Here are the most recent observations and comments from our events
Dartmoor Birdwatching trip 8th May 2018
We had an excellent day’s birding and the weather was kind to us too, with a useful overcast at crucial points but warm sunshine persuading the gorse to release its coconut scent at other times.
There was a lot of exciting Cuckoo activity, with at least 4 birds visible at times and both males and females making their distinctive calls as they flew in and out of a stand of conifers. We also saw 8 or more Crossbills in a tree close enough for very good and prolonged views. There were plenty of Willow Warblers and several Garden Warblers singing beautifully, and we also saw Blackcaps, Siskin, Stonechats, Buzzards and a single Red Kite.
Redstarts appeared, as hoped, at Challacombe Farm and further along, near another farm, there were Whinchat and Wheatear obligingly posing close by for us to contrast and compare.
The Crimean Seat
AVDCS have produced and erected an information board at the Crimean Seat, which is this odd Victorian structure on the permissive footpath that adds a loop to the coast path passing through the Axmouth to Lyme Regis Undercliffs.
The path to the Crimean Seat joins the South Coat Path about a mile from Lyme Regis end (at Ware Lane), and the loop is a little over 1½ miles, so about 3½ miles altogether. It’s worth the trip as the views from the Seat are better than along most of the path.
We are grateful to Lyme Regis Museum for the use of one of their photographs, to George Allhusen for permission to erect the board and to Pat Bennett for funding.
We had a message from Arizona thanking us for our useful website (Thanks!), and pointing us to this website that shows numerous ways of making your own nest boxes.
Portland Bird Watch 18th April 2018
A nice day for a trip to Portland and surrounds.
Migrants included Wheatears, Swallows, Black Redstart and Lesser Whitethroat.
Star bird of the day was a Hoopoe found in one of the fields above
Also impressive sightings of male and female Marsh Harrier at Radipole.
Full report of the trip will appear in next newsletter. Thanks to Fran for the photos.
Steps Bridge 26th March 2018
This was the annual visit to the River Teign valley to the east of Dartmoor. We had a very pleasant visit wandering among the yellow carpet of wild daffodils. As well as numerous woodland birds, we saw Dippers and a stunning male Goosander. But no Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers this year.
Brimstone butterflies and one Comma were recorded.
Some frogspawn high in a tree was a puzzle. We came to the conclusion that a bird of prey had caught and eaten a frog but could not digest the spawn. Further enquiries supported our views.
Thanks to Tammy and Fran for photos.
Undercliffs at Pinhay – yet more laurel clearance, February 2018
Undercliffs at Pinhay – laurel clearance continues, February 2018
Another good turnout on a beautiful day continued enlarging the gap under these splendid beeches. We worked outwards from both ends of the central gap and had three bonfires to cope with the wood removed – probably a record for an Undercliff workparty. The first two photos, taken not long after work had begun and near the end of the day, show the big difference in cover. The third picture shows the other end of the clearing with a carpet of wild garlic (ramsons) sprouting up in the foreground which had been cleared one or two years earlier. After many years under impenetrable laurel shade, we should see a gradual spread of more woodland flowers.
Trinity Hill gorse-bashing, January 2018
On this blustery but lovely day to be outside, three of us set-to under Nathan’s guidance hacking down the rest of a block of old gorse about 8′ high. The aim is to let the gorse go through a cycle until it gets too old and dense to be of much use to anything, then chop it back to let the regrowth start again. This lets the ground flora have a chance until the gorse slowly takes over again. There’s masses of old gorse on Trinity Hill so we are not removing valuable habitat. In fact, it was remarkable how little was living in the thatch of old dead prickles; I expected to see a few beetles and woodlice but not even a spring-tail jumped up. Several fantasitc rainbows came and went. Thanks to Doug for the photos.
Humble Glades management on the Undercliffs, January 2018
About ten of us made the long march to Glade 4 – I didn’t know it existed. It’s the final open space in the string of glades that Natural England has been either keeping open or gradually enlarging. This one has an extraordinarily rich ground flora, which is hardly possible considering how good these glades are, and has obviously been open space for many years. It is also the largest area. So our task was to push the holm oak back a little. You’d think this was the Mediterranean – all those evergreens – but our thick clothing gives it away. Lovely spot.
Donald Campbell awarded MBE
Congratulations to our president, Donald Campbell! Donald has been awarded an MBE for services to conservation. It is very well deserved. Donald has not only held all manner of posts for conservation organisations but is always out there too, leading walks, active at work parties, doing bird counts, writing books ……
Ware Pond management on the Undercliffs, December 2017
You come across Ware Pond shortly after entering the Undercliffs from the Lyme Regis end, although it’s not obvious because there’s a high bank in the way. It’s been there for decades but silted up so about 30 years ago it was dug out by with help from school children. It remains an open pond several feet deep in places, and has a prolific growth of Fools Watercress that spreads across the surface, Reed Mace, and several smaller plants including Floating Pondweed and a stonewort.
Each year Natural England organises a pond-clearing work-party. This time there were about ten of us, who included Terry who had organised the restoration with the school children all those years ago, three ex-chairmen and the current one. Long-handled cromes (rakes with long tines) are the weapon of choice for pulling out the vegetation. We also cleared the ever-encroaching bramble, and coppiced some small trees to let more light get to the pond.
Undercliffs laurel clearance November 2017
This was a continuation of the last couple of years’ work to take down the huge swathe of laurel below Allhallows. It has taken over the understory below beech and some other large trees, leaving little growing on the ground layer. Last year we did this in the rain; this time the weather was dry and sunny and made for a very pleasant day indeed. We even managed to keep the bonfire going pretty well, not easy with laurel. We were, of course, careful not to breath in too much of the smoke because, as you know, laurel contains cyanide!
It also made a pleasant change not to have to walk in too far, and not to have to carry any tools in as Tom was able to park his truck next to the work site. We did, however, manage to misplace one of the bow saws – probably buried under a thick layer of beech leaves! Tom plans to go back in the spring when the leaf litter has decomposed.
Holyford Woods work party November
Nathan from the Countryside Team had arranged two tasks for us this time. One was continuing to widen a ride along part of the footpath to encourage woodland flowers which in turn will be visited by insects. You can see the size of this new ride in the photos. The more unusual task was splitting a huge oak trunk that had blown down a few years ago, to make posts that will be used elsewhere in the wood. It was a long job, wacking wedges into a very hard, partly seasoned trunk. Here Roger and Nathan are starting the process, and by the end there seems to be a lot more wood than they started with. It made a nice change not to see it all end up on a bonfire.
Scrub-bashing on the Undercliffs, November 2017
You are never quite sure what the task involves until you get there. This time, Tom Sunderland (Natural England’s site manager) had decided to make a new glade on an area that is clearly open on a 1968 aerial photo, just south of the Goat Island grassland. So we dived into tall hawthorn scrub that was probably 40 years old, about 25′ tall and with a canopy completely tangled with aerial brambles, wild privet and old man’s beard. By the end of the afternoon, and with the help of a very large fire, 15 of us had cleared a glade about 100′ across. Here are some of us struggling in the undergrowth.
Axe Estuary clean-up October 2017
The clean-up is becomming an annual event but, as you can see, the amount of litter doesn’t seem to diminish much. There was more than shown in Doug’s photos. A notable differenct to last year’s photos are the lurid vizzy jackets with our logo (and name on the backs), and the litter-picker-uppers which are particularly good for getting into the prickly hedge along the roadside. Thanks to Ian for organising us.
Humble Pond clearance , Ocotber 2017
On a rather dull day, when most people would have stayed at home, six of us trudged to Humble Pond for its annual clean. Each year the stonewort and reed-mace gallop away so there’s plenty to pull out. We also also gradually pushing back the hazel to let more light in, hence the smoky fire. Donald’s dogs Fuggles and Otter always help.
Goat Island grass-cut & scrub-bash, September 2017
The season’s work parties got under way in mid September with the annual grass cutting and raking at Goat Island on the Undercliffs. Tom Sunderland of Natural England organises this every year so that the extraordinarily rich chalk flowers continue to thrive. Now that the South Coast footpath goes through the middle of it, everyone can appreciate the effort. It takes a couple of days of strimming and raking, with the help of about 20-25 people. A Dorset contingent inflates the numbers, and AVDCS members are always present. With so many people, the work is over more quickly than in earlier years, so the thrid day is spent scrub-bashing to extend the grassland into what is still dense and botanically rather dull secondary woodland. These few pictures give a flavour.
Borrow Pit Path
This may not sound much but we have been working towards completing the all-weather path around the Borrow Pit at Seaton Marshes. The present gravel path goes about a third of the way round the pond, and we want to finish the last 250m to the same standard. This will make an easy walk for anyone to make, and give good views of the pond all year without getting muddy feet in the wet months. We hope to get going in late winter or early spring, with help from EDDC’s Countryside Team.
We now have two grants ….
► Seaton Town Council awarded us £500 from their grant funding scheme, for which we are very grateful.
► Tesco’s Bags of Help. We are very pleased to be short-listed for one of the grants from the Bags of Help fund. Tesco teamed up with Groundwork to launch its community funding scheme, which sees grants of £4,000, £2,000 and £1,000 – raised from carrier bag sales in Tesco stores – being awarded to local community projects. Three groups in every Tesco region have been shortlisted to receive the cash award and shoppers are being invited to head along to Tesco stores to vote for who they think should take away the top grant.
Voting is open in all Tesco stores throughout September and October. Customers will cast their vote using a token given to them at the check-out in store each time they shop. So please go and vote for AVDCS in Seaton and Sidmouth!
Tesco’s Bags of Help project has already delivered over £33 million to more than 6,400 projects up and down the UK. Tesco customers get the chance to vote for three different groups every time they shop. Every other month, when votes are collected, three groups in each of Tesco’s regions will be awarded funding.
Butterflies on the Undercliffs, 23 June 2017
For the third year running we have had a butterfly walk on the Undercliffs, this year centred at Goat Island since the public footpath now goes right through the middle of it. The weather could have been better but at least it didn’t rain. Our able leader was Paul Butter of Butterfly Conservation who found most of the smaller moths, though the rest of us could spot the butterflies. Altogether we saw 16 butterflies and 17 moths, which were mostly day-flying species and micros which only Paul could identify. We were at a small glade at the far east of Goat Island, off the public path, and were just about to leave when the first Silver-washed fritillaries arrived; like buses, there were three of them after not seeing any all day. Then the highlight, which was the ambitious target we had set ourselves, was a single Wood White that flew around and around in this glade while everyone took its photo. Below is the moment when it was first spotted.
Wood White hasn’t been seen at this part of the Undercliffs for some time (or may be ever?), even though there is a good population on the Hooken at Beer. Its liking for sheltered glades is one of the main reasons for Natural England’s Tom Sunderland opening up, connecting and maintaining the glades around Goat Island, so it was excellent to see that our work-party efforts have paid off. Wood White is rare in England so having local colonies in Devon and west Dorset lets us see a special insect. It’s hardly the most spectacular of butterflies but rarity and good looks don’t have to go hand-in-hand.
The other butterfly of interest was Wall Brown which is most reliably seen near the coast, and among the interesting moths was the Dowdy Plume (it really was rather dowdy) and the rather beautiful Oncocera semirubella which Paul calls the Rhubarb & Custard moth, having an unlikely combination of pink and yellow wings. We’ve now seen this little moth on each of our trips to the Undercliffs.
Our second Family Explorer Day at Pennyhayes Farm
Penny Evans was back on form at Pennyhayes Farm at Umbourne on 30 May. The pictures speak for themselves – lots of activity and plenty of interest. We are most grateful to Phil Wilson and Marion Reid for letting us use their farm, with its sympathetically managed pasture.
Our first Family Explorer Day at Trinity Hill
On the first of the year’s Explorer Days on 14 April, Penny Evans from the Countryside Team showed us how to interpret signs of animals without actually seeing them. The children were shown deer poo and their sleeping circles – lots of these so lots of deer , and feathers chewed off, probably by a fox rather than a buzzard. It’s the season for gorse blossom so out came the Kelly kettles (of work-party fame) and we all made tea from the flowers. It looked a lot more attractive than it tasted, but as Penny said, anything that doesn’t taste bad is about the best you can do from wild food. The highlight was seeing an adder warming itself under a sheet of roofing felt that Penny had put down earlier. Later, the children chopped up elder stems into segments to make their own snakes. The afternoon was what we’d hoped for, with a good mix of natural history and practical activity, and we look forward to two more events with Penny.
Not-So-Lesser Spotted Woodpecker!
Every year we set out for Steps Bridge, Dartmoor more in hope than expectation of seeing a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Most years we have only the briefest of views and the sound of distant drumming.
This year’s trip on 27th March was a rare exception, with incredible close-up views of a male drumming, calling, feeding and even digging a nest hole! What a treat!
For those who missed it, here are a few photos of this amazingly obliging bird (courtesy of Sue Smith).
Full report to follow.
Axe Estuary Litter Clean-up, March 2017
Fifteen members spent a couple of hours on a pleasant sunny morning filling bags with litter from the estuary shore running along the Axmouth road. This 1km stretch produced 15 large bags of rubbish and as well as stuff that wouldn’t fit in bags. The less obviously rubbishy trash included a garden gnome, carpets, a dustbin (!) and a sink. Among the smaller items were hundreds of nurdles which are granules of plastic injected into moulds, and which are a worrying pollutant as they accumulate toxins on their surface, and animals and birds eat them by mistake.
We were particularly pleased that two of the pickers joined the Society there and then.
The next litter-pick is organised by the Marine Conservation Society and is Seaton beach, on 17 September.
Work parties on the Undercliffs NNR in early 2017
We’ve had four work parties on the Undercliffs since Christmas, organised as usual by Tom Sunderland who is the enthusiastic site manager for Natural England. Early January was at the Sheep Wash, which is, as it says, a stone-lined pit for dipping sheep. It is over 200 years old and once must have had a water supply but is now dry. The sides get scraped every year or two to stop plants damaging the walls, which are held together by lime mortar so roots get in quickly. As well as keeping the sheep wash in trim, we were pushing back the ever-encroaching bramble scrub since this bit was grassland is now acquiring an interesting flora. Coffee-break (then lunch then tea-break) are important aspects of the day. Donald’s dog didn’t have a job so we set him watching the kettle. The bonfire is obligatory. The sheep wash is just off the coast path at a point about due south of Downlands, and is easily accessible without causing any problems or getting lost so anyone can have a look.
At the end of January we were at Goat Island. If you haven’t walked the coast path through the Undercliffs since it was re-opened, you will not have seen this spectacular plot of chalk grassland which used to be inaccessible but has become the highlight of the path through the NNR. The task was bashing back the scrub at one edge. Here’s a rainbow over the finished area at the end of the day – clearly someone thought we’d done a good job.
Two more work parties on the Undercliffs, at The Plateau in February and Humble Glades in March, finished the year’s work on the NNR. Given the huge cut in Natural England’s grant for reserve management, we feel that our contribution is relatively more important than when contractors could be hired to do the same in a fraction of the time than our manual labour.
Bird trip to Portland, 5th December 2016
Ian Waite and Sue Smith
Here are several birds seen on our trip to Portland last week. They include Grey Heron, Kestrel with prey and having a spot of bother, Dunlin, Brent Geese, Stonechat and Mediterranean Gulls amongst the Black-headed Gulls shown in these photos by Sue. An enjoyable day ended with a male Marsh Harrier flying towards us in the sunlight at Radipole.
Work Party at Humble Pond on the Undercliffs 7 December 2016
Martin Drake & Doug Rudge
Below Humble Glades is one of the few natural ponds on the Undercliffs. Plants grow vigorously, particularly reedmace (Typha) and stonewort (Chara), and surrounding sallows take root in the margins, so every year Natural England’s senior site manager, Tom Sunderland, gets us to clear the ‘weed’ to prevent the pond disappearing, and cut back the hazel and sallow to let more light reach the pond.
Work Party at Pinhay on the Undercliffs 19 November 2016
Martin Drake & Doug Rudge
We continued the apparently never-ending task of clearing laurel on the Undercliffs, hacking a bit more from where we left off last year. The hole we made is now quite respectable, and should let a lot more deciduous trees sprout. The laurel is quite extraordinary, having immensely long branches that straggle and intertwine for many metres before rooting. This makes an impenetrable thicket with almost nothing growing under it.
Bowling Green Marsh 24th October
As it was very wet the group went straight to the Hide at Bowling Green Marsh where they enjoyed seeing many waders including Avocets and late Whimbrel and Ruff plus various ducks, including Pintail and Shoveler.
The morning was made even more enjoyable as toilets and fresh coffee were available at the newly refurbished Hide. It was half term week so an RSPB guide was in the Hide for families, hence the facilities. Only one family turned up so most of the morning we had the Hide to ourselves!
Seaton Beach Clean 18th September
Twenty seven volunteers from as far afield as Bristol and Yeovil collected over 2000 items weighing in total 16 Kg from Seaton beach on Sunday 18th September as part of the Marine Conservation Society’s big Beach Clean.
Once again items of plastic were the most numerous items collected. Unfortunately several deposits of dog faeces were noted on the beach, including that area that is designated ‘Dog Free’.
All details will now be forwarded to the Marine Conservation Society to be included in their report later in the year.
Bird Watch on the Axe Estuary 12th September
There were many interesting birds to see on our stroll along the Axe Estuary on 12th September. It was good to be able to compare Bar-tailed Godwits with the Black-tailed Godwits, young Oystercatchers with adults and Lesser Black-backed Gulls with the larger Great Black-backed. It was also encouraging to see two Widgeon recently arrived from the Arctic.
Bird walk at Fernworthy Reservoir 27th June
On a dry, warm but rather cloudy morning thirteen enthusiastic bird watchers met in the car park at Fernworthy Reservoir. Even before we left the car park we watched a Swallow that was successfully nesting just above the entrance to the ladies toilet.
The group, led by Ian Waite set off at a leisurely pace to walk around the Reservoir. We had not gone far when two Common Sandpipers took off from the shoreline just below where we were standing providing a great start to the walk. Whilst following the flight path of the Sandpipers, two Redstarts were observed on some rather distant rocks. Crossing the stream just below the dam, a beautiful Grey Wagtail was sighted briefly before it flew off into the vegetation. As we then climbed up the path we heard the call of a Tree Pipit and it was eventually tracked down to the top of a nearby tree, giving us good views.
As we walked along the side of the Reservoir we saw a variety of birds including a young Grey Wagtail, two juvenile Stonechats which were balancing precariously on the top of gorse, ubiquitous Mallards, some Canada Geese and a variety of damsel flies and moths. The highlight of this section of the walk was watching Swallows feed two fledglings that were perched in a tree, giving us great views of their feeding process.
Stopping on the edge of a wooded area for a coffee break, the group watched a male Siskin display several times, launching himself from the top of a nearby tree. He was resplendent in his green and yellow plumage and the sun shining through his tail feathers was a memorable sight. As he disappeared from view another Tree Pipit was heard and it displayed for us by rising vertically and ‘parachuting’ down again.
Refreshed by the break and the delicious cake we continued around the Reservoir and we came upon an area of open meadow flanked by trees. It provided ‘something for everyone’. This area was sunny and sheltered and the group was enthralled watching a Spotted Flycatcher feed young, and then a male and female Pied Flycatcher and a male Redstart catch insects. There was also a plentiful array of orchids and other interesting and colourful flora to look at.
En route to our lunch stop, we heard Green Woodpeckers yaffling but disappointingly, they were hidden by the tree foliage. Willow Warblers sang in the trees around us as we ate our lunch and we watched juvenile Swallows perfect their aerial manoeuvres over the water in front of us. More delicious cake helped to boost our energy levels and we continued with the walk.
As we neared the car park we had a brief view of a colourful male Bullfinch and good views of another Tree Pipit. After a short additional stroll we left Fernworthy having had a most enjoyable and satisfying day. Many thanks to Ian Waite for leading this excellent walk and to Doug and to Tammy for generously providing cake.
Source of the River Axe
Roger Critchard, with photos by John Ramsey
On Monday 6th June Ian Waite led a walk to search for the source of the river Axe. 13 of us set off from Winyards Gap Pub car park near the village of Cheddington in Dorset, with wonderful views over west Dorset and South Somerset. We soon passed the source of the river Parrett which flows north for about 80km to the Bristol Channel.
Continuing through the village with the impressive Cheddington Court, we picked up the footpath past Broadleaze farm and into woodland. Leaving the footpath we headed up-stream through the wood which was boggy in places and noted Ramsons, Mare’s-Tail, Dog’s Mercury and a beautiful yellow Iris.
Eventually we came to an old Ash tree.
By removing some stones in a dried up ditch, we revealed a small trickle of water.
In wet weather the water would spring up through the tree roots to start its journey of approximately 44km to Axmouth.
Retracing our steps to rejoin the footpath, we made our way up the hill to Axenoller Farm, now owned by Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary, to join the Monarchs Way footpath close to Beaminster Down. Turning north-east we made our way up to a ridge and down over the other side, through fields and a green lane to the sound of Chiffchaff, Yellowhammers and Skylarks, also a swarm of bees passed us going in the opposite direction. Soon we arrived back at Winyards Gap having had a very enjoyable walk.
Colyton Primary School at Colyton Community Woodland
The children of Colyton Primary School know the Community Woodland well, but AVDCS wanted to get them more involved with the wildlife here. We asked Penny Evans to run two events showing them what’s in the wood and grassland. On 13 April, Class A did some nature detective work, and on 25 May Class E went mini-beast hunting. Some of the children saw a fox and we found badger poo. After talking about what they found and heard, the children were given task by Penny to cut up various sorts of wood, canes and branches to be fitted into her specially made framework. They all had a great time despite some cuts and blood blisters.
Here they are with Penny at work and play, with the mini-beast hotel that they made.
Installation of the Borrow Pit Interpretation Board 6th October 2015.
Here are the EDDC Work Party Volunteers with Doug Rudge from AV&DCS and Dave Palmer from EDDC putting the Board in to place. It looks good and will hopefully give lots of enjoyment to visitors to the Borrow Pit.
Colyton Community Woodland 2014-15