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Spring 2005

Rippingale enjoyed a mild winter until the middle of February when temperatures plummeted, the prevailing winds were from the east and precipitation was mainly in the form of hail, sleet and a little snow.

Snowdrops exhibited the longest flowering period I can remember; from early December well in to March and as the harsh weather continued in to March, Daffodils stubbornly clung on to half open buds.

Frogs arrived in my garden ponds on March 10 but disappeared again on the 12th as temperatures dropped and did not re-appear until the 17th.

By the vernal equinox there remained little doubt that spring had really arrived. The primroses in the church grounds are a blaze of yellow and the wild flowers; lesser celandine, early dog violet and red dead nettle, in my garden make their more subtle contribution to the blaze of colour afforded by the cultivated daffodils, crocuses and assorted alpines.

In Temple Wood the short seasoned Coltsfoot is flowering along the rides and the first tiny blooms of Dog's Mercury, an indicator of ancient woodland, can also be seen.

The first migrant birds have already arrived, although it has to be said to date, they are mainly relatively short distance migrants! A Chiffchaff sang in my garden on March 20 but this is likely to have wintered in the UK. One of the effects of global warming seems to be that former migrant warblers are increasingly choosing to over-winter in the UK, mainly south of Lincolnshire, but there was a Chiffchaff at Deeping Lakes in January and my parents had a Blackcap wintering in their garden in Colsterworth.

One of the more exotic migrants, and one just a few years ago you would have to travel down to East Anglia to see, has returned to breed already. The Avocet, the symbol of the RSPB, with its' delicate upturned bill is surely our most graceful wader. They returned to Frieston Shore RSPB reserve near Boston in early March from their winter quarters on the estuaries of Devon and Cornwall.

The first Sand Martins have been reported from the gravel pits at Baston and the Deepings. These are true long distance migrants, related to the more familiar swallow. Look out for Wheatears, firstly on the sea walls of our coast but later in old pastures where they will feed up before returning to their moorland nesting grounds. Little Ringed Plovers are also amongst the first wave of migrants. Good places to look for these are the local gravel pits (Baston, Langtoft Deeping Lakes) or Grantham sewage farm at Marston, if you can put up with the smell. Be careful not to confuse Little Ringed with the larger and more common Ringed Plover; the lack of white wing bars when it flies is a good identification feature.

The winter has been one of the best in recent years for over-wintering birds, and as I write in late March many of them are still here. The long staying Great Northern Diver, a large and primitive looking fish eater that breeds on large lakes in Iceland was still in residence at Culverthorpe Lake (less than 10 miles from Rippingale) and some Whooper Swans are mixed in with the more sedentary Mute Swans on Surfleet and Dowsby Fens. There are still plenty of Fieldfares and a few Brambling about. Colourful Waxwings, could be seen feasting on berries in Stamford, Grantham and as late as March 1st in Sleaford. Wildfowl numbers are still high and noticeably the birds are now paired off. A pair of saw-billed Goosander were fishing in the counter drain at Baston Fen nature reserve and good numbers of dabbling duck, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall and Shoveler can still be viewed on fenland and gravel pits in our area.

Recent dry and relatively calm weather has enabled many of the spring operations on arable farms to go ahead. Winter wheats have been dressed and most crops are now showing a flush of green growth. Many farmers will be sowing grass margins around their fields and planting crops to provide feed and cover for wild birds and nectar and pollen for insects. This major change in agriculture is a result of the Mid Term Review (MTR) of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and one of the brighter aspects of these controversial policies, is the provision of grant aid for conservation measures on farm through a scheme called Environmental Stewardship. Uptake of the Entry Level Scheme, of Environmental Stewardship is forecast to be in excess of 60%, so we can all look forward to more grass margins and conservation areas on nearby farms.


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