1 year ago

Devonshire February March 17

Devon's Countryside, Wildlife, History and Events


The COUNTRYMAN CHRIS TAYLOR The COUNTRYMAN Chris lives with his wife, Brianne, in north Devon at the confluence of the Mole and Bray Rivers. Raised on a farm, with a degree in Agricultural Zoology, Chris moved into Farm Management and more recently into Estate Management and Consultancy. Over the past 50 years his passions cover all aspects of the countryside, wildlife, conservation,agriculture and country pursuits. Photos copyright C. Taylor Spring is on the way - hopefully! Bat spotted late afternoon Female Stonechat As February fades into March, spring starts so in this issue there are two seasons to cover. Thus far winter has not reared it's colder side for more than the odd day, but there still plenty of time. In November it has been mild and not too wet, that's with the exception of the torrential rains around 20th of November when many were taken unaware by swollen rivers and impassable roads in North Devon. Rivers rose at an alarming rate, helped along by the rapid melting of several inches of snow lying over 1000 feet on Exmoor. This was one of the 3 worst floods in the Mole and Bray valleys in the last 25 years. Fortunately my flood prone neighbours got through mostly unscathed. Having walked many miles of the Bray, Mole and their tributaries I can count on one hand the number of spawned fish and redds found. Put in perspective in November 2015 on 2 miles of the Bray, that well known and gifted fisherman and great friend, Julian Zealey and I found 27 redds. The salmon will recover but with Winter, to my mind is not only the best time to walk in the country (especially on cool crisp days) but also the time of year to get the hedge laying done before buds burst sometime in March. Second only to a quiet summer's evenings on the river flying fishing, comes hedge laying as a satisfying and stress relieving activity. Having However floods of this magnitude cause huge erosion and redistribution of gravel in the river bed... gravel needed for salmon spawning. I mentioned I had hoped to capture photos of spawning salmon in late November but this was out of the question. Once the river subsided and cleared no redds (spawning hollows in the river gravel) were evident. More concerning, neither were any spent salmon to be found. major floods again in 2012 soon after spawning, the odds are against these fish. Particularly hard having just returned from the seas around Greenland to the river they started life in! Rush hour traffic in Devon some 900 metres around my field and orchard, each winter I try to do 100 or so metres. The result should be a stock proof hedge and regeneration of the hedge shrubs. In this case mainly Hazel, with a smattering of Ash, Blackthorn, Catkins 10 Countryside, History, Walks, the Arts, Events & all things Devon at: DEVONSHIRE

Hawthorn, an odd Spindle, Holly and Dog Rose to boot. Looked after with special care are a few Elm that are 20 odd years old. Whether they will survive the disease that devastated most Elms back in the 1970s, I don't know, but it's worth a try. Suckers seem to appear from nowhere and 50 odd metres from any healthy tree. Taught to lay hedges over many years working on farms, I now seem to have it almost to an art but on this small scale it is easy to do. The satisfaction is greatly enhanced by the by-products, piles of Hazel which is nearly as hard a Oak and great for starting the woodburner, bean poles, pea sticks and the odd character walking stick. Hedge laying should be done on approximately a 10 year cycle at the end of which the Hazel will being bearing vast amounts of nuts and the Blackthorn plenty of sloes. When it's time to stop, the Snowdrops will all be out and the wild Daffodils starting to flower and catkins out on the Hazel. Hopefully by then all nest boxes will be cleaned out and any old broken ones replaced. In 2016, Tits made up the majority of those Daffodils Hedge laying's easy when the branches are bare River Bray flooded causing a huge reduction in spawned salmon using the boxes, but in the last few weeks I have noticed a shrew in one box overwintering and a colony of hornets in another. Why is it we tend to explore more when on holiday, whether aboard or in Britain than we do from home? Well, that seems to be my experience, until recently I had never walked from Westward Ho! to Bucks Mills. In truth I never got to Bucks Mills. My timing was well adrift and lack of daylight prevented the last 3 miles of the walk. But what a stunning walk! So easy with wonderful views on a clear day and understandably quite popular which makes the wildlife accepting of humans. At low tide the rock formations are intriguing, what forces were needed to distort them in such a way? The beach below the cliffs is made up of boulders like those of the pebble ridge, and as is evident close to Westward Ho! the soils and subsoils high above sea level contain a multitude of such rounded boulders. I found myself questioning the origin of the pebble ridge stones. Pewits, Grey Plovers, Curlew, Oysters Catchers and Rock Pipits all made their presence known to me that day and helped make it so enjoyable. I must go back at the next winter storm! 1st of March is the official start to spring but signs are already around now. Early morning and the Blackbirds are singing. One good cold snap might quell their ardour, but nothing seems to stop the Rooks. Rooks are amongst the first to nest and so very noisy if you approach the rookeries. However, whatever the weather, domestic geese start to lay at or on Valentine’s day most years without fail. I put the ram in with my small flock of ewes to lamb from the 1st of Feb, so by the time they get outside spring should be with us, but who can tell! Those farmers that lamb thousands of ewes are about to start the most tiring time of their year, long hours, cold nights and no real time to stop. Disappointments and losses go hand in hand with sheep farming and there is only so much any farmer can do keep all the flock healthy and get lambs away to pasture with their Countryman's Diary FEBRUARY & MARCH 1. At last and first light Foxes can be heard calling in mating season right through to end of February. 2. First adders may be seen out basking in early spring sun, especially heathland .Feb/ March 3. Frogs start spawning February or before if mild. 4. Most winter migrants still around until mid March. 5. The first summer migrants like the odd swallow may appear in March mothers. Timing and the weather are so critical. Getting that right is gratifying and often reward in itself. But the work doesn't stop there, as was encountered back in early January when I met over a thousand Hogs (lambs from the previous year) being moved down a small Devon lane, not that long ago a common sight and when road users were more patient. Snowdrops hubcast 11

Devonshire magazine November December 2018
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