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Seasonal Murmurings...

A regular seasonal update from the team on what to look out for at this time of year and how to get involved

 
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Autumn

Everyone's favourite season? Mists and mellow fruitfulness, tasty recipes and what to look out for as the nights lengthen and the colours strengthen.

 
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Autumnal Recipes

Emma Lovell provides some foraging-based recipes to get you out there and then get creative back home.

Rosehip syrup

From the same family as apples, rosehips are packed full of vitamin C; twenty times that of oranges, weight for weight.  This syrup can be taken alone as a vitamin C boost throughout the winter, diluted in water, or used as a sweetener on porridge or in puddings.  Beware of the tiny hairs inside, as these can cause irritation- the double straining in this method will remove these.  You will need:


400g/4 cups rosehips

200g/1 cup sugar

Water


Wash the rose hips and remove stems and leaves.  Chop/mince the rosehips and drop then into 750ml of boiling water.  Stir, then simmer for 15 minutes.  Pour the mixture through a double thickness of muslin and allow to drip into a basin.   Using a fresh piece of muslin, strain the collected juice a second time.  Pour the juice into a pan and add the sugar.  Bring to the boil slowly and stir until the sugar is dissolved.  Boil for about 5 minutes, removing any scum from the surface.

Pour into sterilised bottles and use within 4 months.  Refrigerate once opened.


Hedgerow fruit leathers

Fruit leathers are a great healthy lunchbox snack.  You can use any foraged berries and fruit for these.  For example, apples, hawthorn berries, blackberries, elderberries, pears.

Cinnamon and honey are optional additions as well.


Add the fruit and berries to a pan and simmer with a tiny bit of water until the fruit is very soft.

Pass the mixture through a sieve so that you are left with a smooth thick puree.  Check the sweetness, adding more honey if needed.

Pour onto lined baking trays and heat in the oven on the lowest setting (80C or below).  Heat for 4-8 (depending on the fruit).  The leather will be done when it no longer feels sticky to touch, but will still be flexible enough to roll.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool.  Cut into strips and roll up each strip and store in the fridge.  These will keep for about a month or two.


Note: When foraging it's important to find plants away from busy roads.  Make sure you choose a plant that looks healthy, and pick a little from several plants so as to leave some for the birds and some for the plant.

Recommended foraging books:

Food for Free, Richard Mabey, London, Collins, 2012.

River Cottage Handbook: Hedgerows, John Wright, London, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018

 

Quidhampton's Hedgehogs

Project Member Nick Tomalin gives us an update on the results of a village-wide survey he launched in September about the lives of our prickly little friends...

In September I made a plea for any hedgehog records from the village to be sent on to me, in the hopes of finding out how frequently they were seen, and where they were distributed through the village. I’ve now had a dozen records sent in, and these are spread widely through the village.

What was even more useful was that most people reported regular sightings, or behaviour that would suggest a family group (Photo, above, courtesy Sarah Spinney) This suggests that there could be a lot of local hedgehog residents, although hedgehogs can travel over a mile each night in their search for food, so maybe we’ve all seen the same one endlessly scurrying up and down the high street! And I’m happy to report that nearly all of these records were live animals, though sadly not all!

The next question is what to do with this information. Perhaps the local hedgehog population is doing well and doesn’t need our help. Maybe Quidhampton’s gardens are the stuff of hedgehog dreams, and our gardeners a bunch of hedgehog protectors, willingly or inadvertently creating suitable habitat. Well, perhaps. But nationally hedgehog numbers have declined significantly, so there’s no reason to suspect that we are bucking this trend. In fact, hemmed in as we are by the A36 and railway line, the river, and the Wilton Estate wall, our hedgehogs may actually be slightly restricted or vulnerable in their nocturnal wanderings.

Either way, there are a number of very simple things we can do to help them. But why should we? What have they ever done for us?! Well, if you don’t gain enough simple pleasure from seeing a hedgehog, or from knowing that they are there, in your garden, night after night, then there are other benefits, mainly for gardeners. Hedgehogs are predators of garden nasties like slugs and snails, so any would be horticulturalists should be welcoming them in with open arms.
Or open gates. Or through holes in walls. Or under fences. And here is the top tip for helping hedgehogs: give them access. Walls, fences and other boundaries all too often prevent them from getting in or out of otherwise suitable habitat. This can be simply resolved by creating a hedgehog highway – basically a hole through whatever barrier otherwise exists. These holes only need to be about the size of a CD, but a neighbourhood that is well connected is well used by hedgehogs.
The next tip is to provide a safe space. Clear away anything that could endanger the hogs (netting or litter especially), create a ramp for your pond (hedgehogs can swim but will struggle to get out of ponds with steep sides), stop using chemicals (weedkillers etc), and check any areas of long grass before mowing or strimming. At this time of year it’s especially important to check your bonfire before setting light to it, as it may be the perfect location for hibernation and hedgehogs may be busily preparing it for their winter slumber.

Once you have a safe space, encourage the hogs in! Create a wild area or corner if you can, and put out food and water where possible. Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, so don’t use milk or bread, but instead opt for meat-based cat or dog food or biscuits, or purchase specially formulated hedgehog food! Finally, create a hedgehog home where they will be safe to breed and/or hibernate. This could be as basic as some sticks and twigs (think bonfire!), or could be a built or bought wooden house. There are plenty of designs available online if you want to try. Hedgehogs have taken up residence in the base of my bug hotel (see above, picture, Nick Tomalin). It wasn’t designed with them in mind, but it provided the perfect conditions, and I have now seen a sleepy hog dragging leaves in to create comfy bedding for winter.


Of course, you can try any of these things in your own garden, but wouldn’t it be great if lots of people joined forces to help hedgehogs through the village? What use is a single garden if hedgehogs roam vast distances each night? How helpful is a hedgehog highway if it leads nowhere? It would be lovely to think that some of these steps could be taken in a co-ordinated way, to maximise their impact.

If you would like to get involved, please join the Quidhampton Nature Project and get in touch with me to express your interest. We may be able to help or advise. There’s a lot of information available online too, especially at PTES website where you can sign up to become a hedgehog champion! Ideally, I would like to recruit a handful of people to act as hedgehog champions in the village, both encouraging hedgehogs in their own gardens and encouraging those around them to do likewise. Please get in touch if you think you could help in any way, and lets do what we can to help our hedgehogs thrive.  

 
 
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Winter

The colours may have gone from the trees, but the skies can be beautiful as winds whistle and storms swirl in this, the darkest of seasons. What's to see in our natural surroundings as the old year ticks over to the new?

 

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