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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Queen Bumble

On my bee hunting challenge, I found this huge bumble bee on the pavement (thankfully before I stood on it).  This bumblebee was far bigger than the average length of 10-16mm. Once I’d carefully put it onto a wallflower in the garden, it measured in at a chunky 23mm.

The large size and distinctive yellow and black banding means this is a queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee. Workers and males have white tips to their abdomen, whilst you can see the queen has more buff-coloured tail.

She uses her long proboscis to drink nectar from the flowers, to gather energy before hunting out a social nest site underground, like in an old vole burrow or cavities in grass tussocks.

This species is our largest Bumblebee species, so keep your eyes peeled.

Senior Ranger Stuart

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Red Mason Bees Emerge for Easter

Over the Easter weekend I was delighted to see bees emerging from my bee houses in the garden, ready to pollinate the mighty 4ft apple trees. Solitary bees nest in cavities like hollow plant stems and beetle burrows, which make my bundles of bamboo canes and holes drilled in logs ideal. After much excited buzzing, one paused long enough to identify it as a Red Mason Bee (Osmia rufa), which is about 12mm long and has a distinctive rust-coloured abdomen.

Red Mason Bee

Can you spot the bee?

The mud blocking off the end of each cane shows which ones have been used by nesting bees. Instead of living in a hive, each female builds its own nest in a cavity or cane. She lays a single egg with a supply of pollen, then seals each cell off with mud. Each cane may have several cells with larvae, which then pupate in the Autumn and emerge in the spring as an adult.

I was lucky enough to hear the distinctive ‘scratching’ when a newly hatched bee is scrambling to dig away at the mud cap on the canes, and managed to see this Red Mason Bee emerging.

 

If you’d like to make your own bee house then just bundle together some hollow stems (e.g. elder, bamboo, rose) and place them in a sunny spot. You could also try drilling holes into a lump of wood. Having canes and holes of a range off diameters broadens the chance of getting different species of bee,  I’ve used holes from 3- 12mm. So why not give it a go and help our bees?

There are over 250 species off bee in the British Isles, so I’m now on a hunt to identify all the ones I can….

Senior Ranger Stuart

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The happy hungry hedgehog!

I have had this chap visit my back garden over the last few nights. It was wonderful to see, especially as hedgehog numbers are declining in garden sightings.

Below are some do’s and dont’s I found to help encourage these delightful little creatures.

  • Do leave some areas of wilderness where the hedgehogs can snuffle for insects.
  • Do put out water for drinking.
  • Do put out a bowl of dog food or meaty cat food around dusk.
  • Do install, in a quiet part of the garden, a hedgehog house.
  • Do look to see if your hedgehog is limping or appears to be injured, or in late Autumn look out for underweight hedgehogs
  • Don’t put out bread and milk
  • Don’t pick up fit hedgehogs
  • Don’t leave black sacks lying around.
  • Don’t use slug pellets or other chemicals, they may poison hedgehogs and other animals.
  • Don’t light a bonfire without checking to see if a hedgehog or other wild animal has moved in.
  • Don’t fork over compost heaps in case hedgehogs or other animals have taken up residence.
  • Don’t spray hedgehogs with dog or cat flea sprays. It will be detrimental to the hedgehog.

If you do find a hedgehog in your garden or local area, you can log your findings at :

https://bighedgehogmap.org/holes-for-hedgehogs-home/map-hedgehog-sighting

Assistant Ranger Matt

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