WILDLIFE REVIEW – 2020
for the AGM on 30th November 2020
By Brian Fellows
Overall, the wildlife of Brook Meadow continues to be very healthy, apart from the continued absence of Water Voles. There has been no Water Vole sightings for the past 4 years despite a lot of looking.
On the positive side there have been Water Vole sightings both on Peter Pond and on the canalised millstream at Westbourne – so there’s hope that some may migrate to Brook Meadow. The habitat is OK and there’s plenty of food on the river banks. But the big issue is the variability of the water level in the Ems. However, we hope this may be rectified in coming years, as Portsmouth Water have promised to extract less water at Walderton and allow more water to flow into the Ems.
This photo shows the last Water Vole to be seen on the Brook Meadow site on 04-Jun-2016 on the east bank of the Lumley Stream.
The complete absence of Water Voles is puzzling in view of the very positive and optimistic finding from last year’s surveys of the River Ems and the Lumley Stream by Sarah Hughes and her team which uncovered numerous signs of Water Vole activity including burrows and latrines all along the waterways. Here are Sarah’s two maps showing burrows and latrines along the River Ems and the Lumley Stream.
The conservation group have done their best to create and maintain a suitable habitat along the river, though the banks could do with regular cutting. Dan is now our official Water Vole man. He has installed 4 rafts on Lumley Stream and River Ems baited with apples, a favourite food of Water Voles. The apples are always removed probably a Fox. Dan is sure there are no Water Voles. Here are Dan and Terry installing a raft on the river in Palmer’s Road Copse
Dan installed a Trail Camera on Lumley Stream in July. Creatures caught on the camera included bats, moths, a fox, a dog, a cat, a Mallard, a Moorhen and a Woodpigeon, but sadly no Water Vole. Unfortunately, the camera became waterlogged. Dan has submitted an application for a grant to purchase 2 night cameras, which had to be submitted by end of Oct, but haven’t heard back from then as yet. It is most important that we get as much information as possible about the creatures using the river habitat at night.
We had one sighting of 3 Roe Deer on Oct 13, but no doubt others passed through unobserved. Moles were much in evidence from the molehills. We have at least one resident Grey Squirrel in Palmer’s Road Copse and one sighting of a dead Shrew. Brown Rats have not been seen as much as usual.
Brown Trout are common in the river, but I’ve had no reports of Pike which are a predator of Water Voles . I don’t know what’s happened to all the Lizards and Slow-worms which were translocated onto Brook Meadow from a local building development a couple of years ago. I have not seen any. This photo of Common Lizard was taken several years ago when we used to see them regularly
47 bird species have been recorded on Brook Meadow in 2020, including 31 possibly breeding with two summer visitors and 16 casual visitors and flyovers. Birds not seen this year included Water Rail, Treecreeper, Nuthatch and Greenfinch. The full list of birds recorded in 2020 follows with notes on special birds . . .
Residents and breeding
Blackbird Blackcap Blue Tit Carrion Crow Cetti’s Warbler Chaffinch Chiffchaff Coal Tit
Collared Dove Dunnock Goldcrest Goldfinch Great Tit, Green Woodpecker, Grey Wagtail,
Great Spotted Woodpecker, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Kestrel, Long-tailed Tit, Magpie,
Mallard, Moorhen, Robin, Song Thrush, Sparrowhawk, Starling, Stock Dove, Whitethroat,
Visitors and flyovers
Black-headed Gull, Buzzard, Canada Goose, Coot, Cuckoo, Great Black-backed Gull, Grey Heron, Herring Gull, Kingfisher, Little Egret, Mediterranean Gull, Mistle Thrush, Red Kite,
Reed Warbler, Swallow, Swift
Whitethroat did not nest on Brook Meadow for the first time since records started in Year 2000. I did get one sighting of two birds feeding in the brambles north of Frank’s seat on 18-Apr, but did not see these two birds again. I think they must have moved on. My only other sighting was on Apr 27 of a single Whitethroat singing from the Brambles on the west side of the north meadow. We usually get 3 singing males which sing throughout the summer, so there’s no chance of our missing them! As far as I am aware there has been no special problem with this species, so maybe this is just a one-off. We have plenty of their preferred nesting habitat in dense bramble bushes on Brook Meadow. So fingers crossed for next year.
Greenfinch was not recorded for the first time on Brook Meadow in 2020. This absence of what used to be a common garden bird mirrors its national decline over the past 15 years due to the disease trichomonosis. I have not seen one in my garden for over a year and it used to be my number one garden bird!
It has been very good year for Cetti’s Warbler with one, two and sometime three birds heard singing from March until the end of June – mostly on the west bank of the river and from the south meadow. You can’t mistake them for any other bird – shouting out their name ‘cettis, cettis’. I heard a late bird singing on Oct-03 from the west bank north of the S-bend. These are not migrants like Whitethroat and probably strayed up here from Thorney Island deeps.
We have not heard or seen a Cuckoo on Brook Meadow for several years – not since 2013 in fact. So Colin and I were really excited to hear one calling for several minutes from the Lumley area east of the meadow on 18 May while we were doing a grasses identification session. It was particularly welcome to Colin who had been to Thorney Island twice without hearing one!
Thorney Island is certainly the most reliable place to hear and possibly see these interesting birds in the local area. Here’s a nice photo of one taken on North Thorney in 2016
Buzzards are fairly common soaring overhead, but they rarely come down onto the meadow. On 17 Aug I watched a Buzzard come down onto the mown area of the north meadow. I was not quick enough to get my camera out before the bird was disturbed by a distant dog walker. This is the only Buzzard sighting I have had reported on Brook Meadow over the past year. This was probably a juvenile from the regular nesting brood on Lumley Mill Farm. Here’s a beauty photographed flying over Brook Meadow by Tony Wootton in 2010.
I recorded 19 butterfly species this year on Brook Meadow – same number as last year. Here is the complete list: Large Skipper, Small Skipper, Brimstone, Large White, Small White, Green-veined White, Orange Tip, Small Copper, Common Blue, Holly Blue, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Red Admiral, Peacock, Speckled Wood, Marbled White, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Ringlet.
Missing from the list this year were: Clouded Yellow, Painted Lady, Brown Argus, Essex Skipper, Purple Hairstreak, Silver-washed Fritillary, Small Heath.
We had a good spring with Orange Tip, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Comma showing well.
Summer was dominated by Whites, Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers and Skippers. Common Blue and Marbled White were scarce.
We had a late summer burst of Small Copper.
Despite a lot of looking, I failed to see any Painted Lady or Clouded Yellow. Did anyone else?
My recording of other insects is fairly casual and not systematic. Bees and wasps were abundant in summer as were Bee-flies and Meadow Grasshoppers on the grassland.
Of the Dragonflies, Common Darters and Southern Hawkers were common, but the damselflies including the Demoiselles were scarce. We had our usual glut of red Soldier Beetles on the Hogweed flowerheads. More of a rarity was this pair of Black and Yellow Long Horned Beetles feeding on Hogweed flower in July.
Total number of plants recorded on Brook Meadow in 2020 was 235 which was about the same as last year. This included 129 herbaceous (non-woody) plants, 59 trees and shrubs, 26 grasses, 13 sedges, 4 rushes, 1 Horsetail, 3 Ferns.
2020 was another good year for Orchids. I counted a record 174 Southern Marsh Orchids mostly on the north meadow with a few on the Lumley area.
Following the advice of our botanist friend Martin Rand, we looked for and identified a good number of hybrid orchids – a cross between Southern Marsh and Common Spotted Orchid. These hybrids have flowers of Southern Marsh and spotted leaves of Common Spotted and tend to be more robust than the parents.
On June 19th we held a special orchid identification session on the meadow in order to distinguish the hybrid orchids from the regular Southern Marsh and Common Spotted Orchids. Fairly easy once you get your eye in. Here are Colin and Kathy looking for the hybrids on the main orchid area. We counted 23 hybrid orchids.
As a result of this discovery it was necessary to revise the previous Common Spotted Orchid counts as some of the ones counted must almost certainly have been hybrids.
This is the revised Common Spotted Orchid chart, showing very little change over the years.
Here is the new hybrid orchid Dactylorhiza x grandis chart – back dated a few years. I think we can expect numbers of hybrids to increase as these plants are fertile.
Bee Orchids also did well with 29 flower spikes found, equalling the previous best of 2015. Numbers fluctuate from one year to the next, depending to some degree of the length of the surrounding vegetation and the vigilance of the counters.
We also had two cracking Pyramidal Orchids, one in each of the two main wildflower areas.
Other plant counts
As for the other flowering plants that I count each year, both Butterbur and Ragged Robin were down this year.
Butterbur count was the lowest ever recorded over 20 years. The biggest drop was in the area immediately below the central seat down from 704 last year to just 147 this year. There is no obvious reason for this drop. There has been no special conservation work in that area. We shall have to see what happens next year.
The Ragged Robin count on the Lumley area was also fairly low at 114, though counts do vary widely from one year to the next.
Other plant news
Great Burnet is now in its 8th year on the main orchid area and is clearly a well established import – from where we are not sure. But its here to stay!
Marsh Woundwort is also doing well at the north end of the south meadow, despite having to push its way through a tangled growth of brambles, nettles, etc. I counted a record number of 50 flower spikes topping the 42 counted last year. The inadvertent cutting of the plants clearly did no harm!
Corky-fruited Water-dropwort – were planted a few years ago with seeds from a local source – came up again on the north meadow. Hopefully this interesting plant is now established, though it has lots of tough grasses to contend with.
On the negative side I am concerned for two of our rare meadow indicators on the east side of the wet Lumley area which are in decline.
(a) Strawberry Clover (Trifolium fragiferum) is a tiny plant with a fruit resembling a strawberry. It generally grows well along the edge of the path round the east side of the Lumley area, but is regularly subject to inadvertant mowing of the path. This year I could only find a few ripe fruits. Cautious cutting of this path is recommended.
(b) Pepper-saxifrage (Silaum silaus) is a fairly rare umbellifer confined to a small area in the north-east corner of the Lumley area. This year only a couple of rather stunted plants could be found. I did notice another plant about 20 metres south of the regular site (Grid ref SU 75142 06022), so let’s hope it can establish itself in this new area.
Celery-leaved Buttercup is a fairly rare plant on the meadow but this year was the target of some vigilante action – a solitary plant was deliberately pulled up. Fortunately there were a few more plants nearby which remained untouched. My guess is that a knowledgeable dog owner recognised the plants as being toxic and took action to destroy them. This is understandable but is not in line with the spirit of a nature reserve. There are many plants on the reserve that are toxic but which have a perfect right to exist – eg Hemlock Water-dropwort which itself has been the target of some negative action in previous years.
Newly planted this year were 50 Snake’s head Fritillary bulbs on the north meadow.
A few seeds of Greater Burdock were also scattered on the Seagull Lane patch. These latter were collected from the plants threatened by the proposed Cold Harbour Farm development near the Emsworth Recreation Ground.
A couple of plants popped up for the first time – a Buddleja near the Black Poplars and a pretty clump of Cyclamen near the Aspen tree. I wonder where they came from?
The five planted Oak trees (three English Oaks and one Red Oak) on the Seagull Lane patch are all doing very well. However, this year we have had a glut of galls on the leaves of the English Oaks – mostly silk button galls and spangle galls. Apparently, this happens in some years and does no long term harm to the trees.
There was a massive crop bright red berries on the Gwynne Johnson Rowan plantation. As I write they have now almost all gone – consumed by the local Blackbirds. Cutting a path around the back of the Rowans by the conservation group was such a good idea as it opened up the trees to view and allowed ready access for maintenance.
Clearing the area around the Alder Buckthorn on the south meadow by the conservation group has also had the effect of opening up the trees to full view. The best view ever of these interesting bushes. They also had a fine crop of berries.
Sadly, many of our young Ash trees have been affected by the Ash Die-back disease and may need to be felled. The large Ash the overhangs the north path from the railway embankment also needs watching as its limbs are heavy and could easily crack.
I am also concerned about the large Aspen tree on the east side of the north meadow – planted by the Haskins family in 2005. The leaves were very late coming and were very sparse when they did arrive.
The young Alders on the Lumley area were hit by a severe infestation of Alder Leaf beetle, but they will recover.
Incidentally, keep a look out for ‘dragons’ on the fallen Crack Willow branches. Several have been spotted lurking around the meadow. Here’s one with a Common Darter resting.
GRASSES, SEDGES etc
It was a wonderful year for grasses on the meadow, as it always is, with 26 different species recorded. All the regular species were present in abundance including Meadow Foxtail and Tall Fescue. The rare Hybrid Fescue (x Festulolium loliaceum) was again showing well on the path leading to Beryl’s seat on the east side of the north meadow. However, the best grass of the year was a fine crop Giant Fescue (Festuca gigantea) with characteristic loose nodding panicles growing beneath tall Crack Willow trees at the start of the path going north from the centre meadow.
Giant Fescue grass has been a rarity on Brook Meadow. Here is a photo of Dan noting it down for his list.
I could not find Meadow Barley for the second year running and I am running out of hope for this attractive grass on Brook Meadow.
All 13 sedges and 4 rushes were recorded in 2020 with our nationally scarce Divided Sedge (Carex divisa) having a particularly good year on the Lumley area.
Regarding management of the Lumley area the conservation group always cut and clear this important area each year. However, I think it will be necessary in the coming year to control the continued spread of Hemlock Water-dropwort which threatens this valuable habitat. The best way of controlling this plant is by digging it out!
I should add it was really reassuring to see members of the group, including Dan and Colin getting involved in the identification of flowers, grasses and sedges. I would like to see much more involvement of the group in the recording of wildlife as I shall not be able to do it myself for ever!! Here is Colin collecting grasses for identification.
OTHER LOCAL BIRD NEWS
A pair of Great Black-backed Gulls nested on Slipper Millpond for the 9th year running, producing 2 youngsters.
However, the Slipper Millpond Association has voted by a majority of 25 to 15 to repair and add cage/netting to the rafts to attempt to prevent gulls nesting again. This has been tried before in 2014, but the gulls found their way round the barriers and netting and managed to nest on the raft as normal. So all is not lost for them.
For further details of the breeding history of these magnificent gulls please see the following link . . . http://familyfellows.com/0-0-0-millpond-great-bb-gull.htm
The famous Spotted Redshank has returned to Nore Barn for the 17th year running. It can be seen feeding in the stream a couple of hours either side of high water with its favoured feeding companion the Greenshank (colour-ringed G+GL).
For further details of the history of this extraordinary bird go to . . . http://familyfellows.com/x-spotted-redshank.htm