Field Event Reports

Wednesday 9 November: A guided walk at Wittenham Clumps

Leader: Chris Parker, Head of Land Management, Earth Trust

Chris Parker led the group

 A small group of six members and visitors (plus 4-month-old Oscar) gathered at 10.00am in the main car park of the Earth Trust, Little Wittenham, where we were met by our host Chris Parker. He introduced the target of the walk and we set off across the road onto the main site. In brief, the walk proceeded below the Clumps on the historic earth workings, then down beside an arable field into Little Wittenham Wood, where we stopped at the ponds within the woodland. Finally, we emerged from the woodland onto the meadows that circled the Clumps and made our way back to the car park, being a little wary of the grazing cattle, one of which had apparently developed a bit of an attitude problem towards walkers!.

 The weather was typically autumnal, particularly chilly on the open hill, but becoming very pleasant in the woodland when the sun emerged and filtered down through the canopy, reflecting off the dancing leaves floating down from above and cloaking the woodland floor. There were not many birds about, apart from what we believed were small flocks of linnets feeding on the knapweed heads in the meadows.

 Throughout the walk we frequently stopped for Chris to tell us about the work done by Earth Trust on the site. This included:

 The hedge-cutting techniques and timing used to maintain a healthy diverse habitat and wildlife corridors.

 The planting of native trees other than beech on the Clumps since it was expected that the dominant beech would progressively suffer if the predicted future drier conditions occurred, thus ensuring 'Clumps' for future generations.

 The cultivation of the arable fields using sown wild-flower edges and rough grass strips across the fields for insects and birds, and the production by spraying with herbicide of bare patches within the crops to be used as landing strips for skylarks in the breeding season.

 The methods used in the ponds to encourage Great Crested Newts, including the removal of fish, recently by draining one of the ponds completely.

 The coppicing techniques used on the hazel bushes to open up the woodland and maintain variety.

 The need to systematically remove larger trees, particularly the non-native conifers, to promote an open canopy and diverse understorey– the harvested timber is variously used as biofuel both on and off the site.

The creation of new open areas beside the woodland rides, which are particularly used by butterflies and bats, by felling the trees – one crashed down while we were watching.

 The methods used to promote healthy wild-flower meadows, including distribution of fresh-mown meadow hay from elsewhere on the site and the sowing of seed.

 The above is just a small sample of the interesting information conveyed to us by Chris during our two-hour walk and one can only be amazed at the amount of work that goes on with just a small group of staff and volunteers – work that is not obviously apparent when just walking the area.. In all a very pleasant autumnal amble, combined with informative commentary, enjoyed by all; even four-month-old Oscar seemed to be content being outside and hardly made any noise throughout the walk – his presence was a salutary reminder that so much work needs to be done so that he and his generation can enjoy the British countryside in the future. Thanks were conveyed to Chris, who had to dash off for a midday meeting, and the group dispersed.

Graham Bateman

Graham Bateman, Tony Rayner, Eleanor Dangerfield, Rosemary Philips, Camille Green (plus friend Lucas and 4-month-old Oscar).

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