Making hay while the sun shines

A brief window of dry weather last week was just enough to get the grass on the League’s Baronsdown wildlife sanctuary cut, baled and taken away. This left the Red Deer exposed and looking slightly confused by the lack of places to hide away from view. Whilst the bales were still in the fields, a buzzard was making full use of the new vantage points to pounce of insects. These large birds, that are so graceful in the air, look ungainly and comical as they chase insects around on the ground. We always leave grass cutting until late in the summer to allow the insects, birds and small mammals plenty of time to breed. The current trend for cutting agricultural grassland for silage three or four times during the summer is having a devastating effect on our wildlife.

Birds that came here to Baronsdown just to breed, such as Pied Flycatcher, Redstarts and Wood Warblers have moved off to warmer climes, but we are still getting waves of Barn Swallows and House Martins filling up on insects as they pass through heading south. Tawny Owls are already staking out their territories for the next breeding season on Baronsdown and on a still night the air is alive with the wooing cry of males. Ravens too are preparing for breeding, with an increase in their cronking calls and some spectacular displays of upside down flying. Ravens are one of the earliest breeding birds and they may lay eggs as soon as February.

When the sun does break through between the clouds Speckled Wood butterflies appear as if by magic to bathe in the sunlight, along with Red Admirals and Peacocks. Ivy is a much maligned plant, but its flowers can provide a valuable source of food and shelter to butterflies, bees and birds in late summer and so we leave it uncut on the sanctuaries. As an evergreen, ivy is also steeped in myths and legend.

The present stormy weather conditions have brought a distinctly autumnal feel to the air and the first tinges of orange and brown that have appeared on the leaves are signs of things to come. These changes are much more noticeable when you are out in the countryside and 300 metres above sea level, than they are in the towns and cities. It won’t be long before the woodburner is brought back into use.

Herd of deer in Baronsdown wildlife sanctuary, with bales of hay in the background

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