Friday, 16 December 2011

Winter Snow! (sort of...)

Today definitely seemed like a proper wintery day with 'almost' snow falling (very slushy rain...)! I was working with Maddie today (the girl who was on the same placement as me last year) and we started out over on Verralls with the weekly checks on the koniks there. Apart from all looking a bit fed up with the weather, everyone was fine. The ponies' coats always look so different when they're wet, it's makes it harder to ID them because they almost change colour! When we were on verralls, we also fixed a bit of fencing that was broken whilst we were trying to get a horse (George) out of the ditch the other week.

After verralls, we headed over to Bakers/Guinea to do the weekly checks on the cows and the breeding herd of koniks. Everything was fine with everyone, which is always good news! We also saw a barn owl and a short-eared owl over on guinea, which was great to see. By then, a brew and lunch was definitely needed so we headed back to the office and finished off the afternoon typing up some data for Carol's phD. She's been collecting data now for about a year, and with data being collected most weeks, there's a lot to type up... It'll be really interesting to read though when it's all finished and written up, and it'll be useful for the running of the grazing system here and in other places.

That's all from today, have a good evening and thanks for reading!

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Vision

Hope you all had good weekends!
I was taken around the Vision Project land this morning by Martin, one of the managers here at the fen who helped set up the project. If you want to know more about the Vision, it's well worth taking a look at and thinking about it - I didn't know much at all about it when I started here, and think it's such a great project to be involved in! Here's a link if you're interested at all
All of the money put into the project is spent on purchasing and reviving the land to how nature 'intends' for it. The ancient fen is so isolated that it needs land around it to buffer the effects of agriculture and drainage systems in the surrounding land. So the National Trust are aiming to expand to a larger scale reserve and in the process, keep the species already present and also to make it available for people to enjoy too! Ok, I'll stop going on about it now, but there's loads more to it than just that...
This afternoon I went out to do the weekly checks on all the animals. Everyone seems to have calmed down a bit now, and it should (hopefully) stay like that until springtime, when everything will kick off again! There are only a few minor problems with any animals at the moment - one of the cows (Snowdrop) is slightly lame and has been for quite a while now, though it is improving! Also one of the dominant stallions in the breeding herd of koniks has had a badly weeping/swollen eye for a few weeks, though again this is gradually improving. Keeping the herds 'semi-wild' means that for some situations such as these, vets aren't always called in unless they get worse. However, the animals are definitely cared for here!! They are also all looking rather fluffy at the moment - I'll try and get some pictures later in the week to post up - with their winter coats!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Another windy day!

After a long weekend off, I came back to work today and started the oh so glamorous job of poo collection on the koniks on Verralls. This is done every 2 or 3 months so that we can then analyse the poo for worms and assess the approximate level of them in each sample. As we don't worm any of our grazing animals, this is an important thing to keep up as it is the only way for us to see whether worm counts are worryingly high for any individuals. Generally they can cope with quite high levels, and over the year the levels change - in the summer, worm counts are higher than the winter, and so this flux is expected as seasons change.

Spending all the morning out on Verralls waiting for the koniks to poo eventually was finished and I headed back to the office for a well needed brew! In the afternoon, the weekly checks on the rest of the animals needed to be completed. Quite a few of the animals were a bit flighty today due to the strong winds. Over on Harrisons I think Isle (one of the females) is coming into season or has very recently been in season, as lots of the bulls were following her around and the dominant bull (Edmund) was guarding her. When the females are in season, there is definitely more activity going on in the herd and the males frequently are grumbling/braying. It's not a good idea to get too close to them when they're doing this!

After a couple of weeks of carrying out some observations of the group of cattle on Harrisons, I've decided to do my mini research project on the bulls aggressive behaviour. I'm not sure how much I will observe over the coming months, but hopefully enough to do some kind of analysis on and produce something that will be useful! Before christmas, I am going to finalise the details of it and potentially start some data collection. That reminds me, all the visitor centre decorations have been put up today (and over the next couple of days) so it's well worth a visit to come and see them! Also, on Saturday is the 'late night shopping' evening at the fen, a good chance to see all the festiveness around here!

Hope you have a good evening and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Cattle, ponies and fences

Hope you all had good weekends!

Today was a REALLY windy day, so we were blown around from place to place outside...It definitely feels like winter is finally arriving!

Spent the morning doing the weekly checks on all the animals, and the monthly checks on the bulls. Most things are well with all of them, though there have been a few scraps between the bulls recently. Two of the stallions in the breeding group of horses had a bit of a fight when we were carrying out the checks as well. It is amazing to see them properly fight, they just have so much power in them!

In the afternoon we fixed some of the kissing gates around Guinea Hall/Bakers. It wasn't that tricky, and I'm gradually getting better at my DIY skills... Saw some different birds out and about around the fen too today - lots of fieldfare, a few snipe, teal, barn owl. There's been quite a few short-eared owls sighted around Burwell Fen/Harrisons so it's worth popping down there at some point to have a look if you can!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, 25 November 2011

The end of another month...

As this month comes to an end, all the grazing animals at Wicken Fen are coming towards their monthly condition checks. This morning I walked out to Verralls to do this check on the group of non-breeding koniks - it took a while to find them as they had hidden themselves away very well! In these condition checks, they are given a score out of 10, relating to their weight and general condition, and notes are taken on the state of their hooves. These checks are made a lot easier if you can get hands-on with the animal, which some are more than happy with, standing and being made a fuss of, though others are not quite as cooperative... Over on Verralls, some of the ponies are...well...rather chubby. Because they are all geldings, they don't have any breeding to worry about, and so put more weight on as they aren't spending energy chasing females around and chasing other males away!

Later on, I cycled over to Baker's Fen and Guinea Hall, to do the weekly checks on the cows and the breeding herd of koniks. As people who have visited Wicken Fen may have noticed, some of the grazing animals have managed to acquire quite a few burrs on them over the summer (such as the picture below of Sorrell!).

Although this may look uncomfortable, they all fall off over the winter, and don't seem to bother any of the animals! Apart from multiple burrs, all of the cows on Bakers are well - they were all soaking up the sun and grazing away the morning. Such a hard life! Over on Guinea Hall, the koniks were also happily grazing and relaxing in the sunshine. The newest foal, Flynn, is gradually becoming bolder, and he's happy to come up and have a little nosy at who I am, though is still a bit wary. However, the slightly older foals don't just have a 'little nosy', and their curiosity and playfulness definitely overcomes any wariness they ever had!

Once all the checks were done, it was over to the bulls on Harrisons. The mini-research project I'm hoping to carry out may be looking at the bulls' aggressive behaviour towards each other - challenges, threats, etc - though over the next couple of weeks I am (hopefully) going to figure out whether it's worth doing this. There are 2 females over on Harrisons, and both have recently come into season, after the birth of their calves about a month ago. Since their seasons have come and gone, the bulls have calmed down recently, and so if I am trying to collect data on aggressive behaviour when there isn't any, it may not work. Either way, by christmas I will have chosen a definite project and may be at the early stages of some data collection...hopefully!

Anyway that's all from my day and thanks for reading!

Thursday, 24 November 2011


I am a few months into my year long placement at Wicken Fen and I hope that over the rest of my time here, through this blog, I can help keep people updated on things going on in the grazing area of the fen!

After settling into Wicken (and getting used to the fact that the closest shop isn't just down the road) I have spent lots of time becoming familiar with the grazing animals that we have here - highland cattle and konik ponies. I have spent lots of hours gradually learning each individual animal by name and this IDing is definitely an ongoing process! At the moment, the main things I am involved in are IDing the konik ponies on site and trying to plan a small research project of my own. Alongside this are daily and weekly checks that are carried out on both the highland cattle and konik ponies, writing down data during data collection for the grazing warden Carol's research, and any other event that occurs in a day - one thing I quickly learnt here is that each day is not the same!

Anyway, I will be writing more posts soon and thanks for reading!