Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Friends of Hanson Environmental Study Centre
in association with Milton Keynes Council present
Christmas Open Sunday  
And Christmas Crafts  
Sunday 14th December - Centre Open 10:00am-4pm
Walk the reserve and spend time in the hides watching our winter wild fowl and other seasonal visitors. If you fancy some warmer wildlife watching, then why not use the viewing gallery in the Centre, where you will also find:
 Crafts, Gifts, Second-hand book stall, bird seed for sale and warming refreshments including mince pies and home-made cakes.
Along with friends at the Council we are combining this Open Sunday with
Christmas Crafts
Suitable for people of all ages, each session includes full tuition
and all materials to enable you to make and take home traditional
Christmas Decorations, using natural materials.

The Christmas Craft sessions will run from
11am to 12.30pm and from 1.30pm to 3pm

Entry to the reserve and centre is free and the Christmas Craft Sessions cost £5.00, which includes all materials and instruction.
The Hanson Environmental Study Centre
Wolverton Road
Great Linford
Milton Keynes MK14 5AH

Please note Children under 16 are welcome, but must be accompanied by a parent or responsible adult.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Another Open Saturday

Can't get enough of FoHESC Open Days, with the warm and hospitable comforts of the Centre, the viewing gallery, FoHESC cafe, 2nd hand books, crafts, cards and toilet facilities?

 Well, after a very successful October Saturday opening, it's good news again this month!

Our 2nd
Open Saturday 
 22nd November  

10am to 4pm

 Guided bird-walks 10.30am and 2.30pm 
 (£1, warm clothing, suitable footwear advised)
2nd hand books - refreshments - crafts - cards - binoculars available

Come and enjoy the Reserve in late Autumn, see what winter migrants are on site, meet like-minded nature-lovers, and share your thoughts and ideas on what future events you'd like to see at HESC. 
 So, if you can't get enough of FoHESC Open days, we might see you on Sunday 16th AND Saturday 22nd November......? 

Monday, 3 November 2014

Sunday Work Party Honoured by Scouts Help

Many thanks to the Scouts from local explorer groups who joined with Friends last Sunday to make yet another assault on the willows that are attempting to turn the bund across the main lake into a forest.

Our young volunteers kindly interrupted their weekend camp on the outskirts of the reserve to join with our annual winter clear out of unwanted vegetation on the strip of land that divides the main lake - and which we hope will one day again provide an attractive stop over for migrating waders.

A well earned break for coffee and cake

The preparedness for which the Scout movement is renowned was amply and most welcomingly demonstrated when during the tea break they produced a large chocolate cake for all to share.

Jane and Neil lay claim to the longest root of the day

The work itself involved either pulling or digging up as many as possible of the hundreds of self seeded young willows in order that the roots could be removed and so prevent regrowth. 

Not all was destruction - Dave is planting some young alder around the KFB 
to  create some natural cover and help break down it's rather harsh profile

Like the willow harvested in previous months we will burn the produce of our labour to prevent it sprouting anew.

Our next Open Sunday is November 16th - We hope to see you then.

Photos courtesy of Malcolm Stewart

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Relocation, Relocation, Relocation

Around this time of year crops are harvested and meadows are cut. For those former residents of arable fields and grasslands who have been lucky enough to escape the whirling blades it is time to move home.

It is not unusual therefore, during early Autumn, for mini invasions of resourceful little rodents to relocate into more human habitats - the Hanson Centre Building has proved no exception.

Staff first noticed the tiny calling cards of our new visitors a few weeks ago and as much as they enjoy being close to nature there are of course limits. One thing was sure however, if at all possible, the removal process should be painless for all concerned.

Having had a modicum of success using the Longworth traps (a humane trap for catching and releasing small mammals unharmed) earlier this year, I volunteered to help.

Over the course of a week I set traps at various points around the centre building each evening and checked them first thing the next morning. Bait was a combination of bird seed and a fresh piece of apple to ensure there was a supply of moisture readily available.

Anyone seen Kirsty and Phil?

Over the week I caught 7 wood mice all of which were taken a good way from the Centre before being released into the wild. I am pleased to report all appeared very healthy and full of beans (well seed I suppose) when released.

I carried on trapping until I had a completely blank couple of nights which suggested that for now evictions are complete - although I am sure we may need to periodically repeat the exercise.


Sunday, 5 October 2014

October Saturday Special


Saturday Open Day, 18th October

  10am - 4pm

 Want to know what's in the ponds at HESC?

 Come along and find out at a pond-dipping session!

 10.30am, 2.00pm

 £1.50 per person       £3 per family

Second-hand books, hand-made crafts and cards,

refreshments, toilets.


HESC Education staff Steph Kimsey and James Walsh will lead the sessions.   
We'll bring samples back to the lab where with the help of Steph and James (and microscopes and reference books) we'll identify what we find.      Never pond-dipped before? You'll love it!
If it's not your thing, then just come along and enjoy the Reserve and the facilities.
You might see foxes, muntjac deer and barn owls, and Autumn bird migration is underway - we never know which species are going to call in to feed and rest before flying out again, or perhaps stay for the winter....

And if you can't make Saturday18th October, we'll be here on Sunday 19th, too....
See you soon!

Monday, 4 August 2014

Bird Ringing with BTO.

Bird Ringing Sunday

Bright and early one June Sunday morning I arrived at HESC to find that our guests from the local BTO ringing team had already been on site for several hours. All their mist nets were in place and a work station had been set up at the 5 bar gate just past the Woodland Hide. It was a still cool morning, not too bright - apparently perfect conditions for bird ringing.

Soon the birds started to arrive at the ringing station - along with the first of our members and visitors who we had invited to observe proceedings.

One of the first birds to be carefully removed from his bag was a handsome Great Spotted Woodpecker. He appeared to be quite feisty, a healthy sign. His crown was vivid red and contrasted beautifully with the glossy black head. It was a joy to be so close to such a wonderful bird. To everyone's surprise he proved to be the first of seven Great Spotted Woodpeckers caught that day, quite possibly all from the same family. The juveniles in contrast to the adults had a rather orangey red head.

The group of Friends and visitors began to grow and soon included a number of our younger wildlife enthusiasts. All were given the opportunity to get up close and personal with the birds. After careful instruction and a little encouragement several of the youngsters volunteered to hold and release some of the birds after they had been ringed.

The BTO team were keen to answer our questions and explain what they where doing and the reasons behind the ringing of wild birds and we learnt it can take up to 3 years to become a qualified bird ringer. 

All of the birds ringed were carefully recorded to note details such as species, sex, weight, breeding condition and age.  Records are kept over many years and contribute to scientific knowledge about our birds. They help define trends which can show the success or decline of different species around the country and help alert us to potential problems with certain species, which will hopefully allow remedial action to be taken before the decline becomes terminal.

The BTO team regarded the days as a great success. In total the day produced 39 birds of 9 species.

The most numerous species was great tit, with the totals boosted by good numbers of juvenile birds.Somewhat surprisingly, second place was tied between blue tit and great spotted woodpecker(!) with 7 of each caught.

Possibly the star bird of the day was a beautiful (if slightly scruffy looking) female marsh tit. The BTO team took extra care over the ID since the bird was moulting and the site does hold willow tit - but the white spot on the lower mandible, lack of any pale wing panel and small, neat cap and bib were strong identifying features.

Following the success of the day it is likely that the local BTO group may wish to include HESC as a site for a regular program of ringing, recording and studying our local bird population.

FoHESC would like to thank Kenny and his colleagues from the local BTO ringing group for such an informative and enjoyable day

Front of House Enhancement Sunday Crew

This time of year our Sunday morning work parties tend towards the more genteel projects, so as not to disturb our wildlife friends still engaged in bringing up baby. This month we decided the front garden pond was in desperate need of a facelift.

Great care was taken to ensure that non of the inhabitants got lost during the clear out of blanket weed. We hope you will agree it now looks considerably more attractive, whilst still providing a bijou residence for a variety of wildlife including some tiny young newts and an awesome great diving beetle.

Many thanks to our friends in the MK Green Gym who have done a brilliant job in recovering the pathways down to the far meadow. Considering the recent tropical weather and the state of the undergrowth, they must have feared encounters with wild jungle beasts and lost tribes - not to mention the dreaded HESC mozzies. 

Well done MKGG fantastic work as always.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Moments of magic in a favourite place.....

Wednesday 25th June....

I arrived early at the Reserve for another of Gordon Redford's mothing events. Sitting on one of the platforms by the dipping pond I took a moment to reflect - how fortunate we are to have this wonderful oasis for nature here in Milton Keynes! With it's surrounding buffer zone of countryside and lakes to support all the wildlife that lives or visits here, there is almost no sound of traffic, or people....
The weather was perfect - there was almost no breeze to stir things about, and I wandered contentedly along the path to take pictures of the late-June flowers before the hard work of waiting for moths to arrive began.

Amongst the Greater Spearwort and the Reed Mace in the dipping pond this Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus) caught my eye - I'd never seen it here before, and thought I'd move round to the end of the pond for a better shot...
...and very nearly stood on a large coiled snake which was busy doing nothing but basking in the warm sunshine!

Grass snake (Natrix natrix)
She stayed long enough for me to take her picture, then glided sedately from her leafy bed into the water to hide in the Reed Mace, where no doubt she could feast on a bounty of unsuspecting small amphibians at her leisure. Delighted with my find, I sat on the little bench to look through the images on my camera and listen to the reed and sedge warblers, and to soak up more of the sounds and smells of the Reserve.
It was soon time to head back to the Centre.

A small (but perfectly-formed) bunch of enthusiasts was already gathering. After tea and cake, and in the cooler fresh air outside the building, we sat on the picnic benches to listen to a show-and-tell session from Gordon. He'd brought a collection of cocoons, caterpillars and moths with him so that he could  enlighten and entertain us before the evening turned dusky and the night fell, and we could set about our main business of the night.  Then he took us to see most of the 6 moth-traps he'd set up, explained how they worked, and after answering questions we headed back into the warmth for more welcoming hot drinks. 

There was a delightful anticipatory buzz.  
It's always like this at FohESC events, and on our Open Sundays at HESC - as it is with the visiting groups of schoolchildren and other people who use the Centre. It's good to see people come in, feel comfortable,  make themselves at home.....
We swapped stories, and news, and soon the light began to fade. The first bats began to whizz past the large window, to the delight of our youngest member, and me too. We weren't going to be the only ones out mothing....!

And so we set off into the gloom. 
The mothing lights were switched on, and we separated into two groups around light-traps set up in different areas near to the Centre building. 
Very shortly the first flying and jumping things landed on the white sheets on the ground under the lamps. First to arrive were caddis flies, then frog-hoppers, crane flies and, of course, mosquitoes. Oh, and a grasshopper.... 

Soon after, one of the larger stars of the evening flew in - a beautiful Poplar Hawkmoth - followed by a host of larger and smaller micro and macro moths, with names that have been tumbling about in my head ever since, including: 
Drinkers, Peppered Moths, Emeralds, Bright-line Brown-eyes (not to be confused with Brown-line Bright-eyes), Cream-Bordered Green Peas, Waves, Carpets, Hearts and Darts, different Borders, both Clouded and Broad, Large Yellow Underwings, Brindles, Beauties, Pugs, Fliers, Arches, Small Magpies...
There were Tortrix moths, maxi micro moths, micro maxi moths, moths with mythical magical monikers, and much later on there were moths on our legs, and arms, and in my hair....and my favourite amongst those moths I'd never seen before, a Burnished Brass moth....
Gordon and Andy Harding, his able assistant, stationed themselves at one of the 2 lights, and helped us to identify and photograph a great number of them. Thank you so much to both of you!
As the night went on, people slowly and rather reluctantly drifted away, leaving just a very few of us to continue happily potting, exclaiming about, observing the beauty, intricacy and variety of, and finally releasing some of nature's smallest and most exquisite flying creatures....

At the T junction by the birch tree, looking at the actinic trap.....
Dusk falls.....
The lights go on, and the first of the night visitors arrive.....
Meadow grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus)
Cream-bordered Green Pea
Burnished Brass
Poplar Hawkmoth

I have to admit - it's nights out like this that are my kind of Glastonbury, and it costs MUCH less to buy a permit that will enable you to use the site all year round, not just on one wet weekend!   
 Do join us next time there's an event, or come along on a 1st Sunday working party morning (you can always just come and give us a wave, or chat and maybe buy a cup of tea, or a permit if you don't yet have one) or on one of our Open Days on the 3rd Sunday of the month.....

See you at the oasis soon!


PS: 'The Cream Bordered Green Peas', 'The Brown-line Bright-eyes', 'The Borders', 'Heart and Dart', etc and similar, will still all be appearing at  HESCFest (and somewhere even nearer to you) for the next few months....

Saturday, 7 June 2014

HESC COMMON TERNS - Courtship Feeding

I know a few people, myself included, have observed one Common Tern feeding another bird. As I was sure that the bird receiving the food appeared to have adult plumage, I thought I would look into the possibility of courtship feeding and have come up with the following information.

 The female looks around for the male bird

During the breeding season when pairs are first getting established or sometime later after incubation has begun, they can perform "courtship feeding" during which males present food to the soliciting female.

In an effort to lure females to their territories in the nesting area, a male Common Tern carries a fish around the breeding colony and displays it to prospective mates. Once a pair bond is formed,  the male tern  feeds the female, after which they usually mate. 

As the male approaches with a fish, the female emits a begging call

During the following five to ten days, both sexes feed themselves, but the male also frequently feeds the increasingly dependent female.

 The male passes over the fish - in this case it looks like a roach, 
but I also witnessed what I am sure was a very small pike being handed over

For a few days prior to egg laying, the female is fed almost exclusively by the male, but this then declines once the second and third eggs are laid.

It is thought that courtship feeding not only performs part of the pair-bonding function, but also provides the female with nutritional benefit, which can effect the number of eggs she lays and the total clutch weight. 

Words and pictures by Tony Bedford

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Not Receiving Your Emails From Us?

If you have joined the Friends Group and are not getting emails from us to advise you of events, information etc it is very likely we have not got your correct email address on record.

Please let us know by sending a quick message to:

Please note we do not disclose email addresses to other members 
or anyone else without your permission

Friday, 9 May 2014

Sunday 4th May
A Warbler Walk With Andy Harding

Now I’m sure you avid Birders are well acquainted with 7.30 on a Sunday morning, but for some of us more genteel wildlife enthusiasts, 7.30 on a Sunday, normally means just finishing off the evening meal with a cheeky little Cabernet Sauvignon or similar.

Anyway the sun was up in a clear blue sky and there we all were, raring to learn the songs that distinguish our Willow from our Garden and our Blackcap from our Whitethroat.

We appeared to have chosen a very good day, because after a quick briefing from Andy and  within seconds of setting out into the meadow behind the centre, our ears were being tested by a veritable Smörgåsbord of songs and calls.

Sedge in full song

Down by the reeds the scratchy but variable tunes of Sedge Warblers competed with the very similar but more monotonous songs of the Reed Warbles. Chiffchaffs were easy to pick out in the background with their name sake calls and even easier to identify were the explosive calls of a Cetti’s that erupted out of the undergrowth sometimes on our right and sometimes on our left – but one thing remained constant – we could never see it.

The elusive Cetti's (I think)

As we moved on around the reserve we experienced the constant Garden Warblers and enjoyed the rise and fall of Willow Warblers and learnt both the melodic songs and the angry “wheets” of Blackcap.

Reed Warbler

Not all the birds knew we were warbler orientated that morning, the Cuckoo’s call often punctuated the trees around the lake and Little Grebes whickered in the backwaters of St Peters where we are sure they breed.

Talking of locally breeding birds – the multi-purpose Kingfisher Bank now appears to be the new maternity home for a small group of Sand Martins who were going in and out of all four nest chambers.

Sand Martin entering the KFB (picture by Peter Barnes)

Andy complained that we had built it far too small and needed to extend it another 30 metres along the bund with at least a couple of dozen more breeding chambers to accommodate “a real colony of Martins”. Fortunately for Andy those of us there who had spilt blood sweat and tears in building the KFB were in a very good mood – otherwise he may have had a very soggy walk back to the centre.

The morning finished with coffee and bickies back at the centre before a few of us engaged in some freelance photography. Andy went off to try and snap some Sedge Warblers only to return to excitedly inform us that he had almost (literally) stumbled over a Gadwalls nest – one of very few pairs of these birds to be found breeding locally we were informed.

Mute point

As we drifted away home I couldn’t help reflecting, it had been yet another of those perfect HESC mornings.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Proposed Housing Development Update

We would like to thank everyone who attended the GLPC meeting last night (30th April) for their support.

A big thank you also to the Friends who spoke against the proposed Linford Lakes development and for the many e-mails from people who support our objections.

Wisely GLPC agreed unanimously to not support the pre planning application and they will therefore be informing MK Council of their objections.
However, it is quite probable that Barratts will go ahead with a full planning application this summer and so we may well need to put forward our objections at a higher level, e.g. MKC Planning Department, local Ward Councillors and even Local MPs
Please be assured we will make every effort in carrying out your mandate to make the strongest representations against the proposed development.
Thank you again, for your continuing support.
Meanwhile let us continue to enjoy the reserve with our :

Morning Warbler Walk with Andy Harding

07:30 am. Sunday, 4th May.

Cost £2.00 each, includes refreshments after walk

Monday, 21 April 2014

Proposed Housing Development Adjacent to HESC

The proposed development appears to moving forward and we realise this is a major concern to many of our members, who quite rightly, have deep concerns regarding the effect that such a development would have on the nature reserve.

We are advised that a development on this land would be contrary to all the following relevant policies contained within: Milton Keynes Local Plan 2001-2011 Adopted December 2005



We understand a pre planning application has been made as per the following notification issued by MKC Planning Office. It is not clear at this stage if the public can make their feelings known. But we pass on this information for those of you who are wondering who they can contact with any concerns.

10th April 2014

Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (As Amended)

Town and Country Planning (General Procedure) Order 1995

Application no: 14/00735/PRELAR

Proposal:  A development of 250 residential dwellings and ancillary parking and open space landscape areas, plus creation of a country park, with a visitor interpretation centre and associated parking and new access roads.

At: Land North of Wolverton Road  Linford Lakes  Milton Keynes   

I have received the above application which can be viewed via the Council's Public Access system using the link:

I would be grateful to receive any comments you may have about the proposal within 21 days of the date of this letter.  If no reply is received within this period the application may be decided without your comments. It would be helpful if you could email your comments to me as this saves us having to scan documents.

Yours faithfully,

Karen Tate

Senior Planning Officer