On behalf of the WWA committee I would like to wish all members a 'Happy New Year' and
hope you have recovered from the excesses of the festive season!
I can hardly believe that 2006 has passed by so quickly and it is time, once again, for me to persuade you to continue to support the WWA by renewing your subscription. This, AMAZINGLY, is still only £10 per household, or £5 if a senior citizen or unwaged. That is zero inflation in over fifteen years!!!
Last year I gave a short breakdown of where the money goes and I'll just mention a few notable expenditures that we've had over this past year. £700 was allocated to pay for driver and digger hire (to de-silt the Mere) and this took a sizeable chunk of our annual income.
We also do our own colour printing, which is expensive, but still cheaper than any alternatives. Feedback from members is that they enjoy the colour photography in the newsletter so we will continue whilst we have funds to cover costs.
We also feel it is very important to feed the songbirds so that people visiting the Reserve - and especially children - have something interesting to see. This alone costs around £80 per month.
We have some large projects coming up in 2007 - the main one being a complete refurbishment of the 'Butterfly Meadow'. This is a high maintenance area and has become neglected through lack of volunteer assistance, but we have now had the offer of help from two of our members who are willing to maintain the area once re-established.
They have enlisted the help of Alan Downie from Butterfly Conservation who is drawing up a planting plan for the WWA. Alan grows all the plants which are necessary to attract butterflies throughout the year, at a site in St. Albans, and we shall be buying hundreds of 'plug plants' from him over the next two years which is good as they have 'local provenance'.
Alan was very impressed with the Reserve as we already have many of the food plants needed for butterflies on site. He was quite excited about the project and there will updates on how it goes throughout the coming year. Alan has agreed to come and give an illustrated talk at the AGM about butterflies and improving habitat for them (see back page for more details).
This year we need to update some of our machinery - especially the mower which has seen fantastic service over the last 15 years. The WWA committee are hoping to purchase a ride-on mower as the job of grass cutting is becoming particularly onerous as the number of paths increases. This will make life a lot easier for our volunteers (it might even encourage new ones!).
We were very fortunate to receive an unexpected generous donation of £500 from the Rufford Maurice Laing Foundation (a charitable trust) in the autumn. Apparently, one of the trustees visited the Reserve and was so impressed by our efforts that he recommended to the Trust that we receive this one-off donation! The WWA committee thank the Trust for their generosity and the money will now going towards the cost of the new mower.
Once again, a Gift Aid declaration form is included for those who would like to use this facility.
For administration purposes this is done on an annual basis to simplify things for our Treasurer.
This brings in around an extra £350 per annum for our funds, so is well worth doing.
Our membership base is the highest we have ever recorded - at just under 200 households - which is good
news for the long-term stability of the WWA. We really do rely on each and every membership subscription to
enable us, as a charity, to fund all the works around the Reserve.
So please keep 'em coming, folks!!!
I know all you good readers relish every word that is written in this newsletter, but in the unlikely event that you might get bored before the end, check out the back page for news of our imminent Wassail in the Orchard.
Is this a spade which I see before me?
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee:
I have thee not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A spade of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat - oppressèd brain?
Putting up bat boxes during our October work session was quite tricky work, since the boxes were being nailed to a tree that overhung the River Ver. This meant we had to dress in chest-high waterproofs and set up the base of the ladder in the river. Yet we were never in low spirits and in the end it was actually rather fun. You can imagine how pleased I was in November* to hear that bats had been sighted around the Reserve soon after. Inspired by our work, I agreed with our editor that I would write an article about the Reserve's newest visitors and a little about hibernation.
* The weather being exceptionally mild meant that the bats were not yet in hibernation.
The pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) is Britain's most common bat. It has the advantage of being able to live just as easily around urban areas as in woodland. In fact, gardens and roads are a good place for it to hunt the insects it eats, primarily gnats. It will take small prey on the wing, while moths and other larger prey are consumed while perching. It is a highly social creature and will nest in large groups. Given the space, nursing mothers form especially large colonies, sometimes 1000 strong. Pipistrelles are fairly small, measuring 35-45mm in length with a wingspan of roughly 250 mm and a weight of 3-8 grammes. They lack the outstanding facial features of many bat species and have only moderate-sized ears. Nonetheless, they possess the two main adaptations that allow bats to echo-locate their prey; a lobe of skin inside the ear known as the tragus and a fleshy "nose-leaf". If there is enough light, you would notice their flying was quite erratic, making many twists and turns in the air.
Now is not a good time to look for bats, since they will currently be hibernating. Like many food sources, insects are scarce in winter and small animals cannot retain their body heat as well as large ones. Bats and other small mammals conserve their energy during this time by going into hibernation. Their body temperature falls to near freezing point, while their breathing and heart rate almost stop. Their metabolism slows right down and they obtain energy from the fat stored in their bodies. Yet there are numerous problems associated with hibernation. If you are a small mammal wanting to hibernate, a safe hiding place is essential, for many predators do not hibernate and could easily take you as prey during your state of torpor. It is also essential to feed well during the warmer months, or your fat reserves will run out and you will starve. Hibernating animals release an anti-coagulant into their bloodstream to stop it clotting as circulation slows down. White blood cells congregate near the gut to kill any bacteria that may begin growing on undigested food. How long a species hibernates and the mechanism by which they do so varies. Pipistrelle bats hibernate only around three months while the edible dormouse (Glis glis) hibernates for at least seven months. Hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) hibernate from about November to March. They have two types of fat tissue, one appearing brown, the other white. White fat releases its stored energy slowly and is burned off during hibernation. Brown fat, located mostly near the shoulders, releases its energy quickly and does so just as spring comes, to bring the hedgehog's metabolism back to up speed as quickly as possible. Like any hibernating animal, a hedgehog needs to feed again quickly once spring comes to make up for all the energy lost during the winter.
Robert - WWA volunteer
Thanks, Robert, for your contribution. And I would like to ask our many readers to please send in any articles, comments about the Reserve (good or bad - we can take it!), suggestions or ideas that you'd like to see happen - it is important that the membership are given the opportunity to air their views and all ideas will be brought up for discussion at our committee meetings (Editor).
News from the working parties
Recent work has included repairing the bird hide fascia boards, and splitting and replanting Yellow Flag Irises around the Mere (Thanks, Jack), clearing an area for the Wassail and removing large amounts of rubble and rubbish from the bank in the Orchard (Thanks, volunteers). This land at the rear of the gardens in Riverside Road (overlooking the Orchard) had been used as a general dumping ground over the last one hundred years, resulting in a man-made sloping bank of broken bricks, slates and assorted rubbish. Volunteers have made a good start in clearing away as much rubbish as is practicable, grading the slope of the bank to give it a more natural appearance which leaves mainly soil into which wild flowers and shrubs can be planted. In time, this will create a living screen and thus improve the aesthetic aspect looking from the Reserve up towards the houses in Riverside Road. As a temporary measure, the WWA are considering putting up a rush screen along certain sections of the boundary where there are no fences at present, both as a security measure for local residents and to improve the general appearance of the Orchard.