Kilwood Nature Reserve

Article for the DWT Magazine Spring 2007 (John Wright).

The new Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve at Kilwood was purchased in 2004 through the generosity of many members of the Trust. It includes mixed deciduous woodland with some veteran oaks, a meadow and several small ponds resulting from former clay workings. With the acquisition of a new reserve comes the challenge of getting to know the flora and fauna so that appropriate management can be carried out. Recording on a regular basis can also be fun because there is something new to be discovered on each visit.

I decided to visit Kilwood at least twice a month in 2005 and this article highlights some of the findings. In summary, 64 species of birds, 22 butterflies, 15 dragonflies, 4 reptiles and 11 mammals were seen. In addition, 224 plants were found, mainly thanks to further recording by Ted Pratt. Clearly this small reserve supports a wide range of species, but to put these records into context we need to take a journey through the calendar year.

My first visits in January confirmed the presence of an active fox den and badger sett and before the end of February, primroses, dog’s mercury and opposite-leaved golden saxifrage were all in bloom. Around this time small numbers of teal were using the largest pond and woodcock were flushed from nearby scrub and woodland areas.

In early March DWT staff and volunteers cleared birch and gorse from the southern side of this pond, opening it up and making it an attractive location for dragonflies later in the year. Later that month the calling, drumming and sight of a lesser spotted woodpecker in the crown of a mature oak provided a notable record of this scarce species. Other woodland residents including long-tailed, marsh, coal, blue and great tit together with nuthatch and tree creeper confirmed that Kilwood was very special.

By late April the woodland flora was at its best and two parties of DWT members enjoyed the sight of bluebells, ramsons, wood anemones, moschatel, wood oxalis and some early purple orchids. As temperatures rose in spring and early summer the variety of flowering plants, butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies increased and in late May a downy emerald dragonfly was seen at the largest pond.

The meadow became dotted with hundreds of spikes of heath spotted orchids together with ragged robin and meadow thistle, although many of the orchids soon disappeared, probably eaten by a roe deer seen in June. Pieces of corrugated iron placed at suitable locations yielded slow worms, grass snakes and adders, or sometimes small mammals including voles, mice and shrews.

In July, the variety of butterflies reached a peak with numerous ringlets, gatekeepers, meadow browns and marbled whites along the tracks and in the meadow, whilst silver-washed fritillaries patrolled the open rides. The main pond was also attracting a greater variety of damsel and dragonflies than expected, but all the heavily shaded ponds were unoccupied.

By August nettle-leaved bellflower bordered the entrance to the reserve, the meadow was coloured with betony and devilsbit scabious and summer migrants were starting to return in increasing numbers. Redstarts appeared on the barbed-wire fences, family parties of spotted flycatchers caught insects by the pond and willow warblers, whitethroats, swallows and house martins fed as they journeyed south.

Despite decreasing water levels at the largest pond, a ruddy darter appeared at the end of the month, to be followed by several migrant hawker dragonflies at sheltered locations within the reserve in September.

As autumn gathered pace in October and skylarks, meadow pipits, pied wagtails, siskins and lesser redpoll passed through the reserve, local predators including a sparrowhawk and even a peregrine falcon were seen overhead. Within the oakwood, the sika deer rutt was getting underway with evidence of stags stamping and rolling in wet wallows and scoring fine-barked trees with their antlers.

In November and December it was clear that the badgers were preparing for winter and the appearance of a single woodcock in the woods and a teal on the pond heralded the completion of the seasonal cycle.