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Environmental news update

ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS UPDATE SIX

Winter & Spring 2012/2013

The winter weather may have been an atrocious cold wet extension of the atrocious cool wet summer but like the summer the wildlife in this patch continues to be extraordinary. You just need to look out of your window or take a local muddy walk. More drama on display than Springwatch.

Today I had a striking male sparrowhawk sitting outside my kitchen keen to take the redpolls, siskins and goldfinches that feed on the nyger seed I put out. Probably yesterday a female sparrowhawk took a female collared dove on my lawn. I didn’t see it but today found a bundle of pale grey feathers. The lone male of the pair was already displaying above our garden hoping to attract a new mate!

SPRING ICONS EMERGE SLOWLY

Up to 15 pairs of skylark are occasionally singing in the obviously large open fields all around Crookham Village. As soon as we get warm, sunny weather the song will be breathtaking and virtually constant. Frogspawn is present in the pond close to Netherhouse Moor and Wild daffodils are flowering in a nearby Copse.

 

AS GOOD AS IT GETS FOR WOODPECKERS

In a brief sunny spell at the beginning of March there were all three British woodpeckers calling and drumming from one group of about 50 alder trees just south of Crookham Village. I have never heard this before and it was very special to see again a lesser spotted woodpecker here, a bird so rare in the UK breeding records have to be submitted to the Rare Breeding Bird panel. This species particularly loves old apple trees and the Village still has some superb specimens.

Important: woodpeckers don’t damage trees but favour old, gnarled and diseased trees for feeding and nesting. The more we retain in our gardens the more we will see and they are stunning when seen up close. Green woodpeckers feed on ant rich lawns so require easy going rural lawns and shun chemically enhanced versions.

 

HITCHES LANE COUNTRY PARK ( AKA Edenbrook)

Bittersweet being here, well worth a visit but the incredibly high density of special birds currently present will be very unlikely to remain with the growing free ranging dog activity. Wildfowl and waders are not able to cope with being chased by large hunting dogs and leave the site and the Hart Valley. Face-it hope to work with Hart District Council to try and strike a balance here and identify some refuge areas to retain the sites exceptional biodiversity so that the projected 80,000 annual visitors can enjoy fully its unique character.

 

A PAIR OF BARN OWLS

One of our most iconic countryside birds has been regularly seen in a secret corner of the Village. The birds are being carefully monitored by locals and further updates throughout the coming season.

 

RECORD 2000 WINTER THRUSHES THRIVING ON CROOKHAM’S FARMLAND

Impressive numbers of beautiful redwings and fieldfares were present on 24th March with over 500 Starlings migrating north on route to arctic Scandinavia to breed. Redwings get together high in trees and have communal singing sessions including a strange chattering chorus that can be heard for at least a kilometre. It’s song has a magical quality and one you would hear if you were lucky enough to travel to see the midnight sun in northern Norway.

 

DOUBLED DEER POPULATION IN 10 YEARS

The sight of Roe Deer on a daily basis is one of the pleasures of living in our area. However numbers have doubled across the country since 2003 with the largest UK population since the Ice Age. These numbers have a significant impact on the shrub layer of our woodlands and put greater pressure on threatened birds such as the pair of marsh tit on Zephon Common that depend on this vegetation for cover and feeding. Marsh tits are Red listed Birds of Conservation Concern.

 

PLENTY OF SNIPE & WOODCOCK

As well as owls dusk sees snipe and woodcock fly to damp pasture from day time roosts to feed on earthworms. Woodcock leave the woodland and snipe leave undisturbed rushy pasture where they have spent the day. Winter population is about 6 woodcock and 12 snipe. Some of these birds feed closer to you than you think under the cover of darkness. At least 2 village gardens have had visiting woodcock in the snow when feeding is harder.

 

ENJOY BIRDTRACK

The RSPB & British Trust for Ornithology have established an excellent and very user friendly on line recording system that well worth a look. Search for BIRDTRACK and the rest is simple. All records are valuable and provide a much better understanding of the exceptional bird and dragonfly populations in our gardens and village landscape.

 

ENHANCE YOUR GARDEN FOR WILDLIFE: FREE ADVICE FOR APRIL

A 30 minute session of advice on how to enhance your garden for wildlife will be available from Chartered Landscape Architect & Wildlife Habitat specialist, Richard Hellier. To arrange an appointment email: Environment@faceit-group.org

 

Richard Hellier

Late March 2013

 

Environment News Update FIVE August -November 2012 

FLOODING BRINGS FLOCKS.

After one of the UK’s wettest summers on record and a brief rest bite during the wonderful London 2012 Games the autumn has continued to be wet and the ground is now saturated. Last Sunday, 4th November, heavy rain during the early morning resulted in local surface water and valley flooding around the Village and in the River Hart.

The cattle grazed pasture south of The Street was part flooded and waterlogged and attracted flocks of birds keen to feed on the surfacing worms. The highlight was 2 little egrets unusually walking between the cattle eating worms. Four species of gulls appeared, with a flock of 60 starlings, a dozen redwings, rooks crow and jackdaws. Pied wagtails fed at the cattle’s feet whilst a grey wagtail fed on the edge of muddy puddles and skylarks sang overhead. The damp field resembled an exotic faraway wetland and was alive with birds for the following few days.

In the valley north of Pilcot Farm the flooded fields attracted almost 80 mallard with some teal. In the intense late afternoon sun the iridescent mid-green heads of the drakes against the straw and the backdrop of yellowing woodland was a stunning sight and felt like a scene from the American prairies. This part of year can be an extraordinary time to explore our local countryside using the extensive footpath network. If you are interested in enjoying incredible wildlife spectacle and stunning natural beauty you really don’t need to get in your car or even turn on Autumn Watch. I saw most of this without leaving my garden! It’s all around us. Just take time to look and listen.

Should you take to the paths wellington boots are an essential requirement and binoculars and cameras are well worth taking.

 

EXTRAORDINARY EGRETS 

 

A flock of at least 4 little egrets is living along the River Hart and they have become a regular sight in and around the Village. I used to travel to the Costa del Sol to see these exotic herons, but not anymore. Their presence seems to coincide with the expansion of the alien North American crayfish population in the river. I saw a flock of 7 a few years ago and I suspect they are breeding locally. If you get a chance to see these birds close up or through binoculars they are an immaculate sight.

 

EDENBROOK COUNTRY PARK open to the Public.

Behind the eye catching new housing in Hitches Lane is a new country park constructed by the developer to provide a Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace , a SANGs as required to fulfil the conditions of planning permission. The intention of the SANGs is to encourage the new dog walking residents of the development to use this area rather than walking on the local heathlands designated a Special Protection Area for ground nesting birds such as woodlark, nightjar and dartford warbler. This Park largely in the floodplain of the River Hart, and underwater a fair bit of the summer, also gives local people access to attractive countryside.

There are a few keys points to highlight about Edenbrook:

- It’s well worth a visit and you will get great views of the Hart valley at its best. Some new features are very positive such as the areas of new ponds, reed beds and the network of footpaths. There has however been a loss of some important habitats in the construction and poorly considered placing of ‘urban style’ park furniture, including oil drum style BBQ’s in the middle of the idyllic countryside. This spoils the rural character and introduces major disturbance factor to a sensitive part of the wet floodplain.

-Long before any construction had taken place the area was a wildlife hot spot with many rare farmland and wetland birds such as snipe, redshank, lapwing, yellowhammer and skylark. The complete open access approach allowing dogs to run everywhere and the encouraging of large scale dog walking use from around the area, (a large car park is planned soon), is likely to be highly detrimental to many of these threatened ground dwellings birds that make the place so special. This proposal will also increase traffic levels on Hitches Lane and connecting roads.

- Members of Face-it hope to work closely with Hart District Council and other partners to make some adjustments to the Country Park to ensure people can enjoy the open space in a way that doesn’t destroy its precious biodiversity and unique natural beauty.

SIX PAIRS OF SWALLOW

 

At least 6 pairs of swallow managed to breed in Crookham Village despite the atrocious summer weather. Four pairs were at a long established site in the south of the village with one pair in a garden outbuilding on The Street. The final confirmed pair were in a new build car port close to the canal. This species along with the skylark and yellowhammer are the only remaining iconic birds of the English countryside left around the village. In the last 30 years in common with most of England we have lost breeding nightingale, turtle dove, tree sparrow, grey partridge, corn bunting from our fields and copses.

MINDBLOWING MIGRATION

 

As always there has been some incredible migration along the valley this autumn. Late whinchats were seen well into October along with spotted flycatchers, wheatears, yellow wagtails and large numbers of swallows and martins, all birds on route to Africa. Since the beginning of October big flocks of redwings have arrived from Scandinavia with song thrushes, fieldfares, and even the gorgeous brambling flying around village gardens seeking wild bird seed. Waxwings have also arrived in the London area and are likely to occur here later in the winter.

NOW IS THE BEST TIME TO PLANT, BUT WHAT?

If you have a piece of open ground that get a decent amount of sun you could plant something that looks amazing and attracts amazing things like birds bees and butterflies.

Species recommended for our soil and climate:

  • Hawthorn, crataegus monogyna, a brilliant all rounder with flowers , berries and safe nesting sites.
  • Rowan , Sorbus aucuporia, a beautiful medium sized tree with stunning berries and autumn colour.
  • Guelder rose, viburnum opulus, stunning ornamental native shrub. Bullfinches love berries and are feeding on them now.
  • Elder, sambucus nigra, warblers adore the berries in September especially blackcaps and lesser whitethroats.
  • Holly & Ivy, ilex aquifolium and hedera helix, real champion wildlife species, berries a magnet for warblers and thrushes in the winter, flowers attractive to insects.
  • Dogwood, cornus sanguinea, attractive purple autumn colour and berries loved by balckcaps.
  • Lavender, Lavendula augustifolia. If you have a decent area of sunny dry garden plant as much of this as you can. You can get it cheap if you buy it small but its important to plant in numbers. It’s the best plant for our threatened native bumble bees during high summer and autumn its scent is exquisite, the site of so many bees is mesmerising ( once counted 100 in 15 metres of lavender) and it improves our mood. Planting this is best in spring when it’s drier, hopefully.

 

Our exceptional bird population amazes me more and more – I believe the the 3 or 4 square miles of the Upper Hart Valley aroung CV are as good as any inland site in southern England for variety and numbers of birds, certainly the best area in Hart District including the designated sites.

 

Richard Hellier

 

ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS UPDATE FOUR

Mid-May – July 2012

Yet more rare birds

 

Unseasonably wet weather seems to have encouraged more rare species into the Hart Valley following the extraordinary sightings of the Spring. The first ever Long-eared Owl was found in dense scrub along the River Hart in late June,( the fifth species of owl to be recorded in the Hart valley). The bird was located in the centre of an extensive area of rough meadows left uncut probably because of the wet weather and no doubt rich in mammal prey.

 

Later on the same day a new species for the valley, a Nightjar was watched at dusk in fine drizzle quartering the same meadows in search of moths. It is likely this female was breeding on the heathlands across the town but was forced to the valley in search of a richer source of moths for its young.

This sighting completes the trio of SPA bird species recorded in the Hart Valley and around Crookham Village following previous records of dartford warbler and woodlark at Grove Farm. These sightings emphasises the importance of the area to birds making our patch as valuable as the designated areas to the east of Fleet.

Yellowhammers depend on us

Impressive numbers of yellowhammers are present on the farmland between Crookham Village and the railway line at the top of Hitches Lane, with up to 12 breeding pairs along the River Hart. This very high density may be of national significance as this red listed Bird of Conservation Concern is declining fast across the country. One reason for positive news is the interesting relationship between the farmland and our gardens particularly around Hitches Lane and Pilcot. Although the farmland has good nesting habitat for the bird with lots of hedgerows it offers few sources of seed between January and June, known as the ‘hunger gap’. Many local people put seed down on their back lawns for yellowhammers and this makes all the difference to the bird’s chances of survival. Young have already been seen in a Hitches Lane garden.

Skylarks thriving

Up to 20 pairs of skylarks are breeding in the farmland and rough open ground around Crookham Village and the Hart valley. Like the yellowhammer we have a high density and currently a viable population but it is vulnerable to development and land use changes. For example 3 pairs are nesting on the rough field opposite the Leisure centre a site that is likely to be lost.

Barn owls and dark skies

It’s fantastic to watch barn owls and bats flying along through the fields and hedges along the River Hart at dusk. There is a place you can stand and watch these superb ghostly birds all less than a mile of the edge of Fleet. The other pleasure of this spot is the dark sky. The ‘Tump’ at Grove Farm and Fleet’s dense canopy of scots pine and oak conceal much of the town’s street lighting. Extending development out into the open Hart Valley would have a major negative impact on this surprisingly tranquil and unspoiled spot. Experiences like this highlight remind you of the superb natural quality of where we live.

Stag beetles and all that

It’s been an excellent season for stag beetles, they like the damp and there have been records mainly from the Hitches Lane area. Other interesting records from village gardens include weasels and hornets. Two gardens opposite each other in Crondall Road both had two a pairs of robin feeding young in out buildings at the same time. That’s 4 pairs in total within 50 metres !

Floral riot

 

It’s been an exceptional year for foxgloves and honeysuckle in our woods. These are species that thrive in the Temparate Rain Forest of the Lake District and Western Scotland. Our climate has had more in common with these areas this year with double our usual rainfall.

 

Buttercup meadows were also stunning across valley in late May. The sight of swallows flying around cattle grazing in buttercup pasture is just magical, you don’t have to travel to Devon to see this!

 

 

 

 

 

How can you help?

Please continue send in your records particularly of farmland birds , swallows and yellowhammers visiting gardens or if you are lucky enough to see a lesser spotted woodpecker. Both Facebook or the Environment email address are good routes.

 

Richard Hellier

8th July 2012

 

ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS UPDATE THREE

1st – 13th May 2012

More rare birds and more birdwatchers visit the Hart Valley.

The upper reaches of the River Hart and its broad valley running just west of Fleet and around Crookham Village is a very important corridor for migrating birds. This is becoming ever more evident as some of Hampshire’s leading birdwatchers, based in Fleet, discover its richness. For many years all attention has been focussed on the SPA Thames Basin Heathlands and Fleet Pond on the town’s eastern margins. In the last few months, however, the valleys incredible diversity and wildlife- rich countryside with wet floodplain, hay meadows, hedgerows and woodland, wide open arable fields and villages has been receiving a lot more attention. This has lead to increasing awareness of the valleys significance and to much more thorough monitoring.

During the winter, birds such as raven, peregrine, green sandpiper, redshank and up to 7 snipe were present in undisturbed locations. Following the occurrence of whimbrel and redstart at the end of April more rare birds were found.

As good as a top nature reserve.

 

On 1st May a black redstart (a schedule 1 rare breeding bird) was seen in the gardens of Swan Way, Netherhouse Moor on the edge of the valley. Flocks of up to 50 swifts lingered with 200 swallows taking refuge from heavy rain and winds in the sheltered valley wetlands. Pairs of little grebe and little ringed plover were present but the real star was a drake garganey present on the 8th and 9th May.

 

This small, rare, migratory duck is both stunningly beautiful and highly elusive. It has demanding habitat requirements and inhabited pools in the flooded grassland. This gorgeous bird winters in west Africa. There were other records during the same period in Hampshire and all came from the extensive wetland nature reserves on the coast. The number of birds recorded in our area is now approaching a very respectable 125 species as good as many nature reserves.

Many important wetland birds particularly waders and wildfowl recorded in the valley are very shy and every bit as susceptible to dog disturbance as the SPA species: dartford warbler, nightjar and woodlark. This is of concern to FACEIT as the SANG  ( Site of Alternative Natural Greenspace) located on the wildlife- rich Hart floodplain at Edenbrook Country Park will become very disturbed once fully open and much exciting wildlife will potentially be lost from our area.

 

Other special birds seen in the Valley in the last week include hobby, spotted flycatcher and a red kite patrolling the Village during the last 2 weekends. Chicken carcasses on your bird table may attract them down. PLEASE SEND YOUR RECENT SIGHTINGS to us at: environment@faceit-group.org.

 

Surveyors continue to survey the valley for the third week.

After covering mature oak trees with unsightly blue paint around Crookham Village 3 teams of surveyors have been continuing to work on a broad front covering everything from the Village up to railway line just north of the new housing at Edenbrook in Hitches Lane. Mystery surrounds who is funding this costly and extensive work and why? Anyone got some ideas.

Few Cuckoos so far?

On May 8th 2011 two cuckoos were singing within earshot of Crookham Village. So far this year only fleeting records have occurred including 2 singing in the valley opposite the Leisure centre on 10th May but didn’t linger. This is partly down to the very poor spring weather conditions but also because the species is experiencing a rapid decline in the UK. The species bred in the valley in 2010 and last year a young cuckoo was seen in the village being fed by swallows, a rare occurrence. PLEASE LET US KNOW IF YOU HAVE HEARD OR SEEN A CUCKOO !

Rare tree found in Pilcot garden

 

One of Britains rarest trees the native black poplar has been identified on the edge of Dogmersfield Conservation Area in Pilcot Road. This has still to be verified but this spectacular and lofty specimen exhibits all the right characteristics and highlights the astonishing biodiversity of the Hart valley, west of Fleet. It is also worth noting Dogmersfield Conservation Area not only covers Dogmersfield but also extensive areas of valley countryside extending right up to the back gardens in Hitches Lane.

Improved Community Wildlife Network

One exciting by-product of the FACEIT campaign has been even more people getting together and exchanging their wildlife information and anecdotes. In a community with such good access to wildlife it is no surprise so many locals care and are very knowledgeable. For example, I have now found out that the family of lesser spotted woodpeckers that fed in my garden on wooley aphid last June and July probably were the ones that bred in Brian Watt’s garden by the canal in May. They were observed on route to the Street in the back gardens of Crondall Road by Brian Whyatt using the corridor of well treed back gardens. One of the FACEIT team living in Crondall Road watched a kingfisher in his back garden from his kitchen window recently!

Residents of Hitches Lane have been continuing to have yellowhammers visit their gardens for seed which is unusual for May. Sometimes they feed on seed intentionally put out for the wild birds and other times they are taking chicken feed and sharing it with house sparrows and the chickens! Over 6 gardens in the village regularly have these strikingly canary yellow birds. Please let us know of your garden and local records including breeding reports to: environment@faceit-group.org

ALL RECORDS ARE OF INTEREST from Crookham Village, Church Crookham and Fleet but of special interest are the following species:

skylark, yellowhammer, swallow, bullfinch, linnet, house sparrow, lesser spotted woodpecker, marsh tit, spotted flycatcher, lapwing, little owl, barn owl and any other unusual species.

A Local Natural History – Please contribute if you can ?

We already have an extraordinary amount of new and recent data on wildlife but it would be great to get more information of how things have changed. I have spoken to longer term residents who remember nightingales breeding in the riverside scrub and coppiced woodland along the Hart by Brook House in the 1970’s. Glow worms were also in Hitches lane at about the same time. Tree sparrows used to be common here and barn owls formerly bred and green winged orchids grew at Cross Farm. PLEASE LET US KNOW MORE, old photos /images are also of great interest.

A Valley of Warblers – some of the UK’s best songsters.

Over the last few weeks 8 species of warbler have arrived in the Hart valley. These migrant birds are particularly welcome as they are superb and almost constant songsters and are adapted to the wide variety of habitats on offer in the valley. The latest to return in the lesser whitethroat and two singing birds were present on 12th May including one briefly singing in my garden. This stunningly silver, beautiful ,small bird like most migrant species is on the decline and needs tall dense hawthorn hedges and scrub to breed. Incredibly it winters in the Ethiopian Highlands and migrates through the Middle-East and up via Italy before arriving here, generally later than those who winter due south. This is a scrub warbler as are garden warbler, blackcap and whitethroat that also breed locally. We also have two species of leaf warbler, willow warbler and chiffchaff that live in woods and woodland edge but also reed warbler and sedge warbler that inhabit wet floodplain and reedbeds. Large numbers of warblers migrate south through the valley in September turning up almost anywhere. I have had all pass through my garden plus the extraordinary mouse-like grasshopper warbler that used to breed in the village until the1970’s in rough wet grassland on the edge of Zephon Common.

Butterflies at last.

 

Orange tip, peacock and holly blue have been active this weekend in the long awaited sunshine. The orange tip has been laying eggs on its foodplant jack-by-the-hedge, (sometimes a garden weed , try and keep a clump in the sunny corner of your garden if you enjoy seeing this iconic spring .butterfly) before the next period of heavy rain.

 

 

The importance of Hart Valley to Fleets Starlings

Starlings have experienced drastic declines in the last 25 years but there is still a good population in urban areas of Fleet and Church Crookham nesting in buildings. Over the last three weeks there have been large flocks of Starlings flying in and out of the valley from Fleet as the adults collect food for nestlings by probing the extensive open grasslands for grubs. Today, 13th May, was the first day fledglings were seen in the valley and they are hard to miss being distinctly raucous.

 

All comments very welcome on any of the Media available:

environment@faceit-group.org

 

Richard Hellier

Crookham Village

13th may 2012

 

 

week ending 29th April 2012

RAIN & FLOODING, RARE BIRDS & PLANTS AND SANGS !

  • The River Hart has burst its banks in many places after the wettest April in living memory and rainfall approaching 200% above the month’s average. This highlights the risks associated with potential extensive development in our area leading to far more urban run off and more frequent flood events exacerbated by climate change and associated intense rainfall events.
  • The extreme weather and prolonged rain this month is giving birds and butterflies a very hard time. In heavy rain today up to 100 migrant swallows and martins struggling to find insects were flying virtually on the surface of local waterbodies in the shelter of trees. Even house martins newly arrived from Africa were perching well into an oak tree along side woodland birds such as blackcap. This is an extremely rare sight for one of the world’s most aerial birds. Sadly the first brood of nesting Kingfishers on the River Hart will have been washed out. Fortunately the species will have up to 3 broods a season.
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  • A whimbrel , an unusual wading bird like a small curlew and on route to arctic breeding grounds paused in our bit of the Hart valley last Sunday, only the second time recorded in 15 years. This bird was part of a wave of whimbrel passing through southern England on just 2 days. Other records came from famous and extensive wetlands such as Barnes Wetland Centre and Staines Reservoirs. This demonstrates the importance of the valley as a flyway for birds and follows a flock of 24 curlews moving through the area in April 2 years ago. A pair of buzzard are sitting on a large nest just south of the village that is clearly visible from a popular footpath. This is close to an area identified as a development site in the most recent SHLAA document.
  •  
  • The beautiful but rapidly declining yellowhammer has been visiting a number of gardens in the village for many years. The species depends on garden feeding stations for seed particularly in late winter and spring because very little seed remains on the ground in the farm fields. Crookham Village is a great example of a community reaching out and supporting declining birds through feeding and a pair has been remaining in a Hitches Lane garden this week. Development of the farmland around the village would see the end of this special relationship.
  • Orchids are one of the plants thriving in this damp weather. Within the valley 200 early purple orchids are just beginning to flower and the leaves of 75 common spotted orchids are beginning to show at a second site, the largest number to date. These rare plants reinforce the fragile and high quality environment of Crookham’s valley
  • .
  • FACE-IT submitted a response to Hart District Council Consultation on the Capacity of SANG’s (Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace). These areas are essentially dog walking areas to divert increased populations of dog walkers from using the nearby heathland areas such as Beacon Hill. Our nearest SANG is at Edenbrook where serious damage has been done.