2013 - April


Chilbolton & Wherwell Wildlife

A local highlight for me recently, was the sight of a Hawfinch. It was on the northern boundary of the Common, typically perched at the very top of one of the biggest ash trees. When I first moved to Chilbolton thirty years ago, I used to see Hawfinches fairly regularly, both in our villages and around Leckford and Longstock. They were most often along Station Road, where the small nuts from a line of Hornbeam trees provided them with one of their favourite foods. However, during this last thirty years, the Hawfinch has become a much rarer bird and has almost disappeared from our area, and indeed, from most of Southern England. The only strong populations of the species are now in the New Forest and the Forest of Dean. So it was nice to see one again in Chilbolton. In recent years, I’ve also seen them at Barton Stacey and at Bossington, so I suspect they are still in the area in very small numbers. Do look out for them in vicinity of cherry trees, where with their massive bill, they are able to crack open and feed on the fruit kernels.

Talking of which, another species that’s also partial to cherry and other berry-bearing shrubs, is the Waxwing. Waxwings come to this country in winter from Scandinavia, sometimes in large numbers. They arrive in the north-east England in the autumn, and small flocks then tend to gradually move down the country, eating whatever berries may have been left by the wintering thrushes. They are not averse to eating all sorts of relatively exotic berries, and are much more likely to be seen amongst the amenity plantings of supermarket carparks, filling stations, and industrial estates, rather than in the wider countryside. This winter, a small flock was in Chilbolton for a few days – typically stripping an ornamental cherry of its fruit, and then moving

on elsewhere. As I write, there are some still in Romsey.

West Down

A number of people have asked me what I think of Chilbolton Parish Council’s (CPC) aspirations regarding West Down, and what the impact might be for wildlife if the CPC were to take on management of the site. Well, I’m a bit neutral on the matter, and there are arguments both ways.

On the one hand, the County Council’s (HCC) Countryside staff have considerably more expertise and experience in managing downland sites, than anyone in the parish. They can also call on backup resources of equipment and people that are shared between many sites. And it’s not at all true, as some would have you believe, that HCC have in the past done “very little” there!

On the other hand, it is true that HCC may have more limited resources available in the future. And it’s also true that they have on occasions in the past, somewhat neglected West Down.

But this is no different, it has to be said, than CPC at times in the past neglecting Chilbolton Common. And when, about ten years ago, both the Hampshire Wildlife Trust and I were writing letters to HCC nagging for vital conservation work to be done on West Down, CPC’s voice was silent – apparently no interest! What it amounts to, is that over time, the CPC’s interest and enthusiasm for West Down, comes and goes as parish councillors come and go - and in the same way as HCC’s interest and enthusiasm comes and goes with the coming and going of HCC staff. So it’s a finely balanced equation. Hopefully, a more local CPC management of the site might lead to greater “community involvement” and sense of “ownership”. And this in turn might help in maintaining the Down’s importance for wildlife. But as is often the case, the devil may be in the detail of any arrangements and funding.

Meantime, our monthly volunteer working parties are continuing, and in partnership with the County Council’s ranger, we had a very successful day near the bottle bank corner at the end of February. The ranger spent an afternoon with a brush-cutter, clearing an area of scrub re-growth that was much too difficult for us volunteers with loppers and secateurs. Then we came along on the Sunday, cut the remnants, and removed the considerable amount of brash left by the brush-cutter. This particular corner of the Down is south-west facing and especially important for butterflies. In the summer, as well as Grizzled Skipper and Brown Argus butterflies, the corner slope supports our one tiny colony of the Chalkhill Blue butterfly and its food-plant the Horseshoe Vetch.

Next work-party date for your diary is Sunday 21st April, when we’ll tackle any small scrub remaining on the chalk slope after our March session. Please wear stout footwear, bring gardening gloves, and loppers if you have them.

Meet 10am at the top car-park.

Then on Sunday 19th May, we’ll have a leisurely walk when we can hope to see some of the fruits of our labours. If the weather is kind, many of our important spring butterflies, including Grizzled Skipper and Green Hairstreak, should be on the wing. All are welcome (even if you haven’t contributed to the winter work!) - Meet mid-day at the top car-park.

Glynne Evans (hantsbto@hotmail.com)

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