Here on the farm we have a tiny vestigial piece of upland, it’s tucked away on a bank alongside a farm track and is so tiny you’d barely notice it. There are a few tufts of heather, some rowans and a fair sprinkling of blaeberries. It’s wonderful to see the tiny berries starting to appear but I’m pretty sure the birds will beat me to them (and so they should of course) but it would be nice to find the odd one or two they’ve missed.
With this dry spell the water level in one of the beaver ponds has dropped considerably and it’s a great chance to see how beautiful is the sub surface construction of a beaver dam. It doesn’t show too well in the photograph but the face is beautifully sculpted and faced with clay. The thickness of the bottom of the dam is so much greater than the top ensuring the water pressure at depth does not cause a breach. Amazing what instinct can do!
Spring has been slow, which is how we like it. Birds are nesting everywhere. The wrens in the Bevis Shed are nesting in the motor of the sawmill so we cannot mill any planks. An immaculate pair of bullfinches are busy shredding fruit buds in the orchard, which is not so good. I watched at the top pond on a lovely May Day evening. The moorhens are just hatching and a naughty chick had left the nest and was fossicking around. Eventually mum gathered him up and got him back up onto the nest in a clump of rushes where they settled down for the night.
The beavers emerged around 8pm from the corner of the top pond and I could see nipples on the female. Either she has just given birth or she is just about to. It is hard to tell when beavers are pregnant because they always look fat. All the herbs are growing now so there is plenty of fresh feed. They don’t touch the bluebells, but they nibble away fairly consistently at the brambles and are slowly making it retreat.
There are reports of some red deer around. Drew has seen the tracks in a neighbour’s garden. And we have fresh tracks through the Jubilee Wood along the north bank. We have not had deer around here in living memory. We found an old buck rabbit lying down yesterday, with no sign of injury. It was still alive so I killed it. Perhaps it has the haemorrhagic disease that kills quickly? I left it for the kites.
Down at Ricketts Mill, the ponds are beginning to settle in and the reeds and willows are all sprouting. The greylags have arrived with three goslings. Gradually the raw earth is healing over. Spring is here.
And I’ve just seen a pair of green sandpipers down at Ricketts Mill!
Nick has built a lovely new bench down at Skinny Dipping pond. It gives a gorgeous view of the pond and the valley. In the next couple of weeks beavers will start to become very active in the later daylight hours, usually from around 19.00. It’s the time we love the best, just sitting, watching and enjoying. We thought that other people might like to come and enjoy the beavers too…
We are offering a number of chances to come and watch the beavers, either at Skinny Dipping pond (above), on the big lake or at the top pond. There will be a charge of £20.00 per visitor as we have to give you a guide but you will be offered an unrivaled opportunity to see beavers in natural habitats exhibiting all kinds of beaver behaviours.
Skinny Dipping pond has the bench and is a good walk so suitable only for people who can cope with rough ground – it may be dark when you return and the hill is quite steep. Suitable for up to 6 or 7 people. You are about 30 metres from the pond and get great views of the whole beaver family.
The big lake has a lovely and comfortable hide which can hold up to 10 people at a squeeze. It’s a fairly east walk down from the farm through fields and woodland. It can be wet so suitable footwear is advised. You are positioned about 65 metres from the lodge and beavers can pop up anywhere. There is also the opportunity to watch other wildlife here…we have seen dabchicks, otters, badgers, kingfishers and water voles to name but a few.
Top Pond has a snug little hide, comfortable for 2, a squeeze for three. It’s a nice walk over the fields and you really get up close and personal with the beavers. In fact, the hide is over the water and beavers can actually be beneath you!
Whilst we cannot guarantee that you will see beavers, I don’t think we’ve ever failed to see them on a summer’s evening.
I’ve just returned from New Zealand where there has been a major crisis in wildlife management ever since mammalian predators were introduced in Victorian times. Rats, stoats, weasels, ferrets, cats, hedgehogs, possums, rabbits, hares, pigs, goats and deer all either predate native wildlife or wreck the habitat. Efforts have been made to control their numbers, particularly the brush-tailed possum introduced from Australia for its fur. It is the main vector for bovine Tb and New Zealand takes a much more robust no-nonsense approach to this. In steep heavy bush country, the controversial poison 1080 is dropped by plane, and systematic poisoned baits are laid on plastic bait stations on tree trunks. It is an ongoing battle that can never be won, but having said that, bTb has been significantly reduced to just a few areas now, and there are plans to completely eradicate it both from cattle and the vectors by 2050. UK on the other hand blows hot and cold on the Tb issue; it is increasing all the time, causing huge costs both financial and emotional to farmers as well as suffering amongst the badgers. The political vacillating has resulted in farmers just taking the law into their own hands from sheer frustration.
I am a Patron of Picton Dawn Chorus, a community group aimed at reducing the introduced predators around Picton in the South Island. A predator-proof fence has been constructed cutting off Kaipupu Point, creating a haven for wildlife and now kiwis have been re-introduced. PDC’s objective is to create a low predator buffer zone around this core area so that native birds can overspill and create at least minimum viable populations long term. The group makes and supplies traps to people of all ages and we try to have at least one rat trap every 50 metres in a grid across all areas of town and surrounding bush. A similar project has been run in Wellington, with good results, but there is no end to the battle. Retired folk, mums and school children are all soldiers in our army.
Kaipupu has been an inspiration to the Bevis Trust and we hope to start work on the predator fence as soon as the ground dries up. It will enclose about 9 acres of river flats and all the ponds. Meanwhile we have been taking down overhanging branches and removing all sorts of rusty wire fencing that is visible when the leaves are off. It is a race against time, this sunny weekend is warming the ground and the vegetation is coming alive again. Everything is budding and leaves are unfurling. Another couple of weeks and the landscape will be totally changed.
Devon Wildlife Trust have put together a wonderful document about beavers and their place in the environment. Click the picture to visit Devon Wildlife Trust and read the report or we do have a limited number of paper copies in the office.
…out like a lamb, or so they say about March. We are almost into the last week of the month and it’s still feeling very lion-like and the forecast is only set to get colder and wetter through the week. It’s making the reinstatement work very difficult at Ricketts Mill. A few dry days last week and some of the moisture had started to come out of the clay but now we’re back to bog and heaven knows when we will will be able to get any machinery on it. Still, having said that, the grass seeds are taking off (where the pheasants haven’t eaten them) the willows we are planting are really shooting on and there is masses of toadspawn in the big lake. We have relocated a few hollies and ashes from the mill leat to the drier bits of land around the lake, let’s hope they take, one never holds much hope for the poor ash trees though. We’ve raised the water level by about 6cm and have also fitted outfalls to two of the smaller off-line ponds to raise the level in them. A few more leaning willows and alders along the river have been cut back and the resulting brash piles are already being made use of by wildlife. All we need now is a bit of sun!
Really gratifying to see new tadpoles hatching in one of the ponds we have recently made. Toads are doing well here too but it’s saddening to see how many are being killed on the road every night. The herons too are taking their toll. They kill them but then find them unpalatable so it’s a rather tragic and pointless end.
The willows we have planted this winter are starting to come away as is the grass seed and hopefully the wildflower seeds too. This weekend saw a couple of new visitors – a pair of goosanders and the trees are alive with bird song.