Wildlife - Doorstep discoveries
PUBLISHED: 10:38 24 March 2009 | UPDATED: 15:52 20 February 2013
Let your senses take you on a journey across Berkshire and the Chilterns with the pick of this season's spring and summer highlights from the local Wildlife Trust's Rachel Tomkins...
It's easy to take our familiar surroundings for granted but you'd be amazed at what you'll find in our area just a few miles away from town centres. Here's a run down of the top five wildlife experiences not to be missed at Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) sites.
1 Track an otter: Have fun looking for signs of an otter at Hungerford Marsh Nature Reserve next to the pretty town of Hungerford. This idyllic riverside reserve, with water meadows, reedbeds and a network of ridges and ditches that follow the winding River Dun, provides the perfect place for an otter to find food and cover. While it is unlikely that you'll spot the otter itself, since it is mainly nocturnal, you can look for otter spraints (droppings) which are left as territory markers at prominent sites. These have a distinctive smell, reminiscent of jasmine tea, and appear twisted in shape. Otter pawprints in the sand or mud, rolling places, pathways through vegetation and food remains (fish scales and carcasses) are also good signs to discover.
Did you know?
- Otters are slowly returning to our counties, now that we have cleaned up rivers and banned the pesticides that caused their decline. Over the last 20 years the BBOWT has been at the forefront of work to encourage otters back, helping them by building artificial breeding places, or holts, along our rivers and canals.
- Recently, otters have been seen at Thatcham Reedbeds in West Berkshire, where BBOWT will be introducing holts along the River Kennet.
- Otters travel vast distances, up to 30 miles each night, and they need a network of waterways that threads its way through towns and countryside. The otter is exactly the type of animal that will benefit from BBOWT's work creating what are known as Living Landscapes where isolated pockets of habitats are joined together to form wildlife networks in which wildlife can move about freely, and where local farmers, businesses and communities are encouraged to help their local wildlife and look after the area for themselves and for future generations to enjoy.
2 Hunt for wild garlic: If you take a relaxing stroll through the dappled woodland of Moor Copse Nature Reserve in Pangbourne you may be in for a sensory treat. Before you see the white flower heads of ramsons or wild garlic, which resemble exploding fireworks, your nostrils will fill with the unmistakable tangy, sweet and sour garlic scent. Using your nose, ramsons can be an easy herb to find amongst woodland and on shady banks. The nectar is a food source for hoverflies and longhorn beetles as well as a number of butterflies.
Did you know?
- In a charter for a piece of land in Berkshire granted by King Edmund to Bishop Aelfric in AD944, one of the features used to fix the boundary in the minds of the locals was a 'wild garlic wood'.
- Despite their strong smell en masse, ramsons are surprisingly mild to eat. The broad leaf-blades are used in salads, stews and soups.
3 Hear the song of the woodlark: In spring, on the glorious open Wildmoor Heath Nature Reserve near Crowthorne, listen out for the melodious flute-like song of the woodlark which has inspired poets through the ages to put pen to paper. While skylarks rise from the ground singing, woodlarks sing in a tree and while circling and descending to the ground. The truly memorable song can be heard from early March to the middle of June.
Sadly, national numbers of the woodlark are in rapid decline and the woodlark is now an endangered bird. With BBOWT's careful management of the heather and gorse at Wildmoor it is hoped that more woodlarks will be encouraged to breed on the site each year.
Don't forget to visit Wildmoor in the late summer too when the heath becomes an unbroken carpet of deep pink and purple heather...
FOR MORE TIPS ON SPOTTING WILDLIFE PICK UP A COPY OF BERKSHIRE LIFE APRIL 2009 EDITION