Warburg Warden's Warblings

Warburg Nature Reserve covered with snow by Kelly Hedges

Kelly, the new warden at Warburg Nature Reserve, has been falling in love with her new work place

My first month as the new warden at Warburg Nature Reserve, nestled away in the Chilterns near Henley-on-Thames, has been absolutely delightful!

I started just before Christmas, so during my first two weeks, in between wandering around the 107 hectare site with a map trying to orient myself and bribing the livestock to love me with food, I was lucky enough to meet the Tuesday and Wednesday volunteer groups at their Christmas meals (after a busy morning of scrub bashing of course!). 

Starting the job, I was not prepared for the fantastic sounds of Warburg. You can wander around and enjoy the quietness, hearing no traffic or people, really feeling like you are in the wilderness.

Instead of traffic and people, there is a gentle, constant chorus of birdsong - the sound of wrens chattering from the bushes, a raven from afar, and towards the end of the day a tawny owl hooting from the woods whilst a red kite soars above you.

It really is a very special place.

One of my favourite daily rituals is watching the bird feeder right outside my office window. As I am typing, I can hear the squeaky-door call of a bullfinch and observe various species of tit jostling for prime position on the feeder, only to all dash off into hiding as the nuthatch or even a great spotted woodpecker decide it’s time for their breakfast.

To my delight, we had also had a couple of exciting visitors, who were not easy to spot at first! My colleague told me “I’ve seen a bird….” She wasn’t sure what it was but described it as a small bird with an orange breast – “but definitely not a robin.”

After watching out the window for this mysterious bird all lunchtime, we finally saw the culprit – brambling! More than one of them! 

Brambling

Brambling by Harry Hogg

Since Christmas, the volunteers have been very busy. A very important habitat management task during the winter months, when birds are not nesting and so less likely to be disturbed, is scrub control.

It is very important to ensure scrub, such as young dogwood and birch do not either start invading the chalk grassland or shade it out. It is also important that the scrub itself varies in age, as different sizes provide different 'ecological niches' for different species.

We make sure that within the area of scrub there are patches where the sunlight can be let in so that smaller plants can grow.

This means that it is an ongoing battle against the natural process of succession in order to maintain some of these more fragile habitats.

The volunteers have recently done a fantastic job carrying out scrub control in both areas known as the Rifle Range and Great Hill Ride, complete with a 'dead hedge' that not only provides homes for insects, small mammals and reptiles but also acts as a barrier to protect the newly-cut area from increased footfall.

scrub

Area of cleared scrub at Warburg Nature Reserve by Kelly Hedges

As well as habitat management, the volunteers have also been helping us to manage some of our other volunteers – our four-legged conservation grazers.

We have 21 sheep, a mixture of Hebredians and Beulahs, and three Dexter cattle, to help us graze the site. Their grazing creates a much more varied vegetation structure than manual cutting because of the way they eat – cattle ripping longer vegetation away with their tongues whilst the sheep selectively nibble much closer to the ground. They will also help us by eating small amounts of scrub!

Cattle

Dexter cattle at Warburg Nature Reserve in the snow by Kelly Hedges

This is very important because we want to remove nutrients from the chalk grassland and keep the turf short to encourage wild flowers such as fairyflax, knapweed, lady’s bedstraw and Chiltern gentian, and deter coarse grasses that would otherwise dominate the area. 
 
The volunteers often help us to section off areas of the chalk grassland with electric fencing so that we can move the sheep around the site.

This week, the snow came down as they were just finishing off the fence in Big Ashes Ride – a flurry of massive snowflakes falling out of the grey sky!

Within a few minutes, Warburg was transformed into a winter wonderland, a scene that will probably remain for a few days even if there is no more snowfall as the site is always colder than the surrounding areas – another reason why Warburg is such a magical place!

Sheep

Hebridean sheep at Warburg Nature Reserve by Kelly Hedges

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