Posted on 19 February, 2017Comments (0)

Wildlife

Wildlife

Rainfall, 1990 – 2016: We are aware that Four Marks and South Medstead are one of the highest points in NE Hampshire, and rain clouds ‘dump’ heavy rain on our villages, so it often appears similar to a monsoon! If you would like to check the statistics, i.e. the wettest and driest months, yearly and monthly averages, take a moment to look at the link under ‘Rainfall’ on the website. Emil Whittle, based in Brislands Lane, has recorded rainfall in the village since 1990 and it makes interesting reading. He also spoke to 70 school children on our wildlife, ‘Walk and Talk’, to explain why we experience such heavy rainfall.

We note that despite changes to the road layout at the point with Brislands Lane, Lymington Bottom and Blackberry Lane, this crossroads is often very flooded. A picture of the flooded crossroads remains on the website because little has changed, except of course for the addition of a pavement!

Song Thrush Turdus philomelos: There are a few advantages to having so much rainfall in Four Marks, Medstead and surrounding villages. It creates an excellent environment for Song Thrushes often seen in gardens, and perched on tree tops. A pair nest in overgrown shrubs close to the football pitch in Four Marks every year. The bird is smaller and a little browner in colouring than the Mistle Thrush, but slightly smaller and more slender than a Blackbird. This is a Red listed bird (high conservation status) with the RSPB, as numbers are decreasing. Their usual habitats include woods, hedgerows, trees and gardens. They are well known for eating snails, but will also eat worms and fruit. Their song is very distinctive with an extensive range, similar to the Mistle Thrush.

Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus: This is also now a Red listed bird, and often appears perched high near the top of a tree, its song an almost raucous chant and with an astonishing range. You might be forgiven for thinking you are listening to several birds, and not one adult. It is paler and larger than the Song Thrush, and can often been seen swooping low across the ground. It also enjoys worms, slugs, berries and most insects.

Both the Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush are mentioned in the Biodiversity Report for the Medstead and Four Marks Neighbourhood Plan, and noted by residents in their wildlife surveys.

Dormice: (Mitigation and Dormouse Bridges. I first saw Dormice in 2011, prior to clearance and development in Brislands Lane. One Dormouse had sadly been killed by a cat, and on another occasion, a cat ran off with one when startled in the meadow. At the time, I was unaware of any Dormouse survey, so pictures were not taken. Subsequently, they were also noted in the hedgerow on the eastern boundary during the Dormouse survey by the developer’s ecologist.

Dormouse predation: At this point it seems relevant to mention a letter from the Lead Ecologist at HCC to one of my colleagues which states, ‘there is little evidence of predation by cats being a significant constraint to dormice, and therefore it is difficult to make this a material consideration of planning, beyond providing mitigation in the form of strong spiny planting which has formed part of most of the mitigation.’ I also spoke to the Dormouse expert at PTES (Peoples Trust for Endangered Species) and he also confirms that there are few records. However, he notes that there is now some evidence coming forward. The reason may be that the species is becoming more easily identifiable, or because most people now have cameras on their phones, or both. One should perhaps take another view, and consider that if predatory cats generally kill a large number of wild birds and small mammals, is there any evidence to show that they avoid killing Dormice!

Predation: We note that pet cats can have a huge effect on wild birds and small mammals. In 2003 seven hundred cats caught 11,550 prey items in five months, i.e. approximately one bird, mammal, amphibian, or reptile killed every nine days. If every cat lived for 15 years, it could kill up to 600 animals in its lifetime.

We have approximately ten million cats in the UK, and the number is growing. We have nothing against pet cats in particular, but it might be helpful if residents chose other pets if living in a sensitive area, i.e. next to a SINC.

Chris Packham suggests keeping cats indoors at dawn and dusk to avoid predation, and belling the cat may also help.

Medstead Farm: Dormouse bridges. At the time of writing, two Dormouse bridges which have been erected at Medstead Farm still remain disconnected, and there is no space for access in the framework, so Dormice are unable to use them.

The Dormouse bridge in Lapwing Way should have been connected in 2014 and suitable planting should have been added around the base of each wooden post, so that by 2016, sufficient cover should have been available. Turning to the Dormouse bridge in Brislands Lane, this should have been lowered and again suitable planting should have been added, and the hedgerow should have been ‘reinstated’ on each side of the pathway. We are aware that this work should have been dealt with by December, 2016.

Three further Dormouse bridges should have been erected to connect the central hedgerow. The first section should have been in situ by 2014, the second by 2015, and the third by the end of December, 2016. The central hedgerow should have also been replanted and infilled by December, 2016. We are hoping that all Dormouse bridges will be in place and fully functioning by the end of February! A further Dormouse bridge should have been constructed in 2014, to bridge the gap in the hedgerow on the Western boundary, at the point where a soakaway was sited at the beginning of 2016. Native planting should have also been used here to infill and enhance the hedgerow on the boundary of the recreation ground.

Monitoring: These Dormouse bridges also require monitoring and cameras should have been set in place, so that ecologists would be able to check whether Dormice were in fact making use of them.

Briddlesford Woods, IOW: This is an ancient, semi-natural woodland and the last remaining on the IOW. Unfortunately very few Dormouse bridges have ever been monitored, so we have no footage of Dormice using them. We note that thisDormouse bridge has been used by Dormice. It was mentioned on Countryfile, and on BBC Two’s Autumnwatch with Chris Packham. This bridge is located in Briddlesford Woods, a nature reserve. Thee Dormouse population regularly cross the bridge which spans a steam railway, so an excellent place to trial this prototype. The bridge is very different in style to other Dormouse bridges in the UK, and has a more ‘triangular structure’. These areas do not need to be linked, so the project will check whether the Dormouse bridge works on this site. This is a project only, so the bridge has been taken down for the winter and will be set back in place later this year.

There is some footage on the website, and it has to be noted that the Dormouse crossing the bridge seems to prefer using the sides of the structure, rather than the base. Of course, Dormice have evolved in a way that makes branches their preferred means of crossing open spaces. Their feet can twist and turn in both directions, and they also use their whiskers to check distances between branches.

Four Marks Land bridges: These wider bridges spanning roads, etc., have also become well used by deer, badgers, etc. Dormice were found to be using Britain’s first wildlife land bridge over the A21 at Scotney Castle. A wildlife land bridge is usually well vegetated, and there are areas where Dormice could nest and breed.

Pontypridd, Church Village Bypass: Anyone studying Dormouse bridges will have heard of the Dormouse bridge near Pontypridd, Wales. The reported cost was £190,000. It consists of a wire mesh tube supported by several wooden poles and spans the bypass. There is unfortunately little evidence that Dormice will use this type of bridge.

Natural Dormouse bridges: When providing cover over footpaths or bridleways, Hazel is really all that is required. Other native, spiny planting can be used to deter predators, but the connection is natural and looks much more appealing. We also looked at a wooden tree bridge in Four Marks used by mammals, and as a perch for wild birds and owls. A little more foliage and this type of natural structure would also be ideal for most mammals, too.

Brexit White Paper: There is no mention of the environment in the top 12 bullet points, but it is referenced further on, mainly in relation to agri-environment schemes and the Wales Environment Act. The most relevant paragraph can be found on page 46, ‘The Government is committed to ensuring we become the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. We will use the Great Repeal Bill to bring the current framework of environmental regulation into the UK and devolved law. The UK’s climate action will continue to be underpinned by our climate targets as set out in the Climate Change Act, 2008, and through our system of five-yearly carbon budgets, which in turn support our international work to drive climate ambition. We want to take this opportunity to develop over time a comprehensive approach to improving our environment in a way that is fit for our specific needs’. The full paper is now available at: http://bit.ly/2lf5wi3 .

Finally, New for Spring this year, and especially for all Dormouse and wildlife enthusiasts, www.creaturecandy.co.uk are producing gifts to raise awareness of Britain’s declining wildlife species, and have created some lovely Dormouse designed mugs, cards, etc. Ten per cent of sales will be donated to the PTES to help fund Dormouse conservation work.

Diana Tennyson

[Please note that this message is not posted on behalf of Bentworth Parish Council and does not necessarily reflect the Parish Council’s policy]

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