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Nature Reserve




The new grassland is now fully established, three years on from the start of the project.  Somewhat disappointingly it has become a bit too grassy despite all the flower seed planting.  The lushness of this growth was accelerated by an extremely wet spring, with the rain continuing throughout the year.  To try and counter this problem more yellow rattle seed, collected from the old grassland, was sown in September after the annual cut. Yellow rattle is known to inhibit grass species so the plan is to persevere with the seed sowing in the hopes it will eventually help to suppress the troublesome grasses.  Previous sowing has been very successful with a good uptake and spread.  In the poorer gravelly area kidney vetch is doing well and increasing. More seed was put down here in the autumn.  We’ve not yet given up on attracting the small blue butterfly and it is to be hoped that this area will remain unattractive to the more aggressive grasses.  A botanical survey of this area was carried out this year.

This year the old grassland was cut by Ed and his team from Sandfields Farm during October and November, the job not being made any easier by yet more persistent wet weather. 


Butterfly monitoring began in April.  A cold spring accounted for a very slow start both on the reserve and nationally.  Thankfully, numbers picked up during June and July and it actually turned out to be a reasonable year despite the dry summer of 2022 which desiccated the herbage leaving little food for caterpillars.    

Brown argus was positively identified in both the old and new grassland. Meadow brown, gatekeeper and marbled white did well, ringlet not so good. Across the reserve only one sighting of small tortoiseshell was seen and, sadly, this drop in numbers was reflected across the country.  No white-letter hairstreaks were seen this year, but since they rarely come down from the elm tops it’s not particularly surprising or concerning.  The new grassland continues to help swell overall numbers, particularly common blue, attracted by the bird’s-foot trefoil. 


Despite the relentless rain it was dry by mid-July with a small amount of water remaining in the shady part.  Water began to gather in October and at the end of the year it was full.  Troublingly, a patch of reedmace was found in May.  Although beautiful and impressive, this aggressive plant would take over the pond without continual control.  

In May a great crested newt survey was carried out and both males and females were found.  Also an egg, which makes it a breeding pond.  After all the disturbance and worries about their survival it’s gratifying to have evidence of their continued use of the pond. 


In February Mike Slater and Stephen Wright from Butterfly Conservation came with chain saws and cleared a space for a bit of tree planting at the far eastern end of the reserve.  A crab apple, a bird cherry and three spindle berry bushes, supplied by the farm, were put in soon after arriving.  Also, a disease resistant elm was planted near to the entrance gate.  All are doing well as is the bit of new hedging that Ed and his team planted last winter. 

Also in February we put up two new bird boxes and Roger Juckes, a local bird ringer, came to erect a little owl box.  Sadly no owls have been seen around the box and Stephen Loquens’ usually successful boxes also drew a blank this year I believe. The owls have, however, been heard calling several times just recently.  Roger will come back at some point to check the box.

The badgers continue to thrive. There is fresh digging at existing holes and old  dormant entrances are being re-opened.  Two dead badgers were found on the road near the farm entrance in December but it’s not possible to say if these came from the reserve sett.  Trying to determine occupancy numbers isn’t easy as the sett is linear in make-up with holes, some active some dormant, running along a 180 metre stretch making observation difficult.  A trail camera may be helpful here.

One last piece of news  –  a rather exciting find in the spring.  A pair of corn buntings were heard singing around and about fields opposite the reserve. They were subsequently seen and photographed. This is a farmland bird that has been in steep decline but has recently been experiencing a tentative revival, so it’s especially good to hear them around the farm.

Many thanks, as always, to Sandfields Farm for all their help and assistance.  I’m very grateful for their continued interest in the reserve and the many ways in which they support the work.






2022, the second full season of the new grassland and the sward is showing much more diversity. This is in large part due to our seed sowing last year of black knapweed, ox- eye daisy, yellow rattle and field scabious.  But, many other species have appeared on their own, plants such perforate St.John’s wort, ribbed melilot and scentless mayweed. Birds-foot-trefoil remains the most abundant species.  Disappointingly, kidney vetch, which did so well in 2021, largely disappeared apart from in one small gravelly area at the top of the piece.  So, in the autumn more seeds were sown here and the established plants fenced off to protect them from rabbits. Kidney vetch is the food plant of the small blue butterfly, one of our target species, so it’s well worth making every effort to encourage their spread.  Early in the season white dead-nettle and ground ivy do very well.  Both are important sources of nectar for early emerging insects. White dead-nettle, favoured by bumble bees, another bee species in decline, is especially valuable. 

There was a noticeable increase in butterflies this year with meadow brown, gatekeeper, common blue, small white and small tortoiseshell doing especially well. Red admiral dropped a little across the whole site.  As we hoped, the new grassland is encouraging the Reserve’s existing butterfly species to spread out and increase whilst also providing habitat for a wide range of other invertebrates.  Needless to say, we still hope to attract our target species: small blue, grizzled skipper and dingy skipper.

Along the older existing grassland brown argus was seen this year.  This lovely little butterfly has never been positively identified here before, but as it is so remarkably similar to the female common blue it is likely that it has always been here but wrongly identified. Next year we shall make more effort to put this right and determine numbers.  White letter hairstreak, the “stand-out” species on the Reserve was seen in June. 

Both sections of grassland suffered from lack of rain and the intense heat of July and August resulting in a premature die back of the sward, inevitably causing problems for many species.


The pond also suffered from this year’s weather; lack of winter rain, a dry spring, and the heatwave had a severely negative affect on it.  The water level began to drop noticeably in April, the driest on record, and it was all but empty by June.  During this time there was very little free-standing water, blanket weed once again a problem.  But smooth newts were seen on a couple of occasions.

It eventually dried out completely and became overgrown with grass, water mint and water forget-me-not. It has now started to fill up again but more rain over the next few weeks would be helpful! 


The badger sett continues to thrive. In the spring there was a lot of active digging. Fresh spoil could be seen spilling out of several entrances, new holes appeared and some old ones were reworked.  Water and supplementary food were put down near the sett during the driest hottest part of the summer. There have been no road casualties recently, although a dead badger was found on the edge of the village a few months ago which may or may not have come from the reserve sett.

Spring saw the return of our breeding blackcaps, chiffchaffs and whitethroats. A willow warbler and a lesser whitethroat were heard and stayed briefly before passing through.  Skylarks were heard singing throughout the summer and again in winter as they gathered in foraging groups.  And there’s a small flock of linnets regularly seen.  In the summer they were often recorded on the Reserve.  Both these birds have suffered badly on farmland over the years so it’s particularly pleasing to see them here.

In the autumn Roger Juckes, a local bird ringer, cleaned out the tawny owl box he had put up a few years ago.  Disappointingly there’s been no sign of owls using the box and he only found squirrel debris inside!  At the same time we had a discussion about the possibility of putting up a little owl box.  There are definitely little owls around, thanks to the efforts of Stephen Loquens and the success of his box over the years, so it has to be worth a try.  Roger Juckes is currently renovating a little owl box for us.  I would like here to mention the valuable work that Stephen does in attracting butterflies to his land. This can only help and enhance the efforts we are making on the Reserve.  In the summer he held a very successful open day which raised several hundreds of pounds for Butterfly Conservation.  

We made contact with Heart of England Forest earlier in the year and had a useful telephone conversation with their Biodiversity Manager, Sophie Leszczynska.  A meeting is to be arranged for a site visit from their Assistant Biodiversity Officer, Emma Kersley.

My thanks, as always, to Sandfields Farm for their continued involvement and for the many ways they show their support for the Reserve.  At the moment they are putting in some hedging along parts of the western edge which will form a good wildlife corridor and create additional valuable habitat.

Carol Cholerton.



Update on Pond Restoration and new Grassland

March 2022

Firstly to the pond. Disappointingly, the water level began to drop somewhat more quickly than was expected, and so in April Phil Langley from Sandfields Farm, Mike Slater from Butterfly Conservation and myself met to discuss whether the Farm should top it up with water from the river, but this seemingly obvious solution was soon rejected. The pond has always had a problem with algae and there is a strong likelihood that river water could make it worse. It was decided to wait and see how the pond behaved as the year progressed.  The spring planting was postponed for the same reason, which turned out to be fortuitous as many plants began to appear unaided, such as: marsh marigold, water mint, water forget-me-not, bistort, water plantain and yellow flag.

In May both smooth and great crested newts were seen in the water which, given the obvious but necessary disruption of the earlier months, was a big relief.

The level continued to drop throughout the summer but in August there was still a small amount of water remaining.  By the end of August it was dry.  However, given that in previous years it had been drying out as early as May/June this has to be seen as a real improvement.  After rain in September it began to gather water again, only for it to dry up after a few drier days. But this is also encouraging as in recent years once it had dried out it took much rain and many weeks before it would hold any water at all.  It is now filling nicely with the winter rains.

It is obviously disappointing that more water wasn’t held for longer into the year, but if the pattern of this first year continues the objective of the restoration will have been achieved: to keep enough water until mid-summer in order for the young newts to complete their life cycle.  Much of course will depend on the weather but, for now, any remedial work has been put on hold.

As for this coming year: there will be some supplementary planting in the spring and, of course, close monitoring for any newt activity.

And now into the new grassland.  Birds-foot-trefoil was by far the most dominant species in this second year but kidney vetch, foodplant of the small blue butterfly, one of our target species, also did well.  These all had to be fenced with wire netting guards to protect them from a targeted rabbit attack!  Plants from last year’s seeding came through well too: black knapweed, yellow rattle, ox-eye daisy and scabious and there was also a spread of ribbed melilot, ground ivy, red bartsia and perforate St.John’s wort.  Unfortunately, creeping cinquefoil, food plant of the grizzled skipper another of our target butterflies, became a little overwhelmed in places.  There were, of course, problem plants such as sow thistle, burdock and white campion which needed to be weeded out and the nettles and brambles along the side edges had to be kept in check to stop them encroaching into the grassland.  The main grass cut was carried out in August but a narrow pathway was kept open throughout the year.

Regular weekly butterfly recording began in April and although there was no sign of our three target species, small blue, grizzled skipper and dingy skipper, other butterflies such as common blue, gatekeeper, large and small skippers, meadow brown, marbled white, red admiral, comma and small tortoiseshell soon began to appear. 

The regular schedule of work, monitoring and recording will continue into the future and let’s hope that this summer will attract one of our target butterflies!  Please do get in touch if you want more information or fancy getting involved with the conservation work.

Carol Cholerton


April 2021

Another update another transformation, this time the pond.  

Over the last few years the pond has been drying out much earlier than usual, completely dry by late spring/early summer despite filling to capacity in the winter months, and this was a real problem for the small population of great crested newts.  After breeding, adult newts leave the water around June to live on the land.  The young newts, however, need to stay for longer and do not emerge until August time. With no water in our pond from June onwards their chances of survival were slim.  This situation plainly wasn’t sustainable; the continued breeding failure meant that the great crested newts would soon be lost from the reserve.  It was clear that to prevent this happening we would need to put in a liner in hopes that it would then retain enough water throughout summer, enabling the young newts to survive.  This was going to be a major job, but work began in January and was undertaken entirely by staff and contractors from Sandfields Farm.

The first job was to cut back some of the willow trees to let in some much needed light.  Debris was cleared from the bottom and the pond dug into shape; a shelf was made on the far side and a bank constructed across the middle.  It was then lined with 40 tons of clay.  It rained during most of the time so the whole area ended up looking pretty messy!  The job was finished at the beginning of February and a range of pond plants will be planted in April and May, including water forget-me-not, water mint, lesser spearwort, marsh marigold, purple loosestrife, hemp agrimony, brooklime, water figwort, meadowsweet and fleabane.  A few artificial egg laying strips have been put in for the benefit of any breeding newts that return only to find a pond devoid of vegetation!  The area looks very bare at the moment but it won’t be long before the land recovers and greens over again.  



This time last year work began on a project to transform part of the west side of the reserve into a species-rich grassland.  The area had long been troublesome; the ground was very uneven making it extremely difficult to walk and almost impossible to mow.  As a result, it had become somewhat overgrown and in places dominated by vigorous grasses, nettles and brambles.  The best we had been able to achieve was to keep the brambles under control. The creation of a flower-rich sward that could be mown regularly will bring about a much more diverse habitat and hopefully attract a wide range of butterflies and other insects.

The aim is twofold: to encourage the colonisation of three UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species of butterfly; small blue, dingy skipper and grizzled skipper, and to encourage an increase in the butterfly species that are already established on the east side of the reserve.  And so, in partnership with Sandfields Farm and the Warwickshire branch of Butterfly Conservation, we set to work.

In January and February staff from the farm removed overhanging branches and encroaching scrub.  They then levelled the uneven grassland moving the enriched soil to the sides of the track bed. At this point the area looked pretty grim!  In March Mike Slater from Butterfly Conservation sowed the bare earth with kidney vetch, the food plant of the small blue, and common bird’s-foot-trefoil, the food plant of the dingy skipper.  As the season progressed weedy species began to appear and so most of the summer was taken up with intensive weeding.  But the seeds sown by Mike Slater had germinated well and strong plants were showing throughout the length of the area.  

In July seeds from yellow rattle were gathered from the east side of the reserve and sown along the new area and in September black knapweed, scabious, lady’s bedstraw, bird’s-foot-trefoil and oxeye daisy seeds were similarly gathered and sown. Other useful plants were appearing unaided such as creeping cinquefoil, food plant of the grizzled skipper, white dead nettle and ground ivy, both good sources of nectar for early insects, ribbed melilot, red bartsia and perforate St. John’s wort.

In September Mike Slater came to assess the site and found that due to the success of the seed planting and the intensive summer weed management it had the potential to attract all three priority butterfly species.

There will almost certainly be more weed management needed this coming year as well as more seed planting.  But it’s looking promising, and with perseverance it should become a diverse flower-rich piece of grassland in just a few years.  I’m particularly hopeful about the possibility of attracting the small blue  –   there is a newly established colony on similar terrain just a few miles away.  Importantly, we need to keep a record of what turns up, so regular recording will be extended from the east side into the new area.

When the present Coronavirus restrictions have been lifted and the situation feels a bit safer I would be delighted to meet up with anyone who would like to come and have a look at our progress.  Alternatively, pop along yourself and have a look.  My contact details are shown below.

The support, advice and assistance from Sandfields Farm and Butterfly Conservation have been central to the success of this project.  Certainly, it wouldn’t even have got started without this partnership.