Saltford Environment Group
Saltford and the surrounding rural environment supports a wide variety of wildlife.
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Wildlife (in Saltford)
Our gardens in Saltford and the surrounding countryside support an amazing and fascinating variety of wildlife (biodiversity) that is so essential for maintaining nature's balance. The healthy natural environment is an important aspect of what makes living in this part of North East Somerset so great.
We can celebrate and raise awareness of our local wildlife so that we encourage wildlife to thrive in our area and help to protect it from the pollution, destruction and fragmentation of wildlife habit including our Green Belt.
We publish wildlife news on our home page and in our newsletters but here we give some examples of community activities in Saltford.
Railway Path Habitat Restoration Project
Work clearing the scrub and young trees on a short stretch of the west facing embankment of the Bristol-Bath railway path first started in November 2013. Where possible we sought the involvement of Saltford's Guides and Scout groups. The aim is to restore the area as a wildlife haven for wild flowers and nectar/pollen feeding insects by re-establishing the wildflower-rich rough grassland habitat and also the views across to the river.
We transferred ongoing maintenance of the project to SUSTRANS as part of its "Greenways" initiative in summer 2018. For project details visit Railway Path Habitat Restoration Project >>
Annual Saltford Dawn Chorus Walks
Each April a Dawn Chorus Walk is organised by the Keynsham and Saltford Branch of the Avon Wildlife Trust starting at Saltford Shallows car park. Over 30 species of birds are typically identified on the walk along the Bristol to Bath railway path.
1st Saltford Scouts
In recent years Scouts of all ages in Saltford have helped SEG on a number of habitat support projects. This includes removing the highly invasive Himalayan Balsam plant on a stretch of land near the river in September 2013.
As part of the Scout Community Week in June 2013 the 1st Saltford Scout Group and Argus Explorer Unit joined together with SEG to map and survey the local footpaths around the village. The report from this survey work can be downloaded here:
Rare & important plants found in Saltford
We post here information on important nationally rare plants that have been found or still occur in Saltford as well as general information on important local plants:
The Bath Asparagus (or 'Spiked Star of Bethlehem', Ornithogalum pyrenaicum), is a nationally scarce plant despite being widespread on mainland Europe and is found in its greatest numbers around the Bath area including in at least two locations in Saltford.
Native to Britain and related to the bluebell it is an attractive plant that can reach up to 1 metre in height (but usually grows to about 60cm). It has long strap like leaves that emerge in the spring and greenish-white star-shaped flowers on tall flower spikes. It is usually found in roadside verges, open woodlands, scrub and hedgerows. It was eaten as a delicacy by generations past (including the Romans) and old records show it was sold in Bath market as an alternative to asparagus.
The plant is threatened by habitat loss (e.g. development), inappropriate roadside verge cutting regimes, and the picking of unopened flower stalks for human consumption. Bath Asparagus bulbs for autumn planting or seeds that can be planted anytime of year can be readily purchased for your garden so there is no reason to disturb the plant growing wild in Saltford.
In September 2013 and 2015 SEG has made Bath Asparagus seed that is native to Saltford available free of charge to our members.
How to cultivate Bath Asparagus from seed
(It is recommended that you read ALL of this advice before planting your seeds.)
This plant grows in most soils that are well drained - it particularly likes the sort of soil we have in Saltford (Blue Lias limestone and clay). It can grow in semi-shade or no shade.
Seed can be sown at any time of year just 3-4 mm below the surface of soil/suitable compost and in a location that will remain undisturbed. If there is a dry-spell of weather initially after sowing, the soil should be kept moist. You can grow in pots but use large pots as the seeds send out contractile roots that pull the seed deeper down about 6 inches below the surface to then form a bulb.
You need to be very patient. In year one you will get a thin grass-like leaf. In year two there will be two leaves. In year three, three leaves. The bulb will not produce a flowering spike until year five (or year four if you are fortunate). So, the sooner you plant your seeds to create a clump of Bath Asparagus the better. The seeds will be dormant initially and will mostly germinate in the spring as the soil warms up.
SEG would like to thank Barbara Price (pictured here, August 2013), from Keynsham, for her advice on cultivating Bath Asparagus.
Barbara studied Ornithogalum pyrenaicum extensively in the 1980s and has continued since then to grow it in her garden in Keynsham (2013). Barbara is an ackowledged expert on Ornithogalum pyrenaicum and in 2000 the British Ecological Society published a paper that she co-wrote with D J Hill in the Journal of Ecology.
This important article on Ornithogalum pyrenaicum can be seen on the Journal of Ecology website using this link: Ornithogalum pyrenaicum L. (opens in new window).
Barbara kindly lent her research papers to SEG to assist us with writing this article on this important plant that forms part of our natural heritage.
The Greater Dodder (Cuscuta europaea) is a nationally scarce plant, found in only a few riverbanks and wetland areas in southern and central England. It can be found in Saltford - the photographs (July 2015) are of Greater Dodder found growing wild in Saltford. Flowering in July-September, the plant contains no chlorophyll; instead it absorbs food through haustoria (rootlike organs) that penetrate the tissue of a host plant, typically nettles but including Himalayan Balsam, and may kill the host.
The dodder's seed germinates, forming an anchoring root, and then sends up a slender stem that grows in a spiral fashion until it reaches a host plant. It then twines around the stem of the host plant and throws out haustoria, which penetrate it. Water is drawn through the haustoria from the host plant's stem and xylem (tissue in vascular plants that transports water and nutrients), and nutrients are drawn from its phloem (living tissue). Meanwhile, the root of the dodder rots away after stem contact has been made with a host plant.
As the dodder grows, it sends out new haustoria and establishes itself very firmly on the host plant. After growing in a few spirals around one host shoot, the dodder finds its way to another, and it continues to twine and branch until it resembles a fine, densely tangled web of thin stems enveloping the host plant.
Toothwort (Lathraea squamaria)
Most plants generate their food using the energy from sunlight, and this ability is unique to plants; no animals or fungi can make food. A number of plants are semi-parasitic, photosynthesising some of their own food but taking the rest from other plants; Mistletoe (Viscum album) is an example conspicuous in Saltford. A special few have lost all ability to make their own food, feeding like fungi. Also like fungi, they can be invisible above ground for 11 months of the year; but most fully parasitic plants flower and set seed, briefly, in the open air. Coming across such plants' anaemically pale above-ground parts can be an exciting moment.
The most notorious British fully parasitic plant is Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum), which can go for decades without being seen anywhere in the country.
More predictable in its appearance, but still a special find in most places, is Toothwort (Lathraea squamaria), a relative of foxgloves and toadflaxes. Toothwort is locally distributed in lowland Britain, being rather scarce in our area: the 2000 Flora of the Bristol region traced records from only 72 (of the approx. 1500) 1km squares in the former county of Avon.
Many years can pass between its appearances in Saltford. From 2017 several clumps have come up in Saltford Mead, in the large field beside the River Avon on the Saltford bank immediately upstream of Swineford Lock (i.e., the third field downstream from the Jolly Sailor). These plants can be viewed from the public footpath along the bank, growing under the row of trees planted in the mid 1980s. The spikes grow straight out of the ground up to about six to eight inches high; in early spring there is little other fresh vegetation at this height. This, combined with the spikes' denture-like appearance, renders them conspicuous.
There are no confusion species: the only close relative growing in Britain, the introduced Purple Toothwort (Lathraea clandestina), looks very different. Photographs of both can be found readily on the internet; search using the scientific name Lathraea to avoid confusion with the unrelated American plant Cut-leaved Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata), a close relative of various British species here called bittercresses.
Toothwort is most associated with Hazel (Corylus avellana). Surprisingly, although there are some Hazels in this strip of trees, the Toothwort clumps are not close to large Hazels. Either, they are tapping into the roots of other species, or Toothwort roots spread a long distance through the soil. Please do not attempt to find out; it is illegal to dig out Toothwort in England without the landowner's permission.
British Toothwort flowers remain at their gruesome best only briefly.
Article by Will Duckworth (April 2017 and republished April 2018 to report the 2nd year sighting of this plant in Saltford).
In our modern everyday lives the value of moss is not immediately obvious. Here in Saltford, close inspection of almost any handful of moss will reveal an important ecological role - that of providing shelter and humidity, a microhabitat, for a wide diversity of invertebrates. It is its position at the base of the ecological food chain that underlines the value of the moss that we see in and around Saltford.
According to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), there are over 600 species of moss in the UK (and over 10,000 worldwide). Mosses can form large, coarse, loose, green or yellowish-green tufts, densely matted tufts, or compact green cushions. We have more moss occurring in Britain compared to other similar latitudes, for example the rest of Europe and Asia, as our humid climate provides the right growing conditions thus making our wildlife and habitat so special.
Mosses can be the first to recolonise bare areas of ground recently cleared. In damp conditions, moss is like a sponge, providing semi-aquatic conditions for a whole variety of other tiny creatures, as well as a wonderfully damp nursery that allows the germination of tree seedlings and other flowering plants. When it dries out, some species of moss can be a popular nest material for a large variety of the wild birds that visit and inhabit our gardens.
But moss also has an aesthetic role by helping to keep our landscapes lush and green and on closer examination, many mosses are stunningly beautiful. Perhaps before we rush to clear moss away from our gardens we should hesitate, appreciate moss for what it is, marvel at its natural beauty and allow it space to carry out its essential role in the cycle of life.
Growing native plant species in your garden
Note: This item also appears on our Gardening page.
'Non-native species' means plants or animals brought into the country either on purpose or by mistake. Most are not harmful if they get into the wild, but some can become 'invasive' (like the Himalayan Balsam that is infesting parts of Saltford, especially the river banks) causing harm to native species, our health and economy.
Our insect population eats and thrives on the foliage of native plants and trees whereas non-native plants provide little or no larval food at all. The crucial role of insects in our ecosystem ranges from helping to consume waste products including dead animals to being food for our wild bird population.
So, if you want to attract birds and encourage beneficial insects to your garden that are healthier for flowers whilst your population of harmful insects such as aphids, mealy bugs and cutworms gradually diminish, plant choice can be important. As a result of correct plant choice, you can also reduce or eliminate use of harmful pesticides that end up in the air and water supply and threaten important insects such as bees.
Snipe fly. Photograph © Elizabeth Cooksey.
To help you source native plants the independent charity Flora Locale had produced an online British & Irish Flora Suppliers Directory but during 2018/19 that closed. The Royal Horticultural Society lists the top 10 British native wildflowers on the RHS website (link to list). The RHS website can also help you find a plant that is good for pollinators and find local suppliers.
We have also listed tree species ecologically appropriate to Saltford on this page.
The Non-Native Species Secretariat (NNSS) has responsibility for helping to coordinate the approach to invasive non-native species in Great Britain. Its website at www.nonnativespecies.org provides species information on many invasive non-native species of plants you should avoid (and fauna).
Non-Native Invasive Plants
We have posted here information on three important non-native invasive plants that have been found or still occur in Saltford:
We all need to be aware of the dangers of Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum). It is a highly toxic invasive plant that originated in SW Asia. Following its introduction as an ornamental plant in the early 19th century it has been found to be growing wild in the UK (first recorded in 1828) and is now widespread in lowland Britain. It is usually biennial and can grow up to 3 - 5 metres tall with white or, less common, pinkish flower heads up to 500mm across in flat-topped clusters. It is a vigorous competitor that excludes native vegetation. It can be confused with Common Hogweed a smaller and common native plant.
Contact with its sap or its bristles can cause severe skin burns depending on individual sensitivity. It can sensitize skin to ultra-violet light (sunlight), leading to severe blisters, pigmentation and long-lasting scars; hospitalisation may be necessary. Affected skin may remain sensitive for several years. A minute amount of sap in the eye can lead to temporary or even permanent blindness.
Two occurrences of Giant Hogweed were spotted in Saltford by SEG each spring in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2020; these were reported to B&NES Council for urgent action to destroy the plants (it can take several years to finally eradicate the plant). Also in 2016 a local resident discovered three massive Giant Hogweed plants growing in her garden after using locally sourced mulch that contained the plant's seeds.
NOTE: Following on from the 2015 discovery and representations to B&NES Council, the Council will aim to treat Giant Hogweed within 5 working days of receiving a report of its presence.
If you find Giant Hogweed growing in Saltford, please advise both the Parish Council and B&NES Council (ideally online via Fix My Street - we have a link on our Links page - or Council Connect on 01225 39 40 41) as soon as possible - and let SEG know too. For your own safety DO NOT TOUCH or attempt to remove it yourself. When removed, under the Environmental Protection Act (1990) Giant Hogweed is classified as controlled waste. Anyone working amongst Giant Hogweed should wear protective clothing that covers the whole body including gloves, hood and face visor.
For further details about Giant Hogweed can be fouind on the Non-Native Species Secretariat website - click here: Giant Hogweed - NNSS.
Whilst many might agree that the Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) is an attractive looking plant (see photograph courtesy of the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat) it is not native to the UK and its invasive nature is causing major problems for local habitats and ecosystems. It grows and spreads quickly and smothers native plants. It flowers from June to October; each plant lasts for one year and dies at the end of the growing season.
A serious issue for our rivers including the Avon in Saltford is that the plant leads to river bank erosion as it smothers out native plants and undermines the stability of riverbanks, especially when it dies down in the winter leaving the riverbanks bare and exposed.
According to the Government's Non Native Species Secretariat (NNSS) Himalayan Balsam is listed under Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981; as such it is an offence to plant or otherwise allow this species to grow in the wild.
Supporting the ecological case for preventing non-native invasive plants like Himalayan Balsam from destroying the habitat of native plants and insects must surely be paramount if we wish to have a balanced, healthy, wildlife-friendly environment. For this reason it makes sense to eradicate this non-native invasive plant from growing wild in and around Saltford. Removal should ideally be before it produces ripened fruit capsules - each plant ejects hundreds of seeds a distance of up to 6 or 7 metres.
For further details about Himalayan Balsam including an identification fact sheet visit the Non-Native Species Secretariat website - click here: Himalayan Balsam - NNSS.
Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is an invasive non-native weed, found mainly in urban areas where it is considered an expensive nuisance in property and other built or infrastructure developments because plants regrowing from rhizomes can come up through gaps in flooring in conservatories and patios or gaps/joints in tarmac or concrete. Underground sewers and drains can be severely affected also.
Originally introduced as a garden ornamental plant, it is widespread in the UK in mostly urban areas and river banks. It does not produce viable seeds in the UK, but instead spreads through rhizome (underground root-like stem) fragments and cut stems. Dispersal is by deliberate or inadvertent human activity except where rivers can wash root pieces downstream.
It produces fleshy red tinged shoots when it first breaks through the ground, has large, heart or spade-shaped green leaves (see photograph courtesy of the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat) arranged in a zig-zag pattern along the hollow bamboo-like stem, and can form dense clumps that can be several metres deep. It produces clusters of cream flowers towards the end of July and dies back between September and November, leaving brown stems. There have been a few instances of Japanese Knotweed growing in isolated locations in Saltford.
It is an offence to plant or cause Japanese Knotweed to spread in the wild under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and all waste containing Japanese Knotweed comes under the control of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
For further details about Japanese Knotweed including an identification fact sheet visit the Non-Native Species Secretariat website - click here: Japanese Knotweed - NNSS.
Our native English bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta is at risk because it readily cross-breeds with both its invasive Spanish cousin Hyacinthoides hispanica, often planted in gardens, and with the resulting fertile hybrid Hyacinthoides hispanica x non-scripta. This dilutes and threatens the purity of our native bluebells.
The Spanish bluebell has been spreading so rapidly that a 2003 survey report (Bluebells for Britain) found that one in six broadleaved woodland sites recorded had either the Spanish or hybrid bluebell present alongside a native bluebell population. Our English bluebells are already under attack from climate change, habitat loss, and unsustainable collection (it is illegal to collect bluebells from the wild for commercial purposes and illegal for anyone, without the permission of the owner or occupier of the land, to intentionally uproot any wild plant) so we must do what we can to avoid planting or growing Spanish bluebells in our gardens.
The irresponsible dumping of garden waste and soil in wild areas is one way Spanish bluebells have invaded our woods and other semi-natural habitats. Likewise the well-intentioned but highly misguided planting of garden plants and seeds in wild or public areas by members of the public (this has happended in Saltford) can lead to the spread of invasive alien species and loss of natural wild flowers. Garden plants should stay in gardens and not be spread into the wild and more natural areas of our environment. Choosing native plants for your garden instead of non-native species is an important way of helping to support rather than harm our eco-systems.
If you have bluebells in your garden, it is important to control or better still remove any offending Spanish bluebells, especially if you live close to woods. To tell them apart, the flower heads of native bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) are narrowly bell-shaped with straight-sided petals, deeply curled back at the tips. The majority of flowers droop from one side of the stem. The bell-shaped flowers of Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) and the hybrids between this and the English bluebells open more widely than on English bluebells, with the petal tips just flaring outwards or curling back only slightly.
Bluebells are very resistant to weedkillers that appear to be ineffective, it is better to dig them out while they are in leaf, as the bulbs are very hard to find when the plants are dormant. Never dispose of bulbs by adding them to the garden compost heap and never discard unwanted bulbs in the countryside. Consign them to a black plastic sack and leave for a year before composting.
Further information on Spanish bluebells is available on the Royal Horticultural Society website: www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=426.
Articles within this section:
Identifying birds (incl. Swifts & Swallows)
Tips on feeding garden birds
Water for garden birds
Own a cat?
Buzzards over Saltford
Using local expertise, we have listed on the right-hand side of this web page the regularly occurring bird species readily observed in Saltford. It makes a fascinating list and if you click on each bird you can find an image, details and even its birdsong on the RSPB website. If you regularly observe other birds in Saltford, do send an email to our website Editor (contact details on home page).
Our list shows the birds that are presently of regular occurrence in Saltford. But the area's birdlife is changing fast. A few species have changed from extreme local rarity to regular occurrence. Some, like the Raven, are recent re-colonists, having been hunted out centuries ago; some, such as Mediterranean Gull and Little Egret are new colonists, perhaps through climate change; and some, like the Red-legged Partridge and Canada Goose, were deliberately introduced by people.
More worryingly, in the last 40 years seven species have dropped off the list of regularly occurring species here: Grey Partridge, Turtle Dove, Cuckoo, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Nightingale, Tree Sparrow and Corn Bunting. The reasons for their loss are not certain; all are under steep decline nationally.
Nevertheless, we enjoy a huge diversity of birdlife in Saltford and the way we tend our gardens can help support this biodiversity. You can plant all kinds of native species of shrubs and flowers that will benefit wildlife and create habitat for insects such as piles of logs and sticks. Organisations like the RSPB (see further information for link) offer advice on how to keep a wildlife friendly garden that will support birdlife and offer helpful tips on what and when to feed birds on bird tables or in bird feeders.
Annual Dawn Chorus Walk: The Keynsham and Saltford Branch of the Avon Wildlife Trust holds an annual Dawn Chorus walk in Saltford each April (or May) starting at Saltford Shallows car park and walking along the Bristol to Bath railway path either east towards Bath or west towards Bristol. This is a great way of learning how to identify birds from their song; typically over 30 species are identified and their identification features clarified during the walk each year. Watch out for details on this website's home page.
Help with identifying birds
To help you identify birds you have seen in Saltford, the bird identifier on the RSPB website is worth a visit: Bird identifier - RSPB.
Can you identify the Swifts and Swallows over Saltford?
Even when our skies are grey, a sign of summer is when the Swallows, Swifts and House Martins can be seen flying their acrobatic displays overhead as they pluck flying insects and airborne spiders from the air.
They are welcome summer visitors to Britain, but can you readily identify the different species just from their shape when they are in flight? Swifts are larger and have longer scythe-shaped wings and short tails, Swallows have long tail streamers, and House Martins have a more dumpy appearance and much shorter tails (see the illustration below).
It is Swifts (Apodidae family and not related to Swallows and Martins) that you can hear screaming overhead. Swifts appear to be all black, although close up they are dark brown. House Martins and Swallows (Hirundinidae family) both have white undersides with a glossy blue-black back but the Swallow has a distinctive red chin and throat.
The Sand Martin (Hirundinidae family), also observed in Saltford, is similar in shape and can be confused with the House Martin but its white underside is divided by a dark breast band just below its head and it has a brown back.
Tips on feeding garden birds
Although winter feeding benefits birds most, food shortages can occur at any time of the year. By feeding the birds year round, we give them a better chance to survive the periods of food shortage whenever they may occur.
Winter and cold spells in autumn are times when birds can go really hungry. If birds get used to feeding from your garden bird feeder and you then stop re-filling the feeder during cold weather, birds can waste precious energy getting to your feeder if there's nothing there on arrival.
Certain foods do more harm than good. For example peanuts, fat and bread in spring/summer can be harmful if an adult bird feed them to their young. Did you know that it's unwise to feed bread to birds? Its nutritional value is relatively low (an 'empty filler'), uneaten bread can attract rats, and a bird that is on a diet of predominantly or only bread can suffer from serious vitamin deficiencies, or starve. This is one reason why the National Trust, for example, asks visitors not to feed bread to ducks at its properties.
Feeder hygiene is important; salmonella can kill your garden guests. Use boiling water or buy specialised cleaning products that don't harm wildlife whilst avoiding regular detergents. Peanuts and fat balls are often sold in nylon mesh bags which can trap birds by their feet or beaks. The RSPB recommends always cutting off the netting before putting out the food. You might like to consider writing to the manufacturer to let them know how dangerous these bags are so that together we can stop this dangerous packaging from being sold.
Water for garden birds
A bird bath in your garden, whether a ready-made purchased one or homemade provides a great service to garden birds from the much needed water they need to drink or to help them keep their feathers in good condition.
According to the RSPB, ideally bird baths should have shallow sloping sides (so avoid steep sided bowls and dishes), be no more than 10cm deep and be as wide as possible, and at least 30cms across. Remember that birds are vulnerable while they're drinking or bathing, so have a think about where to place it. Think of it as a "puddle on a stick". It is ideal to put it about a couple of metres from any bushes where a predator might lurk, but not too far out in the open. Check that the inside of the bird bath is not too smooth (slippery). If it is the birds might slip into the water so put some pebbles or rocks in the water to give them a better grip.
Own a cat? Please fit a bell with a bright collar
Domestic cats kill tens of millions of birds and small mammals in Britain each year yet this carnage can be reduced if cat owners fit a bell to their cat. Some cats walk with their head still to avoid the bell ringing; a brightly coloured collar for the bell can help give birds a chance of avoiding your cat.
Buzzards over Saltford
In the 1940s-1960s it was exceptional to see a Buzzard here, but in the late 1970s it became a regular, although infrequent visitor. Although one or more birds had evidently settled in Tennant's Wood (alongside the railway cycle path below Kelston) by 1981, up to about 1984, the only reliable way to see the species was to scan the Kelston-North Stoke ridge with binoculars. But by the end of the 1980s it had become a daily sight in Saltford itself, and by the end of the 1990s double-figure gatherings were commonplace under appropriate conditions. Populations have remained at this high level ever since.
Here are some facts about this magnificent raptor's natural history.
The Buzzard's national increase is a return to 'natural' conditions. During the Victorian era of generalised mass-slaughter of predators, it was eradicated from all but the most remote parts of Britain. Chances of a resurgence, with the mass deployment of keepers to the wars, were thwarted, and the species brought even nearer to national extinction, during the peak myxomatosis years (1950s/60s) when its main diet of wild Rabbit was drastically reduced. However, as the Rabbit population has re-established itself as a result of increasing genetic resistance or immunity to myxomatosis, so has the Buzzard population.
Populations tend to be densest where the fields are smallest, because it favours abundant hedgerows and small woods. Although Saltford lost many hedges during the 1960s-1980s, those which remain, particularly north of the residential area, are tall, wide and often associated with ditches, providing excellent conditions for prey.
Despite its medium-large size, the Buzzard is not a major predator, preferring a diet of carrion (dead and decaying flesh) and earthworms supplemented by live large insects, reptiles, frogs, small mammals and birds (including occasionally pheasants and partridges).
A slow almost lazy flier with little chance of catching its prey on the move, a usual tactic is to perch motionless on a branch of a large tree - or even on a lamp post. Where perches are scarce, or where it wants a broader view, it scans from the air. Its markings make excellent camouflage whilst perched in a tree and a Buzzard will wait patiently, sometimes for hours at a time, until a prey animal passes underneath. It will then swoop down and snatch the unsuspecting prey.
Resident in most of Britain, as the spring breeding season arrives Buzzards can be seen engaging in spectacular aerial displays, soaring, tumbling and even performing loop the loop. The most exhilarating displays are on days of fine weather, when hot air is rising. The species has a variety of rather plaintive mewing calls. The contact call can be heard from high in the sky, particularly during display, but is given year-round. For a few weeks in late summer more insistent, longer calls can be heard from newly fledged juveniles repeatedly calling for food from their parents.
Much foraging is solitary, but this is flexible. Indeed, the most obvious feeding activity in Saltford is generally during and immediately after grass-cutting and ploughing, when up to a dozen will gorge on the exposed small animals, amid gulls doing likewise. Two or three soaring birds often come close together for a few minutes at any time of year, but particularly during the period when young leave their natal territory, flocks of up to 20 soar round and round in thermals for longer spells, before peeling off singly or in small groups to all points of the compass.
With a lifespan of up to 25 years, Buzzards commence breeding in their third year, laying a single clutch of 2-3 eggs. Breeding pairs usually construct their nests in a large tree on a fork or branch, usually close to the edge of a wood, and have an interesting habit of decorating their nests with fresh green foliage. The female is larger than the male (as with most birds of prey).
The local history of the Buzzard looks set to be repeated by another large raptor almost eradicated from Britain by the Victorians: the Red Kite (Milvus milvus). This is now at the stage in Saltford of the Buzzard in the late 1970s, with multiple records each year (over a dozen in 2015). Most birds are fly-overs in March-June, with none yet having settled, even for a day. Thus, over the next few months, an eye to sky, mid-morning onwards on calm, cloudless, warm days will almost guarantee sightings of Buzzard and, just possibly, Red Kite.
Article by Phil Harding and Will Duckworth (March 2016)
Let's make Saltford bee friendly
Note: Extracts from item also appear on our Gardening page.
"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man" - Albert Einstein
The dramatic and unexplained decline in the population of bees is worrying for everyone, not just conservationists. Fewer bees mean less pollination, less honey and fewer plants. The consequences are damaging our food industry that depends on the health and survival of our bees and threatens to make the food we eat more expensive.
The Maoxian county of Sichuan in China has lost its pollinators through the indiscriminate use of pesticides and the over-harvesting of honey. So, since the 1990s, humans have had to pollinate fruit trees there by hand, thus replacing the honeybee with the human bee. This is nowhere near as efficient as natural pollination. If this were to happen in the UK, the financial cost would be huge and our food bills would go through the roof - assuming the food is available to buy in the first place. One third of all our food staples only grow after pollination; the global crisis facing our pollinators could make the 2008 banking crisis look relatively trivial as the world runs out of food.
In the UK we are losing bees at an alarming rate. Worldwide, many beekeepers take the view that, at the current rate of bee loss, there may now only be very limited time to find a cause and solution to this problem. Insects pollinate, but by far the most effective pollinator is the honey bee. Before you reach for that insecticide, stop to think.
Faced with a decline in pollinator numbers across the UK, the Government launched in 2013 a consultation on the production of a National Pollinator Strategy. The resulting advice from experts led to a "call to action" from Defra in July 2014 to raise awareness of what can be done with five simple actions that farmers, landowners and gardeners can take to help create or improve a habitat for pollinators:-
Wildlife groups have welcomed this practical "call to action". We can make Saltford a haven for pollinators if we all do our bit and adopt some or most of the five actions in the way we manage our gardens. In the summer, the plants in your garden which bees will love are the aquilegias, bergamot, evening primrose, lavender, poppies, sunflowers, thyme and verbena but think about planting for autumn. Bees need food for most of the year so consider plants such as asters, autumn crocus, campanula, salvias and single flowering dahlias. You might also like to construct a bee hotel for your garden; there is plenty of advice on the internet on how to do this.
To help you identify the bees that you see, the Friends of the Earth Bee Identification Guide on their website is worth a visit:-
See lower down the page for moths.
All butterfly photographs are © Elizabeth Cooksey, Chris Vines or Phil Harding.
Butterflies bring a welcome touch of colour and delight to our gardens. With a continued decline and decrease in either their distribution or population levels they are also sensitive indicators of environmental change, including climate change, and of the health of the countryside.
Our gardens can act as important stepping stones between nature reserves and other natural habitat. They can offer sheltered conditions, abundant supplies of nectar and larval food plants such as brassica, nettle, Holly, Ivy, Dark Mullein, and grasses for many of our butterfly species. Butterflies will visit any garden, however small, if they can feed from suitable nectar plants and a well thought out garden can attract and support several species. Butterfly Conservation (see further information for link) offer advice on how to keep a wildlife friendly garden that will attract butterflies.
Data gathered by the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) shows that many species that were once common are facing difficult weather conditions (the relentless rain and cold 2012 being a recent example) and their numbers are dropping dramatically threatening their continued survival in the UK. Fortunately the warm summer of 2013 was good for butterflies.
The 25 species of butterflies that occur and have been observed in Saltford in recent years, all pictured above in alphabetical order, are as follows (click on each species for details on the Butterfly Conservation website - opens in a new window):-
We may tend to overlook them, but moths are numerous and widespread, with over 2,500 species in Britain living in a wide range of habitats. Moths are a major and vital part of our biodiversity. They benefit plants by pollinating flowers while feeding on their nectar, and so help in seed production. This vital pollination role that moths have not only benefits wild plants but also many of our food crops, which depend on moths as well as other insects to ensure a good harvest.
Both adult moths and their caterpillars are food for a wide variety of wildlife, including other insects, spiders, frogs, toads, lizards, shrews, hedgehogs, bats and birds. Night-flying adult moths form a major part of the diet of bats. Many birds eat both adult moths and their caterpillars, whilst the caterpillars are especially important for feeding the young. Some of our favourite garden birds depend on caterpillars to rear their young.
Moths are important pollen transporters in English farmland and might play a role in supporting crop yields, according to a study in May 2020 from the University College London. Lead author of the study, Dr Richard Walton (UCL Geography), said:
"Nocturnal moths have an important but overlooked ecological role. They complement the work of daytime pollinators, helping to keep plant populations diverse and abundant. They also provide natural biodiversity back-up, and without them many more plant species and animals, such as birds and bats that rely on them for food, would be at risk.
"Previous studies of pollen transport among settling moths have focused on their proboscis. However, settling moths sit on the flower while feeding, with their often distinctly hairy bodies touching the flower's reproductive organs. This happy accident helps pollen to be easily transported during subsequent flower visits."
Native to North Africa and southern Europe, the Hummingbird Hawk-Moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) has been observed in Saltford during summer months and it is now increasingly common in southern England. This remarkable day-flying moth is named from its appearance that is very similar to a hummingbird as it hovers, probing flowers for nectar with its long proboscis. It is smaller than any hummingbird and yet it emits an audible hum from its fast beating wings.
The Hummingbird Hawk-Moth drinks the nectar from flowers, such as Red Valerian, Honeysuckle, and Buddleia, and can be seen hovering and probing nectar-rich flowers in sunny locations. The caterpillar feeds on various species of bedstraw; the female adults lay eggs on the buds or flowers of these plants. Hummingbird Hawk-Moths cannot normally survive British winters although increasingly they are managing to do so; they migrate to and from southern Europe and North Africa in autumn and spring.
Trees are your best antiques
This section includes some special feature items:
The trees we see in and around Saltford are integral to the rural character and wildlife of the village. Some of our hedgerows have retained very old large diameter, partly hollow oak and ash trees whilst Saltford also has an ancient woodland, Folly Wood, to the south east side of the Golf Club. The woodland understorey and, notably, the large quantity of rotting wood at all stages of decay suggests that Folly Wood has a rich invertebrate fauna. This wood also provides an important habitat for plant species including mosses and fungi and, due to its location away from the main residential area of Saltford, is largely undisturbed and unspoilt.
Two other long standing woods, albeit small and linear, are Colonel's Wood, located north of Saltford Manor, and Longwood, located west of the Golf course. Both provide excellent habitat for a rich invertebrate fauna due to the relatively large proportions of large old trees and the woodland understorey. These are inhabited by Barn, Tawny and Little Owls. Two parcels of Avon Community Forest exist in Saltford: the Manor Road Community Wood that extends from Keynsham into Saltford along Manor Road on the west side of the parish and another area of the Community Forest to the north west of Saltford Mead by Swineford Lock on the north side of the parish.
Know your trees
The Woodland Trust's website has a useful "A-Z guide to British trees from native species to naturalised and widely planted non-natives" - this can be found directly from this link:-
It provides information and photographs of native trees that provide our most precious woodland and which arrived and grew here naturally after the last Ice Age, and non-native trees introduced by humans.
Planting tree species ecologically appropriate to Saltford
When choosing trees to plant in our gardens and other areas of land in Saltford, there are some important considerations. For the long term health of the tree and to ensure the tree supports our local ecosystem (i.e. especially invertebrates many of which are undergoing widespread and complete loss in southern England and which are also important natural food for birds), it is helpful to choose native species that are appropriate for the soil and weather conditions for this part of NE Somerset.
A tree may be described as native to Britain, but that does not follow that it would be suitable for Saltford. For example trees suitable for low nutrient soils such as are often found in upland, acid areas, e.g. Rowan and Silver Birch, do not naturally occur in Saltford's lowland, calcareous high-nutrient soil.
The main trees to avoid are invasive non-natives with no close relatives, for example Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima - an especially rampant often suckering invasive tree that outcompetes native species - sometimes known as Tree of Hell by conservationists), and Bastard Acacia (Robinia pseudoacacia - a vigorous, suckering tree, sometimes thorny also known as False Acacia, Common Acacia, Black Locust). They are chemically so different to our native trees that few native insects are able to feed on their foliage.
Here we have listed native trees ecologically appropriate to Saltford (this list is not exhaustive but captures the majority of such trees). The scientific names are given to make sure the appropriate British species is chosen rather than a potentially unsuitable continental species:-
Alder, Common (Alnus glutinosa)
Furthermore edible apple, pear, cherry and plum trees are close enough relatives of wild species to be of great direct value to invertebrates.
Projected climate change (e.g. hotter, drier summers, wetter winters and weather extremes) are likely to make conditions less suitable for some species in the decades ahead, so risks of later tree loss can be reduced by mixed planting of species which also can help maximise resilience to pests and diseases and provide greater wildlife benefits.
The value of deadwood to our local ecosystems
Dead and decaying trees have an integral and ecological value as wildlife habitat. In "over-managed" woodlands, for example, the felling and subsequent removal of trees and debris means that the amount of deadwood is greatly reduced compared to natural woodlands, thus impairing biodiversity and reducing the health of local ecosystems.
Rather than being a wasted resource, deadwood has many key roles in our environment including as a habitat and food source for many terrestrial and aquatic species; seedbeds for plants (including trees); a store and source of water, energy, carbon and nutrients (e.g. providing a steady, slow-release source of nitrogen); and a structural role that can contribute to the structure and functions of streams and rivers including providing a cover for fish, slowing the river's velocity, reducing soil erosion and regulating flooding.
Over a third of woodland wildlife is dependent on deadwood. Standing dead trees and fallen trees and branches provide a huge array of microhabitats. There is an extensive range of deadwood-dependent organisms including fungi, lichens, invertebrates, mosses and birds, many of them having very specific requirements, and some specialising exclusively on one particular microhabitat. This means that for all species to persist, deadwood of all sizes from massive trunks to twigs, both standing and fallen, and at all stages of decay from freshly dead until rotten away, are important.
In summary, a healthy, natural and balanced environment includes standing dead trees and fallen trees supporting numerous life forms that thrive on decay. It is therefore important that we resist the temptation to clear away deadwood and instead see it as a natural resource integral to supporting the many wildlife species living in and around our village.
Sooty Bark Disease Cryptostroma corticale
This disease affects maples, especially Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus trees, and it also adversely affects some people. It first arrived, apparently from the Americas, in the UK in the 1940s in Essex but is now widespread across the country including here in Saltford.
The disease is characterised by wilting, typically bough by bough over several years, resulting in branch die-back. This sometimes continues for decades with no apparent effect on the tree's vitality. However, during hot droughts the balance between fungus and tree can change: the whole crown may wilt followed 1-2 years later by the death of the tree. This involves severe bark shedding, after a period when the bark looks sooty or even tarry as it dies. This colour is caused by the black phialospores (spores that form on the top of a fungus) in the bark.
Sycamores at all stages from lightly infected (only one or two branches dead within the crown) to fully dead can be seen all round Saltford at present, following the recent run of hot, dry spells in summers. The native Field Maple Acer campestre can also host the fungus and show localised branch die-off but is evidently, a least in the current climate, much more resistant to death from the fungus than is the Sycamore.
The fungus can not only kill a Sycamore tree, it can also cause a serious condition called pneumonitis (a non-infectious inflammation of the lungs) in humans that come into prolonged contact with the spores of the affected trees. Inhaling the spores could trigger asthma-like symptoms or an allergic reaction. Once contracted, a proportion of people appears to be hypersensitised to future contact with the fungus's spores, perhaps for life. The risk to anyone cutting infected wood (whether felling a tree or cutting for firewood) is through the inhalation of the spores so Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) is necessary, typically a respirator, gloves and protective clothing.
The Sycamore is not native to Britain, where it is generally regarded by conservationists as a pernicious weed. It was described by Britain's foremost woodland ecologist, the late Oliver Rackham, as "an aggressive tree, successfully forming secondary woodland and invading native woods...difficult to destroy and most of the trees ever successfully planted [in the UK] must still be alive. Once put in a wood, Sycamore multiplies and spreads at the expense of native trees; its saplings can live for many years in shade - which few indigenous trees can do - and then take over the wood at the next felling... Its two enemies [both also non-native to Britain], the Grey Squirrel and sooty bark disease... spoil the tree as timber without exterminating it. Although it is chiefly a menace in Wales and western England, it is a tree which no responsible person should plant without carefully considering the long-term consequences" (Rackham, O. 1986. The history of the countryside. J. M. Dent, London: pp. 56-57). When these forthright words were written, the climate was very different from now: only occasional summers (1976 being one) had been sufficiently harsh to cause tree-death. Before Dutch Elm Disease in the early 1970s, the Sycamore was rather localised in and around Saltford. As described by Rackham for felling, the opening of woods by elm death allowed a great take-over by Sycamore. Similarly, the cessation of control of vegetation along the railway lines allowed its spread, many trees self-established from seeds washed down the River Avon, and some were intentionally planted in various spots.
However, Rackham's gloomy outlook, leading inexorably to increasing homogenisation of lowland English woodland as Sycamore-dominated and of low wildlife value now seems unlikely to come about, at least around Saltford. There is no cure for Sooty Bark Disease. The changed climate suggests it is highly likely that over the next 10-20 years most Sycamores here will die (most, if not all, of Saltford's Sycamores already have the disease in non-lethal form). This offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to increase the wildlife value of Saltford's habitats, provided dead Sycamores are not replaced by the planting of equally low-wildlife-value trees of other non-native species.
Article published 14.5.2020
Remaining vigilant for ash dieback
Found widely across Europe, ash dieback disease is spread by the Chalara fraxinea fungus, a fungus that was found in England in 2012 after being imported in infected trees from Holland. It causes the crown of ash trees to blacken and wither, and eventually kill the tree, killing younger trees more quickly. Experts advise that the spread of the disease cannot be stopped, and are resigned to mitigating the worst distribution and impact of the organism on the UK's estimated 80 million ash trees. Local spread of spores, up to some tens of miles, may be by wind (including possibly from mainland Europe) whereas over longer distances the risk of disease spread is most likely to be through the movement of diseased ash plants. Movement of logs or un-sawn wood from infected trees might also be a means of transmission but that is considered to be low risk.
Chalara fraxinea is treated as a quarantine pest under national emergency measures and any suspected sighting must be reported. So far, no trees have been identified within B&NES but the Council is reliant on residents remaining vigilant. If you find a tree which you think is infected please report it; the B&NES web page with contacts for reporting ash dieback can be found from this link www.bathnes.gov.uk/.../ash-dieback-disease.
If you're not sure that you've identified ash dieback the Forest Research Disease Diagnostic Advisory Service can be contacted on tel: 01420 23000, email email@example.com or the Forestry Commission's Chalara helpline is 08459 33 55 77, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Forestry Commission has the latest scientific research and other information on ash dieback at www.forestry.gov.uk/chalara.
In and around Saltford, the landscape changed enormously with the loss of mature elms in the 1970s. As a result, ash became an even more important tree for wildlife away from woods and river-banks, and is a major constituent of native woods. Losing such an important tree to our landscapes and wildlife is obviously a major concern. Some ash trees may have a genetic resistance to this disease so it makes sense not to cut down healthy ash trees unless absolutely necessary.
Article published 12.7.2014
Whilst out and about enjoying Saltford's wildlife it is important to be aware of ticks, the bloodsucking, disease-carrying arachnids, that are on the rise in the UK due to milder winters. Residents and visitors to Saltford will need to be careful when walking in long grass or wooded areas where deer may have been present.
Tick bites can go unnoticed although with most people they itch within hours of the tick biting and the tick can remain feeding on your blood for several days before dropping off. The longer the tick is in place, the higher the risk of it passing on Lyme disease, a very dangerous bacterial infection that is spread to humans by infected ticks.
According to the NHS (NHS Lyme-disease info. page) the earliest and most common symptom of Lyme disease is a pink or red circular rash that develops around the area of the bite, 3 to 30 days after someone is bitten. The rash is often described as looking like a bull's-eye on a dart board. You may also experience flu-like symptoms, such as tiredness, headaches and muscle or joint pain. Those who think they might have symptoms of Lyme disease should go to their GP without delay; prompt treatment can prevent complications.
The advice from the NHS is that if you do find a tick on your or your child's skin, remove it by gently gripping it as close to the skin as possible, preferably using fine-toothed tweezers, and pull steadily away from the skin (don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin).
Never use a lit cigarette end, a match head or essential oils to force the tick out. It is important to be aware that using incorrect methods (twisting the tick, using chemicals or a lit cigarette) may cause the tick to spasm and vomit back into your skin and bloodstream, greatly increasing the risk of infection.
Saltford Veterinary Surgery (478B Bath Road - near the Library - Tel: 01225--872002) sells an inexpensive device for removing ticks from your pets (or from yourself or your child) that you could keep in your First Aid kit - see photograph of the tool(s) for small and large ticks.
Here are some useful wildlife websites that may interest you:
© Saltford Environment Group
Regularly occurring bird species readily observed in Saltford are listed below (click on each species for picture and other details on the RSPB website - opens in new window). For our butterflies click here.
Various other species, including those that are rare or difficult to observe, have been recorded in Saltford but are not at present of regular occurrence.
"Nature can do more than physicians"