Focusing on the Wildlife : Part 1

This month’s post will be focusing on wildlife.

The days are long and very warm, the risk of frost has gone (well I certainly hope it has), and the grounds are full of life. Although summer isn’t my favourite time of year (I’m not a huge fan of the heat) it is a great time to see all of the wildlife that is in and around Clayhill Arts. As I’ve mentioned before, providing excellent habitat for the wildlife is one of the most important things we are looking to achieve at Clayhill. As I’ve gone into more detail on this blog, I’ve decided to split it into two parts. The second part will be posted next month.

Hedgerows

Clayhill Arts is located within 140 acres of farmland.  This means that we have a lot of hedgerows around us which are ideal for wildlife.  Something that we are very keen on doing is creating wildlife corridors, and hedgerows are an important part of this. What I mean by wildlife corridors is having areas of food and shelter that are close to each other but not necessarily joined. So for example, in a country lane, birds can fly between the hedges on each side.

At Clayhill we have been breaking up some of the larger spaces with different trees, hedging and grasses/wildflowers. The hope is that this will attract more wildlife to us. Not only will wildlife feel safer, especially the birds, but it also provides different types of food for them and more nesting sites.

Next to the workshop we are creating quite a large wildlife friendly area.  There are already the hedgerows by the lane and a few large oak trees, I have planted three Rowan trees and a Euonymus tree, some shrubs that provide nectar and berries as well as some wildflowers and long grasses. This means there is a wide range of food for lots of different types of wildlife and the shelter they need to keep away from predators.

Wildflowers

It has been widely publicised that wildflowers have declined greatly in recent years. A huge number of different species use wildflowers as their habitat and food source so it is especially important for us to do whatever we can to increase their numbers. We have several areas at Clayhill that are left to grow wild so that we give the flowers and grasses as much chance to flourish as possible.

We have heavy clay soil here, the main downside is that it’s quite high in nutrients. Wildflowers need low nutrient soil to flourish, so when I cut them down, usually in mid to late August I need to remove all the cuttings. This stops the flowers from rotting into the ground and adding more nutrients.  To cut down these wild areas I use a power scythe.

This is much more suitable that a strimmer and makes light work of it all.  Once I’ve cut it all down I will leave the cuttings on the ground for a couple of days so that the seeds can drop to the soil. Then it is time to remove it all so the nutrients aren’t absorbed by the soil. When we get to the autumn I will sow some more Yellow Rattle seeds. Yellow Rattle is a parasitic annual flower. When planted in grasses it feeds of their roots to stop them from growing too vigorously which allows the wildflowers more space to grow. Wildflower meadows take years to establish so we are in it for the long haul. It’s a very big job to manage but it will be worth the effort.

Ponds and Water

At Clayhill we have a very large pond, approximately an acre in size. This is another great space for wildlife. It is fed by springs as well as run off from the surrounding fields when it rains.

Almost four years ago I spent a couple of months tidying the pond, ensuring it is visible all the way around it. One of the main jobs I’m doing at the moment is clearing the blanket weed. By clearing the overgrown trees and hedges from the pond it has allowed more sunlight in, which has helped the weed grow. One of the downsides to the work I have done.  When I’ve got this is under control, I will be adding some plants. There are a lot of water lilies in the corner of the pond that I need to divide and spread out around the pond to add some colour. I will also be planting some reeds into the inlets from the fields. Over the years there have been fertilisers added to the crops which eventually get washed off and end up in the pond. The reeds will help filter this out and the seed heads will be good for the birds.

Having a pond greatly increases wildlife as there are different species that are attracted to water. With this in mind we were very keen to add more ponds to the site. We now have four small ponds around the grounds;

by the cut flowers

in the walled garden

close to the studio

and one by the workshop.

The added bonus of having ponds by the cut flowers and in the walled garden is that they will attract frogs, toads and other animals that will really enjoy the slugs and snails that can cause so much damage.

Chris Drew

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