Foray in Feckenham

On my way home from Hanbury last Saturday I stopped at Feckenham, about five miles to the east, to visit the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust reserve, Feckenham Wylde Moor. This is a secluded wetland south of the village.

The village itself is very attractive, with many old buildings and a lovely church.

High street

Feckenham church

It has a  Heritage Lottery project to mark the centenary of the First World War, with information about the men who went to the front.  I passed the window of 45 High Street in which was displayed information about Private Enoch Parker.  He did not return.

WW1 project

Window picture commemorating Private Enoch Parker

A notice in the free car-park encourages visitors to use local paths; it’s a shame some of them are in poor condition.

Notice board

I followed footpaths south to the moor, finding plenty of poor ‘stiles’ (ie obstructions) along the way (which I later reported to Worcestershire County Council) and overgrowth.

Bad stile 2

Example of a ‘stile’ on the way to the moor

I arrived at the southern end of the reserve, rather than the main entrance on Moor Lane to the north.  It is a wetland with an unusual surface of fen peat.  The trust has cut a trail around the edge, and I soon came to a hide by some ponds. There was a single dabchick scooting around; I understand they breed here.

Reserve from hide

Pools on the east side of the reserve

The path crosses meadows which, a little earlier in the year, were full of wild flowers.


Wildflower meadow

I came to the main entrance.  It is good that there is no car-parking here so that visitors must walk from the village.  Riders will have a problem though once they arrive: a bridleway on the north-west side of the reserve is obstructed.  This too I have reported.

Stile on BW

Obstructed bridleway at approximate grid reference SP 010 607

I returned to the village.  Unfortunately the shop was closed, but it is evidently a cheerful bonus to the community.

shop signI saw this sign on the side of the village hall; the town was once a significant settlement on the Saltway between Droitwich and Alcester.

AA sign n village hall

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Now you see them, now you don’t

One day they are there, constantly tweeting and clamouring for food while the parents zoom in and out relentlessly, the next everything is quiet.  Two nestfuls of house martins in Turville have fledged, almost simultaneously.

I am recording nests for the British Trust for Ornithology house martin survey, having done it last year (see here).  I am watching two nests on Old School House.


Old School House: the nests are in the two upper oblong windows

Last year I watched the nest on the left-hand side of the left-hand window; this year it was still in pretty good condition in May when I began watching.  I also kept an eye on a new nest on the right-hand side of the right-hand window.  This was just a fragment on 12 May when I began.

RH nest being built

Right-hand nest being built, 12 May

It soon caught up with the left-hand nest and two weeks later I could see a bird peeping out, probably sitting on eggs.

RH nest baby

Right-hand nest with bird, 26 May

I watched the nests regularly, for about five minutes a time, and the activities around each were similar.  On 16 June both had birds in the vicinity, and on 22 and 30 June both had birds feeding young.  The babies were hanging out, eager to be fed.

LH nest feeding

Feeding on left-hand nest

And then on 2 July they were gone.  Last year I noted that the left-hand nest was empty by 30 June.

But I can hope for second broods: last year they were back again in July.  So I’ll keep watching.  And meanwhile, there’s a swallow nesting in the porch in the house to the right (behind the black car in the picture showing the cottages).

Update: this evening (3 July) the young were back in the nest being fed by the parents, and this is common as I learn from the RSPB website.

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Worcestershire’s welcome to walking

I had not known that the bells of Hanbury church in Worcestershire were the ones used for The Archers.  

5 Hanbury church

Hanbury church

This was just one of many things I learned on the Worcestershire Ramblers’ Welcome to Walking weekend, based on the National Trust’s magnificent Hanbury Hall, about three miles east of Droitwich.

1 Hanbury Hall

Hanbury Hall

Like all Ramblers Areas, the Worcestershire Area wants to encourage more people to go walking, and more walkers to join the Ramblers.  It has set a great example by organising a weekend of public walks to encourage people to join us.

People met and registered at the Ramblers’ gazebo in the car-park.

4 car park

Registration desk

The National Trust allowed all who registered to enter the grounds of the hall for free, and the walkers set off from the ornate little gatehouse at the entrance to the gardens.

2 gatehouse

While we were waiting a baby robin came and sat on my rucksack.  There was also a spotted flycatcher flitting around.

3 baby robin

Baby robin

There were three walks: nine, six and three miles.  As each walk set off I gave a talk about what the Ramblers achieves nationally: lobbying for more access, getting paths reopened and championing our Ramblers’ manifesto for walkers.

I went on the three-mile walk and was delighted that the new MP for Redditch, Rachel Maclean, and Tom Baker-Price (county councillor for Arrow Valley East, and Redditch Borough Councillor for Headless Cross and Oakenshaw) came with us for part of the way. Rachel is a keen walker and wants to learn more about the Ramblers and our work for public access to be part of the post-Brexit agricultural package.

8 Rachel and Tom

Rachel and Tom

We walked over the park to the impressive Hanbury Church, at the top of an escarpment with a view from the Cotswolds to Bredon Hill, May Hill and the Malverns.

7 view

The church door was decorated with flowers.

6 church door


On the way back the view opened out even further to embrace the Abberley Hills and Clee Hill in Shropshire.

We stopped for lunch by a monument to ‘Allan’ and ‘Pulpit’ which may have been a dog and a horse belonging to the Hanbury family.

9 monument to pets

Monument to pets

On the way back we encountered a difficult, wobbly stile which I have reported to Worcestershire County Council.

10 Stile

Wobbly stile with tricky step

We returned to the hall and a complementary tea from the National Trust.

The event was the inspiration of the Area chair, Clare Stallard.

11 Clare

Clare Stallard

It was particularly good that the National Trust were willing to cooperate with free entry and tea.  It made the event thoroughly welcoming and I hope that many people discovered the joys of walking in Worcestershire.  Congratulations to Worcestershire Ramblers for pioneering this great idea.

Update: the Ramblers tell me that over the weekend they were joined by 29 walkers who were new to the Ramblers and that three of them have joined.

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Ian’s day

On Saturday 10 June friends of the late Ian Mercer gathered on Dartmoor to celebrate all that he gave us.  They came from many parts of the country, and many parts of his varied and rich life.

I helped to organise the day, with Kevin Bishop, Dartmoor National Park Officer (the post Ian held for 17 years), Andrew Cooper of Devon Wildlife Trust and Rob Lucas of the Field Studies Council (Ian was president of both organisations).  We had arranged a choice of walks in the morning and a gathering at Princetown at lunchtime, with a further walk in the afternoon.

With Sue Goodfellow, who worked for over 30 years as the national park authority’s ecologist and latterly as Director of Park Management and Director of Conservation, I led a walk from Venford Reservoir car-park to Bench Tor, and down into White Wood following the ‘pipeline route’ (which takes water from the reservoir towards Paignton). Other walks on offer were to Fox Tor mire (but not across it!) at Swincombe, and Lynton’s Quarry near Two Bridges.

All the walks were related to Ian’s interests and achievements, but ours was the most popular with over 40 joining us including many of Ian’s and his wife Pam’s relatives.

3 Bench Tor

On the slopes of Bench Tor

The day was not promising.  I had driven across Dartmoor from the west in mist and rain. But it cleared slightly as I reached Venford, and we did not let the weather affect our plans. In fact the sun glimmered through the gentle rain and the mist hung over the hills creating a rare ethereal atmosphere.  The rain was sufficient to make photography difficult, with constant drops on my camera lens as you can see from my photos here.

Although Sue and I were billed as joint leaders, Sue did most of the leading and explaining, in a low-key and informative manner.

1 Sue in car park

Sue Goodfellow introduces the walk

This was truly Ian’s walk; along the way we remembered his work as a naturalist, a geographer,  Dartmoor National Park officer and chairman of the Dartmoor Commoners’ Council.  Sue explained how Ian was ahead of his time: 40 years ago he was thinking about the relationship between farming, landscape and access and putting this into practice.  The Dartmoor National Park Authority bought Holne Moor in 1975 and Ian became Steward of the Manor of Holne, a role of which he was very proud.

2 S Devons

South Devon cattle on Holne Moor

As we strolled up the slope of Bench Tor we stopped to listen to Holne commoner Phil Cleave on the importance of grazing to regulate the vegetation, for landscape, access and archaeology.  The commoners had a great respect for Ian and his ideas for management of the commons.

Peter Beacham, chairman of the Devonshire Association and former historic buildings officer for Devon County Council who had known Ian for 50 years, spoke about Ian’s appreciation of the historic landscape of Dartmoor. Ian facilitated pioneering work on Dartmoor’s ancient field boundaries, known as reaves, by Andrew Fleming on Holne Moor in the late 1970s.  Under Peter’s gentle tuition, Ian also learnt the value of the moor’s historic buildings.

2a Peter Beacham CC

Peter Beacham addresses us © Chris Chapman

We reached the top of Bench Tor.  The mist hung over the valley, but we could just see the outline of the slope on the other side of the River Dart with its plunging oakwoods.

Sue, Pam and I had recced the walk in April on a glorious day when the visibility was wonderful, as you can see in the two photos below.

from Bench TorFrom Bench Tor 2

Today was different but no less lovely.

3a on Bench Tor

On Bench Tor

Then we followed the slope down to White Wood, with its twisted oaks and mossy rocks. I saw a tree pipit and knew that Ian would have been pleased.  He used to lead dawn-chorus bird-walks here and he put up nestboxes for pied flycatchers.

4 White Wood

In White Wood

Sue pointed out experimental research plots which Ian had fenced in order to study the effect of the removal of grazing, and charcoal-burners’ platforms which were studied by Nick Atkinson, Ian’s successor as park officer.

5 White Wood

We returned to the car-park and then headed to Princetown as the weather deteriorated. We met in the ballroom at the Duchy Hotel, which is leased by the Dartmoor National Park Authority, with food provided by Justine Colton of Tor Royal.  It was a fabulous gathering of people many of whom had not seen each other for some time, and I was glad that we had all been issued with name-labels as it made the meeting and greeting so much easier.  We could have chatted all day.  How Ian would have loved it.

Kevin Bishop welcomed us all and spoke about Ian.

7 Kevin speaking CC

Kevin Bishop speaking ©Chris Chapman

He explained that the ballroom was being named the Ian Mercer Room.

IDM room

Then he invited Pam to unveil the intepretation panel which briefly tells Ian’s story.

6 Pam and plaque

Pam unveils the panel











Other speakers were Geoff Hearnden, former chairman of the Devon Wildlife Trust; Fiona Reynolds, former chief of the Campaign for National Parks, CPRE and the National Trust; David Butterworth, the Yorkshire Dales National Park Officer; Rob Lucas, chief executive of the Field Studies Council; Tom Mercer, one of Ian’s sons; and Maurice Retallick, Dartmoor commoner and long-standing member of the Dartmoor National Park Authority.  All had tales to tell, some very funny, of Ian at work, in the pub and with his family.

I wound up with my own memories of Ian and invited the 100+ friends and colleagues of Ian to raise their glasses as I gave his favourite toast:

May you live long and die the same length.  May heaven bless you and the devil miss you and balls to the girl who wouldn’t kiss you.

Thank you Ian, your memory lives on in those many individuals and organisations whom you influenced and inspired more than you ever knew.

Posted in Access, Birds, commons, Dartmoor, National parks, Natural history, wild country | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Radical Ramblers on Black Down

The Radical Ramblers, a long-standing group of left-wing walkers led by Alan (Lord) Haworth, visited Black Down common in West Sussex on 17 June. I have often joined them in Scotland, on the annual walk to celebrate the life and achievements of our much-loved leader, the late John Smith, so it was a change to be in lowland England.

Actually, it wasn’t really lowland: our aim was to find the trig point on top of Black Down, which is a Marilyn, (a mountain or hill of any height with a drop of 150 metres or 492 feet on all sides).  The trig point on Black Down is 280 metres. Surprisingly, it is the highest point in the South Downs National Park.

2 at trig point

Sign at the trig point

We started at Haslemere station and approached the down along the sunken Tennyson’s Lane, following the Serpent Trail.  After we had walked some way across the heathland, Alan began looking for the trig point and Radical Ramblers dispersed in all directions, as is their wont.  It was a bit like the hunt for the woozle.

1 looking for trig point

The hunt for the trig point

At last Alan found the trig, among trees.  If we had stayed on the track we would have come to it more easily.

There must once have been a view from here, but it is now surrounded by trees.

Trig point by Alan

At the trig point

We stopped here for lunch and then went on to the Temple of the Winds.  This is on the prow of the hill with a magnificent view south to the chalk downs of Ditchling Beacon and Chanctonbury Ring.  The view was, apparently, much enjoyed by Tennyson who lied at Aldworth House on the east side of the down.

6 view from temple

5 view from temple

There is a semi-circular stone bench which is dedicated to Mable, the wife of Edward Hunter, who bought the land and gave it to the National Trust in 1944.

13 bench

Edward was no relation of Robert Hunter, solicitor to the Open Spaces Society who later founded the National Trust and lived for 30 years in Haslemere.  Edward was a printing magnate from Frensham; he was appalled by proposals to construct a road across the Black Down ridge to a café at the end of the promontory, causing him to buy 500 acres in 1942.  (Thanks to the Black Down and Hindhead supporters of the National Trust for this information.)

7 radicals

Radical Ramblers enjoy the bench

We went back by a different route, largely following the Sussex Border Path.  We crossed a meadow south of Valewood Farm House. This is National Trust land with public access beyond the rights of way.

11 common

It had a fine collection of heath spotted orchids.

12 orchids

As we came back through Haslemere we paused to watch a cricket match.  The ball came whizzing over the boundary, and after some searching we found it stuck in a tree next to the footpath.  Walkers have their advantages.

12 cricket

Cricket match



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Barossa blitz

A huddle of about 20 birdwatchers gathered at the end of Kings Ride at Camberley in Surrey, for the annual nightjar survey on Barossa and Poors Allotment military training area on 12 June.  

1 gathering

At the end of King’s Ride

Ben Habgood of Surrey Wildlife Trust, who leads the surveys, asked us to meet at 8.30pm so, as usual, I got there early to see what birds were around.  I went to the spot where I have seen dartford warblers in the past but was disappointed to find the heather was being swamped by fir trees, making it a less favourable habitat for dartfords, and I didn’t see one.

Ben explained what we were to do and where we were going.  The territory was divided into seven zones.  This time I was to go with Bill to zone 7, in the north-west corner, which was within the military live-firing area, known as the range-danger area or RDA.  I was pleased to be going somewhere new.

2 Ben explains

Ben explains

James Adler from Surrey Wildlife Trust drove Bill and me to zone 7.  We were to walk a triangle in the cleared area of heathland and record all the churring nightjars and any other wildlife.


Our triangular walk is shown by the yellow line

James dropped us at about 9.20; it was still daylight.

4 territory

Bill was familiar with this area as he comes here often, by agreement with the Ministry of Defence.  He knows where you might see dartford warblers and firecrest, but sadly we saw neither.

7 Dartford territory

Dartford warbler territory

We were quite close to the noisy A321 Sandhurst bypass with the constant hum of traffic. Our first nightjar began churring at about 9.45, some way off.  As we walked on we heard others, and also saw woodcock.

6 territoryThere was a magnificent sunset with the trees outlined against the sky.

8 getting darkWe reckoned we heard five nightjars churring from all parts of the site.  Some did their flight call too.  At the very end we saw one fly down from a tree to the ground.

James came to collect us at 10.40.  He said that four to five nightjars was the usual number for zone 7.   We rejoined the others at Kings Ride and heard how they fared.  It sounded like it had been another successful evening.  I certainly enjoyed my twilight walk over the heath.

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The world of commons conferences

The Countryside and Community Research Institute of Gloucestershire University has published an e-book on the biennial, global conferences of the International Association of the Study of the Commons (IASC).  

It is by John Powell and Chris Short of CCRI, and me, and includes many of the blogs we wrote during the conferences. It is called A Companion to IASC Commons Conferences and you can download it here.

Commons e-book cover

I was a bit of a latecomer.  My first attendance at an IASC conference was the one held in 2008 at Cheltenham, which was organised by CCRI.  Here is my note from the e-book about my introduction to the world of IASC and its conferences.

Global concept
Although I had been working on commons for the Open Spaces Society for 24 years, my knowledge of commons as a global concept, extending beyond land and water, was woefully inadequate in the year 2008.  That all changed when I received an invitation from Graham Bathe of Natural England (NE), who was hosting a pre-conference workshop.  I was to join speakers from NE, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Federation of Cumbria Commoners, the theme being ‘Connecting the UK’s Ancient and Contemporary Commons’.

John, Ruth and Chris

John Powell, Ruth Meinzen-Dick and Chris Short on the slopes of Mount Fuji, IASC conference in Japan, 2013

I was not familiar with addressing an international audience, but it was extremely rewarding; there was an immense level of interest and I was surprised and pleased to learn that many delegates were familiar with Lord Eversley’s book of 1910: Commons, Forests and Footpaths—for some it was bedtime reading!

But even more interesting for me was the opportunity to take part in the policy forum in the big marquee on the following day.  It was about ‘Creating a political voice for the commons’ and enabled me to talk about the campaigning which is dear to my heart.  It was organised by Ruth Meinzen-Dick and Stephan Dorhn from Collective Action and Property Rights (Capri), and there were speakers from United Nations, Africa and India.

Different meanings
It was then that I began to appreciate that commons have different meanings in different nations, and that they are under threat worldwide.  In England and Wales commons are probably safer when they are owned or managed by public bodies, but I learnt that elsewhere it is the opposite: governments are stealing commons from the people.

The Cheltenham conference opened my eyes to the world of commons and shortly afterwards I joined the IASC and have attended every biennial conference since.

Posted in commons, International Association for the Study of the Commons, Open Spaces Society | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments