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The Odney Club – Wild Cookham Conservation initiative 2021 survey results

Overview

This document serves to update Odney Club members and Wild Cookham on the status of habitat ecosystems in relation to naturalised and native species observed in year 2021

The Odney club grounds are sub divided into zones as designated below:

  • Zone 1 &1a - St Georges, Lodene Greys and Orchards Garden areas

  • Zone 2 & 2a - Lullebrook manor and gardens, grass/paved parking areas and the tree avenue.

  • Zone 3, 3a, 3b - Grounds west of Lullebrook stream (cricket pitch) (3a) grounds east of Lullebrook (cattle field, swimming pool, tennis court areas) and (3b) grounds west of the cattle field to the Thames including the water gardens.

  • Zone 4 - The field/small orchard, woods, and area northeast of Odney Common surrounding the Heritage Centre.

  • Zone 5 - The Grove gardens

Review of habitat by zone


Zone 1, 1a Lodene Greys, Orchards, St Georges Gardens

Habitat in this area continues to be predominantly one of cultivated garden with the walled gardens offering good habitat for small and medium garden birds and their nest sites. Opportunities exist for natural food sources (insect and seed) from the perennial plants.


Both Lodene Greys and St George lawns, including St Georges “Pitch and Put” surface offer food sources for small and medium sized birds such as Robins, Blackbirds and Green Woodpecker - surrounding trees offer shelter in inclement weather for smaller birds such as Wren


Zone 1 (Orchards, Lodene Greys Gardens)

The addition of rose gardens and other garden habitat including walled cultivated areas and lawn offers feeding opportunities as Zone 1a. The open sky in this area with boundaries of trees affords Swallow, Swift and House Martin feeding habitat for summer insects


House Martin continue to nest in the eaves and guttering of St George House successfully fledging young in 2021. This colony, and a tiny one in School Lane are now the only nesting Martins in the Cookhams. Wild Cookham have initiated a project to encourage them to spread to nearby houses with artificial nest installations. Other nest boxes had mixed success with the 1 open nest boxes occupied in 2020 by Robin


Zone 1a (St Georges)

2 nest boxes have been established in early 2020 one Tit box located on a tree trunk has been inhabited, one further Tit nest box on the eastern wall has not been occupied. An open type (Robin) nest box was not used likely due the lack of cover from the shrub positioned close by.

Zone 2, 2a, 2b - Lullebrook Manor and gardens, grass/paved parking areas and the tree avenue

A Little Owl nest box continues to be used instead by Great Tits.

Zone 2

Habitat in this area is mixed with lawn and wooded habitat of large and medium trees and shrubs. The tall trees offer good vantage sites for birds of prey hunting, shrubs and “set- a- side" grass south of the tractor shed to the avenue of beech, offer foraging habitat for seed and insect eating birds as well as garden birds.


2 Tit boxes have been installed in this area. The set- a- side grass area is maturing with increased biomass offering better habitat for small mammals. Trees felled due to safety concerns have been left as insect sanctuaries which will serve the habitat for birds and mammals alike.

Zone 2a

This habitat is mixed with large trees, hedges and shrubs close to the Mill Lane gate offering birds of prey (Sparrow Hawk) hunting opportunities. The walled area adjacent to the gravel car park offers habitat for insects whilst grass and ground ivy adjacent to the perimeter wall of the Orchards offer feeding opportunities for a variety of bird species including Woodpecker.


Zone 2b

Habitat similar to zone 1a, with the addition of the Wisteria adorning Lullebrook Manor, which provides both an insect food source and natural nest sites for small and medium birds, (Pied /Grey Wagtail, Collard Dove). Further to this, the seasonal cultivation of the formal “annual plants” beds in front of the manor terrace offer food to small garden birds.

The trees on the main lawn offer foraging for a variety of seed and insect eating birds. Additionally, the presence of Lullebrook on the eastern edge provides excellent food sources and nest site opportunities for a number of waterborne species such as Crested Grebe, Coot and Mute Swan.


2021 saw the removal of a number of shrubs and evergreen trees for landscaping reasons which offered birdlife a generally quieter year amongst the terrace gardens due to Covid. The 2 bird boxes mounted on the fences adjacent to serenity premises were relocated. Many garden birds were observed in this area including both Grey and Pied Wagtails. However, the Sand Martins that used to nest in the wall above the stream failed to return this year. It appeared that the entrances to the holes had become overgrown with vegetation, but in response to this report, the Odney team have cleared the material in the hope that the birds might return in 2022.


Zone 3, 3a, 3b cricket pitch, tennis court field and garden grounds


Zone 3 cricket field area

Habitat predominantly grass with large oak trees on the periphery of the grounds. Lullebrook riverside (eastern perimeter), with its wooded areas and grass set aside, on the northern and eastern perimeters offer general foraging for insects and invertebrates. Lullebrook waters also offer good food source and nest habitat for waterborne/ water dependant birds such as Heron, Kingfisher, Coot, Mute Swan and Moorhen. A field Vole was found nesting in the roots of one of the Oaks, no doubt just one of many in this locale.


The cricket pitch offers summer migrants airborne insect feed opportunities. The avenue of trees is a good “hunting” habitat for birds of prey such as Sparrowhawk.

There was evidence of predation of fledgling pigeons during autumn 2021. Red Kite continue to feed on worms on the cricket pitch. Swallows continue to use the cricket grounds to hunt small flies in the late summer prior to departure to Africa. However, no Swallow nests were discovered, and it may be that nesting opportunities could be increased with shelves and open entrances in sheds and buildings across the estate.


The felling of dead trees on the periphery of the cricket pitch removed a colony of Honey Bee which subsequently re-located to felled tree trunk a few metres farther along the periphery path on the eastern edge of Lullebrook stream. Evidence of badger feeding activity has been seen over winter 2021 adjacent to Lullebrook stream


Zone 3a cattle field/tennis court area

The removal of all fencing was completed in 2021 and creation of a number of mown path ways has resulted in more accessible routes into the newly sown wild flower areas. The “set- a-side” grass area show signs of small mammal activity and the maintenance team found several gorgeous Wasp Spiders, a new species for the estate. Good feeding habitat exists stream- side for Kingfisher, and Alder trees adjacent to the weir offer good feeding and nest site opportunities for Woodpecker and the “non native” Ring Necked Parakeet species. London Plane (Platanus. x acerifolia) trees on the eastern perimeter offer winter seed foraging for Goldfinch. Sightings of Grey Wagtail along the stream on the northern perimeter were regular, but their nest site was not discovered.

2021 continued with the shift towards re-wilding this area, with no mass mowing activities undertaken. Significant changes in the grass biomass have taken place over 2021 with some evidence of increased small mammal activity apparent. Unsurprisingly, Kestrel have been observed hunting this area in 2021.


JLP is investing in a garden of remembrance which will compliment conservation work completed in this zone in 2022.


A significant find on the stream behind the tennis courts was a pair of Otter which were filmed on the Mink Raft, the first confirmed sighting of this rare mammal in our area for some time.

Spring and summer wild-flowers flourished, but weather in that period (cold and wet) hindered butterfly development. Butterfly species totalled 13 but with no Marble Whites seen in 2021. Meadow Browns continue to be the predominant species followed by Small, Large, and Green Veined White Butterfly. The Red Admiral, Peacock Speckled Wood, Large Skipper, Small Heath & Gatekeeper were followed by Ringlet, Orange Tip, Brimstone and Comma butterflies seen in late spring. 8 species of Bee were recorded in the grounds, but there will be many more to be found. Opportunities continue to create additional wildflower strips in this area would significantly benefit a wide range of insects.

Water side land near the water pump inlet in the Thames to the weir outflow continues to offer habitat for the rare native Lodden Lily where several plants have established themselves. Sensitive management in that location will ensure they may remain for many years to come.


The waterfront adjacent the picnic site by Lullebrook stream continues to offer good sightings of Damselflies in the reeds, and the slow running waters offer breeding sites for several Damselfly species.


2021 saw Dragonflies in abundance with over 15 species recorded. Damselflies including the Beautiful Demoiselle (metallic dark blue) and the Small Red were seen in the water side foliage by the picnic tables. Minnow, Roach, Bleak and small Chub inhabit the sluice gate and fast flowing waters next to the tables and Barbeques.


Zone 3b (water garden and grounds adjacent to Formosa Court and cottage)

This area saw significant investment in survey work by wild Cookham with Mink numbers under investigation Post the survey Odney 's water garden area was selected for the re-introduction of Water Vole of which 93 were released in autumn 2021. If all goes well with the project, a further batch will be added in 2022 in nearby waters. Continued sensitive bank side management on the stream from the Water Garden Lake to the Thames opposite the Scouts meadow will greatly enhance foraging opportunities for the Voles.


The water garden also saw a significant investment in removal of over 1 metre of sediment from the bed of the water garden in summer 2021. The resulting material will be hugely helpful for mulching and soil improvement in formal areas but the area currently storing the silt as it dries is earmarked for new wildflower beds.


The existence of two of the UK's rarest Dragonfly, the Willow Emerald and White Legged Damselfly rely on the habitat offered by the water garden. It is hoped the necessary willow pruning completed over winter will not impact on next year's population of these rare insects as they are totally dependent on overhanging branches in which to lay their eggs and from which their larvae fall into the water in early spring.

Large trees offer excellent roosting for birds of prey as well as Heron who have chosen to breed in the water garden area previously. However, when the Herons returned to breed in the Willow Tree on the western bank in spring, they found the tree had overgrown the nest. So they built another nest above it but by then it was too late in the season for them to produce a family. It is just possible, if the pair are site-determined, they might try to nest in a tree away from the lake, so Wild Cookham will monitor to check that out in subsequent years.


This area would benefit from increased survey work in a number of categories specifically:

  1. An aquatic survey to record water garden species.

  2. Review the introduction of Water Vole; specifically of breeding success and predation activity.

  3. This area has a significant number of veteran trees however no survey has been completed to assess their ages.

Note: Wild Cookham have offered to conduct such surveys in 2022 if this was acceptable.


Invasion of duck weed on the water garden over the last few years (possibly due to decreased flow rates and increased ambient temperatures) is hoped to be diminished in 2022. This, and resulting improvements in edge vegetation will enhance the nesting opportunities for Coots and Moorhens. The escaped Red-eared Terrapin was noted in the lake on a several occasions and it is assumed it will have survived the dredging works and will be on duty for 2022!


As mentioned, 2021 offered the chance of seeing 3 of the scarcely found Damselflies: the diminutive White-legged Damselfly being seen for the first time in many years along with the rare Variable Damselfly which also benefits from this water garden habitat. The third scarce species, the Willow Emerald Damselfly inhabits this zone, breeding in the foliage of trees overhanging the water.


Zone 4 Heritage Centre grounds

Habitat includes water side mixed shrubs and a small orchard area with set aside grassy areas on the perimeter. Dwellings and a nursery offer garden habit with adjacent walled gardens. There are wooded areas to the east with ground cover including bramble and sphagnum moss. 2021 is the second year that nest box sites have been deployed in the heritage centre gardens. No fewer than 75 % of Boxes were inhabited in Zone 4, and Bat roosting boxes are also placed in this area.


Zone 5 The Grove

Habitat includes waterside with large trees hedges and mixed shrubs on the east and south perimeters lawn east of the grove. Lawn and walled habitat west of The Grove with garden shrubs, hedges and annual plant beds, nest box sites were placed in this area in 2020. Again, 75% were inhabited with these offering over wintering roosts for small bird such as Nuthatch and Tit species

2021 Bird Survey

2021 recorded 49 species of bird within Odney club grounds, amongst them the diminutive Goldcrest with its stunning gold stripe and Hobby, a beautiful niche predator and a small bird of prey that hunts dragonflies and fast flying birds such as Swallows. Numbers of Kingfisher appear to be lower in 2021 with early recorded numbers in March (3) reducing to 1 throughout the summer months.


Summary

Much of the estate has continued as a formal visitor garden, though numbers attending Odney reduced over the Covid Lockdown period. The areas which have been allowed to advance with wildflowers and less intensive maintenance have come into their own in 2021 with an increase in populations of associated insects.


The area over the Lullebrook stream forms a more natural yet valuable habitat for increasingly threatened native Flora and Fauna and the survey identified a good variety of wildlife.


The continued abundance of several scarce Damselfly species living and breeding successfully along streams, breeding in willow trees and inhabiting water gardens is of great value to Cookham's wildlife diversity and a credit to the vision of Odney club management and its gardening teams efforts in nurturing and conserving wildlife.

There is one group of insects that have not been mentioned in this report. Odney's varied habitats offer substantial opportunity to survey for the some of the 2500 species of UK Moth. It is hoped 2022 will afford an opportunity to explore this other great natural wonder of Odney Clubs wildlife heritage

The grounds continue to support the partnerships founding members conservationist ideals. John Spedan Lewis’ vision of creating a place for nature to heal and replenish partner’s well being continues .


Covid 19 lockdown has confirmed beyond doubt the value of nature on mental health wellbeing.



Authors: Brian Clews, Peter Comport



Odney Estate Map


Some of the species found at Odney in 2021






















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