C is for Cake!

Volunteers seated on fold-up chairs, eating home-made cake during a work break.
FLOW Project volunteers on a well earned tea and cake break © Jane Reeve, 2019

I could not celebrate our volunteers without talking about their love of all things “cake”. As I mentioned, last week, you have to add in the mid-volunteering sweet treat (with a cuppa, of course!) to keep the momentum up.

Let us look at a few facts about this great sweet food, first. The word itself is of Viking origin, from the Old Norse word “kaka”. Cakes are traditionally round, symbolising the cyclical nature of life, the sun and the moon. The Germans would celebrate children’s birthdays with cake, calling the celebration Kinderfest.  In Medieval times, parties would be held to mark the end of Christmas and live birds and frogs would burst out of a giant cake. Thank goodness our job is to look after these creatures now.

What better way to celebrate and thank our volunteers than to offer them cake. It is part of the 3 vital “c’s”(cake, cuppa and chat). I think if we took a poll, the favourite type would be a fruit cake of some sort. So with full permission from our FLOW Project Leader, Jane Reeve, I can share with you her much loved banana bread (that acts like a cake!).

Jane’s Banana Bread

Ingredients

  • 1lb banana (without skin)
  • 4oz butter chopped into small pieces
  • 8oz self-raising flour
  • 1⁄2 tsp salt
  • 1⁄4 tsp mixed spice
  • 6oz sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6oz of any combination of the following: chopped peel, nuts, cherries, chocolate chips, chopped crystallised ginger, fresh mango, pineapple, desiccated coconut – I sometimes put 3 or 4 of these ingredients in, depending what is in the cupboard, as long as the weight is correct.

Preparation

Heat the oven to Gas mark 4, 350°F, 180°C. Line a 2lb loaf tin with grease-proof paper or grease well with oil or butter.

Put the peeled banana in a blender or mash them up completely (you might need to add a tiny amount of fruit juice or smoothie to make this work).

In a large bowl combine the flour and sugar, the mixed spice and salt and the rub in the chopped pieces of butter. Add the eggs to the dry mixture and then pour in the blended banana and stir it all together. Add the other ingredients and ensure that it is all well mixed. Pour into the loaf tin or into a well-greased muffin tray to make individual portions.

Put in the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes – for the 2lb loaf tin or 20 minutes if in individual muffin cases or tray – keep an eye on it to ensure that the top of the loaf / muffins do not become too dark.

Remove from the oven and tip from the tin while still warm to ensure that it does not stick (and to test a big chunk just to make sure it’s done!).

~

What could be better than the outdoors, exercise and the 3 “c’s” to make volunteering a perfect way to spend any day!

 

Read Alex’s previous A-Z post, here.


Post by Alex Ainge

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B is for Brambles – Like it or Not!

European blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) flowers close-up.
Flowering European blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) © Robert Vidéki, Doronicum Kft., Bugwood.org

Oh! Am I reminding you, my volunteer buddies, about the beast from when time began?

Like it or not, the bramble has been one of the biggest challenges on our sites. You have to have a check list in your head before approaching this unruly plant:

  • Gloves that can withstand being shredded…tick
  • Shears sharper than a guillotine…tick
  • A range of expletives at the ready…tick
  • Tea and cake within grabbing distance…tick
  • Other volunteers to mop your furrowed brow…double tick
Brambles encroaching on a house and jasmine plant © Alex Ainge, 2021

Sadly, we are losing the ability to celebrate what this plant has to offer. After all, who doesn’t love a blackberry pie made from the freshly picked fruits? The negative folklore has not helped the bramble. In medieval times, people planted brambles on graves to stop the dead from coming out and prevent the devil from getting in!

So aside from its dark past, we must marvel at what the bramble contributes to planet earth. Robins, Wrens, Thrushes, Blackbirds, Warblers and Finches will nest in bramble and small mammals, like the Hedgehog and Dormouse, use it for protection from predators. Moths, such as Buff Arches, Peach Blossom and Fox moths, lay their eggs on bramble as it is their larval foodplant. Brambles also provide an important source of nectar for Brimstone and Speckled Wood butterflies and fruits for Song Thrushes and Yellowhammers.

Speckled wood (Pararge aegeria) butterfly © Nicola Timney, 2018

We must remember that brambles have been here for a very long time, even as long as 8000 years ago, when bramble seeds were found in the stomach of a Neolithic man in Essex.

So I salute you, dear volunteer, for all the shearing, lopping and tugging of this amazing plant and I hope some of you will join me as we tackle the next bramble maze at our Tree Nursery at West Wittering allotments. I will bring LOTS of tea and cake…I promise!!!!!

Read Alex’s previous A-Z post, here.


Post by Alex Ainge

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Acorns to Brambles

You might be wondering, why the jump from “acorns” to “brambles”? Well, let’s first look at how the mighty oak gets off the ground, literally.

There are many schools of thought about how to germinate an acorn. Some say you need to collect the acorns before they drop. This can be a problem if the lowest branch of the tree is metres off the ground! However, the Tree Council’s guide states that you can pick the acorns as soon as possible after they have fallen. I will refer to their guide throughout my weekly blogs and show some of their pictures (I thank the Tree Council for their kind permission to do so). Their “Good Seed Guide” explains identifying, collecting and planting tree seeds in an easy-to-follow approach.

So back to the humble acorn. It is worth mentioning that if your oak tree has long stalks attached to the acorn, then it is from an English oak. If the acorns are unstalked, then the tree is likely to be another British native called the Sessile oak.

Acorns illustrated in the Good Seed Guide, by the Tree Council

Once collected, you can test the acorns to see if they have the potential to germinate by placing them in a bucket of water. If they float, they probably are no good. The trick is to keep the acorns moist. The best time to plant out is after the heavy rains have subsided (which is debatable nowadays), so if you harvested the acorns in Autumn, you can store them in a sealed container with some vermiculite or moist potting compost and place in the fridge until the following Spring. The acorns need to be kept moist. If they show signs of mould, you can wash them in water and replace into fresh potting compost.

When you are ready to plant the acorn, prepare the soil so that it is free draining (add grit if the soil is clay based). Place the acorn on its side and bury at least half an inch under the soil. Place the middle of a cardboard carton over the planting area (you can fit 2 acorns in the space). This carton acts as a guard to protect the seedling when it emerges. The acorn produces a long tap root at first, so it will be a couple of months before a shoot appears. The key to success is water, water and water. The acorn is a thirsty nut!

So what part do brambles play? Well, you see, they act as natural tree guards as the seedlings become established. However, they have to be monitored as they can dominate an area and physically smother the seedlings as they compete for light. The best natural method of bramble control is through grazing, but as you may not have access to a pig or goat, you may need to dig it out. Let’s not forget that whilst the mighty oak feeds the larvae of the Purple Hairstreak butterfly, the bramble provides nectar for the Brimstone and Speckled wood butterflies, as well as hiding places for hedgehogs.

 

Read Alex’s previous A-Z post, here.


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January’s Results: Find Wildlife From Home Survey

Our weather systems have brought plenty of rain, and hinted at a few flurries of snow, but our local birds have not been discouraged from their usual activities. You saw a good range of birds this month, along with a few hoverflies and a hedgehog!

A highlight of these sightings is the Kestrel. Although often seen flying over farmland, this bird has actually suffered a big decline in numbers over the last few decades. There are a variety of projects currently investigating this issue and so far, they have noted that use of rodenticides appear to be a key factor. The wildlife sightings you send us are always uploaded to the central records database, iRecord, to ensure that conservation researchers have access to them. Keep recording – a common sighting to you could become useful data!

 

January’s results:

Species 

No. Seen 

Blackbird, Turdus merula 

4 

Carrion crow, Corvus corone 

2 

Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto 

10 

Coal tit,  Periparus ater 

2 

Green Woodpecker, Picus viridis 

1 

Hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus 

1 

Herring Gull, Larus argentatus 

2 

House Sparrows, Passer domesticus 

10 

Hoverfly, Meliscaeva auricollis 

1 

Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus 

1 

Long-tailed tit, Aegithalos caudatus 

2 

Marmalade Hoverfly, Episyrphus balteatus 

1 

Robin, Erithacus rubecula 

1 

Photo submissions:

 

Keep sending in your submissions, and if you haven’t taken part already, please share your sightings with us – every record received helps us build a more accurate picture of the Manhood Peninsula*.

How can I get involved with this survey?

Sending us a record of your wildlife sightings is simple, just make a note of the date and location of the sighting, and use these notes to fill out our ‘Enter a Quick Wildlife Record’ form. You can also submit a photo through this form.

Enter a Quick Wildlife Record

Alternatively, you can upload multiple records at the same time, by filling in one of our recording sheets and submitting this through our ‘Upload Multiple Wildlife Records’ form.

Upload Multiple Wildlife Records
Wildlife Recording Sheet View Printable PDF
Wildlife Recording Sheet Download Fillable Form

*This survey is specifically receiving submissions of wildlife sightings seen on the Manhood Peninsula, below Chichester, which includes: Apuldram, Donnington, Earnley, East Wittering, Bracklesham, Hunston, North Mundham, Selsey, Sidlesham, West Wittering, South Mundham, plus West Itchenor and Birdham.

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A is for Ash

Welcome volunteers, to my A-Z of you and all the wildlife that you have helped and are passionate about. 

The Manhood Wildlife and Heritage Group (MWHG) have volunteers that have worked with us for over 10 years and volunteers that want to get started but have been stalled by Covid. I didn’t want to mention THAT word, but I have. I won’t do it again! There are other reasons that you and I got involved in volunteering. I only wish, for sanity sake, that we could be beavering away on a wet, windy, muddy day to forget our present plight!

So, back to A. Before I write about the Ash tree, one of our first volunteering groups was, in fact, the ASHE group. Each letter stands for a local parish or hamlet of the Manhood Peninsula (Almodington, Sidlesham, Highleigh, Earnley). The group was formed just over 12 years ago after Sarah Hughes, Chichester District Council‘s Wildlife Officer, gave a talk at the Sidlesham church hall in order to generate interest and drum up volunteers.

In the earlier years, work concentrated on restoring rural ponds, mainly Morgan’s, Bushell’s, and Haydon’s pond in Almodington and Florence pond in Church Farm road, Sidlesham. The group did some valuable pond surveys, water vole surveys (as part of the Water Vole Project) and moth surveys (during the summer months). Bat surveys were also undertaken in the early years with a few very late evenings, as bats didn’t oblige the volunteers with an appearance until after dusk!  

Although a small group, at first, the ASHE group definitely set the scene for more work to follow. I have been lucky enough to meet and work with this group and the bigger group that followed with our next project (the FLOW Project). What a lovely bunch of people and what hard workers! Some of them happy to wade about in the odd pond or two (and in fact, parted from their welly boots in the pond silt on many an occasion!). 

Ash tree during winter, in Sidlesham

Ash tree in Sidlesham, by Alex Ainge

My picture of the Ash tree is very apt as it was taken in Sidlesham a couple of weeks’ ago. What a majestic beauty with it’s black sticky buds reaching for the sun. Such a shame to think that so many of these beauties have succumbed to Ash dieback. Ash dieback is a chronic fungal infection that is affecting the ash population across Europe and the UK. The pathogen – Hymenoscyphus fraxineus  – attacks the internal water transport systems of trees. An infected tree is noticeable for its loss of leaves, wilting, lesions in the bark and stems of trees, and discolouration of the bark. However, a recent study by scientists have shown that some Ash trees have developed resistance to the disease. There is hope for this wonderful tree, after all.  

 

Read Alex’s previous A-Z post, here.

 


Post by Alex Ainge

 

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Ash and Acorns

Well, we (the volunteers) can’t do much at the moment in terms of physical work. Instead, I wanted to keep in touch with a bit of information and what we could be looking to grow in our nursery, for the West Wittering Tree Nursery Project. We can become learned volunteers, if nothing else!

I don’t know about you, but one of my favourite trees is the Ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior or Venus of the Woods). It belongs to the same family as the olive and lilac and, in fact, produces an oil that is chemically similar to olive oil.

Common Ash Tree, European Ash Tree, Fraxinus excelsior
European Ash tree, Fraxinus excelsior (Zelimir Borzan, University of Zagreb, Bugwood.org)

The wood is used by humans to make furniture, tennis rackets, snooker cues and even the frame of the British motor – the Morgan. But, to wildlife, this tree is manna from heaven! The plants that grow beneath the ash tree attract the brown fritillary butterfly; dormice love the ash’s understorey; caterpillars of the coronet moth munch on the leaves; bullfinches eat the seeds and woodpeckers, owls, redstarts and nuthatches nest in the Ash tree.

Of course, many of you will have heard of the Ash dieback disease. This is a fungus that came over from Asia. However, there is hope that some trees are developing resistance to the disease and Ash could recover in 50 years’ time.

If you want to grow one, it takes 30 years to produce flowers and lives up to 250 years. A minor problem! Just collect the seeds or “wings” from the tree when they have turned brown. The seeds will need stratifying. What’s this? I hear you say.

Well folks, here’s the real deal on creating a tree nursery. You see, a lot of seeds have a natural defence mechanism built in to ensure they do not grow in the winter months when the seedlings could be killed off by the cold. In fact, they won’t germinate until they have gone through a winter of cold weather. But many seeds only germinate when fresh. So, in many cases, we need to break that seed dormancy period and the main way is stratification.

But don’t be put off! I will cover this in another article, under “S” probably!

I hope this information has tickled the grey cells and that you’ll join me next week when I talk about acorns. Don’t worry, it is one of the few seeds that doesn’t need a wake up call!

 


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New: View our Sidlesham Heritage Display (Outdoors!)

Sidlesham Heritage Displays

Our members have set up a Sidlesham Heritage exhibition, to share information of the important history of the local area. The display is viewable in the glass windows of the Little Orchard Nursery and will feature new content, plus the exhibits produced last year by the Weald and Downland Living Museum’s curator, Julian Bell, for their 2020 exhibition on the Land Settlement Association.

Organiser, Dr Bill Martin, announced this week, “The Sidlesham Heritage Centre is up and running at Little Orchard Nursery (No 74) on Lockgate Road (PO20 7QQ) with the kind permission of Len & Aart Dubbeldam. The display explains the origins of the Land Settlement Association (LSA), the heritage trail, the LSA house at the Weald & Downland Living Museum, and will feature LSA stories, starting with Josh Aitchison, who came to Sidlesham as a road builder and stayed on as a LSA employee. The display also lists some of Sidlesham’s other local history features and it will be updated every 3-to-6 months.”

Sidlesham Heritage Display Posters Close-up

Learn more about the history of the Land Settlement Association, through our downloadable Sidlesham Heritage Trail booklet.


Contact the organiser, Dr Bill Martin, via the contact form below to learn more about this project. 

 

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New Project Launched to Grow Trees in West Wittering

Let me tell you about our exciting new project, the West Wittering Tree Nursery project. We are going to be growing trees from seeds!

Tree Nursery Plot in West Wittering

Tree Nursery Plot in West Wittering

West Wittering Parish Council has kindly given us permission to use a strip of land at the allotments off Ellanore Lane. Thanks also to David Thompson (Chairman of the Allotment) for picking out an area which will be perfect for our project.

We have six enthusiastic volunteers and we hope to be able to start preparing the site soon!!

Trees are so valuable to us and our planet, providing us with oxygen to breathe; removing excess carbon dioxide to combat climate change, as well as acting as flood defences.

This project will engage with everyone, from primary school children up to people like myself (I am a young 61 year old!!).

We are going to need various pieces of equipment which I hope you can all help with finding or even making.

So watch this space for updates and if you want to provide some expertise or even just a trowel, you can contact me (Alex Ainge) via the contact form, below.

 

West Wittering Tree Nursery Project Contact Form


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December’s Results: Find Wildlife From Home Survey

Another mild month gave our supporters some good bird-watching opportunities. As expected, most of the reported sightings made in December were of bird species. 

Perhaps the surprising submission of the month was a photo of a Buff-tailed bumblebee. Bumblebees remind us of the spring and summer months, when insects make the most of nectar-filled flowers, however this particular species of bumblebee is often just as active in the winter. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust recommends planting Mahonia, Viburnum x bodnantense, and winter honeysuckle in your garden, to provide a food source over the winter. 

 

Read December’s results, below:

 

Species 

No. Seen 

Blackbird, Turdus merula 

7 

Buff-tailed bumblebee, Bombus terrestris 

1 

Goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis 

1 

Mute Swan, Cygnus olor 

2 

Pied Wagtail, Motacilla alba 

1 

Robin, Erithacus rubecula 

2 

Rook, Corvus frugilegus 

3 

Song Thrush, Turdus philomelos 

1 

Starling, Sturnus vulgaris 

162 

Woodpigeon, Columba palumbus 

3 

Wren, Troglodytes troglodytes 

1 

December’s photo submissions:

 

Keep sending in your submissions, and if you haven’t taken part already, please share your sightings with us – every record received helps us build a more accurate picture of the Manhood Peninsula*.

How can I get involved with this survey?

Sending us a record of your wildlife sightings is simple, just make a note of the date and location of the sighting, and use these notes to fill out our ‘Enter a Quick Wildlife Record’ form. You can also submit a photo through this form.

Enter a Quick Wildlife Record

Alternatively, you can upload multiple records at the same time, by filling in one of our recording sheets and submitting this through our ‘Upload Multiple Wildlife Records’ form.

Upload Multiple Wildlife Records
Wildlife Recording Sheet View Printable PDF
Wildlife Recording Sheet Download Fillable Form

*This survey is specifically receiving submissions of wildlife sightings seen on the Manhood Peninsula, below Chichester, which includes: Apuldram, Donnington, Earnley, East Wittering, Bracklesham, Hunston, North Mundham, Selsey, Sidlesham, West Wittering, South Mundham, plus West Itchenor and Birdham.

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Planting a Native Tree Hedgerow in Birdham

The Project

FLOW (Fixing and Linking Our Wetlands) is a Heritage Lottery Funded Project to survey and improve the ditch network of the Manhood Peninsula, to prevent flooding and increase vital habitat for wildlife. FLOW works in the following parishes: Apuldram, Donnington, Earnley, East Wittering, Bracklesham, Hunston, North Mundham, Selsey, Sidlesham, West Wittering, West Itchenor and Birdham.

Activity

We are going to be planting a species rich hedge along the boundary of this property, then we will have some festive refreshments to thank everyone for their hard work this year on the FLOW project. We will have a refreshments area set up so that people can help themselves and maintain social distancing.

This is an activity that is not too demanding physically. We are restricted on numbers due to limited parking, so be sure to book your place via the contact form, below.

Volunteers will be allocated disinfected tools at the start of the activity, but if you have substantial gardening tools and would prefer to use your own, please bring them along. This is a muddy site so wellies or waders are advised.

Please bring your own gloves, and bring your own cup for refreshments. If you will stay all day, please bring a packed lunch. See our full COVID-19 volunteering policy here.

Due to COVID-19, our team leaders will need to keep track of the numbers of attendees. Please RSVP to this event, using the contact form below, to book a place. Please note that outdoor activities are subject to change, due to weather conditions and unforeseen circumstances. Attendees will be notified of any changes via email.

Location

Hundredsteddle Cottage, Hundredsteddle Lane, Birdham PO20 7BL 

To get to Hundredsteddle Cottage, travel south down the B2198 and, just after the double bend, turn right into Tile Barn Lane. Then immediately turn right again along a farm track where you can see the cottage a head of you. Parking is in the driveway but is limited so we need to know if you will be joining us so that we can accommodate everyone.

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