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Saturday, December 12, 2015

2015 at Underway Meade

2015 has been a busy year for Underway Meade, as this month by month report illustrates.
We spent time edging the path in the wood with dead hedging, using cuttings from our hedge-laying endeavours. We also had many positive comments about the beautiful snowdrops on the banks.

We continued hedge-laying along the boundary when weather permitted, it was slow going though!

In March we were successful in our bid to Monkton Elms Garden Centre for free hedging saplings which we proudly collected in person.

We also worked on putting in some dead hedging around the pond, both to protect some of the saplings we planted and also to provide a useful habitat for wildlife. The dead hedging also provides a good boundary between the pond and the footpath.

The pond itself was looking quite bare but we were very pleased to spot some frog spawn at the end of the month,which, despite not hatching out, proved that there are frogs around that visit the pond, so if we could improve the vegetation in it we might see tadpoles in future years.
In April the crab apple tree by the small bridge over the stream was in full bloom and very pretty it looked too.

Children had found some of our remaining hedge cuttings and built a very impressive den in the woods.

The sight of some lovely patches of bluebells in the wood made all the hard work of the previous winter, thinning out the trees to give more light to the plants, very worthwhile.

Out in the meadow though, the grass was growing apace and, as we had decided not to use sheep until we could complete our botanical surveys, we had to find another way of controlling the growth. Luckily our call for help was answered by Ian Jones, who, with his trusty tractor, came not once but four times during the season to cut the grass for us.
We also took turns to regularly mow paths through the Meade to make it easier for visitors to follow a route when walking on the site. We think this was much appreciated especially by the many dog walkers who now pop in regularly. 

June - July
We are grateful to Colin volunteer ecologist, who has been undertaking a detailed survey of plant species during the year and so far he has identified over 160 species. A full list will be added to our web page on the parish website in due course.

We have had some other interesting wildlife visitors during the year as well, including this colourful Mullein moth, found on some figwort when we were clearing the stream of false watercress.

Also, this beautiful Grey wagtail which was enjoying a feast of flies which appeared over the pond in some warm weather. 

In July we were also very proud to be presented with a cheque from Wessex Water for £450 to buy bird and bat boxes for the Meade. This came from their Community Grid Fund, which was available to bid for from any community which would be affected by the installation work of a new water grid for the region. 
We have been grateful to receive much help and advice during the year from the Blackdown Hills AONB team, which has included assistance with bidding for funds, supporting us with events and also, providing us with  free training courses, such as one on scything.
Thankfully Lynn, seen here trying out her new skills,  returned with all her fingers and toes still intact!
The dry summer weather took its toll on the pond which became covered in algae as the flow from the stream was severely reduced. However, this picture does show that some of our plantings of lily pads and sedge, have taken root successfully.

The upside of the dry weather though was the chance to install
a new gate into the wood to allow more walking routes. 

This was single handedly tackled by Bill and we are grateful to him for all his hard work, on all kinds of tasks over the year, as well as the loan of tools and provision of storage space for our gear.

We held our first public event during half term "Build a Bug Hotel". 

Unfortunately the weather could not have been wetter
and the hoped for crowds were somewhat thin on the ground. However, some brave volunteers and a number of Friends as well as some determined children, helped us build a splendid "hotel" and we all went home feeling very pleased with ourselves.

November - December
Finally, over the last few weeks we have been gathering all the bird and bat boxes
that we have been able to purchase, courtesy of Wessex water and when weather has allowed, been steadily putting them up. First of all we have put up a Tawny owl box in the big ash tree. This entailed use of a ladder and ropes and pulleys to get such a big box high up in the tree.

 Next we have put up five open fronted boxes, mostly in trees with ivy, to attract robins and wrens and maybe even starlings. (Thanks again to Bill!).
All in all it has been a satisfying year and we look forward to next year, when we hope, if we are successful with our bid for more funding, to be able to make a start on the new access gate and path.
Thanks to all our volunteers, regular or occasional, everyone's help is very welcome. So if you want to join us on a Saturday morning for an hour or so, please get in touch!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Underway Meade- Update 2

It has been an exciting few months for the Underway Meade with a £200 donation received from Combe Local Ladies and a donation of saplings from Monkton Elms, all reported on in the Chard and Ilminster News

Local Ladies donation

A Friends of Underway Meade Group was launched at the AGM and volunteers continued to work on making improvements for wildlife and the local community.

The meadow has been mowed, thanks to a local resident and his tractor and volunteers are now busily raking up the grass so it can be moved to ensure the soil is not provided with too much nutrient, which would deter wildflower regeneration. This is an ongoing task and we may have to think about different ways of achieving it in the future.

The ongoing survey of the flora has listed over 130 species so far and we expect this list to grow over time.

Last week, during a hot and humid few days there were a lot of flies hovering over the pond and this attracted a pair of grey wagtails. They used the water lilies as a base from which to bounce up and down catching the flies, which you can see were fairly dense!

We are also seeing a regular pair of mallards on the pond, which is nice, though they would eat any frog spawn / tadpoles, so it might be a mixed blessing.

Watch out for more news in the Cloveleaf magazine and on the parish website.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Swifts, hedgehogs and orchids, it's all happening!

It has been an exciting few days, with the arrival  of the The first Swifts arrived in the village on Saturday 9th May. I counted three over Wadeford and the same number later over Combe. By the middle of the week the numbers were up to 12 and the summer sound of them screaming through the skies had begun.

On Sunday, as we closed the blinds in our conservatory at about 9pm, my husband noticed a movement outside and to our great delight, there in the middle of the lawn was a hedgehog! I managed to get a few photos using a flash and when I tweeted the event I had a number of re-tweets and favourited notifications, which for me was pretty unusual.  I had obviously struck a chord!
It seemed healthy enough but was the first we had seen in the garden for a long time. My untidy borders must be paying off!

The next day whilst actually doing some gardening to make space for some plants a friend had kindly given me, I noticed that a pair of blue tits were visiting a nest box on the lime tree in the paddock next door.  They took it in turns to go and catch caterpillars and other insects, then dive into the box, reappearing after a few seconds and depart again very quickly. They must be feeding young so I must watch out for the fledglings.

It was quite hard to get a good shot of them, but after persevering  I managed this one as it darted out. They seemed unworried by my presence and I continued gardening.

Later in the week I went on a woodland walk arranged by the Chard History Group. It was to a small patch of local ancient woodland which was full of bird sound from chiffchaff to "chipping" woodpeckers and blackcaps to wrens but it  was also smothered in bluebells and amongst them were some beautiful early purple orchids.

I love this time of year, with everything looking so fresh and the migrant birds arriving and spring flowers blooming. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A walk in the lanes

Since Easter weekend the weather has been glorious with warm sunny days. The birds are singing, the wildflowers are brightening up the country lanes and butterflies have been on the wing.

On a walk around Scrapton there were a few linnets passing through and one alighted on the top of a sapling in a hedge which was yet to sprout its leaves.

This one is a female as it is lacking the pink on its front and forehead of the male. A bird of mainly farmland which is in serious decline, with over 50% fewer than 40 years ago so it is always nice to see one here.

Another noticeable bird, identified largely by its song, were the numerous chiffchaffs, making their distinctive sounding "chiffchaff call, often likened to a knife being sharpened. Whilst some overwinter in the milder south west, most are returning from their winter sites in the Mediterranean and West Africa and will gradually spread throughout the UK for the breeding season.


One of the brightest flowers in the hedgerow at the moment are the Lesser celandine. They may not be a favourite of the gardener, as they spread rapidly in the borders, but along the verges in the lanes they are a valuable food source to early flying insects and butterflies and when the sun shines they open their petals and I think they are really beautiful.

Proving that they really are a useful food source, a Comma butterfly was flitting from one flower to another in the warm sunshine taking its fill of nectar as it went.
Comma butterfly feeding on Celandine flowers

(Apologies for the quality of the Comma pictures, but it just wouldn't stay still for more than a second or two!)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A sunny day in March!

March has been a rather mixed month weatherwise, ending with a very windy day!
However, there were some nice sunny days too and on one last week I walked along Hollands wash Drove and back through Combe Wood and had some lovely sights such as this Great spotted woodpecker, which was constantly drumming and looking very striking set against a tree with its pink buds about to burst open.

It was also nice to see the first of the seasons' Cowslips unfurling in SSW and here the Chiff chaffs calling to announce their arrival from their wintering spots in Africa.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Underway Meade Update 1 -Background

Underway Meade is a small local wildlife site in the South Somerset village of Combe St. Nicholas that has been owned and managed by Combe St. Nicholas Parochial Trust since 1998.

Underway Meade location map

It is just under four acres in size, enclosed by a hedge and has a grass meadow, a woodland area and a stream running into a pond.

A new committee was appointed in May 2014, since when, work has continued afresh on improving the site as an amenity for both wildlife and the local community.

Working party sessions of volunteers usually take place on a Saturday morning from 10 am, weather permitting.

A wide range of tasks have been undertaken in the last six months, including: clearing the stream and pond of false watercress, nettles and brambles; unblocking the pond inlet pipes; clearing and deepening the overflow ditch alongside the hedge bordering the road; replacing fence posts; replacing the second bridge over the stream; strimming and treating the existing pathway,repairing the pond edge,  sowing a patch of wildflower mix  to see what will grow in the soil, attaching wire netting to the pond bridge to provide a non-slip surface for safety purposes, hedgelaying along the boundary near the new bridge  for the benefit of birds and other wildlife, thinning out some silver birches in the woodland to allow wildflowers more light to flower,

More news about the Meade can be seen in the parish Cloverleaf Magazine and in future posts on this blog.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Frogs on the Move

Have you noticed any squashed frogs on the road recently? They hibernate in the winter, males often at the bottom of ponds in the mud and females in a cosy muddy ditch. Once the weather warms up in the spring they make their way back to the pond and this when they risk getting squashed by traffic as they make their way across roads to find a suitable pond in which to meet a mate and lay eggs,

Frog on migration  back to a pond or water source
Last night, as I walked home via Underway, I saw a frog poised above a drain cover. After a day of rain the water was rushing through the culvert below and I imagine the frog must have thought it was a good place to seek water. 

Then today, whilst in Underway Meade, I saw two lots of frog spawn in the pond. This is a good sign as frogs have been declining in recent years, with lack of habitat and use of pesticides all taking their toll.

In case you wondered, the difference between frog and toad spawn is that frogs lay clumps of eggs in a jelly like mass and toads lay strings of eggs.

Frog spawn in Underway Meade pond

Let's hope we see some tadpoles develop in due course!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Loss of an iconic tree

Combe St. Nicholas has always been proud of the two Copper Beeches, which have graced The Lawns in the centre of the village for probably 150+ years. This view, with the dark tree on the right of the picture,  taken from the top of the church tower, is the one on the left side of The Lawns, in full leaf a few years ago.

Last autumn villagers in Combe became aware that this iconic tree on the Lawns had, almost overnight it seemed, been surrounded by a fungi, which turned out to be Meripilus giganteus, a kind that rots the tree roots and would ultimately result in the destruction of the tree. Professional advice was sought and sadly the decision was taken to fell the tree as the extent of the internal damage could have meant the tree could fall down without warning, especially if there were high winds, and cause injury to someone.

The tree, without its leaves still towered over the surrounding buildings when the tree surgeons arrived at the end of January to carry out its felling and removal. The work took about 3 days to fell and clear away the debris ( helped by people turning up with vans, trucks and trailers and helping themselves to the wood for burning).

Work started with removing the lower branches, then the top branches and it was such a sad sight when the main trunk, finally came down!

Stump is all that remains
Now we are left with just the stump and we won't know till next autumn if the remaining Copper beech on The Lawns has also been attacked by the same fungus. If so, it will mean the tree surgeons will have to return to deal with it. Let's hope not!

Unexpected visitors

Here are a number of sightings I have noted over the last few weeks which have been more unusual and whilst not unheard of, may be of interest.

Whilst walking back from Chard via the lanes earlier in the month I glanced into a field and saw 40+ Lapwing, along with a few Black-headed gulls. The weather was cold and bright but had been frosty in the morning and the field was being warmed by the sun so the birds were taking advantage of the conditions and were feeding hungrily on any worms etc that they could prise out of the ground. Every now and again a gull would harry one of the Lapwings and the flock would take to the air, flapping with their distinctively rounded wings, before settling again and continuing to feed. A lovely sight and not one we get very often round here, though once they would have been a regular visitor to farmland. I have seen small flocks of Lapwing passing through overhead occasionally but they are more often found on marshy areas such as on the Somerset Levels where some of the highest UK concentrations are to be found in the winter months.

On another cold but bright morning I saw two foxes out in the open in a field near Combe Wood Lane, copulating . They were some distance off but clearly "locked together" and remained so for a considerable time, seemingly oblivious to anything else about.  

Fox in the garden
Last week there was another fox in the open, this time in our garden sunning itself under the bird feeders. Grabbing the camera my husband got time to take one picture as it walked away and we quickly warned our neighbour to watch out for it as they keep chickens. It seemed to have an injured leg as it limped and may not have been able to catch much even if it tried.

Black swan  at Chew Valley Lake
Last weekend we had a trip to Chew Valley Lake, a reservoir near Shepton Mallet which is well known for visiting winter wildfowl and various rarities. Unfortunately the weather was atrocious, making waves on the water seem like you were at the coast. We had hoped to see a Great northern diver which had arrived a few days before, somewhat off course from its normal coastal environment! The weather was against us though and we had to content ourselves with a view of this somewhat unexpected Black Swan!

Finally, as I sat down to type up this blog post, I was somewhat surprised to glance out of the window and see that it was snowing heavily, though thankfully it didn't settle, such weather was an unexpected visitor that was definitely not welcome!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Owls are hooting!

The birds must know it has just been Valentine's Day. The Tawny owls have been calling to each other in the evenings, ( NB. a Tawny Owl never calls "twit twoo". In fact the "twit" or more accurately "ke-wick" is a Tawny Owl's contact call and the "twoo" or again more accurately "hoo-hoo-oooo" is the male's territorial call. Consequently, if you hear "ke-wick hoo-hoo-oooo" it is most likely a male answering a female (or another male*). Both can be heard in the recording on the Garden Birds site here  

Blue tits have also been continuing to  inspecting the nest boxes in SSW.

There are more birds singing this week, such as the Dunnock which, whilst quite drab in appearance, has a beautiful song when vying for a mate.

I havealso heard even more Song thrushes around the village singing this week too, which is always a welcome sound as, apart from the lovely song, their numbers are sadly still declining.

With 2 days in a  row of frosty, clear nights followed by lovely sunshine I have also been pleased to see both Peacock and Tortoiseshell butterflies on the wing, as well as a huge Bumble bee.

The Tortoiseshell and bee were both taking advantage of the flowering heather in my mum's garden, but unfortunately were too quick to get a photo of. Let's hope they manage to survive if the weather gets wet or colder again.
Fingers crossed for more sun as the evenings slowly begin to draw out!

* Thanks to the "British Garden Bird" site for this helpful explanation

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Signs of Spring?

Here are a few more sightings over the last week or so to make you feel that Spring may be around the corner.

I can't be certain but this ewe looks like she may have triplets as all three lambs stayed close by her as I passed by on a walk near Combe Wood Lane. I read of one ewe recently that had five lambs, quite unusual I would think?
Watch out for roe deer in the fields now. I saw this one near Betham, but there are at least two in the Woolhayes area.
The bucks are already sprouting their velvet covered antlers and the does will have their fawns in May / June
 Another bird  which likes to find a high perch to sing from (like the wren in the previous post)  is the Song Thrush. I have heard them singing already this month, with their loud repeated phrases, so keep your ears peeled.
Despite the cold weather recently a number of daffodils are already out, including these in Sunday School Wood, which I noticed earlier this week. Roll on Spring!