Woodcote Correspondent 2008

January 2008

Firstly, we hope you had an enjoyable Christmas break and wish you a very happy New Year.
 Following the WCG annual general meeting in November we have a full committee ready for the tasks ahead in 2008.
 The work of improving some of the main pathways around the Greenmore ponds should be started by now. We planned the work for December, but we could not be absolutely sure about the timing as it was always going to be the dependent on the weather and availability of volunteers.
 We now have the dormouse boxes for installation around the Greenmore ponds. These will give us more information on how many dormice there are in this area. By putting a few of these nest boxes at other places around the village, we can learn more about the Woodcote population of this rare, but well known, animal.

February 2008

In 2008 the group is planning various events to which you are invited. Two nature reserve visits this year – one to Bix (in particular for butterflies and orchids), and one evening one looking for glow worms – rarely seen and now quite unusual in the UK. We will arrange a moth identification evening alongside a wider survey of butterflies and moths of Woodcote which will be a good start to the proposed Woodcote ‘environmental audit’. Other events include another fungal foray, the Woodcote Woodcock Walk and our now traditional ‘Walking Party’ to the Black Horse, Checkendon, in August.
 As a special this year we hope to be able to organise a public village event in the format of “Gardeners’ Question Time” biased towards development of wildlife-friendly gardens and ponds.
 Another new venture this year will be a gallery of photographs of the the natural and built environment of the Parish which we will display on the WCG website – if you have any suitable Woodcote ‘wildlife’ or ‘built environment’ pictures please get in touch.
 In the colour section this month are pictures of the lower Greenmore pond. They demonstrate the rather spectacular sequence of changes in water level that have taken place in the last few years.

March 2008 (no report)

April 2008

We have a full calendar of events for 2008, and the next working party is on 12th April at 2.00 p.m. at Greenmore Ponds – all are welcome. In addition to the working parties we have a series of ‘specials’ that I will tell you about as the year progresses.
 Among other events for April we are organising a Wildlife Gardeners’ Question Time on Thursday 3rd April at 7.30 p.m. in the Community Centre. Free refreshments will be provided. You can come along and ask questions of the panel and join in the discussion about any aspects of wildlife gardening. Please fell free to bring your own ideas to the forum. If you have plants, animals, buts, or other bits and pieces for identification (or pictures of them), bring them along to find out how they fit into your garden’s web of life. There will be a charge of £3 for non-conservation group members (which will include an optional annual membership). You may need to book in advance by emailing Helen Walkington or contacting us through our website. We will have lists of animals, birds, fungi, butterflies, and so on, that we have found around the village, and ask you to add any information to these lists if you have any.
 At this event we will be launching the Village Environmental Audit which was spawned from the recent Village Plan. Now we have the opportunity of putting those ideas into practice. the environmental audit will make use of existing records (garden birds, butterflies and other wildlife) that people may have kept over the years. Please come along to add your ideas and information.
 Also in April, on Saturday 26th in Langtree School, we are hosting a meeting of the Oxfordshire Nature Conservation Forum. See our website for more details, or visit their website at www.onfc.org.uk.
 One highlight event this year will be a guided visit to Warburg (Bix) Nature Reserve in July. You can choose how much of the event you would like to attend. The afternoon will be a tour of the reserve and concentrate on butterflies and orchids; the evening will be a guided search at dusk for glow worms. Between the two events will be an opportunity for refreshment and discussion at a local hostelry. 

May 2008 (report by John Sandford)

Our Wildlife Gardeners’ Question Time on 3 April was a lively and most enjoyable occasion, with lots of suggestions, ideas, and information coming from both the audience and the panel. One proposal that we will definitely take forward was the idea of visits to each other’s gardens to see how we are doing our bit for wildlife. Something that emerged from the evening was the great diversity of wildlife across the village: some people, for instance, reported bullfinches and goldfinches as frequent visitors to their gardens, while in other areas people never saw them.
 We also used this evening to launch the Woodcote Environmental Audit – a Parish Plan action point that the Conservation Group is coordinating. We are starting with an ‘audit of audits’, which will include records that people in the village may have kept of plants and wildlife over the years. We are especially interested in any changes that you may have noticed, so if you have anything to contribute, however small, do let us know. On this same topic, you might like to know that the RSPB’s website (www.rspb.org.uk) now has the results of January’s ‘Big Garden Birdwatch’, which can be examined at county, as well as national, level. The much more comprehensive ‘Garden Birdwatch’ of the British Trust for Ornithology (www.bto.org.uk) goes on throughout the year: the one bird to feature in the top three at both the national and Oxfordshire levels in both these surveys is the blackbird, which has long been recognised as one of the most widely distributed species throughout the British Isles.
 Our website’s gallery of local photos is building up very promisingly. Here again, we welcome your contributions. The gallery is devoted not just to plants and wildlife, but to general scenes of Woodcote past and present. If you have any older, non-digital, photos, simply scan them in and email them to us, or we’ll be happy to do it for you – we promise to look after any pictures you lend us, and return them to you as we received them!
Our next event in May is the ‘Woodcote Woodcock Walk’, starting from Greenmoor Ponds at 8.30 p.m. on Thursday the 22nd. 

June 2008

Our Village Plan ‘action’ – the Wildlife Gardening Question Time – in April, was well attended and lively.  It was interesting to hear that gardens along the same stretch of road had wildly different numbers of birds visiting the feeders.  Gardens feeding a seed mixture seemed to do much better than those feeding peanuts.  There are a greater variety of seed-eating birds in a rural community, like Woodcote, than in suburban gardens. We also heard that gardens with shrubbery near the feeder provided some security and encouraged more bird visitors to the feeders.  If peanuts are fed, please ensure they are fresh; fungal growths appear on ‘old’ peanuts, especially in wet weather, and these can be toxic to birds. Also, large pieces of peanut can choke chicks so peanuts should only be provided in a fine mesh feeder during the April-June breeding season.  Please remember it is better to trim hedges before April each year to avoid disturb nesting birds.
 The Environmental Audit for the Village Plan will start its planning phase very soon, ready for the main work next year. If you want to get involved in this broad-based and challenging exercise, please get in touch with me.  All offers of help are gratefully received.
 Our next regular working party will take place this year on Saturday 14 June at 2.00 at Greenmore ponds.  By then some action will be needed to clear the footpaths of intruding new growth. Also, we want to discuss, on-site, how we will bridge the lower pond outflow; it is getting very soggy since our success in filling the pond!
 Our Woodcock Walk is on 22nd May, meeting at the Greenmore ponds at 8.30pm we will be walking a mile or so to see the Woodcock in the clearing in Abbot’s Wood. Please bring a torch; last year’s return through the woods in the dark was decidedly treacherous without one!
 As well as more information about our events in 2008, our website (http://www.woodcotecg.org.uk) now has Gallery pages of pictures.  To send us relevant pictures that we can add to the gallery or to contact us about any conservation matters, email us at info@Woodcotecg.org.uk.  You can also join in with the on-line blogs on conservation-related village activities. 

July 2008 (no report)

August 2008

Well!  Who’d have thought it?  Woodcote won the ‘Oxfordshire Village of The Year’ competition.  Radio Oxford came over to interview Parish Council and Conservation Group members in the Red Lion on 2nd July.  Hearty congratulations to the team of local people who did so much work to help Woodcote win the title.  Apparently, the active Conservation Group and the successful project to reinstate Greenmore Lower Pond were major aspects in our success.  And still more has been going on; the pond restoration project was short listed for the TOE (Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment) 10th Anniversary Project Awards as a project of high biodiversity value, but we narrowly missed out winning it.  Some of you may have seen the colour spread in the Oxford times on June 13th when Greenmore Lower Pond was the star.

 On 5th July we had an interesting 2-part guided tour of the Warburg Reserve at Bix.  In the afternoon we were given a guided tour of the butterflies and orchids followed by an intermission at a local hostelry for dinner.  Then it was back to the reserve in the evening to see the barn owls, bats and glow-worms.  The barn owls thought better of the very windy weather and refused to come out of their roosting box but the bats and glow-worms put on a great show for us.

 August is a busy month for the Conservation Group.  On 9th August we are checking out local footpaths on the annual ‘Woodcote Walking Party’ walk to the Black Horse pub in Checkendon.  Based on previous years, a good time will be had by all.  The ‘moth identification evening’ will be on the 22nd August this year.  I might get home before midnight, but I don’t hold out much hope.  And please come and chat over coffee and cakes when we host the community centre coffee morning on 2nd August.

September 2008 (no report)

October 2008 (reports from now on written by John Sandford)

It  may have been the dullest August for ninety-six years, and one of the wettest, but that didn’t prevent ten  hardy walkers from setting out on Saturday the ninth for the Black Horse in the woods the other side of Checkendon. Traditionally the Conservation Group has held one of its regular ‘working parties’ in August, but two years ago, in recognition of the holiday season, we decided to organise a ‘walking party’  (open to members and non-members alike) across the local fields and woods instead. It has proved very popular – not least as a sociable opportunity for people to explore some of the beautiful footpaths that radiate out from our village. With three of these walks under our belts, we can now justifiably call the ‘walking party’ an ‘annual event’, and it will certainly be on our programme again next year: hopefully, our advice to ‘wear sun-protection’ will turn out next time to be more in keeping with the conditions encountered.
 A couple of weeks later we held what has by now become another annual event: our moth identification evening. The rain held off and the wind dropped, but the low temperature that ensued was probably the reason for the comparatively small number of species that our mercury vapour lamp attracted. In previous years we have identified over thirty in an evening, but this time we reached a total of only eighteen. Interestingly, though, eight of those were new to our list, so the moth section of the Woodcote Environmental Audit will now feature well over forty species recorded in the village. And what delightful names many of them have: our new ones this year included the ‘nut-tree tussock’, the ‘flounced rustic’, and the ‘chequered fruit-tree tortrix’, to be added to the likes of the ‘brown-line bright-eye’, the ‘green carpet’, and the ‘ruby tiger’ on our existing list.  (You can find these, and all the rest, at the excellent website http://ukmoths.org.uk.) A surprise addition came in the shape of the hornets – five of them in all – that joined the moths in the light trap. These handsome creatures certainly seem to be getting commoner, and we wondered just how widespread they are in Woodcote now: have you seen any in recent years? (There is an interesting item about increased sightings of hornets in the UK on the Natural History Museum’s website at www.nhm.ac.uk/about-us/news/2007/may/news_11635.html.)
 By the time you read this, our September fungus foray will have taken place: at least one compensation for the damp summer should be an abundance of species in the local woods. After that, our next outdoor event is a Working Party on 11 October: look out for details of this – and all our other activities – on our website, where you can also find out how to become a member of the Group.
 Something else you can find on the website is a complete archive – going back to January 2006 – of these monthly WCG notes from the Woodcote Correspondent. Up to now they have been written by John Steel, but – sadly for us – John is leaving   the village.  A founder-member of the Group, he was for several years its Chairman, and more recently has occupied the post of Treasurer. We owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude for his knowledgeable and enthusiastic contributions to environmental activities in the village, and we wish him and Debbie every happiness in their new home in Devon.

November 2008

September 20th saw our fungus foray in the woods around the Greenmoor Ponds.  Fungi like warm and damp weather, and the preceding few days had been uncharacteristically dry. Even so, we managed to find 34 species in a couple of hours. Like the moths mentioned in this column last month, fungi have some wonderful names: the ones found this time included the ‘hairy curtain crust’, the ‘poisonpie’, the ‘snapping bonnet’, and the sinister-sounding ‘amethyst deceiver’.
 We also discovered a slow-worm (one was seen during the fungus foray at the ponds two years ago as well). Sometimes mistaken for snakes, slow-worms are actually a legless lizard, and very much the gardener’s friend, as they eat slugs and snails. (See www.herpetofauna.co.uk/identification.htm for information on this and other British reptiles and amphibians.) They seem to have a very patchy distribution in Woodcote: we have reports from one resident who has scores of them in her garden on Reading Road, whilst others (including me) haven’t come across one in decades. Do you have them in your garden – perhaps  in the compost heap? Let us know if you do, so that we can build up a picture of their distribution and see what it tells us about the different habitats we have around the village.
Thursday 6 November is the day of our Annual General Meeting, which takes place in the Community Centre at 7.30 p.m. If you’re a member, come along and meet over a glass of wine and help the committee plan next year’s activities. This year especially we’re hoping for a good turnout, as we’re looking for volunteers to help out with some of the things we do. (Don’t worry: you won’t be dragooned into anything if you simply want to come along for the wine and the chat!)
 Our December working party, on the morning of Saturday the 13th, will be dealing with a problem at the Lower Greenmoor Pond. It’s a problem that we are actually rather pleased with:  we’ve been so successful in our efforts to refill the pond that it is overflowing at the south-eastern corner, so we are going to reinstate the footpath there.

December 2008

‘What conservation group??’ Well, that was what one Woodcote resident wrote when filling in their Parish Plan questionnaire two years ago. The question they were responding to was ‘Do you have any comments about the activities of the Woodcote Conservation Group?’ Happily, such responses were very much the exception (and presumably confined to those who never read the Correspondent): the great majority of people in fact replied along the lines of ‘They are doing a great job’.  (You can now find a detailed report on the responses relating to the natural environment on our website, and also on the village website.)
It’s interesting, a couple of years on, to revisit those comments, for we’re now marking not only the second anniversary of the Parish Plan questionnaire, but also of the major work that restored the Lower Greenmoor Pond to its former glory after years in which it had shrunk to little more than a muddy puddle. It was clear that for lots of people ‘Woodcote Conservation Group’ meant ‘Greenmoor Ponds’, and the sorry state of the lower pond was, not surprisingly, very much on people’s minds as they filled in their replies. But there is much more to the WCG than just the ponds. The Annual Report that has just gone out to members details indoor and outdoor activities adding up to no fewer than thirteen public and membership events that we have organised over the past year, including talks, walks, working parties, surveys, outings, and social activities.
In that Parish Plan survey, over 1,400 people said how much they valued the village’s natural features and its rural surroundings. We’re proud of the fact that, with over seventy members, the WCG holds the county record for village conservation groups. It would be great if, in 2009, a few more of those other Woodcote residents who are concerned about our natural environment would help us maintain that record and put Woodcote even more on the map as a truly conservation-minded community! We’re now planning our programme for another year, so why not add ‘Join the Woodcote Conservation Group’ to your New Year resolutions?
In the meantime, seasonal greetings to everyone in the village, and here’s looking forward to another year of enjoying this beautiful corner of the world that we live in.

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