Woodcote Correspondent 2014

January 2014

The British Trust for Ornithology’s Bird Atlas 2007-11 appeared just in time for Christmas. If you were lucky enough to get a copy (I won’t say how much it cost: let’s just say your donor was very generous), you’ve got years of fascinating browsing ahead of you. With its 720 pages the Atlas is the fruit of four years of observations by 40,000 volunteers across Great Britain and Ireland. And as this is now the fourth such atlas (the first appeared in the early seventies), we can see not just where different species were (both breeding and wintering) between 2007 and 2011, but also how their numbers and range have changed over the past four decades.

Let’s take some local examples. The extraordinary story of the Chiltern Red Kites is familiar enough: introduced in 1989, they first bred in 1992. By 2011 there were over 800 pairs, with the population spreading fast into neighbouring counties. Today, the species is a common sight across much of southern and central England. The success of the Welsh Red Kites is equally remarkable: unlike ‘our’ Kites, they were not artificially introduced, but have expanded immensely (and no-one quite knows why) from a tiny remnant population of around half a dozen pairs fifty or so years ago to well over a thousand today.

Two other big birds that we now see regularly in Woodcote are the Buzzard and the Raven. It’s not so long ago that you would have had to drive over to Moulsford Downs if you wanted to see our isolated local pair of Buzzards, and you’d have had to drive to the Welsh borders or Devon before you could expect to see a Raven. Now Buzzards have spread across the whole country, and Ravens too are steadily advancing from their western strongholds. (A good place to look out for the former is above Dean Farm, and our local pair of Ravens regularly flies across the village: they always seem to be following a NE-SW route, though where from and where to is still a mystery!)

Of course, it’s not all a story of population increase: the great flocks of Starlings that we used to see wheeling in the evening sky are no more; Wood Warblers have disappeared from our beechwoods, and Yellowhammers are no longer the common sight (and sound) that they used to be by the fields towards South Stoke. And we have some local oddities: according to the Atlas, Collared Doves are still doing well, but in Woodcote this once-familiar garden visitor seems to have become decidedly local. (Do you still have them in your garden?)

If you’d like to get to know some of our local birds, why not join our Winter Bird Walk on January 11 (details on our website)? And don’t forget the RSPB’s ‘Big Garden Birdwatch’ on the weekend of the 25th-26th  Jan: please send your Birdwatch records to the WCG as well for our very own Woodcote survey.

John Sandford

February 2014

Help with Primary School Pond

The Woodcote Conservation Group were delighted to help out the Friends of Woodcote Primary School start the process of restoring their school pond and wildlife area one wet and windy day in December. A restoration and management plan had previously been drawn up by Rod d’Ayala, Ecological Consultant, who led the project on the day.

The pond measures about 6 x 4 metres and had become completely choked with an invasive weed called Crassula Helmsii, which has caused considerable problems in the Upper Greenmoor Pond over the years.  One end of the school pond was shallower than the other and dried out when the weather was warm.  It is preferable to have the pond the same depth throughout, infilling on top of the liner with soil, to create different levels.  The shallower areas will then retain moisture during periods of dry weather, and lots of creatures prefer to live in shallow water, with some preferring damp and boggy areas.

More than 20 people including parents and children plus members of the Conservation Group, put their backs into the job on the day, with much digging and shovelling – and getting happily muddy!

After the pond was emptied and cleared and the liner and underlay were pulled back from the shallow end, the pond was dug more deeply, with spoil then put on top of the liner to create the varying levels.

The whole wildlife area is an ideal habitat for frogs, newts, hedgehogs, butterflies and insects, and will be a wonderful teaching resource for the school, as well as a quiet and peaceful green space for the children. Any wildlife area, however small, should have a variety of flowering and fruiting shrubs, and native wild flowers, to attract pollinating insects. Around the pond a meadow mix of flowers may be planted, and a seating area created for the children.

After it had been re-profiled, the pond was left to fill with rainwater, as tap water contains chlorines and other chemicals which can take many months to disperse. With the incredible amount of rainfall we’ve had recently, it took just days for the pond to fill to the brim, and it is always amazing to see how quickly a new pond will start to fill with all sorts of wildlife.

By the Spring, the water will be alive with diving beetles, snails, frogs, toads and newts. But first, there is more work to be done, and the Conservation Group will help as much as we can. So if any of our 100 village members would like to join us, then do please come along! As usual, e-mails will be sent to the membership with dates of all our activities.

Isobel Green

March 2014

Where have our deer gone?

I have recently become alarmed by the reduction in the number of deer locally, especially fallow and roe.  I used to see a large herd of up to thirty fallow deer daily near Stoke Row, but have had only one sighting in the last year, of just three females, and have not seen a roe deer for some time.  Researching the problem revealed a shocking blog in the Shooting Times, where one individual who culls deer legally, wrote a passionate piece expressing his concern about uncontrolled culling. To paraphrase this article: the Government has gone to great lengths to demonise deer and encourage people to shoot more of them.  Many are also killed on roads, sometimes after disturbance by dog walkers.  Many more people have centrefire rifles capable of killing deer, legally or illegally.  The rifles may be fitted with a sound moderator to reduce the likelihood of detection.  The shooting of deer has become a cash generating industry supplying game to local outlets, with no controls whatever.  The territorial nature of our deer makes them a relatively easy target, as one can easily predict where they will be at any time.  Recent cold wet summers also seem to have had an adverse effect on fawn survival and mild winters increase the burden of parasites like ticks.   Other deaths have been attributed to a variety of diseases, including liver flukes, pneumonia and TB. 

An unregulated and ad hoc cull of deer seems to me to be highly undesirable, as there would be no information on local numbers and whether the deer require culling or protection.  Designated people should be assigned the job of control; people who have some knowledge of local numbers and how many can safely be removed each year at a time when pregnant females and does with fawns are not killed.

Phil Lea

April 2014

The Trunk Ditch

With the recent unprecedented rainfall, many communities in the Thames Valley have suffered greatly from flooding but because of its local topography, Woodcote has been largely unaffected. However, near Ipsden there has been a persistent flood around Larkstoke Manor. Those who regularly drive towards Wallingford along the A4074 will have noticed that a section of the main road adjacent to the entrance to the Manor has had water streaming across the road continuously and the land either side of the road is still flooded after at least a week of dry weather.

Some people might have wondered why this situation should have persisted for so long. Well the answer to this question can be found in an article written by John Sandford for the Woodcote Correspondent in September 2010. To quote directly from the article referring to an area west of Hailey:-

“  ‘Drunken Bottom’ was almost certainly once a very wet patch of land, and indeed the modern map still marks a spring a few hundred yards to the south. Intriguingly, the map also shows a watercourse which it labels as ‘Trunk Ditch’, which starts near this spring but then mysteriously stops when it reaches the A4074, at the lowest point of the road just beyond the Ipsden turning.”

The Trunk Ditch, or the Drincan to give it its other name, is a winterbourne stream that is now visible above ground following the recent deluge. It is flowing from its origin, a few hundred yards from where the spring is marked on the OS Map along Brockendon Bottom and under Church Lane onto the land surrounding Larkstoke Manor. It looks like there is a small culvert under the A4047 but this can’t cope with the volume of water, so the water is backing up and flowing over the main road. On the opposite side of the road the stream can be seen flowing across the fields towards Red Barn. (see photo below)

The article includes an aerial photograph taken during the summer of 2010 showing the same fields between the A4047 and Red Barn during a very dry period when there was no evidence of surface water but the track of the stream underground can still be seen by the greener colour of the crops above ground.

The article also refers to an extract from The Ipsden Country by JH Baker (published in 1959) that makes reference to this stream “This spring, after a lapse of 21 years, the Trunk Ditch runs again’, adding ‘According to tradition, this tiny stream . . . usually flows every seven years.’

If you are interested in reading all of John Sandford’s original article it can be found on the Woodcote Conservation Website :-