21st June 2015

Rain yesterday – quite a bit – but down the slope past Burn Hill to the river at Weir Cottage the ground is still very hard. 

As I’ve said before, there’s not much floral diversity here but thistledown is clogging the air, and it’s good to see the edges of the large wheat field below Burn Hill left long with red and white clover and vetch – all good pollinators.  

 The river itself is still very low, and clear, and it’s becoming choked with water lilies and reeds. It needs a good flush.  

 At Weir Cottage, however, it’s really encouraging to see, from the bridge, fish of varying sizes and species. Small-to-medium roach and perch were joined by four huge fish, either chub or, maybe from Eythrope lake, common carp.

Sadly, there is no fresh otter spraint at the site nearby where recently I’ve spotted it. I hope it returns.

There are lots of banded demoiselles, and some other dragon/damselflies which, with my annoying colour blindness, I fail to identify (I take a blurry picture to send to someone more expert). 

And then, as I stop to look for more fish, a kingfisher lands only two feet away from me. I try to extract my phone from my pocket to take a picture, but – so careful am I – it flies off, still unaware I was there. Kingfishers are still as thrilling to see close up as when I first saw them as a child. 

Away from the river, in the hedgerow as Eythrope Road starts to climb back up to Stone, a yellowhammer first calls and then shows itself, and, back in Stone a kestrel (which I’ve never seen here before) is hovering over a field near the municipal cemetery. I sense it had been a good year for kestrels: they are visible every day as one drives along the Stoke Hammond bypass. 

19th April 2015

Spring is springing and the countryside of the upper Thame Valley looks beautiful, but we are desperately in need of rain. The ground is rock hard and cracked. Here, where I’d expect mud, the earth is dry and whitened.


Blackthorn is blossoming beautifully, and chiffchaffs, tits and other types of sbb* are calling everywhere. There’s never a great amount of floral diversity here, but the ground ivy, white archangel and dandelions are in profusion, with a few lady’s smocks beginning to appear in the large meadow near Eythrope lake.

The river is low and gin-clear, the phosphate readings low and nitrate readings high. There are clouds of midges which is odd for a cool mid-April afternoon but they are causing fish (which I can’t quite identify) to rise and take them from the river surface. One of the consequences of the 2013 pollution incident was death of lots of fish in the river. I know that the Environment Agency have added to the stocks recently so any signs are positive.

The arm of the river which diverges to Eythope Lake is, unfortunately, almost stagnant, and this is the area where I have seen otter spraint recently. There is still some spraint, but I fear it is the same dried example I saw last.

Unexpectedly (I don’t recall seeing them in previous years) there is a lovely patch of escaped blue anemones in the horse chestnut glade between the river and Eythrope lake.


The lake itself is scummed over by the weir at Bridge Lodge. We need rain.

There are still around twenty greylag geese in the river meadow below Starveall Farm. They can almost be classed as resident now.

Near the birch grove on the road from Eythrope back into Stone there is an example of arum maculatum, or Lords-and-Ladies, or Cuckoo Pint, which I’ve never noticed around here before (maybe I’ve not been looking). And in the little duck pond, near Twyvidale Orchard a clump of lovely Marsh Marigolds – or, more poetically, Kingcups.

*small brown bird

15th March 2015

Water testing today…

In July 2013 a pollution incident involving the influx of sewage from the Thames Water plant on Rabans Lane, Aylesbury devastated the upper River Thame, destroying a lot of its aquatic life. This led Cuddington resident and environmentalist Doug Kennedy to make contact with the River Thame Conservation Trust, and to set up a partner volunteer organisation – Save the River Thame. I started volunteering with the latter recently, helping to run the Twitter account, and doing monthly water tests.

Weather today was dull, with occasional light rain, temperature 7°C with a bit of windchill. The river at Weir Cottage, Eythrope, was lower than it has been recently, and very clear – turbidity less than 14 NTU using a Secchi Tube. Very high nitrate level (10 NO3-N mg/l (ppm) and low phosphate (0.02 PO4 3 -P mg/l (ppm)).

There was more otter spraint at the lutrine latrine near Weir Cottage itself, and, nearby, a treecreeper was seen.


Still a number of greylag geese on Eythrope Lake and the river meadow beneath Starveall Farm.

Hundreds of cyclists were doing the Waddesdon circuit. I don”t begrudge them, although it’s not my thing, and I wondered if any of them knew that some of the frames their bikes use are based on the “Flying Gate”, invented by my ancestors Reg and Willie Baines, in the 1930s.

8th March 2015

“At Notley I had an affair with the past. For me it had mesmeric power”

A visit to glorious Notley Abbey, an exclusive wedding venue, and very much a private site. Notley was home for a number of years to Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, the latter planting the lovely avenue of lime trees from the Oxford road down to the house on the river.

A mild early-March day. Little opportunity for wildlife spotting, but there were possible signs of otter spraint on a crack willow trunk leaning out over the river. In a large conifer hedge at the rear of the property a tawny owl was calling, and a large colony of jackdaws were beginning their roost in tree immediately behind the house.

Further up the hill behind the house is Notley Farm, site of another and completely unconnected wedding venue – Notley Tythe Barn. Notley Farm is one of two in the area working particularly hard to encourage biodiversity. As the Save the River Thame blog reports

two inspiring landowners at Manor and Notley farms near Chearsley…have both been working for some time on improving wildlife along their stretches of the Thame. Like Waddesdon they have Level 1 Stewardship status and are creating wetland habitats and generally encouraging biodiversity on their land whilst running working farms. Whilst on these farms, we saw linnets, lapwings, Canada geese, ducks, teal, kingfishers, finches, roe deer, rabbits and evidence of a lot more: so these farmers have a passion for the countryside and its wildlife, and really love the land.


5th March 2015

A quick walk down to the River Thame at Eythrope. Weather mild, but fresh.

Lots and lots of blue tits, great tits and blackbirds pairing up.

River not as high as lately and clearer. Otter spraint again on one of the bridge piers at Weir Cottage. Really fantastic to see this, and the previous marks, which suggest semi-residence at least. Otters will choose prominent places, often stones, to leave spraint to mark their territory.


Further west about twenty or so greylag geese remain on the fields south of the river near the 18th century bridge from the original Eythrope Park, and by the bridge itsel, a grey wagtail.

Further up the hill on Eythrope Road a greater-spotted woodpecker was loudly announcing his presence.