Monday, 30 December 2013

Ups and Downs of the Yule Tide

The KFB was completed about two weeks before Christmas and - as you can see from the picture of Alan finishing the roof - stood over 1.5 metres above the water line at that time.

With about ten days to go to Christmas, the KFB was still standing proud and we thought our only concerns would be regarding how easily a predator such as Mink might be able to reach the nesting chambers.

Kingfisher activity around the KFB showed no signs of diminishing as these super pictures taken by Neil Schofield show.

Neil's observations revealed that fishing around the KFB area was proving successful for our resident birds.

Then came the three days of storms and by Christmas Day, the Great Ouse had burst it's banks and flowed into the main lake. The water flowed right through our lake and crossed the fields into the adjacent fishing club lake.

Our concern now was should we re-christen the KFB as PNB (Pike Nesting Bank).

Four days after Christmas and the water level has fallen by around 2 feet - we now have a CLB (Cormorant Loafing Bank)

Or possibly CFB (Cormorant Fighting Bank)

As I write the rain has been falling most of the morning and the forecast is wet for the week ahead. I fear our multi-purpose bank may see many more ups and downs before the spring.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Development of Land Adjacent to HESC

Barratt Homes has submitted a screening opinion request for the proposed development of land off Wolverton Road at Great Linford.

The request for the proposed development of land at Linford Lakes Wolverton Road, Great Linford, Milton Keynes comprising approx. 70 ha; is for :

  • up to 250 residential dwellings,
  • new accesses onto Wolverton Road and Little Linford Lane,
  • internal access roads, ancillary recreation/play space and incidental landscape areas;
  • creation of country park (approx. 59ha) and visitor centre together with car and coach parking for up to 200 vehicles,
  • new access and internal footpaths and access ways                                                          


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Re Cabinet Shuffle

The debate regarding the transfer of HESC to the Parks Trust due to take place at tonight's MK Council Cabinet Meeting has been deferred to a later date.

Word on the street, is that the Lead Councillors did not feel the report compiled by the Community Facilities Department, was complete enough to properly debate and so reach a decision.

It is also entirely possible that some of the concerns expressed by the Friends Group have struck a chord with our Councillors.

We are now hopeful that before the next meeting is convened, we will have an opportunity to meet with the decision makers to put our views on the subject and achieve a balanced outcome which matches the needs of the Good and the Great, the Green and the Grubby and the small feathered and furry.

We will keep you posted

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Made Glorious Summer by ..............

Following on from yesterdays post, I am delighted to report that I have now received a response from David Foster, the Chief Executive of the Parks Trust, which (at least for now) allays many of our fears regarding the future for the reserve and the Friends Groups roll in its care, maintenance and usage.

Whilst my own natural, small minded, pessimism makes it difficult to totally accept the degree of altruism David claims the Park Trust are displaying, I also feel, it would be totally inappropriate for us not to give his organisation every opportunity to live up to their promises.

Once the Council hearing is complete and we know exactly what is going to happen I will report more.


Monday, 16 December 2013

 Now is the Winter of Our Discontent
A MK Council report, which proposes the transfer of the HESC Nature Reserve along with the new Stanton Low Country Park to the Parks Trust, is due to go before the MK Council Cabinet meeting this Wednesday (18th December).

Since the Parks Trust looks after much of MK’s green estate, this could be a good move. However there is no guarantee that it will continue to be used as a study centre for local schoolchildren. Nor that an unspent grant of £100,000 will ever be used for its original purpose; to fund improvements to the existing study centre.

As a result, the Hanson Environmental Centre may lose its position as one of the most interesting and diverse habitats for studying wildlife in Milton Keynes.
The Parks Trust have said they have not made any plans for the future of the Centre and Reserve, but since their education facilities will be based elsewhere, they say they would probably not continue the programme of school study visits to HESC.
Surprisingly, the Council report makes no mention of the Friends Group as stakeholders or even as an interested party.

As Chair of Friends of the Hanson Environmental Study Centre Chairman, I have written to the Council expressing the group’s concerns, and pressing for the Friends Group to continue to be involved in its running. I intend to raise these concerns at the Council Cabinet meeting this Wednesday, 18 December, when the subject is debated.

The hope is that should MK Council decide to proceed with the transfer, they will put in place sufficient caveats to ensure the continued success of the Nature Reserve and the Friends Group involvement in both its running and care.
Tony Bedford




Friday, 6 December 2013

Our Patron Coughs Up Towards KFB
(Well on it actually)

As they say on the TV, those of you of a delicate or squeamish disposition may wish to look away now..... OK, for the rest here we go.

On Wednesday afternoon, Macro Bob (no, not a  new form of twerking, but he of the super photo presentation) asked, if he could have a look at last Sunday's work on the KFB. Despite the perils of the mud, I agreed, and we carefully picked our way down to the site.

Whilst I was pointing out the excellent tiled patio roof, that Neil and Dave had constructed, Bob noticed there was a fair amount of white bird poo in one corner.

"Do you think that's from a Kingfisher?" he asked.
"Well it could be from any bird" I rather pessimistically replied. "But hang on, what's this?"

I had found, sitting on the corner of the KFB, a small white pellet consisting of dried fish scales and small fish bones.

The Pellet was extremely dry and fragile and fell apart as soon as I picked it up -
probably one of the reasons you normally never see them,
plus of course they usually fall in water.

I am sure that most of you will be aware, that along with Owls and Birds of Prey, our little friend the Kingfisher, also has a need to dispose of the indigestible elements of it's dinner, by regurgitating them in the form of a small pellet, and that is what I had found.

When I got home, I thought I might do a little research on the subject and came across these pictures by Andrew Adams. I contacted Andrew, and he very willingly gave permission for us to feature his stunning photographs, which graphically capture a Kingfisher ejecting a pellet.

She appears to have a tickle in her throat

Ah, What's This?

Nearly out

That's better

If the discovery of the pellet was not enough to confirm acceptance of the KFB as the place for a discerning Kingfisher to be seen. This afternoon, I again witnessed our girl (you can tell the ladies as they have a light coloured bottom half to their bill) sitting on the KFB and on the branches that we pushed into the mud close by.

My only concern now, is they think we have built them a bistro, rather than a maternity home!

Kingfisher photographs courtesy of and copyright Andrew Adams
Pellet by Bob Furness

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Best Wishes for Your New Life on Orkney

On behalf of all the members of FoHESC I would like to wish Graeme Walker and his wife Gudula (or our lass as she normally appears in Graeme's blogs) the best of luck with their move to Orkney.

Graeme - proving men can multi-task

Graeme was a founder member of FoHESC and as our first Secretary really helped us get things moving. He sets sail this week to join his lass who is already on the Islands helping care for the Orkney folk.

"His Lass" in full focus
 We hope that you find the home of your dreams and wish you the very best in your new adventure.


Monday, 2 December 2013

KFB Gets Shipshape
(Although It's Not Always Plain Sailing)

I though I might use this post as an opportunity to look back over some of the events of the last month, as well as an update on progress on the KFB.

Firstly a big thank you to everyone who turned out on a pretty drab day to make this November's Open Sunday such a well-attended, successful and enjoyable day.

The bonhomie which seems to pervade FoHESC events, was again very evident, when we held our first photography group evening proper on the 20th November.

The budding macro-photographers gather for Bob's presentation

The session was hosted by FoHESC member and keen photographer Bob Furness and covered the subject of macro-photography. Bob gave an informative and enjoyable presentation which covered a little theory, plenty of useful tips and Bob's own take on and attitude to, this fascinating art. The presentation was illustrated with many of Bob's excellent photo's and was very well received by the thirty plus attendees. Our next photography group evening will be on 22nd January and will be an illustrated presentation on wildlife photography, by Chris Ward from the local RSPB Group.

A Bridge Too Wet - The route to the bund is rescued

Those of you who have been getting hands-on in the building of our Kingfisher bank project, will appreciate that getting materials to the building site has been more and more challenging, as the month has gone on. Firstly the bridge connecting the bund to the shore started to sink below the rising lake and needed recovering to the more traditional position - i.e. above the water. Then the mud on the bund became thicker, wetter and generally more yucky and made the use of wheelbarrows very difficult.

The offer from Martin Kincaid of the loan of a Parks Trust boat, to help transport material from the overflow car park to the KFB site, was therefore, received with delight if perhaps also a little trepidation.

Loading sand and gravel into sacks prior to shipment

As it turned out the boat became boats and after a few minor teething issues we were soon ferrying sand, gravel and tiles out to the bund.

The time honoured method of transporting goods by water is resurrected at HESC

The weather was - for the first day of December - unbeatable and our plucky crew cut quite a dash as they crossed an azure lake under matching blue skies. Boatiful.

Off loading at the KFB Docks
The KFB is filled to the top with sand

With a more reliable supply of materials the construction team were able to complete the filling of the main shell with sand and then lay a patio-style tiled roof to help keep the whole structure water-proof.

This is not just any KFB - This a FoHESC KFB and quality is our watchword

The tile roof has been laid with over-hanging edges to
provide a little more security from predators

The last part of the plan is to put a retaining row of single bricks around the edge of the top of the tiled roof and infill with gravel to finish the job.

If you check-out our Flickr site (FoHESC Images), you will see that Neil Schofield has captured some excellent shots of kingfishers around the KFB area, and once again one of the little chaps can be seen sitting on the bank itself.

Fingers crossed folks.

Photographs by Malcolm Stewart and Tony Bedford

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Tunnel(s) of Love
(KFB Update)

The mighty edifice which is our new kingfisher nesting site is now up to full height and the nesting chambers have been installed.

Picture courtesy of Malcolm Stewart

We now need to fill the remainder of the main structure with a sand/earth mix and install the roof.

As you can also see below, the prospective residents are still taking a close interest in proceedings.

Picture courtesy of Carol Hughes

Monday, 4 November 2013

Bundfire of the Vanities
Kingfisher - Bankers, You Can Trust

A view of some of the activities from the near hide

Thanks everyone for another great turn-out on Sunday.

Getting the materials to the building site has been one of the hardest jobs
and much appreciation for all their efforts must go to all those
that have "barrowed" materials to the KFB. 

As you will see from the pictures, the Kingfisher Bank is almost up to full height and just requires one or two more layers of blocks around the back and sides.

Our man with the trowel - Great work Alan

The cavity has been half filled with gravel and earth and it will soon be time to cut the holes in the front blocks and install the pipe nest chambers.

Then we fill the rest of the cavity with sand/earth, install a weatherproof membrane and maybe try and make the exterior a bit more natural looking.

Along the surrounding hills, tribes of Apache, Comanche and Sioux gathered, to try and read the messages rising into the beautiful blue skies above the bund - but it was just our slightly premature celebration of bonfire night, as we disposed of the Willow arisings which had been cut a month or so earlier.

We also managed to open up and widen some of the pathway and clear some growth from around the woodland hide.

This Jack Pike skull caused quite a bit of speculation regarding
it's demise - was it killed by a particularly ambitious Heron or Cormorant -
or could it have been an otter? 

All in all a great days work and many, many, thanks to everyone who joined in.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Chris Packham
Autumnwatch Thursday 31st October

I have been known, in the past, to be less than complimentary, regarding the presentation style of some of the Spring(Autumn)Watch presenters, if I'm honest, on occasions probably downright rude.

So, for me, to be both moved and motivated by the words of Chris Packham at the close of last nights program came as a bit of a shock.

You see, last night, he hit something deep in the heart of me, that made me realise why I am so proud to be the Chairman of FoHESC.

Following another fantastic piece by wildlife photographer John Aitchison featuring the river Ythan (north of Aberdeen) Chris very eloquently summed up Johns closing message:

"We've all got our patches, places that we go to, places that we love.
We need to learn to look after them.
If you've got a patch, look after it.
Sometimes it comes down to you - Nobody else is going to do it - otherwise in twenty years it may be gone." 

For me I guess that patch is HESC, the potential is fantastic - but the threats are real too. Shrinking council budgets, pressure for spaces to build and digging out the last ounces of mineral resources along with uncertainty regarding the eventual ownership of the site, all pose medium to long term risk regarding the future of the reserve.

But Chris is right - it does come down to us - and together, I am positive we can see the patch that we love thrive and develop.

If therefore, you feel as I do that these wild places are worth preserving, please continue to support the Friends Group, as I know, you have in the past - and if possible - encourage other like minded souls to visit on Open Sundays and even join us as members.

This Sunday we will again be working on the new Kingfisher Bank and with luck burning off the scrub we cut on the bund a month back, along with any other small tasks that need doing - please if you can, come and join in (Boy Scouts, old and new with fire lighting skills very welcome).

Best wishes

Tony Bedford
Chairman FoHESC

Please click on the events tab above to see the dates of future open days and events.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Friends Enjoy Cake but Kingfisher Takes the Biscuit
(Open Sunday 20/10/13)

The mixture of mild but intermittently soggy weather didn't seem to deter our visitors last Sunday including a few who were seeing HESC for the first time.

Wildlife it seems is all well and good, but when the heavens open for - thankfully not too long - bursts of showers, the combination of a cuppa and a piece of freshly home-baked cake proves an irresistible combination.

Our berries may be Guelder-rose rather than Mary and our Wood, Woody-nightshade, rather than Hollywood, but the FoHESC bakers certainly took all the plaudits this week.

Mary Berry - No - Rose Hips

Berries by the way are not just plentiful at HESC this Autumn, but across most of the UK, with 2013 being declared a mast year. So expect to see flocks of fieldfare and redwing plundering the trees and bushes any day now.

During a gap in the afternoon rain, a few brave souls took the opportunity to clear a bit more vegetation around the far hide and open up the views to the right, looking back towards the bund.

We also delivered some more materials down to the King Fisher Bank (KFB) construction site. Thanks to great work by Neil and his team the KFB is coming on apace and the block retaining walls have now been started.

Talking about the KFB, you may remember from our last post, that I was being extremely cautious regarding the possibility of take-up by out little feathered friends. You could therefore have knocked me down with a small blue feather when Neil showed me this picture taken by Peter Barnes.

This potential new home owner is considering
putting a deposit on an off-plan development
No, its not a trick photo and yes, that really is a kingfisher sitting on the footings of the KFB - I can only hope its a good omen. If nothing else it suggest we got the location correct.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

KFB for Sunday Lunch

Our working party last Sunday (6th Oct) concentrated on two new tasks:

Firstly, the tall vegetation around the far hide was cleared and hopefully, you will all agree, that the views are now much improved, although, if possible (and safe access can be achieved) we would still like to cut back the tree which partially blocks the view of the lake to the right hand side of the hide.

The improved view from the far hide
Whilst the hide clearing was underway, we commenced what we hope may be one of our most exciting projects to date: the building of an artificial kingfisher nesting bank (KFB) on the bund, approximately 50m from the connecting shoreline and facing towards the near hide.

A lot of thought and planning has gone into this project, both in terms of location and construction.

The location has been chosen, firstly, so that good views can be obtained from the near hide, should we be lucky enough to attract some residents and  secondly, we have seen sufficient kingfisher activity in this area over this summer and autumn, to believe there is a possibility of success in birds nesting. The location of the KFB is sufficiently far away from the areas favoured by ducks and waders not to impinge on their use of the bund.

The first stage has been to dig out the footings and
get the shuttering in ready for the concrete base

The bank itself will measure approximately 2.5m x1.5m x1.5m and will be constructed from blocks, set on a concrete base. We believe this sturdy design will ensure it is not washed away, should we see a substantial rise in the lake level over the winter. The inside of the rectangular block structure will be earth filled with sand filled pipes inserted and opening out on to the front face of the bank, to provide the nesting chambers. The roof will be covered in gravel and appropriate vegetation planted around the bank to create as natural a setting as possible.

The shuttering in place, as seen from the near hide

It will take quite a few weeks to complete the task so please bear with us until the job is finished.

You will have noted that throughout this piece I have talked about luck and possibilities, because as always with nature, there are absolutely no guarantees that the KFB will be used by the little electric blue beauties that we hope may nest in it.

The object of our desires,
photograph by Tony Bedford

However, if you don't buy a ticket you can't win the lottery and I understand that the chances of Kingfishers moving into the KFB are infinitesimally greater than me carrying off the big one.

Every cloud as they say!

Work Photos courtesy of Malcolm Stewart


Following on from the above, a small band of Friends got together the following Saturday to lay the concrete base.

Many thanks to Alan, Dave, Neil, Pauline and Simon & Son

Monday, 7 October 2013

FoHESC Images

I'm sure by now that most of you will have realised our new Flickr site is up and running, to visit just click on the link below:

We have already received nearly three hundred images, but we hope that many more of you will also upload your own favourite pictures taken at HESC, so that we can build a comprehensive photographic record of all the flora and fauna to be found on the reserve.
A superb picture of a Hobby clutching it's prey
(a Migrant Hawker Dragonfly, I think)
taken by Mark Baker
Can we please ask that you restrict your photos to only those taken on the reserve and limit your uploads to not more than three per day, but within those limitations, please feel free to reflect any aspect of HESC that you wish.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Off Human Bundage

Sorry about the pun on the title of Somerset Maugham’s literary masterpiece, but purely by accident his planned alternative title “Beauty from Ashes” may also yet prove appropriate.

For those of you, who by now, are thinking that finally, I have completely lost the plot, I am of course, referring to the excellent work carried out last Sunday, by the group of Friends, whose ages may have differed by 60 odd years, but whose aim was united in ridding the bund of the dreaded Willow growth.
Bless 'em all - The Long and the Short and the Tall

The plan was simple; following on from the excellent work carried out by the Conservation Volunteers (MK Green Gym), in restoring access to the bund, and starting at the far end, our aim was to pull out as many seedling Willows that we could and cut back close to the base as many young trees as possible. Once our work is complete MKCs Contractors will treat the willow to prevent regrowth. This we hope, should keep the bund relatively tree free, for at least a few years.
Many hands make light work - some of the team in action at the far end of the bund

The cut trees were piled up in stacks and when dry will be burnt, to prevent the cuttings taking root and the problem starting all over again (that’s the ashes bit).

When dry the cut willow will be burnt to prevent it taking root

By the three organisations working together in co-operation, it means that vital habitat maintenance can still take place, despite the severely restricted funds available and in this case, the bund returned to a suitable habitat for the ducks and waders, for which it was originally designed. In turn, we hope that permit holders and school visitors will benefit from improved views and increased numbers of waders and other migrating birds.
Examination of the roots show that willow can regrow from the smallest twig

The bund is of course strictly out of bounds to permit holders and day visitors unless they are part of an official Friends Working Party. It was, therefore, very interesting for the members of the team on Sunday, to see how the habitat has changed over the 20 months since we last carried out similar work. Yes, a lot of the Willow growth had returned, but in between the small trees, we found large patches of chamomile and wild water mint which was giving off a heady scent and providing food to many bees and butterflies.

Some of the young willows had incredibly long roots

We also discovered a couple of giant caterpillars which were carefully relocated to give them the best chance of survival.
Our Moth expert Gordon Redford has now identified this
as the  Caterpillar of the Poplar Hawk Moth

As always, everyone worked hard, but thoroughly enjoyed the morning, making new friends and enjoying each other’s company and of course the chat over a cuppa in the centre once we finished for the day.

If you are part of the Friends Group and are thinking about joining us one Sunday to help with habitat maintenance, but are not too sure what to expect, or maybe are thinking of joining the Friends Group and getting involved in one of our activities, but are not sure if it is for you. Why not come along to one of our Open Sundays (the next one is this Sunday the 15th September) and have a chat with myself or one of the other Committee members and find out a bit more about us?

You will find we are a very friendly bunch and there is a place for everyone irrespective of age, ability or experience.

Tony Bedford
Chairman FoHESC

All photos taken by Malcolm Stewart