Preparations continue for the arrival of spring, which includes catching up with all the estate work on site, from hanging gates to repairing rails. This is a constant job and we rely heavily on both local and residential volunteers to ensure that the reserves are safe for the arrival of the grazing animals. The wildfowl, particularly the Canada geese and wigeon have provided excellent grazing pressure through the winter, to the degree that I have never seen before. As you look across south from Station Road many of the fields appear slightly yellowish and are so short it looks as though we have used a garden mower – which is great to see. With the change in the weather and the increase in temperatures to maintain this short turf we will soon be thinking of the cows returning as the grass and rush will put on a spurt of growth. Early grazing is a good way to try and reduce the vigour of the rush although an unpalatable species, at this time of year it is probably at its most tasty and the animals are always pleased to get out from their winter housing. Whilst the wigeon have done an excellent job, it is always nice to see the cows return, the reserve looks so bare without them.
As I walked along Station Road to do the penultimate winter bird count at Exminster Marshes today, I listened to the explosive song of the Cettis warbler and the simple but proud call of the reed bunting, both enjoying the warm weather. If we threw our forms of communication and time keeping away I am sure we too would be fooled that spring is here. Whilst the reserves still hold excellent numbers of wigeon and curlew, there is no doubt that bird song has increased and the willows are in bud. Although our numbers of winter waders and wildfowl will soon start to dwindle today the curlew were accompanied by several hundred dunlin, which weaved in and out of their legs, busily picking up food off the muddy margins. I had a reminder today about what our breeding birds are going to be up against, as groups of nervous wigeon alerted me to the fact that a fox lay sleeping just a field away. Then as I walked across the fields I watched a peregrine try and out wit a teal, which just managed to give him the slip at the last moment. Soon our breeding waders will be pitting their wits against the sharp teeth and talons I crossed my fingers hard that our work to give them a helping hand is successful.
Conservation is often a very long process where you may not see the results for years. Renovating the hedges on the Powderham Reserve is one of these. Last year we laid about one quarter of the hedges and this year we completed a bit more. As the hedges have not been maintained for a while there are not many trees mature enough to lay. So this year we planted 200 small trees on the hedge banks around one of the fields. The volunteer work party planted 50 and the Brownies planted another 150 last weekend.The trees were planted carefully to ensure that there was no air around the roots.Canes were added to support the stems and guards put on each little tree to deter rabbits from eating them. All being well about half will survive and flourish and in about five or six years they will be readly to lay.
When they'd finished planting trees Barry and Tanya took their billhooks and loppers and finshed laying the last corner of the hedge.
Whilst Barry and Tanya were hedgelaying David and I burnt the last of the brash. So now the field is ready for ploughing and planting Spring Barley in the spring.