Wildlife and volunteering in 2021

2021 was another unsettled year on the whole for humans, but a more settled one in terms of weather for wildlife. It was a hugely successful year for wildlife and volunteering at Hazel Hill Wood. Volunteers are fundamental to our small charity, and volunteers gain from the time they spend with us. If you don’t yet volunteer at Hazel Hill Wood but would like to – please get in touch! 

Surveying wildlife at Hazel Hill Wood contributes to important scientific research and helps inform scientists, conservationists and others to take action to help wildlife. Changes in species distribution and abundance can act as indicators for environmental change – including climate change, habitat loss and habitat restoration. How do we know nature is in trouble? Because of surveying and monitoring (also known as biological recording)! 

In February 2021 volunteers Ella Abbott and Mark Burfitt set up the Garden BirdWatch survey, which they have been completing weekly since. This survey helps the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) understand how and why populations of garden birds and other wildlife are changing.

2021 marked the second year of us taking part in Nesting Neighbours – weekly surveys of 14 nest boxes located around the wood. Thank you Lauren and Josh Kearse for completing this. They were rewarded with seeing tawny owl chicks up close! We are looking for volunteers to take on the survey this year – please contact me if you’re interested and I can share the role description and skills needed.

In May we ran our 3rd annual BioBlitz, a 24 hour wildlife survey to find as many different species of wildlife as possible! A total of 52 people came, making it one of Hazel Hill Wood’s biggest events. We recorded 164 species. We had fantastic support from 20 volunteers in 2 main roles – welcoming other attendees and leading wildlife activities. Thank you all! Special thanks to those who lead activities: Dave Lawman (moth trapping, photo above). Laurie Evans (moths), Robyn Owen (small mammals), Elliot Newton (bats and other mammals), Pete Cooper (glow worms and mammals) and James McPherson (plants). A new record for the year is firecrest – our smallest bird in the UK (tied with goldcrest), identified by song. 

I (Charley) completed the weekly butterfly transect survey from April- September for the third year. This is part of the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS). It is a rewarding and enjoyable task, and I am looking to hand it over in the near future. Please get in touch if you are interested and I can share the role description and skills needed. A bit about the value of the survey from Butterfly Conservation: “The UKBMS is one of the longest running insect monitoring schemes in the world, with data from over 6,000 sites contributing to the butterfly trends since 1976.” 

Volunteer activity was higher than ever at Hazel Hill Wood in 2021. We were supported by a total of 72 volunteers, including 32 new volunteers. Unlike other charities, we did not stop volunteer days during the lockdown in early 2021. We judged that the positive impact for volunteers and the wood outweighed the covid risk. People share that they volunteer at Hazel Hill Wood for their physical health, mental health, to support wildlife conservation, to learn new skills and to meet new people. The range of tasks completed by volunteers has diversified – volunteers now support not only woodland management and wildlife surveys, but also building maintenance tasks. In September, we added an additional monthly volunteer day, the third Monday of each month, in addition to the first Friday. In October we ran Autumn Conservation Weekend – see more in our blog here.

Some of the tasks volunteers completed in 2021:

  • Scything and raking – to maintain wildlflower-rich rides and glades, and reduce our use of petrol-powered machines.
  • Firewood restocking – to heat our buildings. This is the first year where volunteers have been involved in the whole process – felling trees, cutting, splitting, stacking and moving.
  • Pond maintenance –  taking some plants, mainly bulrush, out to make sure it remains a pond and doesn’t dry out.
  • Bird nest box maintenance – collecting in and washing them out ready for next season.
  • Tree planting – to replace some felled.
  • Filling trenches – dug for power cables.
  • Getting buildings ready for guests.
  • Clearing out the gutters!

Thank you all for everything you do for Hazel Hill Wood. As I sometimes mention, running volunteer days is my favourite part of my job, and that’s because you’re all great!