Clara Vale Nature Reserve shortlisted for Countryfile Magazine Award

Now in their seventh year, the BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards 2018 are a celebration of the British countryside and its people, from mighty landmarks and outstanding national parks to the best nature reserves and finest rural pubs.

The Clara Vale Nature Reserve has been nominated by readers of the BBC Countryfile Magazine for the Nature Reserve of the Year 2018 category, then shortlisted by the Countryfile panel of experts, gathered to review all of the submissions, and whittle the nominees down to five in each category.

Countryfile Magazine Judge Phoebe Smith says: “It’s a very small site that was saved by the local community rallying together to save it from being developed. It shows the dedication from the community and how you can be small and still effective.”

Voting commences on Friday January 19 until Monday 5 March. Votes can be cast here

You know what to do, thank you for your vote!

Winners will be announced mid-March in an online ceremony and will appear in the May issue of the magazine, which goes on sale 13 April.

The Shortlist – Nature Reserve of the Year 2018:
RSPB Ham Wall, Somerset
Rodley NNR, Leeds
RSPB Arne, Dorset
Clara Vale, Tyne and Wear
Loch Druidibeg, South Uist

Winter News Roundup

Its been a very busy Autumn and early Winter for the Conservation Group.  As we near the festive season and look forward to putting out feet up, here’s a summary with photos of everything that’s been going on, click on any photo to enlarge –

Reserve Pathways and Bridges
This substantial project, aided by the Tyne and Wear Community Foundation was completed at the end of November. Contractors with heavy equipment cut the pathways, laying stone and topping with fine chippings before machine rolling. This surface will continue to harden over the winter for a lasting result, more usable by those with buggies and wheelchairs than the old muddy paths. The new pathways are a long-awaited improvement to the Reserve:

The large bridge over the pond was dismantled and refurbished, while a new small bridge was also built for the lower pond. Both bridges are wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and buggies. The lower pond area has also been dredged and extended to create a larger shallow pond that will have a dipping platform, ideal for future educational events. This should be built and in place by Spring 2018.

Thanks to all the volunteers who helped us on the bridge building days, it was fantastic to see people turn out to help:


Charcoal Burning
Our new charcoal burner was commissioned on 25th November, when we burnt a batch of willow, coppiced from the Reserve earlier this year. Under expert guidance we prepared, loaded and lit the burner. After a substantial amount of smoke initially, the furnace settled down and after a few hours we had a batch of usable charcoal, ideal for art, or we may use some for a future BBQ event. Willow charcoal burns quite quickly and we may make some hardwood charcoal to sell in the future, but we’re happy with our first attempt:


Exmoor Ponies
We have two Exmoor Ponies on loan from the Moorland Mousie Trust for the next few weeks. They are doing a great job of munching through all the scrub, helping to leave an environment which will encourage meadow plants in the Spring. They are very well tempered, but please keep dogs at a safe distance and on a lead as you wander through the Reserve.


September Update

It’s all go at the Conservation Group, with two individual grant aided projects to be completed in the Reserve and Orchard.

Reserve Pathway Improvements

Contractors begin work in the next few weeks, cutting pathways and dredging the pond. New bridges and a small pond jetty are also planned. Please take note of redirection signs, keep dogs on a lead and stay a safe distance from machinery while this is carried out. Grant funding only pays for part of this large project and there will be at least one Community Day when we’ll invite everyone in Clara to join with us completing the groundworks, which will be of lasting benefit to all visitors.  

Orchard Equipment and Apple Day

The Conservation Group have secured funding to buy a community apple crusher/press, a juice pasteuriser, educational equipment and tools. The hardware will be purchased in time for Apple Day which is planned for Sunday 15th October, when rents are due. Activities planned include making your own apple juice, tree-tagging, apple bobbing and apple-themed story-telling .

New Reserve Leaflet

A new version has been produced and can be downloaded here.

Bird Feeding

This will start again from around mid-October at the hides. Don’t forget that a hide key is required, available from Thornley Woodland Centre 01207 545 212.


Spring Time in the Nature Reserve

Spring Time in the Nature Reserve

Despite the arctic blasts the spring awakening is well underway in the nature reserve and the orchard is breaking out in its annual blossom, have a wander down and enjoy this beautiful spectacle.

Those northerly winds are probably holding up the migratory swifts we are hoping will take up residence in the new boxes at the village hall – listen out for our decoy call and look out for the swifts! Other birds are already busy nesting, so please keep your dogs on a lead when going through the reserve, to protect ground nests.

The paths have dried out again around the ponds after the winter quagmire, but this year thanks to funding from the Tyne and Wear Community Foundation we will be building an all-weather path around the reserve which will allow access for wheelchair users, buggies and anyone who doesn’t want to leave a welly stuck in the mud! All we need is your help to lay our recycled green honeycomb path and build a new bridge. Watch out for more details about this exiting volunteer project.

Clara Charcoal! As part of the funding package we will also be getting a mini charcoal burner for the reserve, along with some expert tuition on its use from local green wood crafts guru Morris Pyle. So along with helping us manage the reserve better we could also be providing some fuel for the new bread oven/barbeque at the village hall.

Plus usual link to web site etc.

Brash Burning Bonfire

CVCG members and local villagers turned out for our burn-off of cuttings and coppicing, left over from task days during the last year or so in the Reserve.

Some piles of cuttings were retained as habitat for small birds and other wildlife. The fire site was carefully chosen and burning area closely controlled.

Tea and cakes were on hand and a good natter was had by all.  A successful first community event of the year!


Orchard News


Orchard Update

Annual Tree Allocation
After 16 years Granny Smith (Jenny) has finally handed over responsibility for overseeing the annual tree allocation to Scrumpy Steve (Hilton). Thanks to Jenny for all the hard work she has put in over that time, from the founding of the orchard at the Millennium until now.

Orchard Action Day – Saturday 9th October
A working party will be at the orchard to strim grass, cut hedges and generally tidy the orchard ahead of Apple Day. Everyone is welcome. The orchard only works by people working together, so please come down and help, even if you can only spare a short time. We start at 10.30am and there will be tea, coffee and cake aplenty.
(Note that we are not pruning any apple trees, pruning day will be in March next year.)

Apple Day – Sunday 16th October
This takes place in the village hall from 2-4.30pm. There will be an opportunity to pay rents, discuss orchard matters and of course sample apple related products with afternoon tea/coffee. Another great social occasion in the village calendar.

CVCG AGM 4th July

All are invited to the Conservation Groups’ AGM on Monday 4th of July, when the Committee will report on progress and new officers will be elected.  We’re a friendly bunch and the atmosphere will be relaxed! The meeting will take place at Clara Vale Village Hall at 7pm.

We are always looking for new people interested in helping us maintain our wonderful resource for relaxation and enjoyment.  We carry out mainly practical tasks in the Reserve and have montly meetings lasting about an hour. No special skills are required and tools are provided.

Why not come along and see what we are up to?

Orchard Tree Damage

The CVCG has recently been made aware of damage being done to apple trees in the Orchard.  This is usually in the form of chewed bark from ground level up to about 0.5 metres:

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Example tree damage in Clara Vale orchard

We believe this may be caused by Muntjac deer. There is not a lot that can be done to discourage them, except for protecting the trees from ground level up to about 2′ (0.6m). Some residents have used wire or plastic netting to protect their trees:

Why not pop down to the orchard soon and check your tree if you have one? The orchard is just coming into blossom and soon will be very photogenic. On a sunny day its a very nice and peaceful spot to have a picnic or just take some time out.

You can find out more about Muntjac deer by visiting the BBC Wildlife page here

It’s nesting time…

Spring has arrived in the nature reserve and the first swallow in Clara Vale was spotted on Sunday 17th April. Warblers and chiffchaffs can be heard and will continue to arrive over the next few weeks from the Mediterranean and West Africa. It’s a very busy time for the resident and visiting bird population and we want to give them the best chance to raise their young.

Please can you keep dogs on leads and keep to paths in the reserve in the next few months to make sure that we give our visitors a good chance to breed successfully.

Posters are also on the entry gates.