Author Archives: Julian Dymek

A riot of colour and life; there’s so much to see at Clandon Wood in high summer.

Well, there’s an amazing amount of things to talk about since my last blog post – it’s certainly been an action-packed few weeks at Clandon Wood!

First up, I’m pleased to report that all five Kestrel chicks have grown strong and healthy enough to leave the nest box. It’s been great fun watching them learning to hunt and fly around the car park area recently or sometimes all perched in a line on the roof of the new shepherd’s hut. You might still see them around this area for a little while yet but as they gradually extend their horizons they will start to blend into the landscape a little more and by the end of the summer will most likely have dispersed to other locations. As ever, the licensed bird ringer who installed the nest box has fitted the youngsters with coloured leg rings so we can keep tabs on their movements. I was chatting to another ringer the other day who said he’d caught one of last year’s juveniles just up the road in Ripley a few months back, and of course the year before that one turned up in Essex!

Ben, Gareth, Michael and George with Kestrel chicks
One of the youngsters on the shepherd’s hut. Photo by Ralph Clark

We again are pretty sure we have a pair of Skylarks nesting in the East Meadow. Unlike last year, they seemed to give it a miss earlier in the summer as the grass was a little slower to get growing but, as is the case with many bird species, they will sometimes try for a later brood as and when the conditions are more suitable – as we hope as happened at Clandon Wood. Please remember to keep all dogs on a short lead when onsite as these ground-nesting birds are particularly vulnerable to disturbance.

On the Lady Pond in the East Meadow a pair of Moorhens have successfully reared five chicks which have now half grown into black powder puffs on stilts, squeaking constantly as they pester their parents for food. You can get good views of them from behind the willow hide which Gareth and I built earlier this year. Sadly, not such good news for the Coots on the West Pond which have failed to breed successfully for the first time in the four summers I’ve been working here. The adult birds have now left but hopefully they or another pair will be back next year.

The butterfly season is in full swing now. We had one of our best ever springs for Small Blues with several adults seen in early June and a number of eggs found on the patches of Kidney Vetch around the site – the larval food plant of choice for this species. The Small Blue’s flight period is over for now (there’s another shorter one in late summer) but one of our other flagship species, the White-letter Hairstreak, is now out and about. Look out for the males furiously duelling above any of the Elm trees around the edge of the site, particularly near Lady Pond, or if you’re very lucky you may find one nectaring on a nearby thistle or hogweed.

Small Blue
White-letter Hairstreak, photo by Ralph Clark

The other big bit of butterfly news this summer has been the amazing invasion of Painted Ladies. Thousands upon thousands of them have been seen in coastal areas and some of these made it to us at Clandon towards the end of June with at last 75 seen in a single tour of the site on the 24th. The most migratory butterfly in the world, Painted Ladies fly from Africa up to Northern Europe and back in successive generations, in effect chasing the summer weather and the suitable breeding conditions that go with it.

Painted Lady

Another far-flung migrant lepidopteran species is the Hummingbird Hawk-moth and we’ve also started seeing a few of these around the site as I write this in early July. These extraordinary insects look something like a cross between a giant bumblebee and a hummingbird as they whizz around looking for nectar sources which they then hover at as they feed. Their larval food plant of choice is the bedstraws, which is lucky as we have masses of Lady’s Bedstraw and Hedge Bedstraw in the meadows at Clandon Wood. If you visit soon you can’t help but notice the wonderful clouds of yellow and white around the place and smell their honey-scented fragrance. We were really lucky to stumble across two Hummingbird Hawk-moth caterpillars on a Lady’s Bedstraw just this morning; not something I’ve seen here before.

Hummingbird Hawk-moth caterpillar

Talking of plants, the meadows really are looking their best now. Particularly of note this year have been the best ever displays from the various orchid species. Just three years ago we discovered our first Bee Orchids on the verge by the front gate; this year we have found at least sixty around the meadows. Similarly, we have at least five Pyramidal Orchids in the East Meadow compared to just two last year, and we’ve also found our first truly wild Common Spotted Orchid near the West Meadow (as opposed to any that have been planted on graves). By continuing our annual cycle of cutting and removing the hay in late summer we’ll reduce the fertility of the soil year on year which should mean species like this continue to thrive and spread, and hopefully new species will move in too.

Bee Orchid
Pyramidal Orchid, photo by Ralph Clark

There’s always so much to see at this time of year that it’s sometimes hard to know where to look, but a good tip if you’re a little overwhelmed by it all is to start small and concentrate on one thing. By that I mean either one particular group of animals, plants or insects, or rather just have a look at what’s living on one plant or small area of grass. As an example, we have a good amount of White Bryony at Clandon Wood and there’s a particularly good clump of it by the gate that cuts through from the West Meadow to the Pavilion area. I spent a few minutes looking at this the other morning and enjoyed watching several Bryony Mining Bees visiting the flowers, and also found adults and a pupa of the Bryony Ladybird. As their respective names suggest, both these species spend most of their lives on this one plant. If that plant goes, so do all the insects and other species which rely on it. Isn’t nature amazing?

Bryony Mining Bee
Bryony Ladybird
Bryony Ladybird pupa

Surrey Advertiser article ‘Clandon Wood: The Savoy of Burial Grounds’

We thought you might enjoy this article written towards the end of last year by Tom Johnson of the Surrey Advertiser which he titles ‘Clandon Wood: The Savoy of Burial Grounds’. This was written following Tom being given a tour of the grounds by our on-site team who explained the ethos that underpins Clandon Wood and why the combination of being a both cemetery and a nature reserve is a very natural and appropriate one.

Click here to view article.

Guildford Fringe Festival comes to Clandon Wood during July

This is now our 5th year supporting the local community within the Guildford Fringe Festival.

Following the sell-out success of these events last year the Creaction Theatre Company will be performing Two One Act Plays by Alan Bennett:  ‘A Bed Among  The Lentils’ and ‘Say Something Happened’ and Jean McConnell’s series of playlets entitled ‘Deckchairs’.  This will be followed by one of our favourite annual events, Music in the Meadows providing a relaxing afternoon of live music performed by young musicians from the Academy of Music in Guildford and other local talented performers. And to bring the Festival at Clandon Wood to a close Shakespeare’s Wanderers will perform a charming new take on Much Ado About Nothing.  Details are as follows:

Thursday 4th July –  Deckchairs by Jean McConnell – https://guildfordfringefestival.com/sessions/deckchairs-by-jean-mcconnell/

Friday 5th July – Two one act plays by Alan Bennett – https://guildfordfringefestival.com/sessions/alan-bennett-two-one-act-plays/

Thusday 11th July – Two one act plays by Alan Bennett – https://guildfordfringefestival.com/sessions/alan-bennett-two-one-act-plays/

Friday 12th July  –  Deckchairs by Jean McConnell – https://guildfordfringefestival.com/sessions/deckchairs-by-jean-mcconnell/

Sunday 21st July  – Music in the Meadows  –  https://guildfordfringefestival.com/sessions/music-in-the-meadows/  – Entrance is free for this event

Sunday 28th July – Much Ado About Nothing – https://guildfordfringefestival.com/sessions/much-ado-about-nothing/

Tickets for the plays cost £10.00-£15.00 plus fees and there will be refreshments and a cash bar including beer, wine, sparkling wine and soft drinks. Booking details can be found at : https://guildfordfringefestival.com/box-office/.

Free Entrance Events – We kindly ask for donations at these events in support of The Brigitte Trust – a Dorking based charity that serves all of Surrey offering free emotional support and practical help at home to people and their families facing cancer, MND, MS, heart and lung failure and other life-threatening illness.

Dates for your diary until the end of 2019

Listed below are dates for events taking place at Clandon Wood during the rest of 2019 that may be important or of interest to you:

23rd June 2019
12:00 – 16:00
Summer Fair
30th June 2019
10:30 – 13:00
Tea, Cake and Company
4th July 2019
19:30 – 21:30
Guildford Fringe at Clandon Wood: Deckchairs by Jean McConnell
5th July 2019
19:30 – 21:30
Guildford Fringe at Clandon Wood: Two One Act plays by Alan Bennett
11th July 2019
19:30 – 21:30
Guildford Fringe at Clandon Wood: Two One Act plays by Alan Bennett
12th July 2019
19:30 – 21:30
Guildford Fringe at Clandon Wood: Deckchairs by Jean McConnell
21st July 2019
14:00 – 17:00
Music in the Meadows at Clandon Wood
28th July 2019
10:30 – 13:00
Tea, Cake and Company
28th July 2019
15:00 – 17:00
Guildford Fringe at Clandon Wood: Much Ado About Nothing
4th August 2019
CLOSED
Due to Prudential London Ride Event
25th August 2019
10:30 – 13:00
Tea, Cake and Company
29th September 2019
10:30 – 13:00
Tea, Cake and Company
27th October 2019
10:30 – 13:00
Tea, Cake and Company
24th November 2019
10:30 – 13:00
Tea, Cake and Company
15th December 2019
10:30 – 13:00
Christmas Remembrance

Join us to watch the sun rise on Midsummer’s morning followed by a gong bath.

We will be watching the sun rise over the East Meadow on Midsummer’s morn on Friday 21st June. You are very welcome to come and join us at the pavilion at 3.30am ready to greet the sun on the longest day of the year. Bring a flask of coffee!

For those who then wish to refresh themselves with the sounds of a vibrational ‘gong bath’ at 5.30am. Please call Simon Ferrar on 07870 518292 to book a place for the gong bath.

Clandon Wood Summer Fair – Sunday 23rd June 2019 – 12.00pm to 4.00pm

A wonderful afternoon out where adults and children alike will be able to enjoy this haven of nature set in the surrounds of The Surrey Hills.

In celebration of our 7th official anniversary you are invited to our Art & Crafts Open Day – in collaboration with Handpicked for Dorking. Visitors will be able to experience the peace and tranquillity amongst the flora and fauna of Clandon Wood’s natural environment and glass pavilion – refreshments will be available with nature tours and selected local businesses offering handmade art and crafts.

Entrance to the event is free, and there is ample parking on site. Join us from 12 – 4pm. Dogs welcome – must be kept on a short lead Live music from Will & Chris – acoustic duo – FORGET THE DJ. A prize draw will also be held in aid of the Brigitte Trust.

As we enter May spring is well underway with the sound of birdsong and the scent of hawthorn blossom.

Early May at Clandon Wood. The meadows are growing apace, many resident and migrant birds are singing and the air is scented with Hawthorn blossom.

Hawthorn blossom

Spring has been rather a protracted season this year, especially given the exceptionally warm spell we had in February. What it has meant is that everything has felt quite relaxed and every plant has had its turn in flowering, unlike some years where it seems as though everything happens in a flash! The early whites and yellows of Blackthorn, Grey Willow and a fabulous display from the drought-tolerant Dandelions – which clearly did well after last year’s dry summer – gave way to similarly spectacular showings from White and Red Dead-nettles, Field and Germander Speedwells and Ground-ivy. All these early-flowering species are so important as sources of nectar for spring pollinators such as Bee-flies and various Bumblebee species, which we’ve seen many of already this year; many insects also emerged early this year due to the February heatwave.

Bee-fly

By this time of year most bird species are already well into their breeding cycle and some may already have young chicks. Species we’ve seen gathering food for hungry mouths recently include Starling and Blackbird. Our Kestrel pair seem to be settled in to the nest box and all the signs are that they will breed successfully again this year. On the West Pond we have a pair of Coots while a pair of Moorhens have again moved in to Lady Pond in the East Meadow. We are fairly confident we also have a pair of Skylarks nesting in the middle of the East Meadow again but as usual they are proving decidedly elusive!

Kestrels

The hedgerows and bramble patches are playing host to at least three pairs of Common Whitethroats and, as was the case last spring, a singing male Lesser Whitethroat has recently arrived in the roadside hedge which has now grown to a height and density to be to its liking. It’s always incredible to think of these 10-15 gram birds making the journey to Africa and back to Surrey every year and reminds us how important it is that they have suitable and secure places to nest when they do return.

Whitethroat

Speaking of hedges, we have now finished laying the main section of hedgerow between the two meadows and it’s already greening up and flowering nicely. In a year or two it will have regrown and be entirely stockproof and an ideal corridor and nesting space for a variety of birds and small mammals.

Laid hedge

The butterfly season is now underway although has been a bit stop/start thanks to the unsettled end to April and beginning of May. Nonetheless, we’ve so far managed to carry out two surveys during which we’ve recorded some of the classic hibernating and early emerging spring species such as Brimstone, Peacock, Green-veined White, Orange-tip, Holly Blue and Green Hairstreak; we’ve seen particularly good numbers of the latter lately which is encouraging as we had a good spring for them last year too, so it seems they are doing well here at Clandon Wood.

Green Hairstreak

A look back at last year’s butterflies at Clandon Wood

Although it may seem hard to believe as I write this on a wild, wet and windy day in the middle of March, the start of April marks the beginning of the butterfly survey season, which seems an appropriate time to reflect on last year.

Out of the 120 sites in Surrey where weekly transects were walked between April and September I’m pleased to report that, in 2018, Clandon Wood came joint sixth in terms of the number of species recorded. A total of thirty species were recorded including the first confirmed site records of Dingy Skipper and Dark Green Fritillary.

In addition, we were one of only eleven transect sites in the county where White-letter Hairstreaks were recorded. The rarest of the four Hairstreak species found in the UK, we are very lucky to have White-letters here at Clandon Wood and are doing our best to help them by planting Elm trees around the site; the tree of choice for these butterflies to lay their eggs on, with the caterpillars then emerging in early spring to feed on the flower buds. The Elms we have planted are all Dutch Elm disease-resistant varieties such as ‘Lutece’, unlike the English Elms around our boundaries which sadly now only grow to around 5-10 metres before they succumb to the disease.

White-letter Hairstreak

The 2019 butterfly season got off to an unusually early start due to the unprecedented warm spell in the second half of February but, as the weather has turned rather more inclement, the hibernating species have returned to their winter hiding places for now. It won’t be long though before they re-emerge along with the first generations of early hatching species such as Orange-tip and Speckled Wood. As the different habitat structures at Clandon Wood develop over the years and with careful management, including introducing larval foodplants for specialist species, we are hopeful we will see the number of butterflies here increase.

Winter starts to bite but wildlife persists and small signs of spring begin to appear.

As has been the trend in recent years the second half of this winter is proving to be the coldest part of the year with the first proper frosts and snow of the season coming in the latter part of January into early February. Such cold weather may seem cruel when it comes to wildlife and it’s certainly true that many animals will struggle to survive in prolonged spells of freezing temperatures. On the plus side it does have the advantage of suppressing overwintering parasites and pathogens which can be detrimental to insects and plants in the growing season. As such, it’s often the case that summers after a very cold winter can be good for butterflies – as was the case in 2018.

Talking of butterflies, we have recently been carrying out our annual search for Brown Hairstreak eggs in the various patches of Blackthorn around the site. The last butterfly to emerge in the summer (usually flies mid-late July-September), the adults can be quite elusive so looking for the eggs in winter when the Blackthorn twigs are bare is the best way to gauge the health of the population in a given area. This winter I’m pleased to say we found 28 eggs dotted around the place; slightly down on last year’s 36 but still a good number and, in contrast to most butterfly species, it seems Brown Hairstreak had a generally rather poor year in 2018 so this slight reduction is not too much to worry about.

Brown Hairstreak egg

Even more excitingly we have also confirmed our first White-letter Hairstreak eggs on a couple of the Wych Elms along the western boundary of the site – thanks to the help of Bill Downey from Butterfly Conservation. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, the White-letter Hairstreak is one of the scarcest butterflies in the UK now owing to its dependence on Elm on which to lay its eggs, mature specimens of which are now much harder to find thanks to the arrival of Dutch Elm Disease in the 20th Century – many millions of trees in Britain had succumbed to the disease by 1980.

White-letter Hairstreak

We have recently seen some signs of birds responding to the cold weather, as happened early last year. A few Lapwings have been seen flying south overhead while in the hedgerows numbers of species such as Fieldfare and Goldcrest have noticeably increased. The ponds have been frozen for several days as I write this in early February so our resident wetland species such as Coot and Mallard have had to move on in search of unfrozen water. For when the birds do return after the thaw we have created a woven willow hide by Lady Pond and a wooden viewing platform by the West Pond to help visitors get a good view without disturbing them. It’s important to not approach too close to the edge of any water body as birds and other wildlife get very alarmed when they see a human shape approaching over the skyline and can easily abandon nests or young in the process.

Our resident pair of Kestrels are already noisily defending their nest box so we’re hopeful that they will again go on to rear their young in it this summer. We recently heard news that one of last year’s chicks was seen not far away in Ripley; not quite as far from home as the one that turned up in Essex last year but good to know it’s doing well.

Kestrel

It can seem at this time of year as if the meadows are looking very bare and lifeless but look a little closer and you’ll be amazed what you can see. We’re really excited to have found at least a dozen Bee Orchid leaf rosettes in the short grass quite near the Pavilion; an encouraging increase from just a couple in previous years. Hopefully they will continue spreading around the site.

Bee Orchid

Mammals can be particularly tricky to find at this time of year as many of them partially or fully hibernate. We have a regular trio of Roe Deer that are frequenting the area at the northern end of the site, they can quite often be seen in the field just to the north of West Pond. Snowy weather offers another means of finding out which animals have been active onsite as they leave tell-tale tracks around the place. We have recently found Badger, Fox, various birds and possibly Hedgehog footprints in the snow here.

Badger print

Despite the icy weather of late, there’s no denying the amount of daylight is now noticeably increasing and with it the amount of birdsong. We’ve also started hearing Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming on sunny days lately; a sure sign that spring can’t be too far away!

Autumn gives way to winter. Migratory birds feast on our hedgerow fruits as sheep graze the meadows

Autumn has well and truly run its course, the leaves have all turned and mostly fallen and the days are getting very short. Winter has arrived at Clandon Wood. As usual at this time of year, a small flock of sheep have arrived to help keep the grass short. They’ve had a few weeks’ grazing in the West Meadow and will soon be moved into a fenced-off section in the East Meadow. There may only be seven of them but we’re already seeing the effects of their presence; the sward is looking lightly munched and birds are beginning to follow the flock around to forage for worms and insects disturbed by their hooves.

The sheep have arrived

In October we saw the first Redwings and Fieldfares arrive from Scandinavia, with many hundreds flying over on some days. Starlings, too, have been building in number, as migrant birds fly in to spend the winter here, bulking up the flocks of more local birds. Our hedgerows are a vital source of food for hungry birds at this time of year, particularly the migrant thrushes, which drop in to happily gobble up the berries. Unlike a lot of farmland hedges ours are not flailed but laid cyclically, meaning they are allowed to grow freely, flower and fruit for several years before laying. Each time the hedge is laid it gets denser and more vigorous, providing more food and shelter for all sorts of wildlife but also negating the need for any fencing to keep livestock in the fields.

Fieldfares

Another bird that is often seen in large numbers at this time of year is the humble Woodpigeon. It’s not uncommon on clear and crisp mornings in late October and November to see many hundreds or even thousands of them on the move overhead. It’s thought that these are mostly British birds simply flocking together to find good feeding areas but, as is the case with most of our resident species, they are probably joined by some birds from overseas.

It’s tempting to feel at this time of year that, as the meadows have been cut and the autumn colours on the trees have gone, that the landscape is now drab and devoid of colour. This couldn’t be further from the truth as the dramatic skyscapes of winter bring out the greens and browns in the meadows against the inky blue of the clouds. Look closer around the meadows and you will find there is still much in flower, from Knapweeds to Stork’s-bills. In one of our recently created ‘groves’ (the fenced-off areas you may have seen in the meadows) a young Gorse bush is in bloom as I write this. Their coconut-scented golden flowers add a wonderful dash of colour to even the dullest of days. Although the main flowering season is in spring, Gorse can and does flower at any time of year, hence the old country saying ‘when gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of fashion’.

Gorse

A glance at either of the ponds at Clandon Wood may lead you to think that things are rather quiet at present, but there is still lots going on. We saw Common Darters egg-laying well into November and the larvae of many other dragonfly species will already be active under the water, feeding up ready to emerge next spring and summer. In terms of water birds the West Pond is still playing host to a single Little Grebe and we’ve had occasional visits from a Mute Swan or two, though the summer drought means the water level may still be a little low for them.

We’ve continued to capture footage of a Water Rail skulking around the edges of West Pond, though I’ve still yet to see it in the flesh. All attempts by a licensed bird ringer to try and catch this bird and ring it have failed, unfortunately, but it’s great to know it’s stuck around for a while now – clearly the habitat is to its liking. Another revelation from the trail camera here has been small numbers of Teal visiting during the night. The smallest of the dabbling ducks, this is another species that breeds in the UK in small numbers but the population is massively boosted in the winter by immigrants from Scandinavia, Siberia, Iceland and the near continent.

Teal

We are still seeing our little local gang of Roe Deer from time to time, often along the northern boundary of the site, and have also found footprints in some of the muddier areas of the site.

It’s getting rather late in the year now for the majority of insects but in November we still saw the odd Buff-tailed Bumblebee or butterfly including a Painted Lady on the 2nd. Even as we enter the depths of winter a mild, calm day and a bit of sunshine can be all it takes to coax a Red Admiral or one of the other overwintering species out of their winter hiding place. I have even seen one on New Year’s Eve before!

Painted Lady

Year on year, the benefits of our more sensitive style of land management here at Clandon Wood should become apparent. There can be few better indicators of this than our fungi population which I have certainly seen increase in just the three years I’ve been working here. Fungi perform a variety of vital roles in any ecosystem, from helping transfer nutrients from the soil to plants, to breaking down all sorts of organic matter. They are all around us in the soil and plants though only become visible when they produce fruiting bodies, some of which we know as mushrooms or toadstools, although fungi fruiting bodies can take on many forms. New species we have seen this autumn include White Dapperling and Meadow Puffball while regular favourites such as Shaggy Inkcap and Yellow Fieldcap have also been much in evidence.

White Dapperling on the bank in front of the office
ft award
Cemetery of the year 2014
ft award
Best natural burial ground in the UK – 2014 & 2015
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Clandon Wood is a Utopian Resting Place

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