This year we gave a donation to help kick-start Surrey Borders Community Orchard Project (SABCOP), which has been set-up to promote the establishment and restoration of both community and Traditional orchards in and around Surrey. In the past we have planted Orchards at East Surrey Hospital between a series of ponds (see February 2014 news) and the nurses Quarters; a Traditional Orchard in Southall, London (see April 2018 news); and currently helping to maintain an Orchard at the Watts Gallery, Surrey. We also gave to our usual charity formerly called Handicap International who have now re-branded to Humanity and Inclusion.
Recently Gareth has developed symptoms of OCD (Orchard Compulsive Disorder), trying to promote Orchard planting, management and fruit consumption, at every opportunity! In November we picked over 5kg of Catillac culinary pears, from Swan Barn NT Orchard, for Dylans Ice-cream to make into a sorbet. These historic culinary pears originate from the gardens of Louis XIV, at Versailles. They have a gritty, very hard flesh, left for the sheep to eat and sorbet is a great way to make use of the windfall! Later in November we picked 5kg of Black Worcester pears for Dylans, making a slightly sweeter sorbet.
If you go down in the woods today you're sure of a big surprise... If you go down in the woods today you'd better go in disguise... Conducting a reptile-amphibian assessment at a property near Midhurst, Sussex we waited until after dark to survey for newts. As a full moon rose, from the depths of an ancient woodland hugging the scarp-face of the Downs, we heard a great roar... Picnic time for Wild Boar! The pond was ruled-out for great crested newts, with bullhead fish (pictured) caught in bottle-traps and the maintained grounds were unsuitable for reptiles.
Youtube sound sample courtesy of "AlexTriceratops123"
In September GPM Ecology provided adder training for six ecologists from WYG Southampton and London offices. The day started off with an informal discussion at a local café on adder ecology, legislation, handling methods and safety considerations. We then went onto the heath and all participants successful caught and handled adders, safely securing them into a reptile bag. WYG Comments: "Thanks so much for the training course, it was really enjoyable!"
In June 2018 GPM Ecology assisted contractors EG Carter and housing provider Aster Housing Group (see September 2017 News) to relocate a small slow-worm population at a social-housing site in Hampshire. 22 Slow-worms were re-housed on the first visit, under perfect weather-catching conditions in early-June. The ensuing dry spell, late-June to mid-August, meant visits were limited to one per week and reasonable effort may have been considered to have been achieved, with few caught over this period. By mid-August the weather broke, slow-worms returned from Summer torpor and catching increased again with another peak of 18 Slow-worms by late August.
Over the summer we developed a mitigation strategy for Classic Homes Ltd, within the grounds of a property whose lawns supported a mosaic of acid-grass-heath, a priority BAP habitat. When the site was surveyed in late-July, other conventional lawns were brown through drought, compared to this sward sitting over a nutrient-poor bedrock.
The strategy is for turf to be relocated to adjacent garden-space, with no net loss of this important habitat. Low-growing patches of heather can survive the mower, giving extra colour during mid to late summer. We have seen similar potential brown-lawn sites elsewhere in Surrey (see Jun-2017).
BBC News reported that the UK has experienced its driest start to a summer since modern records began in 1961! This winter we planted several Orchards, which will have been particularly stressed by this year's long-hot summer. An orchard site in Gloucestershire planted-up with GS Ecology appears to have survived the summer drought (see photos), but another site in London will require a fruit tree survival assessment. RHS suggest 'scratching' a small piece of bark to see if the wood is green beneath. Where most upper parts of the tree are brown then the tree is likely to be dead!
GPM Ecology has been monitoring the only known Great Crested Newt (GCN) pond in Merton as part of the mitigation for the development of Morden Leisure Centre. Recent progress of the Leisure Centre and fixed-point photos of the pond are illustrated below.
Photo-log shows the pond (with a sump created in 2016) drying briefly in October, but full by December 2017, an improvement on the pond completely drying in June 2015! During spring 2018 we had a peak count of 4 GCN and 64 Smooth Newts, but encouragingly had many GCN larvae spotted in the open areas of the pond.
This final panoramic photo of the Pond and Leisure Centre shows the context of the two together.
On 4th April GPM Ecology planted twelve fruit trees on vigorous root-stocks, creating a traditional orchard to compensate the loss of a former Local Wildlife Site near Southall, Ealing. The orchard included local varieties Hounslow Wonder and Royal Jubilee, planted along the Hanwell and Norwood Green Orchard Trail. The orchard was inspected, with tree-ties altered slightly, in late April.
During spring a reptile monitoring exercise was conducted to assess the translocation success, with 51 slow-worms released from nearby development in 2017. A peak count of 10 adult slow-worms was observed on 26th April, at the compost heap release site.
Gareth assisted Frimley Fuel Allotments Conservation Team with a task clearing gorse on 11th March near a seasonal pond on site. Unfortunately the Spring freeze in early March killed upwards of 100 palmate newts, seen floating in this shallow pond.
The following weeks we started monitoring ponds, with seven live great crested newts (GCN) observed on 13th March in a 1m x 2m garden pond in Ifold, Sussex, though a dead toad and palmate newt were also observed. On 21st March we surveyed the last known GCN pond in Morden, London. No GCN observed, but no dead amphibians also noted!
Posted 27th March 2018. E-mail Gareth
During February Gareth assisted in a joint task with Blackwater Valley Conservation Partnership (BVCP) and Frimley Fuel Allotments Conservation Team (FFACT). The Allotments are one of nine conservation groups on Blackwater Valley's Surrey-Hampshire border. BVCP assists these Groups with habitat management tasks along this 23 mile valley corridor. FFACT consists of a team of six regular members (including Christa Rohde and Geoff Pierce, see photo) and irregulars (such as Gareth), meeting the second Sunday morning each month, maintaining heathland across the Allotments. If you live nearby and can spare time do join FFACT, helping to conserve the natural landscape of Surrey.
Posted 28th February 2018. E-mail Gareth
In January GS Ecology and GPM Ecology teamed up to plant a new Orchard in Gloucestershire, with trees supplied by Heritage Fruits. The orchard was planted up with Gloucester favourites and rarities, such as Ashmead Kernel, an apple dating from 1700's, credited for its aromatic flavours, but only recognized for its qualities by the RHS in 1981! Rarities included comically-named cider apple, Hen's Turd, considered as Critically Rare by Gloucester Orchard Trust, but yet to be described by the National Fruit Collection. January was also the month of the Swan Barn Wassail, warding off the evil spirits from the Orchard.
Posted 6th February 2018. E-mail Gareth