A gripping saga!

It all started during lockdown!

When restrictions were lifted slightly and we were classed as keyworkers, I was able to visit some of our sites to carry out inspections, which included looking at everything such as the fences, gates, bins, noticeboards and bridges.

Whilst out in Wellesley Woodlands, I thought it would be a good idea to make the bridges a little more practical for wet and icy times, by adding anti-slip grips. Once approval was granted and the bridges at Claycart, Puckridge and Rushmoor Bottom were measured, it was time get shopping.

The order was placed for 135 bridge grips to be sent to my home, as we couldn’t always guarantee someone would be at Ash Lock, as we were still working in cells and usually out, busy path cutting.

It started well and the delivery arrived a day earlier than expected, but unfortunately only 72 of the grips. It was time to call the supplier, who deeply apologised and promised the next delivery to be with me soon. A few days later, I was messaged that it had been left at my house. As I was at work when it was delivered, I had to wait until I got home to check. To my dismay, rather than the missing 63 anti-slip grips, I had 2 anti-slip marine decking grids measuring almost 1.8m x 1.2m and extremely heavy! The despatch note attached to these were for my grips, and certainly not what had actually arrived!

After several more calls, more apologies and a wait of a further 6 days my delivery finally arrived but the courier wasn’t informed about taking away the incorrect order, so these are still leaning up against the side of my house! (Interestingly the delivery note with my correct order was for the marine grids that should have been delivered to Anglian Water in Ipswich…)

Finally, Laura and I were able to install the anti-slip grips on the Wellesley Woodland bridges. 966 screws later and this saga was over. I hope you appreciate the new look bridges when out on your next walk in Wellesley. Now I just need to get the courier to come and get these grids to Suffolk…

Claycart - Before Claycart - AfterRushmoor Bottom - Before Rushmoor Bottom - AfterPuckridge - After

Assistant Ranger Matt






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Common Carder Bee

This fluffy bumblebee looks like a Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum), with the ginger top of the thorax and cream & black hairs in the abdomen. ID can be a challenge as colouring varies a lot between individuals, location and castes (queen, worker, done). Look out for the nests of these social bees amongst dense vegetation under bushes, in tree holes or nest boxes.

Senior Ranger Stuart

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Is it a Podgy Hoverfly?

There’s been a bizarre black buzzing insect in the garden. It zips speedily around flowers then loiters with expert hovering, like a podgy Hoverfly. In a few lucky photos, I managed to identify it as a Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes). 

It is the largest species of Flower Bee, with this entirely black female looking  distinctly unlike a bee. The orange blobs on her hind legs are where pollen is trapped in the long hairs of her pollen brushes.

They are common in gardens and parks in most parts of southern England, so keep a eye out for a ‘podgy hoverfly’.

Senior Ranger Stuart

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Reopening Ash Green Meadows and Wellesley Woodlands Car Parks

In line with the new government guidance today we are reopening the car parks at Wellesley Woodlands and Ash Green Meadows. Enjoy the fresh air but please keep your 2m distance from other users.

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Enjoying the outdoors and being tick aware

Now we’re into the warm spring, it’s useful to know how to keep safe from ticks and reduce the possibility of catching Lyme Disease when you’re exploring the countryside, local park or your garden. Only a small number of ticks are infected with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. But it’s still important to be aware of ticks and to safely remove them as soon as possible.

Preventing tick bites

  • Take extra care in the summer when ticks are most active, in areas with lots of deer or livestock and long grass or bracken.
  • Reduce the risk of tick bites by covering up, tucking your trousers into your socks in true Monty Python style, walking on clearly defined paths, using insect repellent and performing regular tick checks.
  • The safest way to remove a tick is by using a pair of fine-tipped tweezers or specialist tick remover tools.
  • Clean the bite with antiseptic or soap and water, then dispose of the tick.
  • Check your pets after their walk so they don’t bring in ticks

If you are bitten by tick there is a small chance you’ll develop Lyme Disease, so it’s useful to be aware of the following symptoms.

  • Most bites from an infected tick develop into a distinctive raised pink or red rash usually after 3 to 30 days, and up to 3 months.  The skin will be red and the edges may feel slightly raised. The ‘bull’s eye’ pattern below can appear as more uniform in colour. It’s usually around 15cm across, but can vary in size.
  • Lyme Disease Rash (NHS)

  • Around a third of people with early stage Lyme Disease don’t develop a rash.
  • Further symptoms may develop 3 to 30 days after being bitten by an infected ticks, which can include flu-like symptoms such as: fatigue (tiredness), muscle and joint pain, headaches, fever or neck stiffness. If untreated some people can develop more serious problems affecting the joints, nerves and heart.

Treatment –  See your GP, if following a tick bite, you find the a circular red rash from an infected bite or develop the other symptoms of the disease. Remember to tell them you were bitten by a tick or have recently spent time outdoors.

For more information please visit NHS Direct Website.

Senior Ranger Stuart

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Unlikely place to find Bees #1

I’m now attracting strange looks from the neighbours as I stare at the patio in my back garden, – not the first place you’d think of to discover wildlife. An insect was darting around the holes dug between the patio slabs.  I eventually identified this surprisingly well-camouflaged little insect as a Fabricius’ Nomad Bee (Nomada fabriciana).

It’s tiny and easily missed, with a forewing length of only 5.5-8mm. The orange and black banding on the antennae make this a female.  The abdomen is a striking red with a pair of yellow spots, which are just visible under the folded wings (above). I managed to get a couple more photos showing off the bright abdomen, when she was flying close to the ground.

Despite looking more like a wasp, this is indeed a species of bee, which if you’re ever bored you can ‘easily’ differentiate as bees have branched body hairs. Nomad Bees are often confused as they are relatively hairless with bold wasp-like markings. Nomad Bees are cleptoparasites, laying an egg in an unsealed nest cell of another bee species, which then hatches and eats the host egg or grub and their food store.

The Fabricius’ Nomad Bee is a cleptoparasite to Mining Bees (which probably dug the nest holes between the patio slabs). The next challenge is to identify the illusive Mining Bees……

Senior Ranger Stuart


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Post Storm Boardwalk Repair

After the last storm a month or so ago the Blackwater Valley rangers had a call of a broken section of boardwalk at Ash Green Meadows.

I thought this would be a good test and some training for our regular students that work with us on a Friday. The Blackwater Valley rangers do many varieties of tasks, with the Rowhill Nature Reserve boardwalk replacement happening in the summer months I thought it a good idea to show the students how the boardwalk is constructed. When getting onto site it was clear to see the Wooden subframe had failed and not tree damage as I first thought. There was a small section of broken boardwalk. The students went to work and managed to take off the tread boards. They then secured the failed bearer that holds the boards in place. once all nice and secured again, the removed boards were put back into place.

I would like to thank the Students for their help on the day and making this boardwalk safe to use again. Great Job

Ranger Stu

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The Birds and the Bees

Well it didn’t take long for the solitary bees to start breeding, after only starting emerging a couple of weeks ago. The Red Mason Bees (which I’ve found out have been renamed to Osmia bicornis) are already nesting in holes in the log, canes and clear tube box.

Like most bees, Red Mason Bees (Osmia bicornis) show sexual dimorphism with the males noticeably smaller. The males also have distinctive white hairs on their nose and paler rust colouring on the abdomen, like this one defending a nest hole.

On another nest hole a distinctive dusting of yellow pollen has built up, followed by a female coming out. Her face dusted yellow where she’s been shovelling pollen around.

Meanwhile inside the clear plastic nest tube I can see into the nest. In the foreground the fresh pollen is bright yellow, whilst in the nest laid last year in the tube behind the older pollen is orange.  The freshly laid eggs are just visible on the mounds of pollen in each cell separated by mud walls.

Unlike social bees (like Bumble Bees) there’s no nectar or honey storage to feed to the grubs, instead solitary bees simply leave a store of pollen for the developing grub.

The Red Mason Bee is one of our commonest solitary bees found across most of the UK in gardens from March to July, so keep your eyes peeled.

Senior Ranger Stuart

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Spy inside a solitary bee nest

It’s fascinating watching the bees buzzing around the garden. Last week I took a peek inside one of the nest boxes for solitary bees. This design allows you to take the front panel off to reveal the clear plastic nest tubes fixed behind. It’s a chance to see what happens inside a nest, like the Red Mason Bees nesting in the bamboo canes

So what does go on inside the nest?









The occupied tubes have been divided into cells by the bees, where each female lays a single egg with a supply of pollen (dark orange) then seals off the cell , -in this case a plug of grey mud.

Another tube shows the open pupa where an adult bee has emerged after metamorphosis  from a grub. It then eats through the mud cap to fly away, like in the earlier video.  The other bees further back in the tube can then emerge in sequence, – as if by magic.

A few days later, all the bees from the 3 successive chambers have emerged, with this view down the tube showing where they’ve dug through the mud cell dividers and the dusty yellow pollen.

Senior Ranger Stuart





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Clearing the way at Ash Green Meadows

Before we went into lockdown and all volunteering tasks were sadly stopped, I was lucky enough to have a fantastic 24 volunteers at Ash Green Meadows . The main purpose was to clear the regeneration scrub in the wet meadows.

It was a challenging day in surprise surprise wet conditions. The undulating ground made it tough to drag the cut scrub, but the volunteers made light work of getting the task completed. To save dragging all of the cut material a few of the team came up with the idea of making a dead hedge. This was a great idea and served as a barrier and good for nesting birds.  In summer the Blackwater Valley Ranger with the help of the BVCP Volunteer group plan to cut the wet meadows with the BCS alan scythe and move the rich in flora cut vegetation onto the meadows (Over seeding) that are not so rich in flora. This will be done on a yearly basis.

Many thanks to all of the Volunteers and helpers on the day. Like always without you help we would not be able to get this amount of work done on the day.

Ranger Stu.

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