Stewkley wildlife reserve

Wildlife reserve report 2017

By Alan Dickens

For the second year running the Wildlife Reserve scored full marks, 5/5, in its section, from the judges of the Bucks Best Kept Village competition, contributing positively to Stewkley’s cup wins.  Particular praise this time was drawn to the thick hedgerows.  These features may well account for the evident increase in the bat population using the Reserve, where the creatures can find insect food in the lee of the hedges, even on blustery evenings.

The meadows were also a lucrative hunting ground for the Barn Owl seen there in June, plucking rodents from the deep grass to take to its nest site elsewhere off the Soulbury Road.

2016 was notable for a threefold increase in the numbers of Common Spotted Orchid found in Old Churchfurlong field with several single specimens at new locations there.

If it was a good year for the orchids and also Meadowsweet aka ‘Queen of the Meadows’ and Great Burnet, which appreciated the very wet June when nearly 6 inches of rain fell, it was a poor flowering season for Bird’s-foot Trefoil and Tufted Vetch.  Consequently, the most vibrant period to admire the flowers was in late May-early June when an exceptionally fine aggregation of Yellow Rattle, Pignut, OxEye Daisy, Ragged Robin and Buttercups was to be seen.

The heavy rains also contributed to a dire year for butterflies but some magnificent dragonflies were seen around the pond which was full of water at the end of June.  The subsequent summer had long periods of fine, hot weather and the pool was empty again by mid-October as it is only rain-fed.  Unlike in previous years it was not filled again last winter.

Further works were carried out to improve the chief asset of the Reserve, its flora, by the sowing of wildflower seed either bought or sourced locally.  The increase in the numbers of cowslips, year on year, is evidence of continuing success.  Planted last winter were another 600 Meadowsweet raised from seed gathered near Clack Brook and installed from 3 inch pots into the toughest conditions in the meadows amongst the most robust grasses of the wet furrows.  Monitoring of the 1000 specimens put there last year shows the good survival rate of them may provide the sought-for effect of putting seams of their flowers between the already colourful ridges of drier ground.

Another 270 Devils-bit Scabious, also raised from locally gathered seed were planted in the small area behind the pond to enhance the good display of their flowers seen in Aug/Sept 2016 ¨C a valuable nectar source for insects, together with Fleabane, when haywork has cleared the rest of the fields.

Wild Carrot, sown in the gateways and alongside the footpath in Old Churchfurlong, gave its best display yet.

Further works to radically improve the diversity of the sward in the least rewarding areas of the meadows, chiefly near the stile to Foxhole and the gap into Jackdaw field, has continued over the past year by replacing species-poor turf and topsoil with surplus spoil from grave diggings in the Burial Ground and trenches dug in the Churchyard and the Rec’s football field, whereupon a range of wildflower seed has been sown.  The ongoing success of this scheme will be evident this summer and in 2018.

Similar areas done previously have been transformed and a prominent site, where an old dung-heap once stood in the north-east corner of Old Churchfurlong, will bear witness to this in summer 2017.

Three new bird nest boxes have been erected since last year when at least eight were occupied.  Bird song is one of the joys of the Reserve particularly from its healthy population of warblers, yellowhammers and goldfinches.  The latter feed avidly on the seed from the Knapweed, the most prominent of the Reserve’s wildflowers and the one most easily propagated over the years, and, being indigenous to the fields, it proves the point that working with nature is the most successful ploy.

As in last year’s report it is sad to relate that criminal individuals have sought to despoil this village asset, that gives so much pleasure to many, by inflicting further damage on the gates and destruction of an information board in early January plus smashing a leaflet dispenser and tearing up a new supply of information leaflets.  Thankfully, Robert Goss and Steve Buchan have come to the rescue with repairs at no cost for labour.  Their skill and effort is much appreciated.

Further complaints from parishioners have involved the small minority of dog owners who leave their dog’s excrement on the mown paths at the Reserve and others who bag it up and throw the concoction into the hedge.

As always the Management Committee is greatly indebted to Martin Scrivener for carrying out the ‘haywork’ and to Mary Hunt for allowing her sheep to graze the aftermath thus removing all the surplus herbage from the meadows.  Both undertakings are vital for the continuing improvement in the quality of the wildflower display we are seeing each year.