local people, we will do all we can to explore what more can be done to protect our natural heritage as weather patterns change.  It’s vitally important that people in Surrey can continue to reap the benefits of diverse and healthy ecosystems.”

Pirbright Ranges is owned by the Ministry of Defence.  For safety reasons, it is not accessible to the public.  The herd of red deer that grazes the site is owned and managed by Surrey Wildlife Trust.

David Nolan, Area Commander for Surrey Fire and Rescue Service said:

“Surrey Fire and Rescue Service is urging people to be wildfire aware. We have seen an increase in the number of wildfires we are attending recently and are asking residents to help keep Surrey safe. Please pack a picnic instead of a BBQ, and don’t have campfires or bonfires when the weather is dry! Ensure you dispose of cigarettes and litter correctly.”

Find out more

For more information about how to support the appeal please visit surreywildlifetrust.org/wildfire-appeal