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April in Orchid Glade

Report for Orchid Glade : April 2017

Sunny, chilly and very dry

April 13th in the Orchid Glade. The reserve is a vision in green, and since I was last here several new shades have added to the effect because different species of trees and shrubs have unfurled their brand-new leaves. The ever-hungry fallow deer at last have something fresh and tasty to eat, and looking around, I can trace their browsing line all around the reserve. Prolonged dry, cold spring weather is well known in Suffolk, and traditional April showers have not been reliable for years. In this dry spell, the pond water level remains high, although mud patches churned by the deer in the winter are now dry and hard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hear bird song – chiffchaff, blackcap, robin. Myriad plants just an inch or so high carpet the reserve, but the only flowers I find are ground ivy, dandelion, wood sedge and glaucous sedge. All the others are busy developing new leaves, and a multitude of flattened leaf rosettes pressed close to the ground demonstrate the success of this particular adaptation to the intense pressures from incessant grazing and browsing that goes on in the reserve every day of the year. Among them are the sharp, bright green leaves of many southern marsh orchids. One of the plants that survives without the need for foliage pressed close to the ground is hairy St John’s wort: I photograph some with new leaves and stems six inches high. A single young cherry tree is a mass of blossom, but the flower buds on hawthorn trees won’t open for a fortnight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are many hundreds – thousands? – of newly hatched tadpoles in the shallow water at the edge of the pond. On my last visit, there was lots of frogspawn, and also toad spawn, which – luckily – is totally different in appearance: it looks like black bootlaces. A feather preened out by a heron is floating in the pond. The small island in the pond is intended for nesting birds, and today I have spotted a cluster of loose, downy feathers that look interesting. I can’t reach the inaccessible island, but through binoculars I can see the striated back plumage of a mallard duck on what is plainly her nest. To reduce her profile, she has lowered her head and is craning her neck forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laurie Forsyth 

Spring in the meadows

April 15th at our Fromus Meadows nature reserve, and with no sign of the end of the mini drought, the river Fromus is almost at a standstill. Blackthorn in the thick old hedgerows has been flowering for some time, but the clouds of snowy blossoms have now lost their sparkle. The cattle have made a great impact on the reserve now they are a permanent fixture, and it will be very instructive to see what effect they are making on the flora of the meadows, and the soft areas around the ponds and the river. At first glance, it seems nothing could survive in the quagmire-like conditions created from repeated trampling by the heavy cattle, and today – weeks after it last rained – things look even worse, because the bare mud has dried and turned rock hard. However, it is very likely we will be pleasantly surprised, because disturbance like this can be beneficial to flora in the long term. In a few places, wet soil is dotted with new young plants that it will be interesting to identify later on. I photograph a plant of lords and ladies, with heavily spotted, glossy leaves.

 

 

 

 

 

This is the very best time of the year to wander in the Gorge. The April sun strikes through the bright green unfurling leaves of the tall trees, and illuminates the ground flora of dog’s mercury, primrose, lesser celandine, dandelion and ground ivy. Small lawns of new grass on the steep slopes of the Bigod’s earth dam are dotted with sweet violet, and on the steepest slopes are a few plants of wood goldilocks buttercup. This strange little flower is interesting: it has replaced normal sexual reproduction with asexual reproduction – without fertilisation. A probable consequence of its lack of need to attract pollinating insects is that it is losing its yellow petals. On the same plant, you will find some flowers with one petal, some with two, or three or four. Wood goldilocks is found in old, undisturbed places – just like this ancient medieval earthwork in fact. Down the A12 at Kelsale, the largest colony I know of flourishes in the churchyard of St Mary and St Peter, which probably dates back to the 11th century.

 

 

 

 

 

There are several plants of ramsons garlic on the banks of the river in the Gorge. It is a handsome plant in flower, but it can swiftly come to dominate swathes of ground if the habitat is right, and possibly it will come to love the shaded depths of the Gorge, where it could smother other native plants. Beside the faltering river Fromus in its deep cutting, I am being closely watched by one of the British White cattle. I look at her, and she looks at me.

 

 

 

 

 

Laurie Forsyth

Tree Creeper

We have a new record for the reserve of a tree creeper.  Photos and sighting by recording co-ordinator Rose Battye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also, an ID (Adrian Chalkley) of more pondlife (photo by Jools):

 

 

 

 

 

This is an early instar (i.e. young) larva of a lesser diving beetle. Probably one of the Ilybius species, so not a great diving beetle just one of dozens of smaller swimming diving beetles. Most larvae can only be identified to family level.

 

Water Fleas

Adrian Chalkley, Suffolk County Recorder: Freshwater Invertebrates, attended our open day on 1st April and took some pondlife specimens home for identification down the microscope.  Here are the results:

Acroperus harpae

Acroperus harpae

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chydorus sphaericus

Simocephalus vetulus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The photos are all taken through my microscope and the water fleas are between 0.4 and 0.8 mm across.

Nothing rare here, in fact Chydorus sphaericus and Simocephalus vetulus are two of the commonest species in Suffolk. The other, Acroperus harpae is an infrequent find in the county but too little records exist to draw conclusions from this; though it’s a useful record.

One of the identifying features of Acroperus harpae is the presence of lines of groups of  tiny bristles called squamae along the post abdomen (shown by the blue arrow, the post-abdomen having been extracted from inside the body of the water flea).

Adrian

 

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Cattle at the reserve

Rare Breed English White Cattle

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cattle grazing 2016-17 

for traditional Suffolk meadowland enhancement at Simpson’s Fromus Reserve

The Trust’s objective at Simpson’s Fromus Reserve is to enhance the floral richness of these ancient meadows. Since February 2008 the reserve has been entered in organic environmental stewardship.  The first rule of management, of course, is no artificial fertilizers nor herbicides.  The second is to keep the sward-height low, to allow sunlight and rain to penetrate to the broadleaf flowering plants that we wish to encourage.  The specified targets are 5-15 cm height in April-May, unless the field is conserved for hay or silage, and the same at the end of the growing season in November.

 

 

 

 

 

In past years, the whole Reserve has been closed in spring for hay or silage, which has been harvested after 30 June, and the aftermath growth reduced by grazing. From 2013 through 2015, local farmers have taken the grass harvest and brought in their cattle  for the autumn months. But things change and, in 2016, we could find no local cattle-owners who wanted the grass-harvest or grazing, nor a market for our organic hay. As a trial, we decided to change to an all-grazing system and brought in the trust’s small herd of six British White cows and heifers, previously housed at Sinfield Nature Conservation Trust’s White House Farm, Hasketon. The Soil Association rules (for organic status) allow unlimited grazing by this rare breed.

 

 

 

 

 

Looked after by local farmer Philip Baskett, and registered with a local veterinarian, these beautiful  animals have done a good job in bringing down the tall grass. The reserve was already divided into three grazing units, around which the cattle have been rotated.

 

 

 

 

 

There have been other consequences.  Over the wetter winter months,  gateways have become muddy passages, and hoof-prints have indented the soil. While challenging, in places, for the human walker, the effect will provide diversity in the habitat for small plants and invertebrate animals, and may bring to life  long dormant seeds of ancient meadow flora. Cattle dung will attract coprophagous creatures, and increase habitat diversity for plants and fungi.

Guardians and other visitors will find these cattle docile and friendly.  There are three grazing compartments, and you can check beforehand where they will be. If you ignore them, they will ignore you.  If you want a nosey cuddle, please bring carrots or apples, and you’ll have friends for life!  You can always push them gently out of the way if they are too intrusive and, once they appreciate you have no more eatables, they will lose interest

 

 

 

 

 

 

We shall assess the results carefully during the summer 2017 and apply our observations to conservation planning for next year. Meanwhile, two cows and three heifers have been served by artificial insemination, so we hope for autumn calves.

Cow – the moo-vie:

 

 

 

 

Open day review

No Fooling!

It might have been April 1st, but there were no pranks.  The sun shone down on a glorious open day to inspire you for our freshwater habitat competitions.  If you couldn’t make it, you can read back in the seasonal diary for some highlights and read on, here, to see what you missed!

Firstly, Adrian Chalkley showed us what he had found by pond-dipping.  His specimen tank was teeming with invertebrate life:

 

 

 

 

 

At 11.00, Lord Cranbrook led a tour of the river Fromus, the long pond and the round pond for budding environmentalists and aspiring poets.

 

 

 

 

 

As the unmissable obvious highlight of the reserve, visitors then encountered John Rainer “mound man” on the medieval earthwork taking us back in time to the Bigod deer hunts.

 

 

 

 

 

As you wandered round, the floral delights to particularly notice were the blackthorn blossom and the banks of yellow primroses.  Ground ivy is present and the clumps of bluebells are spreading.

 

 

 

 

 

Then you were free to roam the reserve and absorb the quiet beauty of the gorge, listen to the birds, and say hello to our friendly cows (they love carrots and apples if you happen to be visiting!)

 

 

 

 

 

But is it art?

Pond Dipping

At our open day on April 1st we were thinking about the aquatic environment.  We are hoping inspire poets to enter our poetry competition, but also budding environmentalists at school to enter our essay competition.  With that in mind, Adrian Chalkley – the Suffolk County Recorder of Freshwater Invertebrates – was pond-dipping at the long pond and the round pond and he found some lovely beasties!

There were dragonfly larvae, innumerable water fleas and a water snail:

 

 

 

 

 

may fly larvae:

 

 

 

 

 

and some interesting partially parasitic mites:

They lay their eggs on the back of another larva that will eventually fly – and when they do, they mite eggs get transported and can drop off into a new place.

 

 

 

 

The interesting Victorian backstory of the caddis fly larva had us intrigued:

The caddis fly larva has a sticky glue secreting gland under its “chin”.  It picks up small bits of bark and other plant material which it sticks together, as in the photo, to form a protective tube.  Victorian gentleman scientists added tiny gemstones to a tank with caddis fly larvae in and the larvae would pick up the gemstones and use them to make their little tube, in the absence of any other material.  Victorian ladies would then kill the caddis fly using alcohol and turn the gemstone tube into jewellery.

 

 

Are you inspired to learn more?  Would you like to enter an essay competition about these rarely seen invertebrates, quietly living out their perilous lives under the water?  If they survive they may fly for a day of mating before dying!  Well, you can enter our competition:

Essay Competition for Children

Local children are invited to enter an essay competition for 2018. Two classes: Junior (age 11 or under), and Senior (age 12 or upwards). Prizes of £50 for the winning entry in each class.

A 500 word essay concerning ‘Wildlife and Water’, inspired by the Fromus river, or the ponds on the reserve, the aquatic environment and its life-enhancing qualities. Entries to be submitted between 1st October and 1st November 2017. Winning entries (Junior and Senior) will be published in the 2018 book in the adult education series published by the Suffolk Flora Preservation Trust on the general subject of the Trust’s reserves.

For details of location and access policy, please click

NB Visiting children aged 16 or under must each be accompanied by a responsible adult

Become a guardian so you and your child/grandchild can visit and get inspiration whenever you like, or wait until our next open day:

Saturday 16th September  

10.00 – 13.00h                       

Guided tour of river and ponds at 11 am

 

Poetry Inspiration

If you were able to visit our Fromus Valley reserve yesterday, hopefully you will have been inspired by the tranquil beauty of the place, alive with spring birdsong and primroses.  If you weren’t able to make it, but would like to enter our competition, this little video of the Fromus flowing gently downstream might get the muse to the door?

 

POETRY PLEASE

Suffolk poets are invited to enter a competition for 2018

Poems concerning aquatic features and watery wildlife will be included in the 2018 book in the adult education series published by the Suffolk Flora Preservation Trust on the general subject of the Trust’s reserves.*  Foremost among the highlights is the river Fromus, which cuts a  deep gorge through the length of Simpson’s Fromus Reserve, Kelsale, before flowing through Kelsale village, Saxmundham and Sternfield to join the Alde around Snape Watering. Amid the mediaeval meadows of this reserve, there are also four intriguing ponds reflecting the historic use of the site, first as a monastic fishery, and later as a Duke’s deer park.  Orchid Glade, Hasketon, has one mysterious shallow pool, much frequented by deer and other wildlife.  For details of location and access click here.

Four one-page poems on these aquatic features will be published in the 2018 book. Prospective entrants should please register by email to the 2018 assistant editor, lordcranbrook@gmail.com before 1st June 2017.

 

 

 

 

Competition rules

Subject matter: Any theme inspired by the Fromus river, or the  ponds on the reserves, the aquatic environment and its life-enhancing qualities.

  • No entry fee
  • A maximum of forty (40) lines plus title.,
  • Any verse form acceptable.
  • A limit of three poems per entrant.
  • Each poem to be typed 14 pt on a separate sheet of A4 paper and submitted in duplicate with the poet’s name, postal address  and email on one copy only, to the trust’s address : Park House, Friston IP17 1PB. Enclose SAE if you wish your entry to be returned in due course.
  •  Four poems will be chosen for publication in the 2018 volume, by a team of adjudicators from the Suffolk Poetry Society.
  •  The adjudicators’ decisions will be final.
  •  A Reading of the winning poems will be held in Kelsale Village Hall in February 2018
  •  The Press will be notified of the winning poets and poems.
  •  Copyright of the poem remains with the poet, with permission to the Suffolk Flora Preservation Trust to publish any winning poems free of charge.

Open day dates at the two reserves are announced on the Trust’s website here.

Guided tours of the river and ponds will be held at Simpson’s Fromus Reserve at 11 am on the first Open Day, on 1st April 2017, and at Orchid Glade at 11 am on 3rd June.

*Since 2014, the Suffolk Flora Preservation Trust has published an annual book, revealing aspects of the historic landscape and wildlife of the trust’s reserves at Kelsale and Hasketon. The 2016 book, Two Suffolk Nature Reserves: the Legacy of Francis W. Simpson, celebrated  the 30th anniversary of the Trust, and included four seasonal poems by Suffolk poet Kaaren Whitney. This book (86 pages) is available from SFPT, Park House, Friston, IP17 1PB (cheque with order, please, for £12, inc. p&p).

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