Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers

I don’t normally blog about the local volunteering I do with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers – not sure why – but I think it’s about time I started.

I’ve been volunteering with the group for four years, heading out into the South Cheshire countryside every other Sunday to do practical tasks for a number of different organisations.

Our tasks are varied and focused on helping to conserve or enhance particular habitats and environments. We often undertake similar tasks over several Sundays to enable us to complete larger jobs. Our tasks tend to follow the seasons with our cycle of chopping, burning, invasive species removal and meadow raking being very familiar to long serving volunteers. We also do some more obviously constructive tasks such as the bench installing and path building we did last weekend.

Over the course of each year we generally do tasks for Cheshire East Council Ranger Service, Cheshire Wildlife Trust and Natural England, although for a past couple of years we’ve also done some tasks for a private landowner.

The group doesn’t have an official motto but ‘Conservation & Conversation’ works pretty well – although something related to fire or biscuits could be just as apt!

The group moved into the 21st Century a couple of years ago with the launch of our own Facebook page and Twitter feed through which we keep follower up to date with our latest tasks.

As we move into the latter part of the year, my favourite kind of tasks start again – cutting down trees and setting fire to them!  It may sound counter-intuitive to do this in the name of conservation but it is vital in helping to preserve some of the rarest habitats we have.  Whilst I’m a believer in letting nature have its way, I also understand that if we did so without any management at all, we would end up losing some habitats that are now few and far between in the UK.  That we have to do this at all is more than just a shame and entirely the fault of humans.  Sometimes we need to take what would normally be odd action to help undo the harm we have done – if we don’t do something, some habitats may be lost forever.

Anyway, for me, there’s no better way to spend a chilly Sunday afternoon outside than chucking a few logs on a fire and spending a few hours poking it.


And the cradle will fall

I was working from home last Friday and noticed that there were lots of comings and goings from my house martin nest. I could see them constantly flying past my landing window and assumed that they had finally fledged. As a first brood, I was getting slightly concerned that I had yet to see the chicks fly – this being late in the year. I was relieved then when I saw them flying past.

However, as I left home in the afternoon I noticed something on my driveway – the nest!


The nest was from last year and perhaps, weakened over the winter, it could not withstand the weight of an almost fledging brood. Whatever the reason for its failure, it seems the chicks were forced to fledge whether they liked it or not.  The birds were still flying up to where the nest had been, trying to cling on to what little remained of the mud home attached to the wall.

When I retuned home on Sunday, the birds were nowhere to be seen. I hope they’ve found somewhere else to roost overnight, particularly with the temperatures becoming more autumnal. Whether the chicks will have gained enough strength to migrate yet is another matter entirely. I’ve not seen many house martins in the area since I returned so maybe they have already moved on.

After giving up on the nest ever producing any chicks this year, I was very surprised and happy to hear and see a brood being nurtured high up on the side of my house in mid-August.  Now that they’ve fledged, and hopefully begun their migration south, I have some renewed hope that I may be able to conduct the 2016 BTO House Martin Nest Study using a nest on my own house – I’ll just have to wait and see!

A short trip across Ramsey Sound

At the weekend I took the long route down to Pembrokeshire to pay a visit to Ramsey Island before it closes for the winter at the end of next month.  After spending another couple of weeks volunteering there in June, I wanted to visit later on in the season, especially wanting to see the grey seals pupping on the beaches.

I tried to make the trip a couple of Septembers ago but poor weather on three consecutive days thwarted my attempt.  This time I left my decision to visit to the last minute and with Saturday’s weather looking to be set fair, I set off down through Wales on Friday afternoon.  The journey took longer than usual as I went via a different route, using country lanes through the heart of mid-Wales, eventually arriving in time to watch the rugby in the pub.

Having left my plans to the last minute, I couldn’t get a room in the B&B I used last time; the Coach House in the centre of St David’s.  Instead, I booked into the sister property, Bwlch Carte, a cottage with a couple of B&B rooms on the edge of town but only about 10 minutes walk from the centre.  I was glad I did as I woke to the view below – having left the curtains open, I woke to see mist across the heathland behind the cottage, with the hills poking out of the top – I’m glad I didn’t lie in!


The weather was perfect and the crossing to Ramsey about a calm as I’ve seen it.  I spent the day wandering around the island, feeling like I should be getting on with some tasks, but instead just enjoying the scenery and sunshine.  I had hoped that the heathland flowers would still be out but they had long faded and I will need to visit in late August to get them in their prime.  However, just as photogenic, the drying grass and wilting bracken gave a rusty autumn tint to the land, showing that the fine weather was possibly just a last lingering flicker of the summer.


Most of the way around the island, where sounds could float up from the bays, I could hear seals, but it was only when I got to Aber Mawr, the largest bay on the island, that the importance of Ramsey Island for pupping could be seen. Ramsey is the largest breeding site for Atlantic grey seals in southern Britain and around 700 are born on its beaches every autumn.  Aber Mawr had its fair share with cows and calves spread out across its sand, pebbles and rocks.


The bird life was a little quieter than when I was there in June; some of the summer visitors were still around but the cliff-nesting birds were all gone to sea for the winter.  However, the autumn migration was well underway with waves of hirundines (swallows and martins) flying through on their passage south.  Before the 4:00pm boat arrived to take the visitors back across the Sound, including me for once, I spent a little time looking for a wryneck in one of the bays but without any luck – I’ll have to wait longer for my first ever sighting.

It was with sadness that I drove home yesterday – it’ll probably be summer again before I make another trip to the Island – but the long journey was well worth it, even for a visit of just a few short hours.

Autumn Drive to Work

This morning I set out on one of my more-than-weekly work-related drives to Lincoln.  It’s actually quite a nice drive and usually reasonably quiet for most of the way; getting up at 5:30am does have some benefits.  There’s a lot of dual carriageway cruising on the route but there’s also some quieter cross-country single carriageways too, crossing the wolds between the M1 and A46.  This morning, however, was particularly nice.

I’m still getting used to the darker mornings and leaving home before the sun has risen – they seem to have suddenly crept up on me this year.  As I turned onto the bypass not far from home, the first shades of dawn were coming from the horizon and the thin sliver of a moon was still making its way across the remaining night.  Heading on, a few small clouds, standing out in the wide, open and clear sky, were starting to be pink-toned and a greater brightness started with a glow emerging from the behind the silhouetted trees and buildings.  Turning out and away from the last urban sprawl passed through, the shallow valleys spread out either side of the road.

At first, there were just thin wisps floating above the road, made to slowly dance by the passing traffic. They gradually gathered more substance, body and form. As the valleys grew more shallow, they became filled at their depths with a fine mist hanging lightly over the hedges and pastures. Driving onwards, the mist became a fog over the land, occasionally deepening into thick cloud through which the newly risen sun began to show its presence.

Continuing on my way, the journey was mist-filled and punctuated by sudden thick fog that was just as quickly left behind with clear views ahead.  The sun started as a deep electric orange, sometimes shrouded by the mists but became stronger, bursting out from behind the land-tied clouds. As I crossed the motorway and headed down into a village, a perfect vision came into view; a brightening sun, softened by mist, rising above steam clouds rising from a power station into a clear and deep blue sky above.

I searched for ages along my route for a place to stop and take an image of the misty dawn but was thwarted by high hedges and a lack of lay-bys and gateways.  Unfortunately the photo below is the best I could do – not very misty!


How happily wrong could I be?

In my last post, I said it was too late for the house martins to raise a brood on my house this year – well, that’s exactly what they are doing!  A few days ago when I got home from work I noticed that the patch of droppings beneath the nest had continued to grow and then I heard the chirping coming from the nest above.

Today when I was out cutting my grass, I walked beneath the nest a few times and on each pass the chicks chirped loudly.  Looking up, I could see three little heads poking out through the narrow gap between the mud nest and the eaves.


Whilst it’s not at all unusual for house martin nests to be holding a brood of chicks at this time of year, I think it probably is quite unusual for a first brood to be so late.  These chicks will have a bit of catching up to do with their neighbours as the skies around my house have a few families of house martins flying around in groups.

Last weekend I was out at the Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses and that area had very good numbers of both house martins and swallows.  The swallows appeared to be preparing to leave for their warmer wintering grounds in South Africa, with large groups collecting on the power lines alongside the canal.

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Whilst summer is turning to autumn, it’s nice to see the migrants haven’t quite finished their breeding for this year.