Diary - October 2007
I’m a little jealous of John Tyler. No,
he’s not the one who ran off with my childhood sweetheart
or scored the winning goal at Wembley. I’ve always wanted
to stumble across some long-buried ancient artefact which throws
new light onto our past… just as John did while out looking
for bees. A Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust volunteer
and wildlife enthusiast, John spotted something unusual while
walking on heathland on the trust’s site.
He discovered five flint flakes which have
since been identified by Oxfordshire County Museum as microliths
from the Mesolithic Age (10,000-6,000 years ago) when the last
ice age finished and glacial meltwaters turned Britain into an
island. The flints were found within a few metres of each other,
where a patch of vegetation had been exposed to bare sand for
the benefit of rare hymenoptera (solitary bees and wasps) for
which Sydlings Copse is an important site. This area of the nature
reserve is also part of a project to regenerate the heathland
on the north-west side, and the scrub has been cut to allow new
heather to become established.
John says: “The largest of the flints
was about 4cm long, so I wouldn’t really have noticed them
if I’d seen them in a field, but on the pure sand they
really stood out. I wasn’t actually looking for anything
like this, but being interested in insects I thought I might
see a few solitary bees and wasps burrowing in the sand, so I
was walking slowly and looking downwards.
“When I picked up the flints and looked
more closely, I could see the wave-like markings where each one
had been struck off a bigger lump of flint, and the delicate
nibbling where the edges had been touched up (all those hours
of watching Time Team finally paid off). I was a bit cautious
at first, as I didn’t want to get my hopes up, so I just
sent them off to the museum and forgot about them until the identification
“I was amazed that they turned out to
be microliths and find it fascinating that the last time these
tools were handled was thousands of years ago, and even at that
time, there were people enjoying the site’s wildlife, although
they were probably eating it rather than watching it!”
Paul Smith, archaeologist at Oxfordshire County
Council, says: “These flint points were perhaps left at
a temporary campsite by a small band of hunters moving over an
extensive territory that might have included the fenland of Otmoor
to the north, as well as the rich game areas of the Thame and
Thames river valleys. It’s wonderful to think the people
who made these tools would have hunted wild boar in woodlands
where Wheatley now stands, and may have seen groups of bears
fishing in the shallows of the River Thames.”
Apple’s long appeal
There now seems to be a ‘day’ for
everything… October 14 is Apple Day and there’s
a special celebration at Willsbridge Mill, near Bitton, Gloucestershire.
There’s a ‘crop’ of fruity activities to celebrate
the local orchard growing heritage, including a wander through
Willsbridge Valley Local Nature Reserve. More information from
Ruth Worsley, Community Education Officer, Avon Wildlife Trust,
tel 0117 932 6885 or www.avon wildlifetrust.org.uk. Common Ground,
who initiated apple day in 1990, has more details on events nationwide,
including a longest peel competition, on www.commonground.co.uk.
Diabolic handiwork delayed?
The Yew Campaign, run by the Conservation Foundation,
has been looking after the welfare of these ancient trees for
eighteen years and many people collected a Millennium Yew from
them to mark the second millennium. Organisers tell me they recently
heard from someone who planted one in Painswick Churchyard in
the Cotswolds where it is now three feet high – despite
being the 100th yew. Why the surprise? Well, legend has it that
only ninety-nine clipped yews ever survive in the churchyard
and the devil always kills the hundredth. However, during recent
storms, Satan had his way when a mature tree was struck down.
Sceptics have wondered what kept him but locals insist that diabolical
fate had been delayed due to pressure of work.
Help for heritage marshland
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has awarded
a £49,600 grant to help safeguard the future of the Lincolnshire
Coastal Grazing Marsh which has a rich cultural and wildlife
heritage but is fast disappearing. The HLF funding is national
recognition of the importance of the area and will be used for
gathering evidence in support of a major £1.7 million Landscape
Caroline Steel, of Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust,
commented: “This support means there is a real chance that
this distinctive landscape will survive. The economics of farming
mean there is little incentive now for farmers to keep livestock
rather than plough their fields and grow crops. We are hopeful
that additional funding will give farmers a greater choice, and
this landscape, with its rich cultural and natural heritage,
will remain.” Since 2003 a group of organisations concerned
about Lincolnshire’s natural and historic environment have
worked together to ensure the future of this distinctive landscape.
Ploughing the Broad Acres
After an absence of over thirty years the British
National Ploughing Championships are returning to North Yorkshire.
Held in a different part of the country each year, this year’s
event takes place less than five miles from York city centre,
at Crockey Hill, on October 13-14. Details from the Society of
Ploughmen at www. ploughmen.co.uk or on 01302 842469.
Homes for every garden
October 27 is Feed the Birds Day when the RSPB
launch their wildlife gardening project, Homes For Wildlife.
It is hoped people will be inspired to make a real difference
for the wildlife that shares the open spaces closest to them.
Organisers are looking for more than 200,000 people to support
the project by following free wildlife- gardening advice to help
transform their homes and gardens into wildlife havens. The RSPB
has produced an information pack full of simple advice and recommendations
for every garden. Those registering will receive a pack either
electronically or by post. For further information visit www.rspb.org.uk/hfw or
contact your local RSPB branch.
Crieff and Strathearn Drovers’ Tryst
is an outdoor festival designed to recapture the heady atmosphere
of the droving days – without the cattle. There are forty
walks of varying grades, giving good chances of spotting some
of Scotland’s more elusive wildlife. For details of the
Tryst (6-13 October) call 01764 652578 or email info@drovers