Warburg Warden's Warblings

Snowdrops by Katrina Martin/2020Vision

After her first year at Warburg Nature Reserve, Kelly sees signs of spring emerging once again.

I am very pleased to say that I have had the pleasure of wardening at Warburg Nature Reserve for a whole year now. And what a year it has been. It's been fantastic watching the wonderful changes at the reserve through the seasons. From the naked, frosty branches of the trees in winter, to colour bursting through with new life in spring and then exploding all over the reserve in summer. Autumn brought hues of orange and yellow before the trees finally lost their leaves once again.

I'm still enjoying watching the birds on the bird feeder from my office window, scattering occasionally when one of the two sparrowhawks dive in for their lunch. Hopefully these are a pair and we might see fledglings in spring.

Once again, I'm drawn to colourful signs that winter may be coming to an end, this year before it's really started. Hundreds of green hellebores are out along the main track between the visitor centre and the bird hide, their delicate green flowers bringing fresh colour to the woods. I wonder if we can beat last year’s count of just over a thousand plants!

A couple of impressive stinking hellebores, with their purple-tinged, drooping, green flowers, are also in full bloom just outside the visitor centre. It’s an unfair name as the plant doesn’t actually stink at all – but all parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested, despite it being a treatment for worm burdens in people in the 18th century.

Next to the car park, the elegant white blanket of snowdrops that are out in full force provide an early nectar source for any insect life that may have ventured out in the milder weather.

Snowdrops

A sea of snowdrops at Warburg Nature Reserve by Kelly Hedges

Our volunteers have been very busy once again with the winter work. They have spent weeks cutting back scrub to prevent it spreading onto the chalk grassland around the site; a rare habitat that we have lost more than 80% of since the Second World War.

Chalk grassland plant species prefer a low nutrient, alkaline environment, and our livestock have been doing their bit to help, grazing throughout the winter, which keeps the vegetation short and removes extra nutrients.

The volunteers have also carried out some coppicing, the ancient technique of cutting down trees, such as hazel, to ground level, stimulating the natural response to regrow. In the past, this was used to increase timber yields so that the wood extracted could be used for firewood, charcoal and building materials, however, today it's mostly used as a conservation technique.

The removal of the taller, older trees allows the light to reach the woodland floor. This encourages the regrowth of the coppiced trees and woodland flowers such as primroses and dog violets that were long ago shaded out by the trees. In turn the flowers help to support insect life such as woodland butterflies. Coppicing also helps to stimulate the evolution of an understorey, a lower layer of woodland plants, as the coppice coup will be fenced to keep deer and rabbit out to prevent them from eating the regrowth. Carried out on rotation, coppicing helps to create a continually evolving mosaic of trees and vegetation of different ages, thus allowing a huge variety of niches for different species to exploit. 

Dormouse sleeping in nest

Dormouse sleeping in nest by Zoe Helene Kindermann

Coppicing also helps the hazel dormice we are lucky enough to have on the reserve. Dormice like a variety of ages of hazel. The older stands provide hazelnuts for them to eat, and younger ones regrow after being cut back, extending the life of the hazel and improving the habitat for the dormice. They like to make their nests from grasses, leaves and stripped honeysuckle bark, and eat nuts, berries, seeds and insects.

Cutting down some of the older, thicker stands can be hard work for our volunteers, but they are always up to the task and do a fantastic job. The bigger material from coppicing can go as firewood, be turned into charcoal onsite by the same volunteers, or piled up into log piles to rot for beetles and other invertebrates. We keep the smaller material, such as stakes and binders, to use for our hedgelaying.

For those of you who frequent the reserve, you might have noticed that we have had to close a pathway on the east side of the woodland. Unfortunately, this is due to ash dieback, a fungal disease (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus) that has infected many of our ash trees on the reserve and all across the UK.

We are working to remove any dangerous ash along rights of way and permissive paths, however, we are unable to fell every tree along every pathway in the reserve. We are also leaving trees off the paths in the hope that some of them may be resistant to the disease, as well as providing good standing deadwood habitat for invertebrates and fungi.

You will notice some major works in the next month or so down the main bridleway track as we work to keep the tracks and pathways safe for visitors. More information on ash dieback can be found here.

Visit or volunteer at Warburg Nature Reserve

Why not come along and visit Warburg Nature Reserve and see how the reserve changes with the seasons here. You could also get involved with our team of volunteers, or come to an event to find out more about this special place.

What's on at Warburg Nature Reserve