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Saturday, 26 March 2016

Leaving the winter behind...

The curlews are bubbling overhead, the first ring ouzels of the year have been spotted on Burbage, and skylarks are filling the air with their melodic musings; it can only mean one thing...Spring is on it's way.

The shifting of the seasons has got us all in reflective mood here at the Eastern Moors, and we’ve been looking back over some of our winter woodland work...
One of many new bird boxes around the Eastern Moors Estate and Burbage
In the last few years we’ve put up well over a hundred new bird boxes in the woodlands of Curbar, Froggatt, Birchen and Surprise View. These are targeting pied flycatcher and redstart, but in all likelihood will be used by a host of other species; blue tit, great tit, and nuthatch. The reason for choosing these woodlands to put up bird boxes is because of the lack of veteran trees, which contain the cracks, holes and crevices that our native birds favour.
Some of the Youth Rangers proudly display their handiwork
The boxes have been a real team effort. The flat-packs were made by members of our Thursday volunteer group, and were built by the Eastern Moors Youth Rangers and CVQO, an education charity designed to recognise the work undertaken by young people and adult volunteers. They were put up by the warden team, again with the help of some of our practical volunteers. So, all in all, a real team effort!
 We’ve also put up a barn owl box on Leash Fen. Barn owls need rough grassland and plenty of voles to maintain a healthy population. But they also need a place to raise young. In the past there were plenty of old barns, and hollow, ancient trees. Nowadays they need all the help they can get.
This barn owl box is a new edition to the estate
Another bird that needs our help is the merlin. The UK’s smallest bird of prey, their population has declined alarmingly since the mid 1900s. Merlin generally nest on the ground in the UK, but have been known to nest in trees on the edge of moorland, often in abandoned crows nests. With advice from the South Yorkshire Raptor Group, we’ve put some nests up in locations where we know they have bred historically, in the hope that they move back in.

The nesting material for merlin nests was gathered into bundles...

...and the Youth Rangers did the rest.

Woodland work

Boxes are great for a quick fix. But long term, our aim is to develop a rich habitat which doesn’t rely on them. Instead, mature trees will provide the natural nesting holes that birds seek.
It’s for this reason that we’ve been busy with other woodland work. Winching trees over creates a rootplate microhabitat, and also creates an immediate “understory”; a layer of tree cover at a height lower than that of the canopy. Having vegetation at a variety of different heights throughout the woodland is great for supporting the needs of different flora and fauna.
Winching over trees mimics natural wind-throw and creates an important microhabitat.
We have been felling trees too. This creates light and space to enable young trees to regenerate naturally. It also gives some of the more mature trees the chance to “breathe” and spread out; making sure that we have large specimen trees for future generations of people and wildlife to enjoy. Woodland glades and rides are good for bats that hunt in woodland clearings too, and also species like pied flycatcher and redstart.
Pied Flycatcher - coming to a wood near you soon.
We’ve been avoiding “tidying up” the woodland as we go. Deadwood is brilliant for wildlife, so we have left as much as possible, either standing (for woodpeckers, beetles, etc) and fallen (for fungi, compost). Not only that, we’ve been stem injecting trees to create even more deadwood. Birds like willow tit, who have also suffered huge declines due to habitat loss and the intensification of agriculture, need deadwood to excavate their nests in. Just one of the many species that we hope to help through our woodland management.
We’ll be continuing to monitor the impacts of our work on woodland bird populations this year, thanks to our Woodland Bird Count volunteers. With a bit of luck, our resident birds, along with those arriving from overseas, will be able to call the Eastern Moors home this year, and for many years to come.