Plym Valley Volunteers 1 – 0 Laurel

Volunteers were out in force last weekend in Plymbridge Woods assisting the Rangers with the continuing task of laurel bashing and burning.

On Saturday, we were joined by students from Plymouth University including members of the Environmental Society from the Students’ Union. This formed part of our new programme of volunteering opportunities available to the students throughout the academic year. Sunday saw South Devon National Trust Volunteers lending a helping hand, as they regularly do with many tasks here in the Plym Valley and other NT properties. Both groups attacked this prolific invader of native woodlands with great energy and determination, making a considerable dent in our efforts to eradicate this species from Plymbridge Woods.

Students from the University of Plymouth

South Devon National Trust Volunteers

Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) is native to the Balkans (Southeastern Europe) but has been grown for ornamental purposes across Europe and has become naturalised in open woodland. Due to its vigorous growth habits and adaptability to varying climatic conditions, it out competes our native plant species for space and light. It also has limited value to our native fauna. Eventually, we will replant areas previously dominated by laurel with native tree species in order to enhance the biodiversity of the woodland.




Europe’s smallest bird arrives

Two goldcrests were spotted and heard in woods yesterday afternoon, indicating that autumn has arrived. Plymbridge’s habitat of broadleaf woodland with nearby conifers is perfect for the UK’s smallest songbird.

Goldcrests weigh around 5-6g and travel distances exceeding 1,000km. Last year a ringed goldcrest was recorded crossing the North Sea from Norway, to Lincolnshire in just two days. That’s 665km, from a bird 9cm long, with a 15cm wingspan!

They’ll often associate with foraging flocks of tits, nuthatches, and treecreepers. The goldcrest’s call is thin and high-pitched (listen to it here), and they spend most of their time in the tree canopy. (Photograph taken by Nigel Climpson)

Mellow fruitfulness

Autumn is beginning to show its wares. I spotted this fine show of Fly Agaric on the side of the path to Sharpe Tor at Castle Drogo. These wonderful fungi are a real herald of autumn their bright red colour telling everybody to look out we are poisonous. Although seldom lethal they will make you very unwell. Their close relatives in the Amanita family the Death Cap and Panther Cap will be lethal however.

Eating fungi can be very rewarding and on the continent everybody does it. The problem is you do need to know what you are doing or suffer the consequences. Interestingly with some fungi two people can sit down to the same plate one can be fine the other suffer severe sickness. Some fungi can be fine unless you have alcohol with them.

We have some fugal forays in our events this Autumn its great to go out with an expert and learn about these amazing things. Did you know that the single biggest living organism is a fungus. A fungus is like an apple tree growing underground with its branches and twigs growing through the soil the ‘mushroom’ is the fruiting body like the trees apples popping out above the soil.


The parasol mushroom is an elegant beast sometimes standing over a foot above the ground it is very difficult to confuse with anything else and very good to eat.

One of my favorites is the giant puff ball it is impossible to mix up with anything else and if picked young, sliced and fried with butter and garlic is to die for. Hmm probably not the best way to say that.

We have a fungal foray at Hembury woods on the 9th of October and another on the 23rd October at Castle Drogo. See our web site for more details.

All in a days work

One of the great things about my job is that you never know quite what you are going to be doing next.

A call from one of my colleagues a swarm of bees had take up residence on a fence post right next to one of our footpaths. With quite a few people and dogs using the path we really needed to get them moved, luckily I am also a bee keeper in my spare time. So a quick dash home to pick up bee-suit, gloves, box and some frames and back to the bees.

Its aways a bit of a challenge getting a swarm in as they can be a bit unpredictable and can suddenly decide to fly off to somewhere else so its pays to be quiet and gentle.

Most swarms tend to be quite good natured as when they leave home they fill their little bellies full of honey for the journey and like most up use we are a bit dozy when we have a full tum.

After a bit of thought I put the box, called a nucleus box which has 5 frames of wax foundation for the bees to build combe on, next to the bottom of the post and gently encouraged a few bees towards the box. They soon got the smell of the wax and headed in. The message soon spread by bee twitter, face book or however they do it and a steady stream of bees started heading into their new temporary home .

I waited until they were mostly inside and then put the box back in the trees away from the path and left them till dusk. The bees have a gland on their abdomen that exudes a scent.  Some bees will be tasked, who knows how, to stand at the hive entrance with their backsides in the air fanning with their wings. This sends the scent out on the wind and will give a scent trail for any bees left out there to return to the hive.

When they were all tucked up at dusk I sealed the entrance with gauze and transported the swarm back to my apiary.  Next day after they had settled down I transferred the frames with all the bees on into a permanent hive where they can settle down and make me lots of honey. Quite a good days work.





Award for Butterfly conservation

Presentation of the certificates. From left Richard Smith, Hazel Coleridge, Carl Allerfeldt, John Mills, Mick Jones, Dr Nigel Bourn (presenting the certificates), and Sue Hutchings. Photo credit Caroline Kelly.
On the 25th July a group of Dartmoor landowners and farmers were recognised for their efforts in helping to conserve the theatened Fritillary butterflies found on their land.
John Mills of The Langaford Farm Trust was awarded first prize and Dr Nigel Bourn, Director of Conservation for Butterfly Conservation, presented John with a £200 cash prize, together with a framed Marsh Fritillary print by the renowned wildlife illustrator, Richard Lewington.
Rosemary Coleridge and Hazel Coleridge were selected as runners-up for their management at Shapley Farm, receiving a framed Marsh Fritillary print, whilst four applicants were ‘highly commended’ on their conservation work: Carl Allerfeldt at Higher Hurston Farm, Sue Hutchings for her work at Yardworthy Farm and pony grazing for Fernworthy Reservoir, South West Lakes Trust for management at Fernworthy Reservoir, and Mick Jones of The National Trust for his management of Pearl-bordered Fritillary habitat at Castle Drogo.
It is great that the hard work put in by the National trust rangers and volunteers in managing the habitat for this beautiful butterfly has been recognised both with this award and by seeing more butterflies this year showing the work is appreciated by the butterfly as well.
The Dartmoor Farmers Fritillary Award was run by Butterfly Conservation in partnership with Dartmoor National Park Authority and Natural England, kindly supported by the Dartmoor Sustainable Development Fund. This is part of the ongoing Two Moors Threatened Butterfly Project.

Peregrine Chicks Take to the Wing


by Steve Waterhouse


Peregrine falcons have bred again successfully in the Plym Valley much to the delight of the volunteers and 17 000 visitors who have been following their progress this year. The nest site in Cann Quarry, Plymbridge Woods has been watched by a committed team of volunteers for 10 breeding seasons. This year the peregrines had two healthy chicks which flew the nest on Sunday 10th July.

The chicks will still be calling Cann Quarry their home for now while they test their wings and learn to hunt for themselves. They are still reliant on the parents for food and can be seen (and heard!) around the quarry perfecting their flight skills and nagging mum and dad. They will finally become independent in the Autumn when they will be chased from their natal territory.

For the first 3-4 years of their lives, the juveniles will have no fixed abode but will travel around different areas (Peregrinus is Latin for wanderer, traveller or pilgrim). A young peregrine that is ready to breed will find a suitable territory (the presence of other peregrines will be a good indicator of this) and hopefully a mate.

The Plym peregrine chicks were ringed this year and last. This involves putting small plastic and metal rings on their legs while they   are in the nest and greatly contributes to our understanding of the peregrine’s movements, life history and population status. We hope that the chicks hatched at Cann Quarry will one day go on to breed somewhere else in the country and a glimpse of a yellow ring by an interested observer will lead to us finding out where the Plym chicks spend the rest of their lives after leaving Plymbridge Woods.


The public viewing platform and telescopes on Cann viaduct will be in place until Friday 22nd July for a last close up view of the newly fledged chicks. But the volunteers and NT staff will be keeping an eye on the family until the youngsters leave for good in the Autumn. There is still a good chance for you to see the birds flying around the quarry and making a racket so don’t forget to stop and look as you stroll or cycle across Cann viaduct.

Redstart and spotted flycatcher

A spotted flycatcher has been sighted feeding around the river Plym at Plymbridge Woods. Masters of the air, they hunt butterflies and other insects with an audible snap of the bill. Recently the numbers of spotted flycatchers has dropped dramatically, so they are now high on the Red List.

The redstart is breeding near Cadover Bridge at the Upper Plym. This bird is much easier to identify due to their bright orange-red tails. Like the spotted flycatcher, the redstart is a migratory bird, and spends the winter in northwest Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. (Photographs taken by Nigel Climpson)

Orchids in the Plym Valley

South Devon National Trust Volunteers were in the Plym Valley yesterday helping the Rangers with their annual orchid count and some Himalayan Balsam pulling.

The lower meadow at Plym Bridge is managed for its wild flowers and includes the Southern Marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa).

Despite the heavy rain, that stayed all day, a determined group of volunteers and Rangers scoured the meadow and successfully found 99 orchids.