Hedges and Ditches at the Marsh

Today I met with Paul and Mike to discuss our ongoing plans for hedging on the Marsh. We have applied for some subsidised hedging packs from The Woodland Trust, but we are keen to retain the openness of the landscape, and the saplings have to be protected from stock so we are limited in where we can plant them. We feel some hedging would be applicable in order to provide a more diverse habitat, but we were also introduced to the idea of resurrecting the ditch system to provide not only a barrier, but yet more diversity. Ditches would have been in place historically as field boundaries but many have been overtaken by reeds or silted up so are no longer running with water. Eels, raft spiders and other interesting species are present in the wetter parts of the Marsh so we want to see if we can use these as a focal point for our decision-making over the hedges.

If we dig out some of the ditches, we can use the spoil to create a raised berm, in which we can then plant our hedging trees. We are requesting shrubby, hardy, low-growing species such as hawthorn and blackthorn, and we will intersperse these with some black poplar and willow. The trees will stabilise the banks, and then we can hopefully encourage water voles and possibly kingfishers if the water starts to flow. It will certainly encourage the dragonflies and damselflies of which there are already a significant number and variety.

After our meeting with Mike, Paul and I walked down to check the bees, and suss out the various options. Here are some of the former ditches:

It would be interesting to see both how, and how quickly, the ditch restoration changes the dynamic of the Marsh environment. The trees should arrive in November, and we will be encouraging the school children, staff, and parents to get involved, as well as other people connected with the project.

In the apiary enclosure last year we found wasp spiders. These large spiders have recently arrived from the continent as their natural habitat has spread, and are now fairly common across the south of England. The females share the unmistakeable colouration of a wasp, and their webs have a curious zig-zag running down from the centre called a stabilimentum – although quite what purpose this structure has within the web isn’t clear. The males are small and brown, and usually get eaten after mating. Such is life…

We found 3 individuals in the same large clump of elecampane, clearly taking advantage of the insects visiting the flowers, and you can see the third photo shows a package of food carefully wrapped by the female.

I’m so pleased we found some again. We had a scout around the rest of the apiary, but left the bees alone as they are getting ready for winter. They were very active, and still bringing in pollen and foraging on the local flora. We found a couple of huge puffball fungi, and the molehills are providing areas of bare earth for seedlings to take root. There were common carder bees and a few tree bumblebees on the elecampane, and the willow we planted earlier in the year is doing really well, so hopefully that will make a positive contribution to protecting the bees from the prevailing wind in the spring.

As we walked back, we met 2 ecologists about to release this tangle of baby slow-worms in to the reptile zone:

According to Kim, we now have 59 common lizards, 369 slow-worms and 19 grass snakes down at the Marsh. They will disperse to the surrounding area and hopefully next summer we might be lucky enough to see some basking on the woodpiles and other structures that have been put in place for them. There are more exciting plans for the site in discussion, so watch this space!

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