So earlier this week, on Tuesday, I went to my local reserve – College lake-for some volunteering. I decided to volunteer here as I not only thought the reserve was amazingly beautiful, but I also thought that the wildlife that I had seen there, particularly in the avian sector, was absolutely brilliant.
College lake nature reserve, as most of you probably know, is a wildlife trust nature reserve that is part of the BBO (Berks, Bucks and Oxfordshire) Wildlife trust; the reserve itself is situated in Tring, and is surrounded by such glorious countryside scenery it even looks beautiful when drenched in the middle of a downpour (which, as it happens, was the situation I was put in when I turned up). The first time I visited this reserve I immediately fell in love with the valley like collection of lakes and islands that made up the amazing wetland habitat that existed there. The reserve also boasts a fantastic array of meadows and fields, supporting hundreds of thousands of wildflowers, and therefore millions of insects- such as buff tailed bumblebees and poplar leaf beetles- not to mention the hundreds of species of butterflies that drift lazily through the fields, a few being peacocks, admirals and tortoiseshells.
And remember I said I was impressed by the avian sector?, well College lake is known for its large population of lapwings, absolutely beautiful birds displaying their summer plumage- a glorious blend of blacks, blues and purples set off by the mottled neck and head, and capped by the elegant black hat extending into a wispy crest.
So you can probably imagine why I wanted to volunteer at this nature reserve, another reason being that its a particularly well managed reserve, but also tucked out of the way, therefore not overrun with flocks of birders (no pun intended!)- this means that it is certainly very peaceful and the perfect environment for wildlife and humans to thrive side by side (lots of wildlife and not many people).
Unfortunately, despite all of my apparent longing to volunteer in this brilliant reserve, I have a particular trait which has not served me well as a naturalist- I seem to not get on very well with the concept of time, and therefore ended up being a lot later than any of the other volunteers. But we set off all the same, having just stopped for a short break due to the heavens really giving it their all! (it really was raining hard, and everything was soaked) – we made our way up to the barn area for a task which apparently had not been done by the volunteers I was with, and certainly not by me in any case; we were to thrash the corn.
Now, don’t go conjuring up images of me laying about left, right and centre in a soaking wet cornfield with a cane! Thrashing corn is simply when you crush the corn in such a way that you separate the corn seeds from the corn plant, these seeds are then taken and then sown back into the soil so as to increase the corn that grows, this is extremely useful for the insects in particular but also the other animals that inhabit the area- as it also increase the amount of wildflowers that grow in the area and the corn itself, together with the flowers provide much needed resources in the form of food (nectar and pollen), and nest building material (grass and other plant stems are useful to many species of bumblebee in this way) thus providing a very useful habitat for many insects and other organisms (hedgehogs for example will forage in long grass, as it conceals them from more predatory creatures), the old corn plant is then thrown as fertiliser.
With this knowledge in mind we all set about bringing piles of dried corn heads to the work benches, we were then supplied with highly professional blocks of wood, which we would use to ‘thrash’ the corn, thus separating the seeds from the heads into piles. During this exercise we all began to develop different techniques for thrashing the corn as we were there for what seemed like ages, and also found time to talk about various topics regarding wildlife and nature – I found it all very interesting indeed, and the other volunteers were all excellent company- all making for a very enjoyable experience.
After we’d finished our extended ‘thrashing’, one of the other volunteers, who had been at this reserve longer than I had, took me to see what all of this was about; he took me along a path which passed by a grassy fence that bordered a railway; and apparently – further down on this very track was where the famous ‘Great Train Robbery’ of 1963 took place, fascinating stuff that!.
Anyway, back to the reason of our walk; we reached a gate which led onto a massive orchard, it truly was enormous – part was great swathes of corn field, whilst the other parts were covered with great blankets of wild flowers- there were even some young straggly sunflowers poking out their pale heads towards the afternoon sun!. Sadly at this point I missed a yellowhammer pointed out by one of the wardens of the reserve I was so taken in by the view!.
And finally the last part of the walk was spent having a nice chat with the warden about my local badger sett, hedgehogs and a species of burrowing bumblebee that existed on the reserve in the rocky sides of an old quarry. It was a really great experience, and I hope to come back in the future and volunteer at this reserve…and blog about these experiences too!.