Witchford Village

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Open Spaces Group Update - August 2018

Posted on: Aug 13, 2018
Posted in: open-spaces-group news

Community Orchard
The fruit trees of the community orchard generally weathered the unusually hot and dry July, but some, notably those that were planted this spring, needed help with the occasional watering by volunteers. Despite the dry weather, some trees are laden with fruit: apples, pears, gages, damsons and cobnuts.

Unfortunately the high winds at the end of the hot spell in combination with fruit loads brought down two apple trees. Removing excess fruit and some remedial propping hopefully prevented further casualties. Other orchard management activities undertaken by OSG volunteers in July were renewing fruit tree labels and tying down vertically growing branches to encourage lateral growth. This is an experiment and we will wait to see the outcome.

Millennium Wood
A fire in the fire pit that had been irresponsibly fuelled with hay from the meadow and large logs got out of control in July and had to be doused with water when the flames threatened the surrounding trees. The parish council acted quickly: the lighting of fires anywhere in the wood has been prohibited until further notice, and volunteers trimmed branches overhanging the fire pit, removed nearby hay and loose branches, and anchored or removed large logs.

The consequences of these actions are that logs intended as seating around the fire pit are gone (to the benefit of Rackam’s Forest School area), as are poles used by many children for den-building. The fire followed on other anti-social activities: vandalism of trees and serious littering, and some members of the public proposed the closure of the wood.

On a happier note, the Brownies completed their ‘mini-beast hotel’ in the wood with much-appreciated help with materials and carpentry skills (see photo).

Sandpit Drove Conservation Area
It had been the intention to mow the meadow earlier than the usual time in September to reduce some of the rank growth and improve the quality of the hay. However, owing to a misunderstanding, the meadow was cut too early (before the middle of the month) just as many of the meadow stalwarts such as common knapweed and tufted vetch were in flower. Hopefully the yellow rattle, which is an annual, will have had time to seed.

There are still plenty of butterflies in the drove, notably the speckled woods along the shady paths through the trees and bushes.

Sandpit Drove Pond and New Pond
Both ponds have seen a profusion of dragonflies and damsel flies this year: the impressive emperor dragonfly egg-laying, brown hawkers patrolling, four-spotted chasers, ruddy darters, azure damselflies and common blue damselflies. New Pond is teeming with naturally occurring sticklebacks, and unfortunately it has acquired an introduced goldfish. Sandpit Drove pond moorhens have been successful in raising at least one offspring, now in the brown plumage of an immature. In the bushes around the pond a garden warbler has been spotted (despite its name, not so much a garden bird!). A night-time stroll revealed the presence of frogs and large numbers of diving beetles in the ponds; overhead, common and soprano pipistrelle bats were numerous, plus at last one serotine bat.

At Sandpit Drove the Brownies placed a plaque next to the silver birch planted to mark the 2014 centenary, and OSG volunteers cleared a short section of the pond bank to open it up to view. Small trees around New Pond and newly planted shrubs in the adjacent Pamby’s Plantation were watered during the worst of the drought.

Witchford Walk #10
The warm weather of July was a wonderful time to wander along the 8 km/5 mile Witchford Walk #10, across the airfield to the A10, and back to Grunty Fen Road via the catchwater drain. Wild flowers abounded, the bramble flowers in particular attracting many butterflies, including ringlet, small tortoiseshell, and gatekeeper. A black-tailed skimmer dragonfly was spotted along the hedgerows. And despite the lateness of the season, birds were in full song: skylarks, linnets, yellowhammers, whitethroats, blackcaps, reed buntings. A special treat was the calling turtle dove, now a rare occurrence, as numbers nationally fell by a huge 94% between 1995 and 2015.

Witchford Open Spaces Group volunteers help to maintain and improve sites throughout Witchford to encourage wildlife and for the enjoyment of the local community. We welcome new volunteers, young to not-so-young, at any time. Why not come along?

For more information about the Open Spaces Group contact Richard Braund on 665222 (e-mail richardbraund50@hotmail.com).

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