Conservation Group AGM 2016

The Brook Meadow Annual General Meeting was held on Friday October 28th at 7pm in the St James Church Hall in Church Path, Emsworth.
The regular business of annual reports and re-elections to the committee were first.
Brian Fellows then provided a review of the wildlife over the past year with slides.
There was a refreshment break, followed by a talk by Steve Taylor, who used to be at the Medicine Garden in Emsworth, on the subject “Important Herbs of Brook Meadow”.

Here is the committee: Colin Brotherston (slightly hidden by the wild flower display in Brian’s bicycle basket), David Search, Pam Phillips (Treasurer and Membership Secretary), Jennifer Rye (Chair Person), Debbie Robinson (Minutes Secretary), Maurice Lillie.  Wally Osborne who is sitting on the end of the row in the audience is also on the committee.
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The audience
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Jennifer introducing Steve Taylor, the guest speaker
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Chairman’s Annual Report October 2016
by Jennifer Rye
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to this Annual General Meeting of the Brook Meadow Conservation Group, and to make my annual report. It has been a year of steady progress if not one of huge enterprises, perhaps best summed up as “steady as she goes”.

There have been the usual workdays twice a month, and we have been delighted to welcome Dan Mortimer as another leader, which has helped to share the load. We have now thoroughly adjusted to starting at HQ and finishing there, which entailed a certain review of working practices, and the convenience of the Seagull Lane siting is appreciated. One of the greatest pleasures of the year has been the new power scythe, bought after careful researches, and funded in part by a generous donation from Frances Jannaway. Its size, reliability and power has made the perennial task of cutting undergrowth and grassy stretches infinitely easier. We also managed to sell on the old scythe, which had given us 15 years of faithful service. Particular thanks are due to Maurice and Wally who managed the whole replacement smoothly and efficiently. The usual cutting of the meadow by Martin Cull, which is funded by HBC, was again a big success.

Relationships with HBC have continued to be cordial and helpful, and we were very glad to welcome Jayne Lake as the responsible officer there; I feel we benefit from the fact that she actually lives in Emsworth, and she has been helpful in maintaining support from the Council. As you probably know, Havant owns the land, which we manage on their behalf, and they do or pay for some of the jobs which lie outside our remit. They provide materials such as path gravel, and wood chippings, and arrange the regular weekly litter collections from the bins, and that includes the dog waste bins, and this year have also used a Community Payback team to do upkeep on the hard-surfaced paths.

Last year I reported on our new initiative to manage the woodland area of Palmers Road copse more actively, and this has started with a day’s work done by Mike Reed, our arborist of choice, on three of the ageing and potentially dangerous crack willows there. The whole question of management of these willows, which are such an important feature of the meadow, is one of our current preoccupations; we hope to set up a working group, with input from the Emsworth tree wardens and Andrew Skeet, the HBC arborist, to determine a course of action. Havant is unable, due to financial constraints, to do more than respond to situations as they arise, and then only if a tree threatens danger to path users. We aim to arrive at a plan which will maintain the wooded areas and individual trees in such a way that dangers can be averted and future generations will still benefit from the many trees on the meadow. We have actually planted two silver birches which were donated to us, but it’s not so much new planting that is needed as careful conservation of what we have already, along with sensitive replacement planting where needed. Recent work on the willows overlooking the River Ems just south of the north bridge, at the rear of one of the businesses in the industrial units, which was undertaken under the auspices of HBC although not funded by them, demonstrates all too clearly what can go wrong.

The reptile relocations which featured large last year have recently been monitored to determine how successful they have proved. In summary, from a base count of 4 slow-worms and 5 common lizards in 2014, which was augmented by translocation of 31 slow-worms in 2015, in September of this year, a total of 84 were counted in 7 daytime surveys: this is doubly pleasing as juveniles were included in the recent count, confirming breeding on the site. Lizards, having legs, have evidently legged it as none were recorded; the railway embankment provides a safe escape route for them. Less successful was the deliberate planting of yellow rattle and other locally sourced seeds in the north meadow which is dominated in places by coarse grasses, as none seem to have come up this year. However we still have hopes that there may be some survivors in the next growing season. We have certainly altered our mowing regimes to create more small areas of controlled growth, which will benefit invertebrates in particular as well as reptiles. Our two main wildflower areas, in the north meadow and in the Lumley patch, bloomed well this year.

Those of you who visited our stand at the Emsworth show may have voted on which of four seasonal photos should be printed. This is a new venture which we hope will raise some money, and also help to publicise our beautiful meadow, and we have Debbie to thank for organising this, along with the generous donation of the photos in question by John Tweddell. The result can be seen in the interval, with the poll topping “Autumn tints” available as a postcard, and the wintry scene as a Christmas card. They will hopefully be available for sale at the Gift Shop in the Square.

A more cautiously optimistic note must be admitted in our relations with the Environment Agency. Attempts to improve our communications with them have been hampered by frequent changes of personnel on their side, and a lack of continuity in their handovers from one member of staff to another. Their second round of work on the bund around Gooseberry Cottage was a case in point; there was no consultation with us as there had been previously, and we were horrified to find that they had unwittingly caused damage to several special habitats with insensitive use of over-large machinery. They did apologise and offered to make us a sawing horse as a recompense; we accepted, and it will be useful to us, but we are aware that the next round of work may again cause problems. An ecological survey of the region of the meadow which adjoins the Lumley Lane properties, prior to the proposed building of a large bund there, has been commissioned but has yet to start. I would add that the expense of this is not being borne by BMCG, but the results will be of great interest to us.

Again on a disappointing note, management of the River Ems by the EA has been nothing short of poor this year. As our founder Brian Fellows said to me recently, he cannot remember seeing the river so hopelessly overgrown in all the 16 years he has been monitoring it. It is not for want of chivvying on our part I can tell you; again the problem seems to stem from the fact that you can never speak to the same person twice about it. Connected to this is the extremely disappointing fact that I have to report, again, on the total lack of vole activity. There were a very few sightings in the early summer of voles in the Lumley stream, but this has not recurred, and our stretch of the River Ems is still vole-less. We have sent a member on a course, and are determined that when we can get the bank management back on the right tracks, get rid of overhanging trees and nettles, and plant more vole-friendly species of plants, we will be able to repopulate it successfully with immigrant voles, which has been done with great success in other parts of Hampshire.

I don’t want to end on a negative note. So it is important to tell you that all the committee members are willing to stand again, and to thank them all for their energy and dedication to the jobs they undertake on behalf of you, the members. Those of you who came to the Emsworth Show can attest to the liveliness and optimism shown on our stand. We would welcome another member who would like to join the committee, so we can go forward into our 17th year of the Brook Meadow Conservation Group with confidence. With your support we can make it the best year yet.

Presentation
Jennifer presented Brendan Gibb-Gray with a Lifetime Membership of the Brook Meadow Conservation Group in recognition of his continued support for the group over the years.
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TREASURER’S REPORT 2016
by Pam Phillips
Membership has decreased this year and consequently subscriptions and donations
are down too.
INCOME
During the year we received a donation of £1000 from Frances Jannaway as a contribution towards a new power scythe. We also received £343 from Waitrose.
The second of our five annual payments in respect of the relocation of reptiles from development sites was made. We also had two wins of £25 each from our Premium Bonds.
EXPENDITURE
As you have heard from Jennifer, a new power scythe was purchased and the old one sold for £400 to a local conservation group. The new scythe has been funded by the reptile income.
Two volunteers attended training courses this year.
A sum of £500 was paid for tree pollarding in Palmers Road copse. This was the first stage of the project.
Despite the fact that the accounts show a loss this year, the group still has assets
totalling £8611.49.
Pam Phillips, Treasurer, 15.10.16


WILDLIFE REPORT
by Brian Fellows

All the wildlife seems to have had a good year on Brook Meadow with one notable exception – the Water Vole.  As shown in the chart sightings have fallen dramatically over the past 4 years.  This year we have had only 5 sightings, all from the Lumley Stream.

001a-water-vole-chart-2016 Surveys by Jennifer Rye and David Search and by ecologist Andy Rothwell have found no Water Vole activity at all on the River Ems. Andy found some on the Lumley Stream. This is where we have had the only sightings this year. Here is a photo of my one and only sighting on the Lumley Stream.

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Rats are one possible factor. Graham Roberts told me that rats can easily predate young Water Voles and worse spread disease to them. Andy Rothwell found signs of Brown Rats all along the Ems.  Pike is another predator of young Water Voles. We had several in the river last year and at least one was still present on Sep 5 north of south bridge. 18 ins long.

I would like to pay a special tribute to Malcolm Phillips whose camera skill and patient dedication to observation of wildlife over the past 4 years has added considerably to our records.  Malcolm has now left Emsworth for a new life in Cuba!

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BIRDS
Of the 73 species on the Brook Meadow list – recorded either on the meadow or flying over 50 have been recorded this year. All the residents seem OK .  The 3 regular summer visitors also turned up and hopefully bred – Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Whitethroat. Some Chiffchaffs over wintered as usual.  But we had no rare Siberian Chiffchaff this year.  Goldcrest, but no Firecrest this year.  Here is a Goldcrest by Malcolm.

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Other less common birds seen included Bullfinch and Cetti’s Warbler.  There were no records this year for Spotted Flycatcher, Turtle Dove, Willow Warbler, Water Rail, Mistle Thrush, Cuckoo, Nuthatch, Pheasant,

BUTTERFLIES
It was not a terribly good year for butterflies, though this was general I gather. Of the 26 species on the Brook Meadow list we have recorded 22 this year. All the usual ones plus some not so regular, like … Clouded Yellow, Painted Lady, Small Copper and Brown Argus.

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OTHER INSECTS
There was no professional insect survey this year, but all seems to be well. Lots of dragonflies, damselflies, ladybirds, bugs, beetles, flies, bees, wasps, moths, grasshoppers, crickets and spiders were recorded.  It was good to see Beautiful Demoiselles again on the meadow.  Here is a male.

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MAMMALS
Moles, Brown Rat, Bank Vole, rabbit. No Deer or Harvest Mouse.

PLANTS
An average year for plants. We have a total of 300 plants on the Brook Meadow list of which 235 have been found this year.
Herbs = 135, Trees and shrubs = 54. Grasses = 28. Sedges = 13. Rushes = 4. Horsetails = 1. Ferns = 3.
Notable Absentees – Broad-leaved Everlasting-pea and Goat’s-beard on the Seagull Lane patch. Wild Carrot. Wintercress. Marsh-marigold.

CountsButterbur 589 spikes in spring. Falling, but still increasing in the area below the main seat.
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Ragged Robin: 154 flowering plants. Much better than the last 4 years, but well below the record 625 in 2010.
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Orchids
Southern Marsh Orchid 21 spikes – gradually increasing.
Common Spotted Orchid 7 spikes – steady.
Bee Orchid 6 spikes – down this year but flowers hard to find.

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Great Burnet – still doing well over 50 flowering heads. First seen 2013 but origin unsure. Martin Rand says It’s origins are a bit dubious, as 1. it’s outside its previously known geographical range in the immediate region, not exactly in typical habitat, and 3. it only got noticed recently given how well you and many others know Brook Meadow. Sometimes these things will be undecidable, and we just have to lie back and enjoy them!

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Celery-leaved Buttercup and Hairy Buttercup – splendid growth by the new Gooseberry Cottage bund in the south meadow.   I suspect the plants were brought in by the Environment Agency with the soil used for the bund reinforcement. All seeds set, so should be there next year.

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