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Newsletter No. 79 April 2020

News from the Reserve from Les 


We ended last year with our usual mulled wine party which Shirley insisted was her final one.  This was well attended by exhausted bonfire workers who enjoyed the drinks and nibbles immensely.  Thanks Shirley and Brian for your generous hospitality over the years.


After an incredibly wet January and February we were looking forward to Spring with one more work party in March and the cowslip count in April, when we were faced with the Coronavirus (COVID 19) situation and the need to take sensible precautions to protect the health and wellbeing of our members, volunteers and members of the public.  In the light of the advice from the Government on social distancing we took the decision to suspend all Friends of Holtspur Bank LNR events for the foreseeable future.  This includes volunteer work parties and guided walks around the Reserve.  The nature reserve remains open to local people so members and visitors can exercise, enjoy the fresh air and find moments of calm whilst respecting the government’s social distancing requirements.  We are regularly reviewing things and hope to resume volunteering and events soon.


Reports of conservation activities undertaken since the last Newsletter follow.  Over the winter a team from Chiltern Rangers continued the coppicing work in Cut Throat Wood that has been ongoing for the past few years. This work has great benefits for biodiversity as the process creates a mosaic of uncut areas, scrub thickets and open areas. Within a couple of years these small glades flourish as the increase in light and heat levels reaching the woodland floor leads to more ground flora. With more wildflowers come more invertebrates like butterflies and other woodland pollinators. Also, Hazel coppice is particularly good for Dormice, one of Britain’s rarest mammals and as the coupe becomes older it develops into a dense area of scrub which is a fantastic habitat for low-cover nesting birds. This is a traditional method of woodland management and is best undertaken in the dormant winter period as the absence of foliage makes working easier, the bark is less likely to tear and new shoots are likely to grow better.


The coppice stools were covered over with brash (the smaller cut material) to minimise browsing damage from deer and the area will be left to regrow until the cycle of cutting comes full-circle and the coupe is re-cut.


In February Chiltern Rangers were joined by some of the Young Enterprise group from Highcrest Academy in High Wycombe and other families and volunteers who came out for a Community Conservation Day. The team thinned a pocket of trees at the top of the chalk grassland bank and brush-cut the regenerating dogwood and scrub to prevent encroachment on the grassland which would significantly reduce the ecological interest of the site. 

Scrub needs controlling where it would badly affect a rarer habitat as it will out-compete wildflowers, throw more shade and potentially change soil conditions. In many cases once species are lost, they can’t recolonise as there are no nearby sources of new populations. However, scrub is important in some areas such as woodland margins and as small islands in parts of grassland so an amount is always retained.

Work parties November to February focused on scrub clearance on the lower slope of the chalk bank near the Riding lane steps, and burning the arising material, we also cut the hedge along the Riding Lane boundary.


Another first for us was to plant ten Wych Elms as a substitute for English Elm the food plant of the rare White Letter Hairstreak (WLH) butterfly.  

Many of you will remember that Elm trees were decimated by Dutch Elm disease and the WLH suffered accordingly.  These Wych Elms will enter a 10-year coppicing cycle and, whilst it is sub-optimal, WLH will certainly use them.  Wych Elms are not immune to Dutch Elm disease but can escape for many years, mainly because the bark beetle prefers English Elm.  We shall see.  The photo below shows the Wych Elm buds making an appearance.


Sheep grazed the reserve for 6 weeks in November 2019 and, from the photo of the chalk bank below, you can clearly see the ant hills that are usually hidden by the long grass.  The photo was taken before the cowslips began to appear showing that, despite having to grapple with all the uncertainties of the current environment, Spring really is on the way.

Subscriptions to our group will be due for year 2020 – 2021 from the 1st April 2020

Renewal at £5 per household will be requested shortly

If you are reading this Newsletter and are not already a member and would like to join,

please contact Pauline Knapp our membership secretary

Friends Walks and Events on the Reserve 2020 are suspended for the foreseeable future

Work parties will hopefully commence again at the end of September 2020

A message from the Chairman of the Friends of Holtspur Bank Local Nature Reserve (LNR)

Dear Friends of Holtspur Bank LNR

I’m writing to ask for your help and support for our future activities. 

The Friends have achieved a lot since Shirley Scrivener formed it almost 25 years ago.  Working with Beaconsfield Town Council, the owner of the Reserve, the Friends have maintained and enhanced Holtspur Bank Local Nature Reserve so that it has become one of Beaconsfield’s natural jewels.  The Friends have gone from strength to strength thanks to its hard working, effective and talented Committee members and working party volunteers.  All the activities of the Friends are driven by the Committee as our regular Newsletters show with a love of this rare and delightful part of Beaconsfield’s natural environment being implicit in all that we do.  In addition, we promote the Reserve to a wider audience through our regular guided walks to ensure we maintain viable levels of membership and that we are financially stable.  

You will note from our latest Newsletter No.77 above that Shirley has decided to retire as newsletter editor having written all 77 of them.  We owe her a debt of gratitude for her staying power and dedication to the Reserve. 

Committee members move on, move away or retire and we need your help.  There are plenty more things we could do but we need more Committee members.  Without them it will be difficult to maintain our impressive list of activities or to initiate new ones.  We are in particular need of a Secretary (modest list of tasks available), Newsletter editor and someone to handle Promotion/publicity.  You would not necessarily need to join the winter practical conservation work parties although we could use some help here too.  

If you were to join us, you could expect to be well supported by other members of the Committee.  Even if you cannot make time to join the committee, please remember that we are always seeking “active” members who are prepared to help at specific events.

Remember, volunteering also has a positive impact on your own life.  You’ll meet new people living near you, you can take a refreshing break from your everyday routine, share a skill and make a difference in your community

Have I sparked your interest?  Like to find out more?  Browse this website to find out more about the Reserve or call me on 07919 336713.

With very best wishes

Les Davies