Category Archives: Rollright Stones

Tracking activity through the winter woods

Spending time in the woods after snow gives an interesting opportunity to look for signs of activity that wildlife leave behind them. It’s easy to spot where they’ve been, but not always easy to tell what the species was. Walking along one of the main paths through the woodland I’ve been working in during winter since late 2014, I spotted the footprints of a large bird and knew immediately that it was a pheasant (Phasianus colchicus). The footprints, one placed directly in front of the other, brought to mind a clear image of a male pheasant in all his flamboyant glory as he stalked along the path. Male pheasants always look slightly foolish to me; their tentative gait makes them seem uncomfortably nervous, as if they wish to be invisible, but they’re so brightly coloured that you can’t miss them. I must look kindly on them as pheasant season has not long ended and they’ve no doubt been dodging the lead shot of hunters for many weeks.

pheasant prints in snow

Walking on through the woods I spot snow that has clearly been disturbed over a large area. Patches of snow have been moved aside, revealing the leaf litter beneath. I wonder what creature did it. Was it badgers visiting the latrines we find throughout the woods? Or were they looking for food, perhaps? A slow walk and closer observation amongst them and reveals the answer, for next to almost every bare patch I see the faint footprints of a blackbird in the melting snow.

blackbird foot printsThe blackbird’s footprints

The bird’s passage between the trees, as it tossed aside the snow and moved the leaves, is very obvious and reminds of me how blackbirds throw up leaves and bark chippings in gardens. I hope it found what it was looking for, be it worms, grubs, beetles or slugs.

blackbird activity snow 2Signs of foraging

This woodland is host to a large number of fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) during winter. They are winter visitors from Scandinavia, arriving in autumn and leaving in late winter, and I first noticed them in November, when I saw a flock of them perched in a tree in a hedgerow on the nearby farm land, all of them facing the same direction. They are timid on their migration visits and fly off at the hint of a nearby human, but their presence in the woods is clear. Certain trees, often larch or pine, tell that they’ve been used for roosting and the evidence is seen in the dense scattering of droppings at the base of the favoured tree. Stand still and you won’t necessarily see the fieldfares but their voices are all around you. It is a strange cacophony of whistles and clacks and it sounds to me just like I imagine a sound effect might do in an old science-fiction B-movie, used when insectoid aliens are about to terrify some unsuspecting humans (you can hear them in this clip). One day the fieldfares might stop for me to photograph them, but that day is yet to come.

Another mystery in the woods is one created by humans. Someone tried their hand at building a shelter of sorts but it didn’t go too well and stood for less than 48 hours before collapsing in an ugly heap. It’s a little irritating because two other mounds had been taken apart to put this wreck together and we’ll need to dismantle it. It’s fairly regular for people to come into the wood and play, but they usually do a better job of it than this.

mysteryWhat the hell is that supposed to be?

By contrast, here’s one that Karl made nearly two years ago, which is still looking sturdy.

mycelium mound snowMuch better

Whispering Knights Collective gearing up for Oxfordshire Art Weeks

From Saturday May 21st until Monday May 30th 2016,  the woodland project we’ve been working on since November 2014 will be open to the public for Oxfordshire Artweeks.

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The Whispering Knights Collective is busily readying Neolithic Echoes for those who wish to enjoy these ephemeral structures and wildlife habitats.

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There are some ten acres of woodland to enhance and encourage wildlife and plant diversity, all busy with the activities of birds, mammals and beneficial insects.

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You can find us here – come and see what we’ve been doing!

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We also have a selection of video clips from the woods, showing the changing seasons.

There is a growing community of species living in the woods

I spent part of a day in the woods by the Rollright Stones simply walking and looking – indulging in the pleasure of quietly observing, identifying, analysing and categorising what I saw. It is all too easy to pass by without actually seeing what is around us and many signs are missed, but look closer, pay attention, and you can see that this young woodland has a growing community of species that call it home.

 

in the woods

The following are just a few of the mammal and bird species we’ve seen so far. There have been many birds, some heard rather than seen, glimpses of deer, mice and voles, a weasel, signs that  badgers are about . In some cases, you don’t see the creature itself but  the tell tale signs of activity and then you can try to figure out what has happened.

Continue reading There is a growing community of species living in the woods

A couple of new structures at Rollrights

Karl made two more structures for Stephen’s granddaughter – ones that might be enjoyed  by a small, inquisitive child. The idea was also that there would be something that didn’t tower over her and that was small enough for her to appreciate.

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The first was a sort of egg made from pine stems wound together to form a rough sphere, which nestles within the curve of the Young Snake. There is a hole in it so that people who wish to do so can look inside. Seen from a distance it is very pleasing.

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The other structure is a three-in-one type – there is an open dome of ash stems, just high enough for a not very tall person to stand up in.

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Within that is a very simple dome of willow stems bound together at the top with ivy.

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Inside the simple ash dome is a curious little structure that looks rather like a fragment of DNA.

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It was constructed over a tree stump and, just because, Karl added in an oak twig with an oak apple still attached to it.

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The Young Snake and other creations

The felling and canopy lifting work at the woods by the Rollright Stones continues and it generates vast amounts of logs and brash, so it’s been decided that building larger mounds and structures is the way to go. As ever, Karl has been creative in his use of materials and the structures he makes are becoming larger and bolder in design. It’s fascinating to see this previously unknown aspect of his personality emerging.

whispering-knights-freezing-fogThe Whispering Knights in freezing fog

Continue reading The Young Snake and other creations

Rollright stones – snow in the woods

Snow was forecast for the 15th of January and Karl looked forward to seeing the woods under a layer of sparkling white; I stayed at home that day. Where we live, there was no snow at all and Karl saw none on the journey to the woods, but as soon as he turned into the driveway, there it was. Not a lot, but the light dusting and bright sunshine were enough to create a beautiful scene. All pictures are clickable to enlarge them.

ouroborosThe Ouroboros with a dusting of snow

I read in the Witney Gazette that the Rollright Stones were ‘one of the few landmarks in Oxfordshire to see a dusting of snow’ that day.

The mounds stood out very well indeed and here are some more pictures for your viewing pleasure.

Continue reading Rollright stones – snow in the woods

On the idea of the woodland and how the project developed

Stephen and Claire on the Rollrights woodland project

Stephen: I decided to plant the wood because there was a large ancient wood next to the house I grew up in and I always loved as a child to roam this wood and play in it. So I thought it might be more fun to have a wood than a ten acre field. Planted Feb 98. Btw the trees were planted in Feb as 12″ saplings in a field that had already been sowed with barley . I “bought” the putative crop from the farmer. Luckily it then rained for 6 weeks in a warm early spring and the trees thrived so that an expected 60-70% survival rate became 95%.

The wood was planted as part of a Forestry Commission program to support tree planting a condition of which was to plant mixed native English trees. This is taken to mean – oak, beech, ash, lime, cherry, sycamore, larch, pine, field maple, hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel. I am pretty sure that anything else is there by accident.

Continue reading On the idea of the woodland and how the project developed

Echoes of the Past – Rollrights Woodland Project

We find ourselves engaged in a remarkable project and one which is surely right and proper for an Entwife to become involved with, concerned as it is with the tending of woodland.

How it came about was that I saw a piece in the local paper about a scheme called Logs for Labour which is run by the Oxfordshire Woodfuel Programme. The idea is that people go along to a session of woodland work – maybe clearing pathways or coppicing trees – do a morning or an afternoon’s work and come away with a car load of logs. It looked like a good idea and an interesting way to spend some time outdoors in a pleasant environment surrounded by trees and wildlife. We like being in the woods, we need woodfuel and it looked interesting, so we looked into it right away and booked ourselves onto the scheme.

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The first session was in woodland close to the ancient site of the Rollright Stones on the border of west Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds, a stunningly beautiful area of quintessentially English countryside, all rolling hills speckled with farms, villages and patches of woodland.

Continue reading Echoes of the Past – Rollrights Woodland Project