This year we gave a donation to Aspire having completed the English Channel Swim Challenge taking 12 hours 54 minutes to swim 35km, across 50 days, following on from the swim and donation in Dec 2016. Swimming has proven important in Gareth 's work-life, having suffered a torticollis neck-injury in 2005. Caused by carrying heavy tin across a site for a reptile survey, regular weekly swims have since helped loosen the neck and improved flexibility of the back. Recommended for all herpetologists. We also gave to our usual charity Handicap International who have supported people caught-up in ISIS retreat from Mosul!
November included several days working with trees at various sites and was the month the Woodland Trust launched the Tree Charter. Cutting trees down is often frowned upon. However, some forms of cutting can be life giving! A coppicing regime was commenced at a long-term Dormice monitoring site in Haslemere, Surrey with the cut wood used for fuelling the stove and garden posts; coppiced a willow overhanging a pond in Frimley using the stems for dead-hedging; and we started pruning the apple tree next to the office, with the off-cuts chipped for mulch. Winter activities that prolong a tree’s life.
GPM Ecology was commissioned to conduct a reptile survey in Woking, Surrey. The site supported a derelict Traditional Orchard and despite years of neglect the old trees still produced apples, pears and plums. The main photo illustrates four original fruit trees: Pear tree in the background, now growing as a group with five main stems; a single-stemmed John Standish Apple (pictured), likely growing from an old tree; an unidentified apple tree bearing no fruit and a Blenheim Orange in the foreground growing as a large fallen horizontal stem, very much alive… Not much like an Orchard, but great for wildlife!
In September 2017 GPM Ecology provided some informal reptile survey training for the Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council Countryside Team. The site was surveyed with the Countryside team on 13th September with a total of 13 slow-worm and 14 viviparous lizards observed at Wigmore Heath, a small remnant and urban heathland site. The team was given the opportunity to see how a reptile transect is set-up and surveyed.
Continuing with the Orchard-theme, GPM Ecology visited Gloucestershire in August to attend the National Stone Fruit Conference and commence a great crested newt translocation project, with mitigation proposals to plant a Traditional Orchard (see photo of a nearby derelict Orchard in Oxenton). Conference talks can be viewed via this Dropbox-link, including 'How the Pershore Plum won The Great War'.
During this trip to Gloucestershire we also visited the National Perry Collection, Hartpury Orchard Centre and my favourite Orchard at Broadway Farm, a 21ha orchard wilderness, with feral apple and plum trees having naturally colonised the banks of the adjacent River Severn.
July saw involvement with two contrasting reptile surveys, showing that slow-worms can colonise and survive in otherwise hostile situations. A site we surveyed during July was heavily flailed several days before the reptile monitoring visits commenced, with slow-worms still surviving on the site and surprisingly none were observed with injuries throughout the survey period. Elsewhere at Horton Country Park, a site that appeared to be ideal for slow-worms, had a survey set-up to assist a Bioblitz within a Traditional Orchard on site (see photo). This old Orchard had great potential for reptiles, but during summer 2017 no reptiles were observed!
In June 2017 GPM Ecology assisted National Trust Winkworth property presenting an amphibian and reptile tool-box talk for the restoration at the old boat house, which supported three busy bee swarms, one shown in the photo! Elsewhere we assisted EPR with bat-work at a development on a former army site in Hampshire. The bat surveys carried on through the summer, at a site that appears to support extensive areas of parched-acid grassland. GPM Ecology has observed this type of grassland (see photo) on other housing development sites and such turf has potential to be incorporated as low maintenance brown lawns.
In Spring 2017 work commenced at Little Heath Nursery social housing site and Sustainable Area of Natural Greenspace (SANG). The SANG will off-set the impacts of recreation from new housing and dog-walkers in particular, upon ground-nesting birds at nearby Chobham Common. From April to June we completed reptile translocations at this site, moving 92 slow-worms, 20 grass snakes and 1 common lizard to the SANG.
Elsewhere we recommended low chestnut-pale fencing around Ponds in public spaces, such as that photographed by Matt Smith at Marnel Park. This fencing allows people to step over, but restricts dogs from entering such spaces.
In Spring 2017 GPM Ecology assisted Surrey Wildlife Trust with relocating newts from the re-development of Nower Wood Education Centre. As well as organising trapping great crested newts (GCN) from this development site, we continued monitoring populations at Ifold (Sussex), East Surrey Hospital and Morden Park (London), where peak population counts continued to increase. GCN were also observed during surveys in Gretton (Gloucestershire), Burgess Hill (West Sussex) and we assisted pitfall trapping at Marnel Park (Basingstoke).
Over winter Gareth teamed-up with SARG to commission a T-shirt in celebration of this special amphibian and maybe purchased by contacting Gareth or SARG.
Since 2015 Gareth has got involved in promoting and managing Traditional Orchards. The National Trust property, Swan Barn Farm actively manages 0.3ha of old Traditional Orchard to the rear of Haslemere High Street and planted-up about 0.55ha of additional Orchard trees. Fruit trees need protection from herbivores and damage from the public or maintenance regimes.
A stock-fence (4m square) will be £15 to £20 cheaper per tree than a chestnut-pale fence. In March a ‘Stellar’ Cherry tree planted at East Surrey Hospital was the final orchard planting at the end of the great crested newt license work for this site.
During February Gareth embarked on his Orchard Talking Tour, featuring at the National Herp-workers meeting, Nottingham on 11th February and then at Surrey Recorders Meeting at East Horsley on 18th Feb. The talks were conducted on behalf of the People's Trust for Endangered Species, who have championed orchards for several years and are embarking on ground-truthing Traditional Orchard across Great Britain, as little is known about the current status of this habitat in the UK. Trad-Orchards are defined as a group of fruit trees planted on vigorous rootstocks at low densities in permanent grassland, managed in a low intensity way.
In January, David Williams of Puttenham Parish Council asked for the help of SARG to assist with removing aquatic vegetation choking a Great Crested Newt breeding pond in Puttenham, Surrey. The pond had become encroached with Bog-bean that had rooted into geotextile matting that was previously laid to protect the pond liner. The only way to remove the plant and mat with the tools to hand, was using a carpentry saw to cut through the matting, demonstrated expertly in the photo by Dave. A lesson learnt that geotextile matting can be a problem when a pond establishes, clay maybe better!