Meetings are held at Haslemere
Educational Museum, High Street, Haslemere and with the exception
of the AGM, are open to both Museum and Natural History Society members without charge.
Click here for directions to Haslemere Museum.
Guests are always welcome, and the Society would be grateful for a donation of £4.00 from non-members.
A MODERN NATURAL HISTORY OF SELBORNE: BRINGING GILBERT WHITE’S WORK UP TO DATE
Speaker: Dr June Chatfield
The Revd. Gilbert White’s Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, published in 1789 and still in print, is a classic of science and English writing and his village still retains its attraction. In the last two centuries there have been changes in land-use, flora and fauna as well as increasing knowledge on identification and ecology. Using field notes since 1978 and modern background we can endorse the importance of White’s work and add to it, while leaving plenty of scope for naturalists of the future to continue the recording.
13th 2.15 p.m.
THE NATURAL HISTORY OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES – AWAY FROM ROAD AND RAIL
Speaker: Lee Morgan
For centuries the vast wilderness of the Canadian Rockies has captivated the minds of countless intrepid explorers, scientists and prospectors alike. Even today, its spectacular snow-capped peaks, thundering waterfalls, turquoise glacial rivers and lakes and its vast acreages of dense boreal forest continue to lure many millions of visitors to these mountains each year. It is this great thirst for wilderness that fuels the vast network of coach and railway tours that busily shuttle many thousands of people to the great National Parks. For the discerning naturalist however the true delights of the Canadian Rocky Mountains can be found when one ventures beyond these honeypots and takes time to watch and wait. For it is away from the roads and rails that the very best wildlife of the Canadian Rockies can be found.
10th 2.15 p.m.
BIRDS AND WILDLIFE OF BELARUS
Speakers: Andrew Cleave
A tour of the vast forests, lakes and rivers of the land-locked former Soviet republic where traditional village life can still be found in the peaceful countryside. As well as a rich bird population Belarus has plenty of other wildlife and flora typical of eastern European lakes and forests. Dedicated conservationists are working hard to protect some of the species which are much rarer elsewhere in Europe and we will see some of the key sites for this work.
10th 2.15 p.m.
MARIANNE NORTH AND THE RESTORATION OF HER GALLERY AT KEW GARDENS
Speaker: Jonathan Farley ACR
The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are home to the Marianne North Gallery which was purpose-built to house the artist’s paintings. Marianne North was a Victorian painter who travelled the world, recording more than 900 species of plants in their natural habitats. The 130 year old gallery was designed by her architect friend James Fergusson who based the building on Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Indian models. Marianne herself arranged the pictures closely in geographical order around the walls with a dado made from 246 strips of different timbers that she had collected on her travels.
Assisted by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Royal Botanic Gardens embarked on a programme to conserve and restore the Marianne North Gallery to its original Victorian splendour. Jonathan's talk will cover Marianne North's travels, her construction of the gallery, RBG Kew's restoration and the odd things he discovered along the way.
The talk is dedicated to our late Vice-President, Laura Ponsonby, whose passionate interest in Marianne North’s travels and paintings are reflected in her book on the artist.
AGM AND TALK
SOME WEST WEALD BIRDS: UPS AND DOWNS; SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS
Speaker: Dave Burges
Dave spends much time on Black Down, at the Devil’s Punchbowl and Gibbet Hill.
He told of birds doing well on Black Down, such as stonechat and Dartford warbler, of others that are quite rare in that area such as yellowhammer and of others that have bounced back and now quite common such as buzzard and sparrowhawk. Other birds doing well in our area are peregrine falcon, red kite and firecrest, while some, such as wood warbler, lesser spotted woodpecker and hen harrier are in decline.
October sees ring ouzels regularly visiting Black Down stopping to refuel on their migration route.
A fascinating and informative talk.
THE BIRDING BUCKET LIST
Speaker: Keith Betton
Having widely travelled the world and seen over 8,000 species of birds, Keith selected 20 countries he would recommend as having amazing birds. The accompanying photographs were superb.
Included were: Shetland where the Arctic tern’s migration journeys cover more miles than any other species; the Netherlands home to the bluethroat; Thailand where Gurney’s pitta once thought to be extinct was re-discovered; Seychelles where a breeding programme has saved the magpie robin; and Alaska, home to Tengmalm’s owl which hides its prey in the snow and later defrosts this by its own body heat.
COULTERS DEAN – A JEWEL IN THE HAMPSHIRE DOWNS
Speakers: Dianne and Martin Mitchell
Martin described the history and geology of Coulters Dean, on the West-facing slope of an open valley high in the Downs, South of Buriton. It is now a Hampshire Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve maintained by volunteers. It has 6 acres of semi-natural upper woodland and 4 acres of lower grassland slope above a farmed valley.
The conditions are colder than many other sites, so plants flower later. Chalk grassland needs a permeable, alkaline chalk substrate with a very thin layer of infertile soil. This enables specialised plants to grow with little competition. Sheep, and sometimes rabbits, are used to graze any taller grass and scrub. 98% of chalk grassland was lost due to forestry following WWI and intensive farming for food during WWII. Later neglect allowed shrubs to shade out small, specialised plants.
Coulters Dean was recognised for its remaining specialised chalk grassland diversity and became an SSSI in 1951, and was bought by the Hampshire Wildlife Trust, who organise sheep grazing and working parties to control the scrub.
Dianne described the seasonal wildlife. The orchid numbers rapidly increased with 11 types including bee, fly, greater butterfly and bird’s nest orchids. milkwort, squinancywort, cowslips, fairy flax and rock roses grow in the short grass in spring. Later come the thymes (on ant hills), round headed rampion, scabious and knapweeds. Many insects and butterflies are associated with their pollination, including brown argus, common blue, green hairstreak, chalk hill blues and dingy skippers.
In the mainly beech woodland and edges, are found helleborines, twayblades, nettle-leaved bellflowers, native aquilegia and rarer birds nest orchids. There are many birds and deer, and even the rare cheese snail, together with a diversity of invertebrates.
WILD KEW and POLLINATION POWER
Speaker: Heather Angel
On a cold wintry day an audience of over 70 enjoyed the special opportunity to see some of Heather’s amazing wildlife photographs.
The first half of her talk was an illustration of a year’s wildlife photography at Kew that she has documented in her book Wild Kew. Initially she moved through the year’s seasons with images such as a sea of bluebells, the lakes with their hatchlings and fish, autumnal misty mornings, peacocks displaying, swans courting and mating and a little grebe surrounded by ice.
This was followed by an extensive array of photographs depicting insects, birds and wildfowl, mammals; trees and leaves and many flowers. These included ladybird larva, a heron eating a duckling, snake’s head fritillaries, sunlight through a rainbow chard leaf and the enormous titan arum lily.
In the second half, Heather concentrated on pollination, the subject of her latest book Pollination Power. Using amazing macro images, she showed how flowers attract their pollinators using a wide range of advertising techniques (shape, colour, scent and nectar rewards) to enable pollen to be transferred from anthers to stigmas, flower to flower. The use of an ultra violet flash reveals the UV floral guides pointing towards the nectar, unseen by the human eye but visible to insects. The variety of pollinators was surprising; honey bees, bumble bees, hoverflies, hornets, butterflies, beetles, hummingbirds and even geckos.
All present must have been very impressed by the beautiful, striking and memorable images we were shown and the incredible skill of Heather Angel’s photography.
BACK FROM THE BRINK – THE BERMUDA PETREL AND ITS EXTRAORDINARY RETURN FROM NEAR EXTINCTION
Speaker: Andrew Cleave
Andrew made a welcome return to talk to the Society. He introduced his subject with the sad statistic that in the 1950s these birds were thought to be extinct. There are now 100 breeding pairs.
365 bird species have been recorded on Bermuda: 19 of them are permanently resident, 8 are native, three visit to breed, and two are endemic. When a decline was observed in the numbers of Bermuda petrels, it was found that introduced species were in competition with them. When they were eventually thought to be extinct Dr David Wingate followed up reports of sightings from America, researched records and realised that the birds were most successful where there were no rats, cats or dogs, conditions which he worked hard to replicate on Bermuda’s Nonsuch Island. Bermuda petrels, the size of a Manx shearwater, are wide-ranging birds, preferring to come to land under cover of darkness. They are long-winged with good eyesight, are nocturnal, and can live for 50 years. Bermuda’s Cooper’s Island is now a nature reserve and the Parks Department is working to protect the petrel’s burrows from the Bermuda white-tailed tropicbird which out-competes it.
In the second part of his talk Andrew’s stunning photographs concentrated on Bermuda’s other birds, as well as lizards, spiders, plants and some of its seven species of butterfly – all bathed in glorious sunshine.
AGM AND TALK
After the meeting there was a talk by Jill Fry on Butterflies and Flowers of the Weald.
Jill introduced her subject with a description of the geology which influences the flora. With the aid of geological maps, she showed the bands of chalk, Bargate beds and clay which led to a patchwork of vegetation.
Illustrated with delightful photographs, Jill took her audience through the seasons in old woodlands of hazel and alder coppice. Snowdrops were followed by lesser celandine, barren strawberry, town hall clock, opposite-leaved saxifrage, marsh marigold, wild currant and wood anemone. Among the primroses were wood goldilocks. Butterflies in the clearings included brimstone, peacock and speckled wood. Jill showed the distinguishing leaves of common spotted and early purple orchids at Tugley Wood. The less common Midland hawthorn could be found in the woods and the once-scarce wild service tree was to be found locally. Green hairstreak, wood white and pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies frequented woodland rides. The purple hairstreak would be seen on the ground and the purple emperor high in the trees or gathering salts on the ground.
Jill’s tour round the Wealden woodland through the seasons had shown how rich is the fauna and flora.
IN SEARCH OF THE JAGUAR IN THE PANTANAL, BRAZIL
Speaker: John Richardson
In his talk member John showed beautiful photographs taken on his visit to the Pantanal region of central-western Brazil in October 2011. His great interest is birds. This location encompasses the largest wetland area in the world and is a mosaic of flooded grasslands, savannas and tropical forests. John photographed from boats, hides and on foot aided by the essential knowledge of local guides.
There were large birds, many water-birds with five species of heron and three species of ibis, brightly-coloured birds and some birds named after their call. John’s favourite was the black-necked hawk a member of the buzzard (Buteo) family.
John was able to photograph the fearsome black caiman, iguanas, a red-footed tortoise, a tree frog and a sight seldom seen – a morpho butterfly with its turquoise and black-edged wings spread wide open. Mammals included: capybara (the largest rodent in the world); a giant anteater; coati mundi, a tapir, a brown howler monkey, a nine-banded armadillo, Brockett and marsh Deer; and a female giant otter reluctant to share a five-foot eel with her two offspring.
The audience particularly appreciated the series of photographs of a female jaguar, possibly pregnant. First seen asleep on a river bank, she was unconcerned at human presence. She roused herself, turned around, slept again, then yawned widely and drank from the river before sedately disappearing into the forest.
WOODLAND CRAFTS IN LYNCHMERE – THEN AND NOW
Speaker: Mark Allery
50 members and guests of the Society enjoyed a talk given by Mark Allery, Bodger, Scythesman and Woodsman on Lynchmere Commons.
Lynchmere Commons is an area of 307 acres covering Lynchmere, Stanley and part of Marley Common. Aerial photographs side by side, taken in 1945 and 2013, clearly showed how much the area has changed. It was devoid of trees in 1945. It now has a good number of trees. Restoration has been ongoing for 15 years and is managed almost entirely by volunteers. Tasks include scrub clearance, bracken control and general renovation.
A hedge has been laid and a hazel coppice planted, the latter funded by Haslemere Natural History Society.
Common tools that would have been used by woodsmen were horses, shavers, breaks, dogs, beetles, cleeves, froes, grips and stall engines. Some of the products made would have been besoms, chair legs, wooden toys and shovels, and in fact Mark still makes these today. He explained about bodging which is the process of turning wood to make chair legs using a pole lathe.
Native trees include ash, silver birch, hazel, oak and sweet chestnut.
Silver Birch – (‘it be the worst of all timbers’). For all its bad reputation, it grows where other trees will not and if well-seasoned is similar to oak. Few trees have as many uses, and it is very good for wildlife. Hammer Lane was once the centre of the besom making universe with many men employed as broom squires. Other uses for the silver birch are pimps (traditional form of firelighter made from birch brush or spray), benders (traditional woodland shelters) and faggots. It was also used to make all sorts of treen (general name for small wooden household items). As well as wooden products birch water, birch syrup and birch sap wine could be produced, one recipe for the latter dates back to 1675. Mark told his audience that in season on a sunny day a demi-john of sap could be collected in about 1 day.
Beech - Is commonly used for bodging (making chair legs) although not in this area since most local beech trees grow on banks.
Elm – Used to be important for wheelwrights, but sadly has disappeared.
Hazel and Sweet Chestnut – These are used extensively for coppicing; hazel is coppiced in a 7 year cycle and sweet chestnut in a 12 year cycle. The advantage of coppicing is that it opens up the woodland floor, letting in light. It takes about 20 years from planting before the wood can be used for such things as hazel hurdles, roof shingles and bee skeps. Sweet chestnut coppice grows about 30’ tall and shavings can be used for thatching.
Ash – A very resilient wood used for coach building, aircraft frames, wheels, ladders, tennis racquets, hay rakes and scythes.
To end this very interesting talk, a short video was shown of woodland crafts demonstrated at the Weald and Downland Museum.
THE WILDLIFE OF BAJA CALIFORNIA, MEXICO
Speaker: Lee Morgan
An audience of 60 or so members and guests were transported to the waters around the Mexican Peninsula State of Baja California when enthusiastic naturalist and wildlife tour guide, Lee Morgan described his experiences in that part of the world.
He explained how large numbers of grey whales migrate from the Arctic in order to breed in the three lagoons of the Baja and he told the audience that San Diego Harbour, at the head of the peninsula, is in itself rich in wildlife and it is sometimes difficult to encourage visitors to move out into open water, as they can become spellbound by the variety of birds and animals to be seen, including western grebe, ring-billed gull, snowy egret, brown pelican and Californian sea lion. On leaving the harbour it is quite usual to find bow riding dolphins such as sharp-beaked dolphins. It is believed that bow riding enables dolphins to feed quickly leaving them with ample time for play. He described how dolphins sometimes seem to ‘tease’ whales so that a bow is created which they can then ride. Delightful creatures indeed.
Some other cetaceans found in the waters of Baja California are hump back, fin, minke and, the largest of all, the blue whale. This massive animal might have a blow as high as 30ft and a tail 30ft wide, so big that they leave fluke prints like an eddy lingering on the surface. The total protection of the Baja California for the whales has been of massive benefit to many other animals.
Lee talked about the long line fishing industry and the adverse impact on many animals, including black-footed albatross, turtles and ocean sunfish. Magnificent frigate birds are also becoming rarer.
The first sighting of grey whales is usually in the San Ignacio lagoon. It was interested to learn that the blow of this animal is heart shaped; and good to know that the local fisherman stop fishing when the whales appear for breeding, when they are able to make a living from the tourists who flock in at this time.
Saturday 14th November
A LIFE ON THE OCEAN WAVES: WHY SEABIRDS LIKE SEYCHELLES
Speaker: Chris Feare
Around 60 members and guests were treated to Chris’ talk about a conservation project in which he is involved, focussing on the seabirds of the Seychelles, in particular the sooty tern.
Bird Island is privately owned thus offering a degree of protection for breeding colonies of sooty terns, red-footed boobies, brown noddies and bridal terns. All these birds are able to exist together on this small island since they have different nesting, breeding and roosting habits. Sooty terns like an open field. Sooty terns only lay one egg per clutch and the egg has a long incubation period (28 days) so egg predation is a real threat. Chick growth is slow and the bird will take five years to reach maturity, with only 25% of birds surviving to breed. Their plumage is not waterproof so they must surface feed without landing on the water, relying on predatory fish forcing small fry to the surface.
Most research information now comes from ringed birds, and since 1993 Chris and the team have been searching for ringed birds. With new technologies, such as geolocators which record light levels that can be used to determine location, and GPS loggers which can be attached to the birds, the team has been able to find out, for example, that sooty terns travel around all of the northern Indian Ocean, north of 23ºS. One bird had travelled 68,000km.
AGM AND TALK
Just under 50 members, having attended the AGM, listened with interest to the illustrated talk given by Matt Bramich, National Trust Senior Ranger (South Downs), based at Swan Barn Farm, who described his research into the adder population on Marley Common and Weavers Down.
In early spring he established numbers of Adders on both sites. Later in spring, by radio tracking, he followed the movements of 10 mature adults on Marley Common, shown on his maps. Several members accompanied him in his searches and photographed his finds.
The project was funded by HNHS which had paid for radio telemetry equipment (10 radio transmitters fixed by medical-grade adhesive dressings and a transreceiver) and extremely stout gloves through the legacy from Clare Britton .
2015 Saturday 14th
RETURN OF THE RED KITE - AND THE PEREGRINE FALCON
Speaker: Keith Betton Vice President of the British Trust for Ornithology and County Recorder for the Hampshire Ornithological Society.
The Lecture Hall was full to capacity when Society members, and a number of guests, gathered to hear Keith’s fascinating talk which began with an overview of the spread of the red kite. This magnificent bird was persecuted to extinction in the 1800s in England and Scotland, as it was mistakenly thought to kill farming stock. The only surviving birds were in Wales with ultimately only 25 pairs. Thanks to a reintroduction programme by the Nature Conservancy there are thought to be around 2,500 breeding pairs in the UK. Chicks from Spain were brought to the UK and kept in captivity until about 10 weeks old. Wing tags were attached to enable tracking before setting them free in selected areas, such as the Chilterns. It’s a real success story.
Keith used a series of striking photographs to illustrate his talk. He explained that Red Kites are scavengers, not killers, preferring to steal the kills of others. Far from killing farm stock, they do a good job of cleaning up dead animals.
They nest in tree forks, very high up, and in wooded areas well away from human disturbance. Their nests are untidy affairs. They can live for up to 25 years. Red kites roost in number of up to 50 birds – one roost site in Hampshire can be found just east of Basingstoke.
The Return of the
Following a short break we were treated to a second talk.
The first thing to note about the return of both birds is that we enabled the red kite to return, whilst the peregrines made it on their own. Peregrines were all but wiped out by egg removal initially. Racing pigeon owners particularly didn’t like peregrines - they are very partial to pigeons. During WW2 carrier pigeons were used for communication and an Act of Parliament was created to legalise shooting of peregrines. Happily this Act no longer exists. They were also greatly harmed by food containing pesticides which were ingested and built up in their bloodstream, preventing them from breeding successfully.
They favour upland and coastal areas and their flight is faster than any other bird worldwide reaching speeds of up to a staggering 200mph. The peregrine’s natural nesting site is cliffs and rocks, quarries being a favourite. But they regularly set up home on very high towers or tall buildings or electricity pylons. Keith has been responsible for setting up a number of nest boxes for birds where they seem to be having difficulty establishing a nest site. The chicks are ringed whenever possible and we were treated to a wonderful photograph which demonstrated how exhausting a business this was for one particular chick.
The meeting closed with some interesting questions from the audience.
2015 Saturday 14th
THE GARGANO - ITS AMAZING FAUNA AND FLORA
Speaker: Andrew Cleave
It was a pleasure to welcome back Andrew.
He delighted his audience with descriptions of the limestone mountain (Monte Sant’ Angelo), 3,000 feet above sea level, the cultivated flood plain below bordering the Adriatic on three sides and the countless flowers which inhabit them. The mountain, with its monastery and other historic buildings, had been the focus for the Crusades on their way to Fieste and then the Holy Land.
The lasting and over-riding impression of the area was of flower-filled meadows. Andrew described numerous orchids, the close-up photographs sometimes inset in a larger picture of the environment in which they grow. Gargano is rich in all wild flowers. The small bearded Iris lutescens was seen covering a whole field. Andrew described walking along ancient trackways, thought to be pilgrims’ paths, past wayside shrines, vineyards and olive groves.
The Gargano National Park covers a large wooded area. Wolves, deer and wild boar inhabit the forest. Pigs and goats inhabit Gargano as well as buffalo which produce the famous Mozarella cheese.
Butteflies were plenty including Queen of Spain fritillary, nettle tree, festoon, wood white, green hairstreak, swallowtail and scarce swallowtail, and various blues.
The profusion of flowers in Gargano which Andrew showed included yet more orchids, the small-flowered catchfly, the endemic Viola heterophylla, yellow star of Bethlehem, spotted rockrose, Gargano bellflower on the monastery wall; also hairy lupin, a field of Tulipa sylvestris and australis, Gladiolus in the woods, carpets of Cyclamen repandum and, in autumn, the scented C. hederifolium; also in the woods, shown to Andrew by a local family, a carpet of Paeonia mascula. There were acres of Narcissus poeticus and tazetta. On poor pasture there were thousands of the large lady orchid.
Andrew’s story moved to the sea port of Peschici and he showed how the locals used to fish using overhanging cliffs. Early in the morning he had seen a blue rock thrush and Alpine swifts. Other birds included the slender-billed and mediterranean gulls, the Kentish plover which breeds on the coast, black-winged stilt, short-toed lark. Andrew’s last photo of Evax pygmaea, a tiny white woolly plant pressed in a dense rosette against the ground, with yellow daisy-like flowers, ended a breathtaking and enchanting account of “the Orchid Capital of Europe”.
THE MEDMERRY SEA DEFENCES AND A NEW HABITAT FOR WILDLIFE
Speaker: Peter Hughes (RSPB Senior Warden, Medmerry and Pagham Harbour)
Peter Hughes kindly agreed to give this talk when Adrian Thomas (who had been booked in 2013) was moved to another posting.
He explained that the well-established wetland of Medmerry lay behind Bracklesham Bay and its shingle beach and associated flora. 25 hectares having SSSI status had been bought by the RSPB in 2006. Medmerry comprised marsh, arable farmland and managed grassland. It was a good place for migrants and there was a healthy population of water voles.
Because of the continuing risk that existing sea defences would be breached with consequent flooding, the Environment Agency had decided a long-term solution was needed. It decided to construct an inland flood bank behind the shingle in order to sustainably manage the flood risk, to create an intertidal habitat to offset losses elsewhere in the Solent, and to involve the local community.
Work on the five-mile stretch of sea wall had begun in 2010 and the project was eventually completed in 2014.
In early March everyone had been thrilled with the arrival of avocets: eight pairs had bred and there were delightful photos of them. Little ringed plover bred successfully. Black-winged stilts produced two eggs though, after an anxious time during incubation, hatching, and a few days near the nest, the parents took the young to a better habitat for food and it was not known whether the chicks survived. Peter said he had been amazed at how quickly marine life had colonised Medmerry.
An audience of eighty had been fascinated by Peter’s account of this amazing project.