28th April: Chalkhills private wildlifereserve, Whitchurch
Leader: Sandra Parkinson, (Site Owner)
10 members of AbNats plus 6 visitors and 6 members of Whitchurch on Thames Habitat Study Group, including 2 children attended Sandra Parkinson’s afternoon walk around her farm on the hills above Whitchurch on Thames. It had been a cloudy day but cleared up nicely for us. This 70 acre site is not well known outside of Whitchurch as it is a private site so this was a rare privilege and did not disappoint.
Sandra’s land is mainly steep hill, and much is south facing into the Thames valley. The farm is divided into several small fields, most lightly grazed by sheep and a couple of donkeys. We began by looking at the plants in the lowest field, where vines had once been grown, and then moved up a track to higher ground, taking in a bank where this year’s orchids are through and marked out with sticks. Sandra is a very good botanist and keen to enthuse the next generation so we stopped frequently to talk about violets, cowslips, speedwells, milkworts, and many other small herbs that were present. To one side there is a beech wood and other large trees came into view as we reached the escarpment. The geology is chalk mostly with sandy areas overlying in parts, giving a variety of habitat. Most of the trees have preservation orders on them.
Turning west along the ridge we came into a large area which is entirely managed for wildlife. We were now at the top of the hill overlooking a large basin with the Thames far below us and could see for miles. It is too steep for any kind of farming and five sheep graze the flattest area at the top, the whole being a mix of hawthorn scrub and herb rich grassland. The site area is a botanist’s dream but a lot of hard work to keep open. Sandra told us the origin of some of the many species’ names, such as salad burnet. The only butterflies seen were a couple of Dingy Skippers (Erynnis tages), but the site is rich in insect life. Wandering about we explored the upper areas before coming together again and taking a steep path down through the beech wood, trying to avoid the just showing white helleborines as we went. Bird life was quite limited,with more heard than seen. Back down at Sandra’s house at about 4.30 pm tea and cake were kindly provided for us all and we said our goodbyes. It had been a good afternoon and we all hope that the farm can continue to be cared for just as it is now.
Report: Cynthia Napper
- AbNats Attendees:
- Graham Bateman, Cynth Napper, David Hastings, Michael Bloom, Julian Smart, Victoria Kozlova plus daughter, Nigel and Caroline Gregory, Susan Bowditch, Tony Rayner.
- Birds seen/heard:
- Blue Tit, Great Tit, Robin, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Green Woodpecker, Goldcrest, Pheasant, house Martin, Carrion Crow, Magpie, Jay, Red Kite, Common Buzzard