Woodcote Correspondent 2006

Readers of the Woodcote Correspondent will be familiar with the monthly reports from the Woodcote Conservation Group. Starting with the January 2006 report, we are archiving these on the website (and adding a few pictures) as a record of our activities. (Until he left the village in September 2008, the reports were written by John Steel; subsequent reports are by John Sandford.) 

January 2006
The saga of the lower Greenmore pond continues.  Members of the Parish Council and WCG spent a very noisy day with contractors drilling bore-holes around the pond. The work was funded by Southern Electric because laying the electricity cables and planting the new power pole could have broken through the clay layers.  This would allow the groundwater to escape to lower levels.  The geology of the site is complicated.  Now we have a better knowledge of how the underground water moves around the site and work can start on remedial measures once the Parish Council get the funding grants agreed.
   We are planning a survey of ponds in Woodcote and hope you, and especially the children of Woodcote, are willing to help.  A questionnaire will be distributed with the Correspondent in early spring.  We are interested in all ponds in the village: natural and man-made; large and small; new and old.  The questionnaire will ask if you have a garden pond, what type it is and what animals and plants you have in it.

February 2006
The daylight hours are beginning to increase and spring will be upon us in no time at all.  We would be interested to know where and when the first frogs, toads and newts are breeding in a pond near you.  If you see any such amphibian activities please note the date and location and let us know.  We would be interested in any other conservation-related ‘first-of-the-year’ as well.
   During the December working party at the Greenmore ponds, we excavated the steps down to the current water level.  This suggests that the water level must have been at or below the current level when the steps were installed.  We cleared the capped well head and hope to investigate that further.
   And while we are on the subject of ponds: we will be including a simple (and short) ‘Woodcote Village Ponds’ survey sheet in the Correspondent that arrives through your letterbox at the beginning of April.  Your input to this survey will be most gratefully received.  The results will be used to add to the local conservation database and as part of a national pond survey run by the Ponds Conservation Trust.  There will be more information about it in the next Correspondent.
   We are planning this year’s conservation talks.  We want to have an update on Red Kites in May as there was so much interest in the first one we organised.  A talk on local Geology is planned for September. 
   The next working party is on 11th February.  Two WCG members have been on hedge-laying training and will bring their new-found expertise to this event.  Please meet by Greenmore ponds at 2.00pm.  I look forward to seeing you there.

(March 2006: No report.)

April 2006
Firstly we’d like to thank those who came to the Village Hall on 3rd March and chatted with us about our work around Woodcote.  A most productive morning spent, and a friendly event put on by the Village Hall team. ‘Well done’ to the organisers!
   Village Pond Survey: If all has gone to plan you will find a short pond survey form in this month’s Correspondent.  It should be self-explanatory but if you have any questions please phone me on 681979 for clarification.  All life depends on water and, because Woodcote is well away from any flowing water, ponds are very important for wildlife in our village.  If you have a garden pond or know about other local ponds your information will be very valuable.  We hope you will take the time to complete the survey. Children, in particular, might be keen to fill it in.
   Red Kites: On 5th May we have organised a talk in the Village Hall pavilion to keep everyone informed about progress with the Red Kite populations in the Chilterns.  Everyone is welcome.  Put the date in your diary now; it will be a good and inexpensive evening (with ‘tea and biscuits’ provided).  There will be more details about it in the next Correspondent.
   Working party: Our next working party will be on April 8th when we will be working in the coppice area in the allotments. We want to clear space around the young hazels to give them a head start for the summer.  We will meet there (in the corner inside the allotments nearest to the large lime tree on the recreation ground).  You are most welcome to come along; have fun; get some fresh air and exercise and enjoy some friendly company as well.

May 2006
Only a short report this month; mainly to encourage you to attend the Red Kite Talk which I think most Woodcote residents will find interesting and informative.  There seem to have been more Kites than ever around this year.  I, for one, never tire of seeing these majestic birds in the skies over our village.
   Red Kites: On 5th of May we have organised a talk about progress with the Red Kite populations in the Chilterns. This will be held in the ‘Pavilion’ in Woodcote Village Hall at 7.30 pm.  The speaker will be David Lovegrove who is an expert on the subject.  Tea, coffee or soft drinks, as well as biscuits, will be included in the entry fee of £2 for WCG members, £3 for non-members and £1 for children.
   Village Pond Survey: We have started to get the pond survey forms back and collate the results.  If you haven’t completed your form yet please do so.  If you have misplaced it there are spare forms available in Woodcote Library, or get in touch with me.   We need as much information about these important habitats in Woodcote and your help is vital.

June 2006
We had an excellent visit to the local Withymead Nature Reserve down by the Thames near South Stoke.  This wetland reserve is one of the best locations to see the very rare Loddon Lily; a wild relation to the Narcissus.  Over 2 million lilies grow there and they were in full bloom for our visit.  The birdwatchers amongst you will be interested to know we were lucky enough to see a rare Lesser Redpoll while we were there.  If you want to visit the reserve call the warden (01491 872265) to arrange an individual visit.  It is well worth it.

 Loddon Lilies at Withymead

   The first of our summer talks, on the Red Kite, was attended by over 40 villagers.  The speaker gave an enjoyable and informative talk, with a life-size, model red kite to demonstrate the real size of these majestic birds. It’s difficult to appreciate how big they are when you see them in flight.
   At our Working Party on 17th. June (please note the changed date) we will walk some of the rural footpaths around Woodcote. We will see if there are any access problems to report to the relevant authorities and note where work needs doing to keep them open for all to use. Join us in the village hall car park at 2.00pm.
   Our web site is now up and running.  Have a look at www.woodcotecg.org.uk and tell us what you think.  It includes a forum where you can discuss topics once you have registered on the site.
   In the Community Centre, we are hosting three training days on Wild Flowers (3rd. June) Surveying the Environment (10th. June) and Hedgerows (15th. July). These are organised by BTCV, free to attend and expert-led.  Places can be booked through Jenny Brooks at BTCV (Tel: 0118 947 5049; Email:  j.brooks@btcv.org.uk )
   Don’t miss our Community Centre Coffee Shop morning on 10th. June.  Please come and discuss any issues you have over a piece of delicious home-made cake.

July 2006
In June, Woodcote hosted two ‘British Trust for Conservation Volunteers’ (BTCV) environmental training courses.  Several WCG members attended the excellent Wildflower Identification Course on 3rd June and now eagerly await the qualification certificates.  The second course on Surveying Hedgerows took place on June 10th.  As that was after the deadline for submitting this report for the Correspondent I hope it went well!
   There is still opportunity to attend the course on Hedgerows on Saturday July 15th in the Woodcote Community Centre. It’s free to all.  To get details and book a place contact Jenny Brooks at BTCV (tel: 0118 947 5049; email: j.brooks@btcv.org.uk.) or by visiting the local BTCV website at www.btcv.org/thamesandchilterns.  
   Thank you to everyone who found a few minutes to complete the Woodcote Pond Survey forms.  The forms are still coming in (so it’s still not too late to send in yours) and I will report on some of the results in the next issue.
   Our web site is now up and running.  Have a look at www.woodcotecg.org.uk and tell us what you think.  It includes useful, relevant links to other local groups and larger organisations. It has an open forum where you can discuss topics once you have registered on the site.
   Perhaps many of you will have watched the BBC ‘Springwatch’ programmes in June.  As Bill Oddie said on the programme, you can get involved by joining a local group and getting to know your local ‘patch’.  Come and join us in WCG for interesting wildlife and environment talks, good company and, if you have the inclination, some hands-on, environmental-improvement work.

August 2006
I hope those of you who attended the BTCV courses in the Community Centre enjoyed the events.  They were well attended and BTCV (formerly known as ‘British Trust for Conservation Volunteers), were so pleased with the events that there should be opportunities to attend other Woodcote day courses.

The excellent website (www.woodcotecg.org.uk) is up and running and getting plenty of hits. It is full of information about what is going on in the Conservation Group and has useful links to other relevant organisations. More importantly, the website has a discussion forum and is your opportunity to get a healthy discussion going. Either add your comments to the discussion on topics already there, or set up your own relevant topics. It’s well worth a visit.

We are still asking for your comments on the setting up and management of a wildflower meadow somewhere in Woodcote. If anyone owns, or knows of, a piece of suitable land please get in touch. Also, please let us know about any other initiatives you would like us to get involved in, with your help.

In midsummer we can do very little conservation work that does not disturb the wildlife. So, for our August working party, we are organising a Footpath Walk to (and from!) the Black Horse Public House in the woods of Checkendon. On the ‘Glorious 12th’ of August we will meet up in the Woodcote Village Hall car park at midday. Participants will need to fund their own refreshments though. All are welcome.

2006 Summer Walking Party

Happy walkers outside the Black Horse

We have tried to find hard information about the historic water levels in the Greenmore Lower Pond. Apparently 1973 was designated ‘Save our Ponds’ year in Woodcote, because the water level was getting so low. Can anyone remember this ‘event’, and do you have any evidence about the pond levels in that year? Do you know if anything was done to address the ‘problem’? Any information would be welcome.

September 2006
Our ‘September Talk’ will take place at 7:45 pm on 21st in the Lion’s Den in the Community Centre.  Put the date in your diary.  The subject is ‘The Ground beneath our Feet: Geology and Landscape in the South Chilterns.’  Chris Young knows as much as anyone about the subject in our local patch and this illustrated talk is an opportunity for you to find out how the Chiltern Hills were formed, why are they covered in beech woodland and why are there all those annoying flints in our gardens?  There are more details on our website.
And on the subject of the website, please log on and join in the discussions on any conservation-related subject you like.  It’s well worth a visit.
Those of you who walked round the Lower Greenmore Pond in early August may have noticed two of the large oak trees had been badly vandalised.  One tree, on the edge of the pond, has been ringed completely by a saw cut and the other partially ringed. Neither could be saved.  Both had to be felled as soon as practicable (at the council taxpayers’ expense) because they created a real danger to walkers round the site.  This poorly-executed and amateur act of vandalism has damaged valuable habitat; it is difficult to understand how anyone could think it is an appropriate thing to do.  The wood has been left in place for use in the future.  If anyone has any more information about this vandalism please get in touch with us.

October 2006
We had a very enjoyable Conservation Group working party in August.  There was little practical work we could do in high summer without disturbing the wildlife, so a group of 15 of us checked out some local footpaths and walked to the Black Horse public house in Checkendon.  More astoundingly, we all found our way back!

Our next working party will be at 2.00pm on the 14th October when we will be clearing some of the overgrown walkways at the Greenmore ponds and excavating more of the steps by the well head at the lower pond.  Come armed with spades and wellies!  The work to get more water into the lower pond should be starting in October.  Please visit our website for more information about progress.

Our annual general meeting is on 2nd of November.  If you would like to get more involved with conservation in our village please come along to the meeting at the Community centre at 7.30pm.

Tree Warden Wanted:  And there is some positive news for our trees in Woodcote.  There is a national initiative by the British Tree Council to encourage local voluntary ‘Tree Wardens’.  The Countryside Team and Tree officer of South Oxfordshire District Council would provide support for a tree warden if Woodcote had one.  The warden would not have to be an expert as free training is available.  The job involves being the ‘eyes and ears’ for trees in Woodcote and it creates an opportunity to play an active role in the local community.  The warden would gather information about and promote awareness of the village trees.  They could advise villagers on appropriate planting and care of trees.  We think Woodcote is suitably ‘woody’ to be at the very start of this initiative in South Oxfordshire and have told SODC that we would like to be involved.  So all we need is a tree warden!  If you are interested in becoming Woodcote’s first tree warden please contact Karen Woolley on 681571, or email Karen.woolley@the-farthings.com, for all the details.

(November 2006: No report)

December 2006
When the Ponds Conservation Trust surveyed the Greenmore ponds in late August they found a small patch of the invasive Australasian stonecrop, Crassula. This non-native ‘terrorist’ arrived illegally in the UK with plants supplied for ornamental ponds. It can cover a pond as a deep blanket in a few months and will even grow up the banks in damp conditions. It smothers all other plants in the pond, including those on the banks. It is a devil to remove. Like bindweed or ground elder in your garden, one little sprig left behind can completely re-colonise the pond; and ponds are more difficult to clear completely than garden soil!
  In late October a special working party tackled this problem. The small patch in the lower pond was easily removed but in the upper pond we found it had spread to cover several square metres and was intermingled with all the aquatic grasses growing there. The entire patch of offending weed was removed as carefully as possible. We will need to monitor for any small patches of weed that reappear from any tiny fragments that have eluded us. There’s one helpful trait shown by this plant. It will continue to grow and remain green in winter so we can use a contact herbicide on it. This will not damage the native plants as they have died down naturally in winter.

Removing crassula from Upper Pond

Removing crassula from the Upper Pond

  There is a lesson to be learnt here. Any plants that are introduced to the ponds can carry tiny sprigs of this pest along with other plants and small animals that can spread and destroy the delicate balance of nature in our unique ponds. I know it is a tempting home for unwanted pond plants but they are likely to do more harm than good to the existing wildlife. So please do not use the ponds as a new home for unwanted water plants or animals.
  All that remains is for the Conservation Group to wish you all a happy Christmas and prosperous new year.

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