A View from Pontesford and Earls Hill: June 2016

Having managed the Hill since October 2015, I felt it was about time I let people know some of what has been happening. I hope to give an update every few months in future, along with some ideas of what to look out for on the Hill.
It has been a very busy few months – here is a brief synopsis of some of the highlights:-
Beginning in December a group of local people began practical work on the hill. Those work parties have cleared fallen and overhanging tree branches around some of the pastures – the recent flush of primrose and bluebell have been enhanced by this work. We have also begun removing invasive rhododendron from the woodland allowing more native ground flora to develop. And we have begun some tree planting whilst also felling or removing branches from some of the trees near paths where they are dangerous
There are now two new flocks of sheep on the reserve. The fields around Earls Hill Barn are now grazed by a commercial flock maintaining the areas of semi-natural and unimproved grassland. Earls Hill itself has a flock of Shetland sheep, a rare breed that has been donated to SWT from a variety of local sources. It began with Donald, Alistair and Eric, our three rams. Eric has since died after a dog attack. Donald and Alistair are currently grazing one small field but will soon be joined by a group of ewes and released onto the hill.
You may see Peregrine falcons whilst visiting the reserve. These hawks have returned to nest on part of the reserve after several years of absence. We hope they are successful in raising chicks.
There have been lots of surveys carried out on the reserve including:-
• a nest boxes monitoring scheme to provide nesting opportunities for birds and monitor their success
• mapping of pennywort (a woodland plant) and a very rare hoverfly associated with this plant that has recently been discovered to be breeding on the hill
• earthworms – we have 12 species, a high number for the size of reserve, three of which are rare in the county
• a dormouse survey of the lower camp hillfort to direct our plans to remove some of the small trees and scrub from this important historical monument
SWT monitoring volunteers have also carried out three plant surveys over the last two weeks.
The annual condition assessment for the spring ephemeral grassland was completed. This habitat on Earls Hill is known technically as ‘U1b Festuca ovina-Agrostis capillaris-Rumex acetosella grassland’ and Earls Hill exhibits a particularly good and, in fact, unique example of this. One of the key species the volunteers look for is Teesdalia nudicaulis or Shepherd’s Cress, a small, white-flowered cress with heart shaped fruit. Gill Wilson and Carol Bickerstaff found plenty of the flower this year. Other good indicators of the U1 grassland are Moenchia erecta or Upright Chickweed with its tiny ‘helmets’; Filago minima, Small Cudweed, a tiny grey-green plant and Stellaria pallida, Pale Chickweed the name of which is completely apt. Other lovely plants to see this time of year are Viola riviniana, the Common Dog Violet, Carlina vulgaris, Carline thistle, and Myosotis discolor, the beautiful but tiny Changing Forget-me-not.
We are pleased to report that the Condition Assessment
results were very positive and that the frequencies
of these important plants remain high with other
‘attributes’ like ‘sward structure’, despite intense rabbit
activity, remaining good.
The other survey in April attempted to work out the extent of the above special grassland, with 20 or so quadrats placed along the edges of the grassland where it meets rocks and scree. This proved to be quite precarious at times! This was important since the extent of the grassland has increased following scrub removal from the scree through the ‘Rescuing Rocks and Overgrown Relicts’ project. The rare Sedum forsterianum, Rock Stonecrop, was
located during this survey.
So keep an eye open for peregrines and enjoy the variety of flowers appearing at this time of year – and enjoy the warmth and sunshine!
Clive Dean, Shropshire Wildlife Trust Reserves Officer South

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