As winter tightens its grip on our beautiful British landscapes, the practical conservation management season begins for nature reserves up and down the country. Milton Locks nature reserve is no different, and the main job that needs to take place is to give the place a good cut back. Every year, my colleagues and our wonderful volunteers go in with brushcutters, loppers and saws to push back the scrub and ensure the patchwork of habitats remains intact. What looks like a rather harsh operation is in fact a carefully calculated effort to ensure that the balance of open grassland, scrub and woodland is allowing as much wildlife as possible to use the nature reserve. If we left the reserve to its own devices, the likelihood is that most of Milton Locks would be covered in scrubby bramble and baby poplar trees. Whilst we do want some bramble, many of the insects, reptiles and our lovely Kestrel rely on the open sunny grassland habitat.
The volunteer team were down there this morning. I popped in to deliver them some cake and catch up with Reserves Officer, Chris. I took a couple of photos whilst I was there.
In addition to the ‘scrub bashing’ as its called and some litter picking, the volunteers are also moving the entrance sign of the reserve. It has long been a mystery to us as to why the entrance sign wasn’t actually at the entrance of the reserve. Instead, it has always been set back a few metres from the beginning of the footpath. As I left this morning, the volunteers were just preparing to move it to a more proud and prominent position. I’m excited to see it when I’m at Milton again later in the week.
I will share photos of the results of the tidy up as soon as I have them.
It has been another lovely couple of days in Milton Locks-land. Despite having to cancel our planned Wildlife tots session yesterday, I went along to the Langstone Harbour Board Advisory Committee Open Forum in the evening. I gave a short talk about the Milton’s Hidden Seashore project and I had time to chat to lots of people who love the area and Langstone Harbour even more than I do.
I was then back in Milton at 8am this morning, getting ready to see third class of Year 4 children from Copnor Primary School. Copnor Primary are frequent visitors to the reserve and the children are always enthusiastic and curious. As those local to Milton may know, there is currently a lot of work taking place on Locksway Road and the nature reserve car park is a temporary staging area for the Colas machinery. The chaps working on the road were very helpful and accommodating to us and we managed to carefully and successfully work around each other’s operations. I’ve certainly learnt a bit about pavers and tarmac over the last couple of days.
We had a lovely morning, exploring habitats, identifying invertebrates and discussing man-made changes to the nature reserve. It was exciting to see and hear the waders and the brent geese which are putting in more appearances as the season marches on.
In addition to the school adults, I was very lucky to be assisted by two very experienced and super fun volunteers. In the midst of wondering how we were going to park minibuses on a building site, I was reminded of the introduction to an 1980s TV show. ‘If you have a problem…if no-one else can help…and if you can find them…maybe you can hire… the A Team; or in our case, Carole and Pam!
Thank you Carole and Pam!
Volunteers make the Milton Locks world go round. Carole and Pam are both retired teachers with a huge amount of experience working with children in Portsmouth. They are among the many wonderful people who give us their time and their knowledge for free. I’m always glad of their support and we do get to have a few giggles.
We also have education volunteers at the beginning of their careers, volunteers who litter pick and keep a general eye on things, volunteers who record wildlife and volunteers who help us tackle ‘scrub bashing’ in the winter. There are many and varied ways to lend us your support. If you are interested in volunteering or if you would like to get involved in the project in some other way, please do get in touch.
Cuttlefish © Paul Naylor
I have been asked by my colleagues on another Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust project to spread the word about our Secrets of the Solent crowdfunder appeal, which is in its final few days. Secrets of the Solent has many aims in common with Milton’s Hidden Seashore but is taking place on a far grander scale. This project is all about protecting the fabulous marine wildlife and habitats of the Solent, including seagrass meadows, chalk reefs and rocky sponge gardens, which are home to seahorses and sea bass, seals, colourful anemones, sea squirts and cuttlefish. We hope to inspire and inform people about the wonders of the local seas which are such a strong part of the identify of our area.
Every £1 we raise gives us the chance to unlock an extra £9.85 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which will allow us to work with local people and partners to keep the Solent special.
The crowdfunder page closes at 11.59pm on the 12th October, find out more using the link below and please support the sea life of the Solent if you can.
Velvet Swimming Crab and Snakelocks © Paul Naylor
Back in June, one of my colleagues suggested that we should enter the Milton’s Hidden Seashore project into the CPRE Hampshire Countryside Awards. At the time, I thought this was a slightly bizarre idea, as Milton Locks is definitely not in the countryside. However, I read the criteria for the Community and Voluntary category and decided it was worth a very long shot. I sent in photos and details of the various activities and sessions we have been delivering.
To cut a long story short, I was repeatedly astonished to get through each selection process and end up at the final awards ceremony, just over a week ago. There were a total of five project finalists in the Community and Voluntary category, as well as many others in different categories. The evening was a great opportunity to meet and chat to people running exciting and innovative projects all over the county. Towards the end of the event, the winners were announced and Milton’s Hidden Seashore was awarded a High Commendation, one of three awards given in the category. The deserving winner of our category was the wonderful Community Roots project in Southampton – http://southamptonvs.org.uk/projects/community-roots
If you have followed the story of Milton Locks Nature Reserve over the last decade, you may know a little of the challenges and problems in its past and of the twists and turns of its journey back towards the heart of the community. This makes the recognition of being highly commended at the CPRE awards all the more meaningful; recognition which belongs to everyone who has funded our work, volunteered, attended an event, put up a poster, stopped to chat to me on the reserve, read this blog or supported the project in any other way. Thank you, to all of you.
I have a busy month of school visits and other events ahead, so I’ll keep everyone posted on wildlife sightings and interesting happenings.
I have just arrived back to my occasional perch at Portsmouth Museum after a lovely couple of hours with the Chat Over Chai group at the Havelock Community Centre.I have now delivered 8 talks to over 50s groups across Portsmouth in the last year. Each time, I talk about Milton Locks, touching on its history, its wildlife and the community engagement work taking place through the Milton’s Hidden Seashore project. I always leave plenty of time for questions and discussion and my favourite part is usually hearing about other people’s memories of their earliest experiences of nature. I have heard some hilarious anecdotes over the years; frog spawn in teapots, shore crabs escaping on buses, that sort of thing. All these stories, some rib tickling, others sad, capture my imagination, draw me in and teach me so much about the spectrum wildlife experiences enjoyed by different people I have met. It is magnificent to watch people’s faces change as recall childhood adventures and discoveries.
Today’s group were certainly no exception. The exciting thing about the Chat Over Chai group was that, for many of the members, their early encounters with nature took place a long way from Portsmouth. One lady spoke about fear associated with crossing bamboo bridges. Another recalled tree climbing and sailing home-made boats in Bangladesh. By a wonderful coincidence, we also sail mini boats at Milton Locks. The picture below is from an event where we did just that.
Families at Locked in the Past, a story-telling event at Milton Locks as part of the Milton’s Hidden Seashore event on 29th July 2016, taken by Lianne de Mello.
If you have an early memory of wildlife or outdoor play, why not share it with Friends of Milton Locks. You could comment on this post or email firstname.lastname@example.org . I’d be delighted to hear from you.
During the Milton’s Hidden Seashore project so far, I have become increasingly intrigued by the history and cultural heritage of our little nature reserve. Portsmouth is such a history-rich city and it has been fascinating to begin to peel back the layers of days gone by, unpicking stories, meeting local legends and imagining what the landscape must have looked like before our time. For me, Milton Locks has always held whispers of its previous incarnations, from a newly constructed but then quickly derelict sea lock, to a thriving houseboat community with a strong cultural identity.
From the canal lock, looking back to towards Eastney Lake, by Zena Henry
Over the past few weeks particularly, we have begun in earnest to scratch at the surface of the history of this unique area. Above all, it has been wonderful meeting people who are so eager to share their stories and memories. We have been working in partnership with Portsmouth Museum, who are currently exhibiting the work of Edward King, an extraordinary artist who lived in Portsmouth during the first half of the 20th Century and who I’ve discussed several times on this blog. We have also had expert input from Paul Gonella at Strong Island, who has been helping us piece together the jigsaw of Milton Locks past and present, and is producing a film, capturing some of the memories and narratives that have shaped the character of our little patch of wild in the heart of city.
We are now all very excited to announce that there will be a preview of first version of the film, Life on the Water’s Edge at Portsmouth Museum on Saturday. Later in the summer, a final version of the film will be available online, as a resource for schools and community groups and will also hopefully make an appearance on the big screen in Portsmouth Guildhall Square. This is an exhilarating moment in the lifetime of a much-loved and occasionally overlooked nature reserve. I hope we can share it with as many Portsmouth people as possible. Details of the Museum screening can be found by clicking the Upcoming Events button on the blog.
I came back to work this week after some rare time away. I’ve had the following message from volunteer warden and Friend of Milton Locks, Martin Roberts about sightings while I was away.
‘Nice walk around the reserve this morning, bright sunshine, blue sky, gentle breeze coming over the rising tide. Not a lot of birdlife around, starlings, crows, blackbirds and black -headed gulls. Last week we watched a green woodpecker flying around, the first time we have seen one at Milton. There were a few butterflies fluttering around today and I managed to get a picture of this one in the dappled shade near the entrance, I think it’s a Speckled Wood but no doubt an expert will correct me if I’m wrong.’
Martin, you are absolutely right! Thank you for sharing.
Yesterday, (Thursday) we tried out a new idea for the Reserve. I was joined by professional archaeologist and Wildlife Trust volunteer, Peter Girdwood. Pete and I led a family event looking for archaeological evidence of the history of Milton Locks. It turned out to be a truly eye-opening morning with an impressive array of discoveries. These included parts of an old butler’s style sink, boat anchors, roof tiles and a large collection of pottery. Among our finds was this large, buried metal bucket.
Pete told us that a lot of our finds were likely to be from the house boat community in the area during the mid 20th Century and also a nearby Victorian bottle dump. The archaeological discoveries and associated stories and mysteries really captured everyone’s imagination.
I will be back in the area tomorrow at the Milton Picnic on the Green so do come and find me for a chat. For information, my colleagues are working on a replacement for our broken interpretation board which will be coming soon!