The Big Help Out – Introduction to HBUF

On Monday the 8th May we’ll be taking part in the Big Help Out, King Charles’ initiative to encourage more people to volunteer in their local communities.

The session will start with a tour of the site, to learn a little about our history and the type of tasks our volunteers get to take part in throughout the year. From planting to trees and taking care of the inhabitants to driving the tractor.

That will be followed by a chance to get hands-on, building some ‘dead hedging’ to protect some of the local wildlife, and improving the habitat for some of our smaller residents.

It’s a great opportunity to get involved if you haven’t been out with us before, or to reconnect if you haven’t visited for a while.

You can register on the Big Help Our web site, or by RSVP’ing below.  

The session will be from 1pm-4pm. We’ll meet in our usual spot, by the container in the picnic field. Check out our map if you haven’t visited before.

Meeting Point

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Dead Hedge 2.0

For the first volunteer day of 2023 we revisited the dead-hedge that we put in to protect some of our wildlife and gave it a bit of an upgrade.

Sadly, the original had suffered from being battered by stray footballs from the pitch next to it, and from unwanted human attention.

The new one, we hope, is a bit sturdier. Aside from the heavier posts and beams that are part of it we’ve also planted some willow cuttings taken from one of our trees. The hope is that these will take root and become a living part of the hedge that we can train to provide an even sturdier natural barrier. Not exactly a Whomping Willow but enough to fend off poor shots on goal!

We can’t help with football skills, but hopefully the new fence will withstand the off-target balls.

The day before we set out we heard that a tree that had fallen and blocked the path that leads into the woods from the Cricklade field. Andy was very happy to get the chance to try out his new electric chainsaw. We also took out the top trunk of the big fallen willow across the brook, which had started to rot and might have posed a safety hazard if it came down while anyone was playing on it.

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Our Sparrowhawks

For some years now, I’ve been noticing a particular call in the woods during spring.  You should be quite surprised at this, because I am notoriously unobservant and can rarely spot anything unusual or interesting.  Then, this spring, I came across what I took to be a bird of prey with a pigeon not far from the weir bridge; this was just beside the trees we planted in January close to Pinehurst Road. 

I did a bit of research on the internet (how on earth did we manage to find stuff out before this amazing invention?) and had a listen to the birds on www.british-birdsongs.uk.  My dog got a bit mystified as I worked my way through the recordings of black kite, red kite, kestrel, merlin, buzzard, peregrine falcon and more.  Well, enough of the waffle, it transpired that it was the call of the sparrowhawk I was hearing.  Steve (Thompson) posted the information on our Facebook page a little while ago.

Then, suddenly, there were no more calls.  What had just happened?  Had we let the cat out of the bag and vandals had done away with our beautiful birds of prey?  On my daily walk, I noticed a car-sticker calling for action to protect songbirds and racing pigeons – horror of horrors!

Then Google let me down.  I could find articles about the effect of birds of prey on local songbird populations (not significant apparently, so the car-sticker person should worry less) and lots of other information, like for example, that the female is larger than the male, so the latter is able to manoeuvre much better than his missus, but no information about seasonal calls.

Eventually, I emailed the British Trust for Ornithology.  The reply was at the same time comforting as well as perturbing:

“In short, you are right about Sparrowhawks only being vocal during the breeding season. The male will call to the female when he brings food in. He doesn’t approach the nest as he might become food himself – males are much smaller than females – the food is handed over away from the nest to much calling by the female. Once the young get bigger they too will call for food. Once the young leave the nest they will perch close by for a week or two and call for food but once they become independent the wood will fall silent until next year. Outside of the breeding season Sparrowhawks are largely silent.”

So, there you have it.  Our sparrowhawks are safe at HBUF, though the male is rather less safe than the female.

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