Field Event Reports

20 May 2015 - Chimney Meadows BBOWT Reserve

Leader: Lisa Lane, Upper Thames Landscape Manager BBOWT

After an 'interesting' drive down a long single-track road, an excellent group of 16 members met in the car park of Chimney Meadows at 10.00am on a cool and slightly breezy morning. Our guide was Lisa Lane, Upper Thames Landscape Manager of Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT). Chimney Meadows is BBOWT's largest nature reserve, its fields part of an ancient landscape created by the Thames and shaped by centuries of farming. It forms part of the Upper Thames Living Landscape, a Wildlife Trust scheme to create space for wildlife and people together.

Initially Lisa told us how the Meadows were managed, using BBOWT staff, a team of volunteers and contractors as necessary. Our first stop was Ashey Piece, a meadow created in 2004 by spreading green hay from an adjacent site, which contains masses of wildflower seeds. As well as producing a profitable hay crop, the meadow now has a wide diversity of flowers – buttercups were just starting to come into flower when we were there.

The second stop was at one of the layback fields – meadows used by cattle, sheep and ponies for grazing – cattle were in the field we first saw and another had sheep. Water and salt licks were provided for the animals.

On another meadow, we saw that some areas had been marked off where green hay had not been spread: these act as control plots to see if 'green hay seeding' had successfully produced a more varied vegetation on the rest of the site – as indeed it had done. Throughout Lisa elaborated on the effects and management of the periodic flooding of the Thames across the Meadows, which is part of the natural cycle of the Reserve.

At various points on our walk Barn Owl boxes were pointed out as well as the site of a badger sett in a scrub belt, and a badger door leading through the netting fences that surrounded some fields allowing these animals to get into the meadows. The badgers seemed to prefer digging under the fence (there was one such just feet away from a 'door') and some have extended entrances to their setts into the meadows.

Having left the main meadows we moved along some hedgerows to a bird hide that overlooked the wet grassland area. While in the hide our own member, Dudley Iles, who is a frequent visitor to the Meadows, gave us a detailed talk on the birds that frequent the area throughout the year. Only a few Mallard were visible from the hide, although there was a continued cacophony of 'cawing' Rooks in the nearby rookery.

Our walk then progressed along the shrub-enclosed board walk to the bridge over the Thames, under which bats roost. We then enjoyed yet another habitat as we walked along the Thames path, with the river to our left, where Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Moorhens, Coots and Black-headed Gulls were evident, and to the right shrubland, where Blackcaps were seen. Finally we crossed toward the farm, looking out onto the wet grassland and National Nature Reserve, an area used by many overwintering waders and ducks. Within the tractor barn on the farm, Lisa gave us a final briefing to the sweet smell of hay. Those lucky enough saw the vary rare Tree Sparrow around the buildings and I was lucky enough to see Chiffchaffs and a Lesser Whitethroat in the car park.

Very many thanks to Lisa for nearly three hours of unstinting time and enthusiasm; she successfully conveyed so much practical and theoretical knowledge in so many aspects of land management and responded so knowledgeably to the numerous questions made throughout the trip.

Hugh & Vivienne Summers, Graham Bateman, Rosemary Prior, Sue Morley, David Newton, Barry & Beryl Stayte, Michael Bloom, John Killick, Stuart Hughes, Janet & Martin Buckland, Jane Bye, Dudley Iles, Ian Smith.

Graham Bateman