Friday 16 January 2015

Week 52: Year's End & Reflections

Well, who’d have thought it?! I’ve managed to keep this thing going for a whole year. I wasn’t sure I would but I’m very glad I did. It was tricky to know whether to do a regular post for this final week or dive straight into a round up. In the end, a lack of energy and various other commitments made the decision for me. I shall bring things to a close with a few reflections and a summary of the most memorable, notable or significant finds. So, grab yourself a cuppa, find a comfy seat and here we go…

The only concrete aim of Project 2014 was to photograph a Box Moor Trust tree, once a week, for a year. After that, my plan was to have no plan. I hoped that by approaching the land with an open mind and heart, I might perhaps explore with as much innocence and curiosity as is possible. I tried not to dismiss areas that one might assume were barren or uninteresting, and, by committing to appraising the land over a period of 12 months, I inevitably had to persevere. Of course, through all of it, I chose the company of the Oak, a weekly appointment, for which I have been richly rewarded. I have so many wonderful memories of wildlife encountered around Dellfield meadow.

And so, here it is, Week 52, the final instalment. I have watched this moment approaching. When the trees began to lose their leaves, and the shadows lengthened, I could see and feel the land gradually returning to its starting point. The arc of the circle was closing. I had no real preconceptions as to what this year would involve or produce. I had no idea that in choosing to follow how an Oak tree changes over time, I would in fact come to appreciate its semi-permanence and stability, whilst the surrounding landscape and skies transformed and evolved. It amazes me that the same view, of the same tree can be so different even seconds apart. A cloud passing over, the shifting of the earth on its axis as the seasons change, and, of course, the colours and textures and shapes that emerge as leaves, buds and grasses grow, reproduce and die off again. The Oak within its landscape has alone been a source of genuine surprise and joy.

And then, of course, there has been everything else “that caught my eye, sparked my interest or tickled my fancy”. Where on earth do I begin!? When I look back, each week contains something which I remember fondly and cherish. I re-read my post on earth worms and it made me smile even now. Nothing like championing the overlooked and under-appreciated! Ok, I shall have to be ruthless. I’ve selected what I hope are the 12 most universally interesting or ecologically significant finds from this year. In chronological order…

Kingfisher Family

Nearly 3 months into the project, at the end of March, I discovered a courting pair along the Bulbourne river and located their nest site. I left them to it but was thrilled when I found in September that at least 3 young (two males and a female) had successfully fledged and were regularly feeding along the river. The family have been a constant throughout the project and I will continue to monitor their progress through 2015.


I was photographing the Bluebells in Hay Wood, in April, when I heard my first Cuckoo of the Spring burst into song. A little bit of Africa had arrived in Hemel Hempstead. Another male took up territory in the woods at Bovingdon Brickworks. They are special birds and it’s almost impossible to resist turning your ear to their arresting, hollow and penetrating song. 

Green Hairstreak & Dingy Skipper

At Roughdown Common, in April, one of the Trust's dedicated butterfly monitors found a small colony (3) of this rare Hertfordshire species. It really was exciting to head out and find my very first Green Hairstreak butterfly right on my doorstep. Over at the Brickworks, a small colony of Dingy Skipper butterflies were also wonderful to discover.

Grass Rivulet

At Dellfield meadow, in May, I was dying for a cuppa and this rare Hertfordshire moth was the last find of the day. Awful photograph but enough to lead to an ID and the hope that others might be found in the area.

Bee Orchids

On Bovingdon Reach meadow, in June, the memory of finding what was likely 150-200+ Bee Orchids will remain with me for ever, I think. There was barely a cloud in the sky and it was the most perfect summer’s day. And then, there they were...1, 2, 3 spikes...and so it went on. Having only ever known of single figure (1-5 spikes), hard-found specimens, I quite literally could not believe my eyes. It seemed almost miraculous!


On the River Bulbourne, late June, I had no idea I would come across five species of Damselfly with a sixth breeding at the Gadespring Cress Beds. It is testament to the ongoing restoration and management of the river, which, even in the 12 months I’ve been visiting it, has been developed and improved.

Grey Wagtail Breeding

By Station Moor, in July,
I found the nest site and the newly fledged family of Grey Wagtails.
This species is resident all year round but it was delightful to find them breeding locally.

Barn Owls

The last week of July, heading out to photograph the sunset and I came upon a magnificent Barn Owl. And later, it wasn't only the one Barn Owl, it was a pair! To say, I felt like I was dreaming is an understatement. If this had been the only significant find all year, it would have been worth every second spent on the project. 

Painted Lady & Silver-washed Fritillary

At the Brickworks, in August, I came upon the first Silver-washed Fritillary and the first migrant Painted Lady butterflies recorded at the site. I am chomping at the bit to find out this year if in fact Silver-washed Fritillary are regular visitors to an area of the Brickworks which is well stocked with mature Buddleja bushes.

Brown Argus Colony

At the Brickworks, late August, I had great fun trying to assess this newly discovered colony. Compared to 2013 records, this was the largest colony (14) recorded in Hertfordshire, outside of Aldbury Nowers. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens this summer!


Bovingdon Reach meadow, early October, a migrant Stonechat spent a day catching insects here before moving on. It’s the closest record I know of to the town centre.

Harvest Mouse jaw bone

November, after hours and hours spent dissecting Barn Owl pellets and identifying teeny weeny delicate bones, it was great to find something significant: the lower jaw bone of a Harvest Mouse. This is an increasingly rare species and although not conclusive, it gives us good reason to keep searching for evidence of its existence on Trust land.

If someone had told me at the start of the project that I’d be treated to up to five different Kingfishers along the Bulbourne; Cuckoos calling through woodlands; Green Hairstreaks and Dingy Skippers; know the thrill of finding a rare moth (Grass Rivulet) and a colony of scarce butterflies (Brown Argus); chance upon a carpet of Bee Orchids; watch Damselflies dancing and Grey Wagtails raising young; come across 26 species of butterfly; have Barn Owls flying over my head; spend a sunny afternoon with a migrant Stonechat, and retrieve a Barn Owl pellet that contained a Harvest Mouse jaw bone, I would have laughed in absolute disbelief! What a year, and all within walking distance of Hemel Hempstead town centre or the village green of Bovingdon! It just goes to show that you don’t need to seek wilderness and solitude for something special from the natural world to cross your path.

Although this blog is coming to an end, I hope to continue volunteering with the Trust and monitoring the land. Dan Forder is developing a new project (which I’ve alluded to briefly in the updated “About” section), and has very kindly asked if I’d like to join him. If/when that comes to fruition, I’ll put links in here.

Thank you to the Trust for its continuing care and active management of the land, balancing the needs of the local community with the interests of the natural world. Over the last 12 months, I feel as though I have fallen into step with the rhythms of its wildlife and I’m looking forward to seeing who or what will turn up over the next 12 months. This blog is, in a sense, a gift to the Trust which I hope will be of use and, if nothing else, will serve as a snapshot into the life on the land.

Thank you too to anyone who read and/or commented on my efforts either online or offline. This was never meant to be a project done in isolation and I was chuffed if anyone else enjoyed it or came along for the ride.

Last but not least, the final Oak photograph
Farewell for now

P.S. The Snowdrops are coming into flower on Bulbroune Moor and the cycle begins again…


Martin Parr said...

This has been a great project Lucy, I have really enjoyed reading your reports and found your enthusiasm and energy inspirational. I don't spend enough time locally out and about and you have given me some great ideas of new places to go and things to look for. Thank you for all your hard work and I look forward to your next project!

Lucy @ A Natural Interlude said...

Thank you Martin. It has been a very rewarding 12 months and it felt all the more enjoyable when people like yourself shared their enthusiasm with me. Thank you for your encouragement throughout and for the skilled survey work that you did, discovering further valuable species, and here's to more local field work in 2015. I am crossing my fingers that we'll find Silver-washed Fritillary and Brown Argus at the Brickworks whilst they are still in pristine condition, rather than late in the season, like last year, when they were in a very sorry state ;o). Thanks again Martin! Wishing you every success with the developments at Maple Lodge.

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic achievement! Your blog has been a celebration of the wonders of the British countryside; Stunning photos, witty and interesting write-ups and a genuine love of nature which shines through in every entry. Thank you for introducing me to so many new things. from ARF

Lucy @ A Natural Interlude said...

Thank you ARF. So many of the year's little critters were new to me too ;o). I'm glad you enjoyed them along with me.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for a whole year of really enjoyable blog posts. I now get even more pleasure than ever from my dog walks at Westbrook Hay, knowing what a fantastic variety of birds, insects and flowers are there. Aren't we lucky to have it all on our doorsteps?! Thanks again and all the best, Helen

Lucy @ A Natural Interlude said...
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