Holtspur Bottom Reserve - Work Parties

This document is a diary of work parties which have taken place at our Holtspur Bottom reserve (thanks to Nick Bowles for sending the reports and photos). More information about the reserve can be found at www.holtspurbottom.info

25th March 2018
Eighteen members turned out to help on a pleasant morning with bird song loud in their ears. They refreshed the information board displays, checked the footpath for obstructions (like fallen branches), cleared the footpaths of encroaching scrub, removed seedling scrub from the ‘wrong place’ and planted them into the central hedge and the windbreak on Lower Field, cleared dogwood from Triangle Bank and a small scallop into the ‘top’ hedge; and both checked the fencing for more wobbly posts and continued the repairs to the fencing begun two months back.
The reserve looks wonderful after the winter's work by our amazing volunteers, with the first flowers out (hazel, sallow, violets and celandines) and so many more in bud. We hope you will visit soon.

12th November 2017
24 volunteers (inc. seven first timers) braved a frosty morning to work in the sun at a variety of tasks. Parts of Triangle Bank were brush cut, raked and the arisings stashed into the fence line; Ash saplings and some larger Ash stems were removed from around the meadow boundaries. Hawthorn and other scrub species were dug from the Upper Meadow and footpaths and placed into the small shelter belt in Lower Meadow. Dark Mullein and Horseshoe Vetch plugs were planted into the newest scrape and two Oak trees planted into the car park area boundary. The securities of the various meadow fences, permanent and temporary were tested and some of the permanent fence posts found to need strengthening. Cuttings were taken from the Elm trees and delivered to Lindengate.

Clearing the car park, 12-Nov-2017
Removing an Ash sapling, 12-Nov-2017
Clearing the car park Removing an Ash sapling

11th December 2016

Eleven volunteers came to our work party this morning. We burned some scrub, cut from the footpath sides and created a new scallop into the path’s edge alongside the wood at the top of Lower Meadow. We re-hung a gate and planted Horseshoe Vetch into the two newest scrapes. Joe has moved his sheep from the two meadows onto Triangle Bank, so we took down and stored the temporary sheep netting that was protecting the scrapes from sheep, who chose to bed down there. In the past they have preferred to spend their nights sheltering from the wind in the scrapes and left behind a large amount of dung, This could over-fertilise the poor soil of the scrapes, designed to be low in nutrients, as this suits the vetches we want to grow there. The weather was good enough that a Red Admiral was spotted.

Brenda & Dennis planting Horseshoe Vetch Sheep on Triangle Bank

20th November 2016

Very, very grateful thanks to the brave volunteers, turning out today. Despite storm Angus (which in truth seemed to miss the area) 11 volunteers turned out and tackled a variety of tasks. Some raked Triangle Bank of vegetation cut in September and only partially cleared then, some planted Horseshoe Vetch and others planted Dark Mullein, some tackled brambles growing too vigorously by the top footpath, some took out Blackthorn suckering too close to the path at the furthest point from the entrance, whilst others removed Ash saplings before they get even bigger and begin to make shade and seed.
Yet another very successful work party and further evidence of the reason our reserve was so highly praised in the summer – fantastic volunteers.

24th July 2016

Nine volunteers turned out to pull Ragwort and make sure that our ‘weeds’ don’t spread to our neighbours land. They have horses, and horses can be badly affected by Ragwort in their diet. We pulled for several hours and removed a good deal of the Ragwort from the Upper Field.

Very pleasing was the sight of two Chalk Hill Blue butterflies, proving that the colony persists, and at least ten nests of Small Tortoiseshell in a nettle bed where a Red Admiral was laying eggs as we left the site.

Tony counted the flowering spikes of Dark Mullein (up by 3 times compared with those seen on the reserve last year as a result of his campaign to increase the plant’s numbers) and the larvae of the Striped Lychnis (probably the rarest moth on the reserve). If we have a rarer breeding species we haven’t detected it. Larval numbers are down, Surveys in 2014 found 36 larvae, in July 2015, 34 larvae, but this year there wee only 16. Most the larvae last year were already quite big, with only a few much smaller specimens. All the larvae this year were very small, and a couple were so small we cant be they're actually SL.

We will return to pull ragwort again and to recount the Striped Lychnis larvae in the hope that more eggs will have developed into larvae. If you wish to join us, we start at ten o’clock and work for up to three hours; next events July 28th and August 9th. The event scheduled for the 7th is cancelled, as we will be at the Countryfile Live show at Blenheim Palace.

31st January 2016

Today (31st January) brought two unexpected things: a wet work party (virtually unknown at Holtspur) and the final winter’s work of the season even though we are still in January. The latter is down to the tremendous work already done in the winter this season (2015/16).

Very grateful thanks to the ten that turned out and battled the remaining ash growth within our scrub belt on Triangle Bank. All that is now totally cleared and the scrub should see far more light penetrating through to the ground flora - and of course there will be less shade on the developing grassland and fewer seeds to take root and need clearing in future.

There are still ash trees in the boundary of the reserve (so there will still be some ash seedlings) in case anyone is worried that we are removing ash completely. Our faithful volunteers also moved the heaped grasses and timber from the base of Triangle Bank (where you may recall we were stacking it ahead of a bonfire, but there was no chance today in the constant rain), so all that is now on the edge of the area where we park.

I hope all our Members get to the reserve in the Spring and Summer to see how beautiful it is and to take pleasure in knowing it is far better after all the volunteer work that they joined the society to support.

The following pictures are some that Tony Gillie took in the rain:

Nick & Brenda Tea Break The Crew

10th January 2016

17 volunteers came to enjoy a beautifully sunny morning removing more ash seedlings and scrub from the Triangle Bank and along the top footpath. The object was to let more light through to the ground, hopefully to encourage more flowers and less ivy. Bizarrely, fetching biscuits for the tea break, Nick found a Comma sitting on the floor of his car boot. It was placed onto the bare trunk of an elm tree, hopefully to overwinter on the site.

The Comma found in Nick's Car Removing Ash Seedlings The Crew

6th December 2015

18 volunteers worked in drizzle to take down (and neatly store) the temporary sheep fencing, as the sheep which have been grazing since September are now gone. The volunteers also removed about 16 ash trees from the scrub (to prevent them seeding onto the Triangle Bank grassland), brush cut and raked Triangle Bank and burned the cut woody material from last time and today. Definitely a major success in a relatively short time!

8th November 2015

14 volunteers worked on cutting and raking long grass and regenerating scrub from the Triangle Bank, replacing notices around the site, removing ash trees from above Triangle Bank to stop them seeding onto what shall be chalk grassland, planting more Dark Mullein for the nationally scarce Striped Lychnis moth and planting young oak trees to try to retain Purple Hairstreak butterflies. We had a cameraman from one of That’s Oxford TV, who interviewed Tony Gillie about our Dark Mullein project. Tony also removed sheep poo from the newest scrapes after the sheep broke in – again and re-fenced - again.

As always, the reserve is in far better shape after your ministrations and its wonderful diversity would be far less without you.

A picture of the crew taking a well earned break is below and you can view more of Tony Gillie's photos of the crew at work on the 8th November on our UTB Facebook page (see Facebook link to the left of this page). If you can find it, the TV interview goes out at approx. 5pm on Tuesday and will be on That's Oxford's Facebook page after that.

1st March 2015

Nick Bowles reports on the last winter work party of the season.

Another sunny morning at Holtspur saw 10 volunteers engaged in various planting and end of season (winter work season) tidying.

We made a small windbreak in Lower Field with some blackthorn, buckthorn, holly, hawthorn, hazel and spindle; as our transect walker reports this part of the transect is very windy and, consequently, frequently devoid of insects. We spread Dark Mullein seed onto the tops of the scrapes and around the fields’ margins. We planted Horseshoe Vetch seedlings into the scrapes too. We also removed a relatively large quantity of cut material (raked up from various parts of the reserve) from the entry to Triangle Bank and turned it into mulch for our young Elm and Oak trees.

Creating a Windbreak Tony Plants Dark Mullein Seed The Crew

1st February 2015

Twelve volunteers enjoyed yet another sunny morning at Holtspur.

Two members used power tools near the information board on the footpath near Triangle Bank to cut back encroaching Bramble and one concentrated on burning the remains of the 'bonfire' heap.

Nine worked largely along the top footpath again, enlarging the scallops and removing the rather too pervasive Dogwood.

3 more people came to collect Dark Mullein seeds (as advertised in various local papers). One of these took a tour of the reserve and stated an intention to return to future events.

11th January 2015

A brilliantly sunny day and a brilliant result at Holtspur today (11th January). An enormous thank you to all our hard working volunteers.

An amazing amount was achieved in very pleasant conditions. 20 volunteers turned out to undertake a variety of tasks, including fixing a Defra scheme placard to the information board and levelling the ground around it so visitors find it easier to stand and read; burning up some material which was cut at the last task; clearing brambles and relatively common scrubby material from our top hedge lines to create three sheltered, south facing ‘scallops’. Scallops are relatively small indentations cleared into a thick hedge or woodland edge, that provide bare ground for seeds to germinate in spots with sufficient cover around them that they are protected from wind chill but sufficient clear space that the sun can get in. Even today, which had a cold wind, it was pleasantly warm working in these scallops without coats. Come the spring they will heat up rapidly and greatly benefit the invertebrates seeking early season warmth.

Levelling around the information board A scallop is formed A finished scallop

7th December 2014

13 members turned out to work on a morning that promised a gradual improvement from rain to sun. It happened too late to stop us getting soaked in the first hour. Even so, such is the enthusiasm and determination of the Holtspur team that we finished the raking of cut material from Triangle Bank and clearing rank growth from the bund around the 1st scrape. A new scallop was cut into the top hedge where it will provide a sheltered spot for spring butterflies. Self-seeded Ash saplings growing where we want short grass were cut out, temporary sheep fencing was taken down and stored (the sheep left 3 weeks ago) and weeds removed from around our access area’s young elm and oak trees. As usual there was a butterfly to inspire our efforts, this time a Red Admiral and, just in case that wasn’t enough, there were mince pies too!

9th November 2014

In brilliant, warm sunshine 15 volunteers undertook a variety of tasks, including: raking a small amount of grass the baler missed from the meadows and that the sheep weren't eating; planting Horseshoe Vetch seedlings into the newest scrape; repairing minor damage to the fence lines and temporary sheep netting; raking cut scrub from Triangle Bank, weeding the bunds behind the three scrapes and removing Ash saplings from the path's perimeter.

Right: Sheep flock in Upper Field as work begins to clear cut grass and the sun burns through the early morning mist.



Left: The once scrub covered Triangle Bank now showing strong signs of reversion to chalk grassland. The height of scrub behind the workers shows the extent of the transformation.


There were various summer and spring flowers in bloom (including Cowslip and Knapweed), with many Buzzards and Kites flying overhead and 3 Red Admirals making good use of the late season warmth. It was hard to believe that we were only just over a month from Christmas!


Left: Some of the volunteers enjoying a break and recharging their energy with 'traditional' chocolate biscuits and some dodgy sounding left over sweets from Halloween.

2nd March 2014

Marion & Tony Gillie report on the final work party of the season at Holtspur Bottom:

A cloudy, cool but dry morning saw 17 volunteers and all five of our plant survey team get stuck in for a full morning's work, the final 'official' work party of the season (further ad hoc tasks may well be required but nothing is planned currently). We will be back in June and July (and probably August as well) pulling ragwort. Our tasks today included: the back-breaking mattocking of dogwood on Triangle Bank; removing earth from behind one of the scrapes and using it to create a protective wind break around the scrape edges; relocating Hawthorn, Blackthorn and wild rose saplings that we hope will become a patch of scrub to provide shelter from prevailing winds alongside the Lower Field path; checking and re-securing the fastening of fence wire to fence posts. We also looked for ragwort with a view to digging out rosettes and getting ahead of the race to stop them flowering, but the cunning plants were not to be seen - still in winter dormancy it seems! Meanwhile, our plant surveyors scoped out the reserve and discussed how best to begin their plant monitoring project. In the course of the morning we discovered (unearthed and then put back, to be truthful) a Common Swift moth caterpillar and noticed our first Cowslip of the year in flower.

If you visit Holtspur Bottom in the coming weeks, you will see a fenced off area, with deep holes near the entry to the Reserve, for the next information board (courtesy of Mark Duckworth) and also updated information on the display boards now taking us out of winter and describing spring butterflies (courtesy of Wendy Wilson).

As always a big thanks to all our work party volunteers, and a particularly big thank you to Nick Bowles for organising the work parties, directing our work and keeping us motivated!

Photo © Jim Asher

Photo © Jim Asher

2nd February 2014

Marion Gillie reports on Sunday's Work Party at Holtspur:

15 volunteers enjoyed one of the few dry, sunny mornings so far this year working on the reserve. We cleared invading bramble from the public footpath adjacent to Lower Meadow and created another scallop in the scrub to encourage flower growth. A large number of self-seeded ash saplings were removed and the biggest thanks needs to go to the team who wielded mattocks and removed a remarkable amount of dogwood from Triangle Bank. It was great to see so many of our newer volunteers getting stuck in.

We were also delighted to welcome Marylene Mansfield-Williams, an ecologist, who (along with four others) has volunteered to do a systematic plant survey to allow us to understand better the effect of our habitat management in different parts of the reserve.

Finally, we were pleased to see our first butterfly of the year on the reserve, a male Brimstone also enjoying the sunshine!

Bramble removal
(Photo © Wendy Wilson)

The volunteers
(Photo © Nick Bowles)

Dogwood removal
(Photo © Wendy Wilson)

12th January 2014

Nick Bowles reports on the latest work party activities at Holtspur Bottom (photos courtesy of Wendy Wilson):

15 members turned out today and were soon busily engaged in the sunshine. Most worked to trim the dividing hedge between Lower and Upper fields, both cutting it down to the height of the fence and nibbling its sides to encourage it to ‘bush out’ and make an even more effective windbreak. The approximate 1/6th of the length of the hedge not previously laid was tackled and the whole length is now uniform, in so far as its height and layering is concerned.

Hedge trimming

Hedge laying

We removed the temporary sheep fencing and stored it away until next season. The scrape was vigorously raked in places to remove somewhat prominent moss growth and reveal bare soil. This should avoid the moss smothering small plants and may encourage germination of more vetch plants. About thirty more Horseshoe Vetch plants and a single Dog Violet were planted between the two scrapes.

We tackled the dogwood on Triangle Bank with mattocks and garden forks, removing a large amount of root from this tricky to kill and invading scrub. Nick walked the transect route with our transect walker (Martin) who generously offered to do all he can to help us better understand our butterfly populations. Martin reports that the long walk between the gates in Lower field is frequently the place with fewest sightings. He attributed this to the wind chill and it was agreed that a ‘hedge’ of scrub at approximately half way across Lower field would improve conditions for butterflies there. Our next task is on the 2nd February, starting at 10.00am as usual.

Moss removal

Dogwood removal

1st December 2013

Marion Gillie reports on the latest work party activities at Holtspur Bottom:

"Once again we had a fantastic turn out of volunteers, 18 altogether, many thanks to all of them. Using our new mattocks, Jim and Clive cleared a huge amount of bramble from around the new notice boards. A special thanks goes to Stuart for wielding his brush cutter which enabled several of us to clear the remaining scrub from Triangle Bank. Meanwhile, others were busy transforming the heap of soil by the entrance gate into the beginnings of a south-facing slope which we plan to plant with violets in an attempt to attract the Dark Green Fritillary (Mark and Wendy's creativity in action once again).

With mild and still weather, the annual scrub burning bonfire was a great success, we were able to burn all the scrub cleared in November and today. Being the last Holtspur work party before Christmas in keeping with tradition volunteers were served with potatoes baked in the bonfire and mince pies.

We were able to do so much more than in previous years because of the higher number of volunteers, and we are always open to new folk joining us, as 'many hands make light work! Our next meeting is January 12th.

The photos show Stuart with his brush cutter and the team enjoying the bonfire."

22nd November 2013

Wendy Wilson was waiting with her camera at the ready to photograph the arrival of sheep at Holtspur on 22nd November:

"Joe, his assistant and 2 dogs walked the sheep down from Holtspur Bank without any trouble late this morning and they are now munching happily.

Their arrival couldn't have been better timed as Mark Duckworth and I had just finished dog-proofing the two most vulnerable gates - i.e. gates which dogs can get under. Also in preparation for their arrival, Brenda Mobbs and I had put up notices at reserve entrances and gates to meadows, 8 in all, with Joe's phone number on them and repaired some barbed wire along the footpath/top meadow fence which was sagging.

Joe is happy with everything and for the sheep to stay until we decide they've eaten enough."

10th November 2013

Marion Gillie reports on our great start to the Holtspur Bottom Reserve work-party season:

"We had a cracking start to the 2013/14 work-party season at Holtspur Bottom Reserve on Sunday 10th November. Not only did we have a beautiful sunny day, 17 volunteers, one Red Admiral and one Peacock, but two presentations! The first was a big 'thank you' on behalf of the Branch to Mark Duckworth for the very many hours of time, materials and hard work he has put into to restoring the old and creating two new information boards at the Reserve. The second presentation (by complete coincidence) was a personal 'thank you' from Mark to Wendy Wilson for all of the help that she has given him in this work. We were joined by one of the many local dog-walkers who enjoy the butterflies and who have taken an interest in Mark's construction works during the past year. This summer four of our regular dog-walkers have joined in with ragwort pulling and work-parties, which is great.

The photo below shows Nick Bowles presenting Mark with a signed print by Richard Lewington. Having a large group of keen volunteers meant that we achieved a great deal: footpaths were cleared of encroaching growth, scrub re-growth was tackled to reduce shading and encourage a more floristic turf and netting erected to keep sheep from our precious Chalkhill Blue and Small Blue breeding area.

If you haven't yet been to Holtspur to see the great work being done there, we do encourage you to come along - and new volunteers for the work-parties are always welcome!

Mark Duckworth being presented with a signed Richard Lewington print

8th October 2013

Wendy Wilson took this photo of the new entrance sign which Mark Duckworth has constructed and erected at the Riding Lane entrance to our reserve at Hotspur Bottom. Wendy reports: "It took all last week for him to dig down through the mound of rubble to get to firm ground before he could dig the holes for the posts. During the week we saw 10 butterfly species - Large, Small and Green-veined White, Brimstone, Small Copper, Common Blue, Red Admiral, Comma, Meadow Brown and Speckled Wood - not bad for October! The reserve would not exist if it weren't for Frank Banyard so we invited him to come and knock out the last clamp ceremoniously. The photo shows Frank and Mark celebrating. Our next job is to tidy up the surrounds, you can still see bits of an old car sticking out of the bank!"

Frank Banyard (left) and Mark Duckworth (right) celebrating

24th August 2013

Work on the Holtspur Bottom Reserve Noticeboards was completed earlier this year. Our thanks to Mark Duckworth who did all the construction, woodworking and finishing off with varnish and Wendy Wilson who prepared the artwork and layout for the notices.

Wendy Wilson working on the layout

The finished signboard

The completed notices

7th March 2013

(Photo © Wendy Wilson)

Mark Duckworth nears completion of his work to renovate one of the original information boards at the Holtspur Bottom reserve.

He has decided to replace the roof rather than patch up the felt and make the new one with spaces in it to allow insects (including butterflies) a suitable place to hibernate.

The board will soon be back in commission with information about Butterfly Conservation and the wildlife of the reserve.

The ‘old’ board being swallowed by the hedge.

20th February 2013

Thanks to Brenda, Wendy, Roger, Phil Steve and Ross for turning out in the bitter cold at Holtspur today. Roger please pass my thanks to your excellent crew. We did get sunshine later on - and blocked in by a caravan jammed between the hedges on Riding Lane.

A large amount of ash was cleared from Triangle Bank, including some of such size that a chainsaw was needed, and is now stacked in piles among the scrub. The images show ash as the tall, thin trees emerging to stand well proud of the scrub. Hopefully, you can see fewer in the image with a figure in red, which was taken at 12.30, about 2 hours after we started. The camera angle isn’t the same so it is hard to see the difference.

Roger Dodds in action with a chainsaw Triangle Bank before the session started Triangle Bank after clearance of the Ash trees

Along with the Ash clearance, Brenda and Wendy cleared brambles and other vegetation from around the information boards in preparation for those boards' renovation and refitting with new materials.

2nd February 2013

12 volunteers finished removing scrub from sections of the top hedge line to create one large scallop and another smaller scallop, to supplement two scallops created in January 2013.

The hedge before scalloping work, a linear feature (left), and the largest scallop nears completion (right).

These should form rapidly warming spots in the spring sunshine as they are in a south facing position and the remaining hedge shelters them from the wind.
Larvae will develop much faster here than in colder parts of the reserve and the freshly cleared ground will receive more light which should encourage the germination of flower seeds, so that in a few years there will be a greater variety of plants growing along this sunny hedge.

13th January 2013

Another dry, but cold, day brought 17 volunteers to Holtspur.

We tackled the hedge bank above Lower field and cut two scallops into the hedge line that has never been touched since we took on the reserve and definitely has encroached onto the reserve's grassland margins by several metres.

A third scallop was started and remains to be finished next time.

Being largely south facing these scallops should warm quickly on sunny days, encouraging female butterflies to lay their eggs here and benefitting larval development. Evidence of the warm position was provided by flowering Dogs Mercury.

Such scrub bashing work has its hazards but Brenda bravely battled on when a wayward thorn and sticky plaster put paid to her street cred.

The sheep flock left in the week (after 2 months grazing) so we removed the rather unsightly orange temporary fencing from around the vetch covered scrape, where they otherwise congregate.

4 bags of broken glass pieces were collected from the road entrance area, to improve conditions for grazing animals and vehicles.

2nd December 2012

18 volunteers worked like a well oiled, cheerfully chatting machine to collect together the remainder of the material cut from Triangle Bank and feed a large bonfire. As the smoky bonfire in the group image shows we discovered that bundles of frozen ragwort do not burn well. The scrub cut from the Bank does though and cooks potatoes in 43 minutes.

Collecting for the bonfire Still collecting for the bonfire Lighting the bonfire

Another very positive result, with Triangle Bank now ready for the sheep and their fencing checked (and a small gap repaired), on another cracking day in the Holtspur Valley. The sun was glorious and despite frost hard on the ground we largely worked without coats. Potatoes were eaten with rock hard butter (left on frozen ground!) and cheese, along with chocolates, fruit pies and pears – it is the last task before Christmas. A very big thanks to all who attended!

The crew
Photos © Nick Bowles

4th December 2011

Ten members turned out to help today. Our main task proved to be to remove hay that was dumped (in large clumps) all over Upper Field. We cut the hay in the florally diverse Lower Field in the autumn and moved some of the cut material (along with the seeds it contained) to spread over the Upper Field (in line with our HLS funding agreement), so that some of these seeds might germinate into the turf of the relatively poorer Upper Field.

In previous years the cut material has been spread as a fine layer all over the Upper Field and, as a result, it seems to be improving floristically. This year however, the hay was dumped in piles that were so dense that the turf below was dying.

At first 5 members were clearing glass from the Georgian rubbish tip that comprises part of Triangle Bank ahead of the sheep’s arrival (anytime soon) to graze there and over the rest of the reserve. 3 volunteers were working on the hay removal. After an hour we realised that this task was more urgent than we had realised and also far more time consuming, so everyone but Frank Banyard (planting an oak in memory of Rob Larkin) was put on raking and carting hay. Even though we worked until 13.30 and thoroughly exhausted ourselves in the process, we didn’t quite finish the job. Perhaps the sheep will eat the small amount still in situ?

The Horseshoe Vetch planted last time looks to have transplanted successfully but there is a worrying increase in the damage caused by animals digging into the turf in the area where the vetch was planted.

6th November 2011

Work started in excellent weather with a variety of tasks (click pictures for larger image):

Erecting temporary sheep proof fencing

Planting Horseshoe Vetch in the hope of improving conditions for our Chalkhill Blue colony

Raking cut material from the flowery banks

Future work will aim to be similarly varied with something to suit all interests and abilities each time.

Thanks to all who attended:

The Work Party

18th November 2010

Our record turn-out of 17 on 7th November has already been beaten. The five members able to come to the midweek work party at Holtspur Bottom on Thursday 18th November were joined by seventeen volunteers and their two leaders, Tony and Chris from Wycombe DC Woodland Service. They were a pleasure to work with and we were impressed with how hard-working, cooperative and safety-conscious they were. We are most grateful to John Shaw for his excellent organisation - thank you John.

Most of the huge pile of material from last year's scrub clearance was burnt, debris was raked from Triangle Bank and burnt. Six bags of bits of metal and glass were collected, to make sheep grazing safer, and disposed of. It is now ready for the sheep to do their bit. At last Triangle Bank is beginning to look more like the chalk grassland it is intended to be and in fact was many years ago.

7th November 2010
(Photos: Wendy Wilson)

A total of 17 volunteers turned up from all corners of the branch and worked with great commitment at a variety of tasks, burning cut material, sorting rubbish, trans-locating seedlings and brush cutting the re-growth on Triangle Bank.

Right: 17 volunteers during the biscuit break - thanks Mark!!

Meanwhile 40 sheep were working equally hard (and have been for several weeks) in the hay meadows of Upper and Lower Fields.

Paul Huckle took charge of operations to dismantle the huge pile of scrub and trees cut down in the previous season. From his position on top of the pile he worked material loose for others to feed into the fire.

The huge pile we started with, the difficulty of the dis-entangling and the time we had to allow the fire to cool down before we could safely leave it, means that about half the pile remains for the next work party on Thursday 18th November.

Work to remove a lot of the dogwood re-growth means that it will now be possible to extend the grazing onto Triangle Bank for the first time since the reserve was created.

Dogwood re-growth before (left) and after (right) Derek clears with a brush cutter.

At the same time as Derek and Roger cleared the re-growing scrub, Nicky & Hugh dug up and moved seedling trees and scrub from Triangle Bank to form a hedge along the new fence line with our neighbours. This kills two birds with one stone, we won't need to brush-cut them in another 3 years and they give us a hedge for free!
As if all that wasn't enough for one morning, Stuart and Frank sorted out a problem with our matting (that improves grip for vehicles on the steep access slopes). Sections of the matting had been moving downhill and have now been pegged into the ground.

Very grateful thanks to all who attended and worked so hard and an invitation to both them and everyone else to join in at future events in the wonderful Holtspur Valley.

June 2010

With a deadline for various essential work to be finished in June, Frank Banyard and Nick Bowles met at Holtspur on the 3rd June to check that all was on target.

With the reserve shimmering in all its floral beauty, insouciant to the urgency they felt, it was hard to concentrate on any unfinished work.

But one last task urgently needs to be completed and then we shall meet the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) requirements and qualify for a grant for years to come. This grant money is crucial to funding the often expensive work needed on the reserve.

Certainly the reserve seems worth all the expenditure on a day like today, when it is simply resplendent. We hope the images speak more eloquently than we can of the beauty of this valley and its wildlife. There were 11 species of butterfly on the wing, including key species: Dingy Skipper, Green Hairstreak and Small Blue.

On June 10th we shall remove a section of old fencing so its replacement can be erected by professionals the following week. If you could please lend us a hand for an hour or two, on Thursday 10th June between 6-8 pm to remove this old fencing, we would be grateful. No heavy labour involved. Just snipping some old wire away from posts and rolling it up for disposal.

Small Blue

21st February 2010

The new clearing seems enormous to most of us who thought of it as a relatively small block of scrub. Now largely cleared it is obvious that it will vastly increase the area of chalk grassland. New fencing and re-arrangements of existing fencelines are to go ahead soon to allow this new area to be grazed next winter.

There is still a vast amount of cut scrub in two large piles plus huge amounts of cut material stacked around the edges of the reserve. If anyone wants free firewood or material to form fenceposts, there is plenty and they could come and collect free logs at our last work party of this winter on the 7th March 2010 - please join us if you can as extra hands would be greatly appreciated!

The photos show the new clearing as scrubby woodland in Autumn 09 and now. In places you can see the firewood awaiting a new home/fireplace!

Scrub on Triangle Bank before clearance
November 2009

John clears scrub on the Triangle Bank
February 2010

Triangle Bank scrub largely cleared - workforce in the distance
February 2010

15th November 2009

Holtspur Bottom's first work party of the Winter 2009 season took place in wonderful weather (as promised at Member's Day). A group of 6 smiling members installed temporary fencing to keep the sheep (which are expected to arrive in the next few days) from the vetch covered areas, set a mesh in place to make vehicle access up the steep slope on Triangle Bank possible in all weathers and cut a large amount of scrub from the secondary woodland that has become established on the lower slopes of Triangle Bank.

Holtspur 'Triangle Bank' before and after scrub clear, November 2009

22nd March 2009

Planning an event for Mothers Day wasn't clever. It reduced the attendance to 2. Even so a great deal was achieved. Much of it was simply finishing off work that our Warden, Rob Larkin, had begun earlier.

We treated the bench with hardwood oil to extend its life and cleared some of the glass which has come to the surface of the 'old tip' area. This area needed work to allow the positioning of a new fence and it was decided to clear some of the old heaps of rubbish at the same time.

Unfortunately this brought rather a lot of broken glass to the surface. Visitors will need to take care if crossing this area.

Elsewhere, a mesh track has been fitted to reduce damage to the steep Triangle Bank slope by heavy farm implements (which always seem to need access at the wettest times). However, a visit by John Davis from Butterfly Conservation Head Office has led us to consider its removal. He advises that it could weaken our very important application for HLS funding.

Access has also been improved with a new pedestrian gate between the outer footpath and the Upper field, in its uppermost western corner.

We also planted 150 Horseshoe Vetch plants into the newest scrape. Smaller than the first scrape, but also in the Upper field, this will provide bare soil (and its associated warmth) as the first slowly forms a dense, cooler turf. Hopefully the two scrapes will provide enough Horseshoe Vetch that Chalkhill Blue will begin to breed.

22nd February 2009

5 UTB members continued the burning of previously cut scrub (from December). This was cut to prepare a less severe disabled access slope. Paul Huckle, Wendy Wilson and Dave Wilton ensured that virtually all fresh cut material was burnt and older rotting wood stacked into 'habitat piles'. In the process, as the picture shows, they opened up a bright clearing in the scrub.

Wendy Wilson also removed the visual eyesore of the orange temporary sheep netting (erected in Nov 08), which was erected to create an exclosure around the 1st scrape. We discovered that the sheep were choosing the scrape as a place to sleep and were both grazing the planted vetches and producing a very unwelcome layer of manure. The sheep have gone having reduced the sward to a low level and greatly improving its appearance.

Scrub burning at Holtspur Bottom

There are now two scrapes. Our Warden (Mr Larkin) has made a second smaller scrape closer to the entry, which will be planted in due course. We already have the plants under attentive care in Frank Banyard's garden. Frank replaced out of date information on the two Visitor Information boards in preparation for the new season.

Nick Bowles surveyed the Bottom and Bank reserves for the Higher Level Stewardship entry documents (due to EN by the end of February). We are applying for a large grant that will cover the management of both reserves. He also dug about 45 holes for Peter Hall to plant Dark Mullein into, in the hope of rescuing the somewhat beleaguered Striped Lychnis population. This rare moth was very prolific in the Holtspur Valley for some years but intensive clearance and grazing of formerly rough pastures by the adjacent Equestrian centre has put the colony in peril.

8th February 2009

Four Upper Thames Branch members braved the forecast of snow showers and the icy roads with frozen slush in the kerbs to begin the clearance of cut material at Holtspur. This material had been cut earlier as part of the preparations for the disabled access route. It also serves to let more light into the scrubby woodland at the Riding Lane end of the reserve, which is increasingly dark as the scrub becomes ever denser and some self-set ash trees get larger and larger. One result of the increasing gloom at this end of the reserve is that some scrub has died. That was stacked into piles for dead wood specialists to enjoy.

In view of the forecast this was a short exercise and more material is waiting for a similar fate later when various tasks are also planned. This winter’s weather has led to the postponement of several tasks, which will make the last two sessions there this winter busy.

Bonfire at Holtspur Bottom

7th December 2008

The workparty at Holtspur extended the path through the scrub for an easier ascent by disabled people. Despite a hard frost, working in the scrub in the sun was very warm. Stage one of the path is now complete. We await a grant to allow its completion.

We checked on the all-weather sheep. They continue to graze contentedly and to good effect, despite the deep frost, and noted that they have penetrated the rather ugly temporary fencing erected to prevent grazing damage to the vetches on the 'scrape'. Luckily incursions to this area have obviously been very few and far between.

Clearing a Path for Disabled Access

All-weather Sheep

9th November 2008

We started on the new path through the entry area woodland to assist disabled access. This path will take a less aggressive approach to tackling the steepest part of the slope, zig-zagging across the slope through the scrub woodland. Following our own struggles with that slope in today's very slippery conditions we think it might become the route of choice for the able-bodied too!

Clearing New Entry Path

Several largish trees removed and much rather sad and dying blackthorn taken out too.

Hopefully, we'll get a path and some woodland regeneration as well, as a result of opening up the canopy.

Paul Huckle Fells an Ash Tree

The Fencing Party
From left: Chris Dennis, Paul Huckle, Frank Banyard & Wendy Wilson

Then we went on to the scrape area and erected some temporary fencing to keep sheep off the various vetches that are growing there. The sheep are evidently favouring that section so we wanted to protect the vetch plants from over-grazing.

Sheep in the Lower Field

The sheep went to do their special work in the lower field, only half of which has been mown and Frank took cuttings from the Horseshoe Vetch in the existing scrape to augment the 300 plug plants ordered for planting in the spring, into the new 'to be created' scrape.

Grateful thanks to Frank, Wendy and Paul for muscle and cheerfulness and especially to Chris for muscle, extreme organisation skills, common sense and donating the materials. Nick took the pictures (which was his excuse for not doing much else!).