Some years ago, an area at the top of Kestrel Field was set aside from the rest of the field and its agricultural calendar. The reserve would be unmanageable without the help of our tenant farmer, but we also recognise that the twice yearly grass-cut does damage the habitat of some of our wildlife species.

The object was to allow an area of the reserve to revert to tussocky grassland, a habitat favoured by slow worms and grass snakes. At the set-aside’s centre we planted sapling trees, many of them ash, to make a copse. In the summer, the area buzzes with grasshoppers and crickets and the spiders, birds, wood mice and shrews that come to hunt them. It was here that Ian Bushell found the reserve’s first wasp spider laying traps for unwary Orthoptera.

These pictures of two of our resident reptile and our first wasp spider were taken in the Kestrel set-aside

Over the years the ash saplings in the copse have succumbed to ash die-back and the tussocky grass has proved an excellent seed bed for brambles and blackthorn from the nearby hedge. If the area is to serve the purpose for which it was set aside in the first place, it has to be cleared of deadwood ash, blackthorn and bramble, and some of the tussock in order to let in new grass species.

The Friends set to a week or so ago, marking trees for felling, firing up their brush-cutters and hacking their way through the frosty tangle. Work in the reserve has stopped now until the New Year but the process of conserving this set-aside will resume in 2023, hopefully when it is a little warmer than it has been lately.

Come summer 2023, you should consider sitting awhile among the long grass in the Kestrel set-aside, listening to the insects buzz and watching out for the creatures that come to hunt them there.

Header image: Drone shot of Kestrel set-aside by Simon Knight

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