WildCookham Update – June 2020
Covid-19 has been a challenge for WildCookham but we are undaunted and our work continues to support our local natural habitats and wildlife. Here is just some of what we’ve been doing under lockdown. Click on each item to read more.
We’ve been working with other local ‘Wild’ groups to respond to the Council’s first report following the Environment and Climate Emergency it declared last June.
Mike Day, project leader for the Harris Woodbridge Reserve in Cookham Dean, has been monitoring the progress of Spring and Summer there.
The good weather through the Spring, coupled with the enforced lockdown, has had our gardeners busy at work helping our wildlife.
Have you seen the results of our work last Autumn on some of the Commons in Cookham Dean? Now’s the time to take a look.
We’ve been busy supporting local organisations as they take steps to improve our natural environment.
We are surveying a particular rare species of Damselfly found in Cookham. Find out more about our wonderful members of the Odonata family.
Discussions continue about the future of Battlemead, the land adjoin Widbrook Common bought by the Council two years ago.
The Environment and Climate Emergency
Following the declaration of this Emergency last June the Council has been developing a plan to meet the target of net zero carbon emissions in the Borough by 2050 at the latest. WildCookham has participated in workshops led by Cllr Donna Stimson, the lead Councillor for the project, and has more recently worked with other local wildlife groups to comment on the draft plan being put before the Council for approval. Our joint submission prepared with the local Climate Emergency Coalition is clear in stating that the present draft of the plan fails in many significant ways to address the scale of the challenge facing us. We have pushed for the whole Council approach to be focused on setting clear targets and relating all action to achieving these.
The Council’s report covers all aspects of the Emergency and our input is restricted to one part, though recognising that the various climate, environmental and biodiversity issues are closely interrelated. We have made it clear that time is running out and that the Council needs to take determined, focussed action now. We shall watch to see if the version of the Plan to be put before the full Council later this month has been changed to reflect our concerns.
By the way, there are now six ‘Wild’ groups in the local Borough, covering Ascot, Cookham, Datchet, Eton/Eton Wick, Maidenhead and Windsor. The word is getting round!
It’s all buzzing at our nature reserve
We are starting to see the fruits of our labours after sowing wildflowers late last year on several patches on the Harris Woodbridge reserve. There are poppy, cornflower, corn cockle, ox-eye daisy all coming into flower with many more to appear, all butterfly & bee friendly, with other flowers to be seen including St John’s Wort. The pond would welcome some rain to restore the back to normal.During the lockdown two bat roosting boxes have been installed, as well as weeding the brambles and nettles from their old habitat and removing some of the ivy from the trees on the reserve.
Do pop down to the reserve off Dean Lane to see the bees and butterflies and hear the birds singing in these strange times.
Virtually Wild about Gardens
It’s been a great time for gardeners, locked down in good weather. The Wild About Gardens Awards team have been busy giving advice and tips (all on our website) and now creating virtual wild garden tours. The first is on the WildCookham website and more are planned. Anyone wanting to volunteer their garden for a virtual visit should contact firstname.lastname@example.org. There’s still well over a month before entries for this year’s Wild About Gardens Awards are closed: it’s really simple and there’s a checklist to show you how. All at www.wildcookham.org.uk.
Wilding the Commons
Last Autumn a WildCookham working party, with help from the local National Trust Rangers, cleared some of the small bits of Common in Cookham Dean and then sowed wild flowers. We then waited for Spring 2020 with bated breath. Hardings Green is the star performer, seen in these photos and helped along by work done there by local residents in previous years. It’s looking glorious as you can also see from this short video.
The other areas (near the Church and down Bigfrith Lane by the old post office) are taking longer, not helped by the extraordinary Spring weather: let’s hope a little rain will come along to lend a hand. We’ll be monitoring it – and we’d love to hear from you if you would like to help this project in the Autumn.
Introducing our Wild Garden consultants
WildCookham has been asked to give advice to several local properties about gardening to attract wildlife. Harwood House care home in Cookham Dean has been one. A team of Gilly Blake, Adrian and Lesley Doble and Brian Clews has been in there advising how they can use their garden to encourage more birds and insects life there – and have then done the hard work too! Having put in a range of plants they have been watering them through the dry Spring. We hope they’ll bring real pleasure to the inhabitants there – both the residents and the wildlife!
We have also been discussing projects with the Scouts. One outcome is a competition that the Scouts are running this summer which we hope will get some young people involved, as well as their families. And that’s in addition to advice we have given to the Odney Club, Winter Hill Golf Course and Moor Hall. We’re delighted to get these requests.
Looking for Dragons and Damsels
Damselflies and Dragonflies are among the most spectacular creatures we can find around locally. These amazing insects, many in their metallic shiny coats, are a delight to the eye and it is all too easy to overlook just how many different types there are. Grouped into two families, we have damselflies (wings folded over the body) and dragonflies (wings held outwards when perched) and with good numbers of streams and pools in the Cookhams, both groups are well represented. But one species in particular has a local interest as it is nationally uncommon and has only a handful of colonies in Berkshire – the Variable Damselfly. One of its haunts happens to be the streams around Strande Water and Widbrook.
So in partnership with National Trust, Wild Cookham is conducting surveys this year to establish the status of this insect, nationally registered as a Near Threatened species. Whereas in the past there have been reasonable numbers found, more recently numbers have tailed off worryingly – only 3 records in 2019 for example.
Being one of the several species of ‘blues’ among the damsels, extremely close views are needed to pick out any of the suite of minor differences that help identify them, so it is slow and steady work (up to 3 hours on a 500m stretch of water might not be unusual!). The broken shoulder bars, feint line between the eyes and the ‘batman’ shape at the tail are among these features.
However, the picture for 2020 so far has been much more encouraging. Member Alex Hughes happened to photograph two on a new stretch of the streams, a handful have been found on Strande Water, but a very encouraging scene is unravelling on Widbrook where 46 individuals and 30 mating pairs have been recorded so far – and we are only half way through their season. So watch this space for further details later in the year.
A further report by the Council’s ecology consultants puts forward a plan combining protection and enhancement of the local habitats with access by the public. Debate continues with differences of opinion about the degree of public access. WildCookham and other local wildlife groups see the land as presenting a great opportunity to contribute towards addressing the Environment and Climate Emergency. We’re happy with there being public access but we believe that the natural environment there should be the principal priority with access reflecting this.
The latest situation is that the Council has received comments on the latest plan from several Friends of Battlemead, including WildCookham, and we now await the Council’s response to this. Meanwhile take a walk at Battlemead if you have not been there. We’ve counted nearly 70 bird species there (including several on the Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern), as well Roe Deer (see photo) and Muntjac, several species of Damselfly and Dragonfly and a wide range of plants and trees.