Givons Grove plays host to a wonderful variety of flora and fauna. The most common visitors to our properties are: foxes, owls and deer. Snakes are around but will generally keep out of people’s way and we have had very few sightings on the estate.
Probably the commonest creature to visit our gardens but also the most maligned. That it is so common is a miracle given the casualty rates from hunting, poisoning and from traffic –around 400,000 cubs born each year of which about 70% die before being one year old. It is estimated that there are only about 240,000 foxes in total in the country, the same number as badgers! They often live close to the gardens they visit, and a popular den spot is to excavate underneath the garden shed – so take a close look at the earth the next time you go down to the shed! Mating takes place in December and January, often evident from the blood-curdling screams they utter, then cubs are born in February and March.
In the appropriate setting a fine, healthy dog fox is a splendid sight. A vixen, playing with her cubs is equally engaging. But for many people, the prospect of foxes visiting their gardens and leaving behind rabbit corpses, half eaten chickens, vomited dog food and, that speciality of the urban fox, piles of fox poo in the middle of the lawn, is not one that is looked forward to with any degree of pleasure.
And when it comes to the powerful odours with which foxes mark what they claim as their territory, can there be many more repulsive scents?
The Wildlife Management Team at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), has prepared some notes about urban and semi-rural foxes which may be of interest. You can download it here.
More often heard than seen, at least in our garden, it’s likely that there is a pair of Tawny Owls nesting in the locality. They are mainly nocturnal, and overall brown or grey in colour, with a surprisingly small body covered in a mass of feathers. They eat mainly small mammals – mice, voles, rats, rabbits, etc, – birds, especially those that roost – worms and insects.
They tend to nest in large holes in trees at least 30 feet from the ground, but up to 80 feet, and prefer to build over existing nests or taking over squirrels’ or magpies’ nests to building another. They mate for life, are very territorial and once established in a territory can stay there for a number of years. Clutches are 4 – 7 chicks depending on availability of food. They can take up to 17 weeks to reach independence because the parents need to teach them how to hunt, but they are then chased from the parents’ territory to establish their own.
Only Roe deer are present on our Estate. They are one of only two species that can be considered indigenous to the British Isles, the other being the Red deer.
Numerous through Roman and Saxon times, Roe suffered a steady decline through mediaeval period. Having been protected by the Normans, Roe were later declared as being ‘beasts of the warren’ (unworthy of noble hunting) in 1338. This led to their becoming a food source to an expanding peasant population. By the late 16th century, Roe were becoming increasingly scarce throughout England but with the growing interest in forestry and game shooting during the 18th and 19th centuries, the numbers started to improve.
Their habitat is woodland with open patches of ‘moorland’, which makes the downs around about so suitable. When not grazing on new shoots and my tulip heads they eat leaves and buds and twigs of most trees and shrubs. They tend to be quite solitary or live in small groups, and are fiercely territorial. Young stay with the doe until several weeks before she is due to give birth the following year when she chases them away.
Roe are predominantly selective browsers; however, they also graze, feeding on shoots, herbs, grasses, fruits, nuts, fungi, pine needles and twiggy browse during hard times. They are opportunistic feeders with a liking for the exotic as many gardeners have discovered. They can decimate rose beds and low hanging baskets as well as vegetable gardens given the chance . Should the animals feel secure, then it is not unusual for them to lie where they have fed.
Roe feed heavily during the spring and summer months, building up reserves to see them over the winter. They can be seen feeding at all times of the day depending on season and weather. The main times of activity are at dawn and dusk (crepuscular). If regularly disturbed they can become nocturnal, staying in close cover during daylight. So a good time to find them feeding is after inclement weather as they quickly emerge to feed and dry off.
They weigh 15 to 30kg and are very good jumpers, being able to leap distances of over 15 metres!
Young Roe (called kids or sometimes fawns) are born generally between late May and early June. They are left alone from birth, lying still amongst vegetation for hours at a time whilst the mother goes to feed. Please do not be tempted to ‘rescue’ what looks like an abandoned fawn, but keep a discreet eye on them over several hours to check the mother returns. A fawn will not usually survive being handled and reared by hand.
Since the 1970s there has been an increased interest in exploitation of Roe as a game species and for meat. As a result they are now covered by various Acts of Parliament which relate to close seasons, when deer may not be hunted with firearm restrictions, conservation, welfare and poaching controls. If you see a deer injured or in distress, call Wildlife Action at Leatherhead, who will advise or come out to deal with the animal.
Snake sightings are pretty rare on the estate but there are adders and grass snakes and slow worms (really a legless lizard but looks like a smooth snake).
Coronation Glen Verges
Residents may have noticed that over the pasts few months the verges in Coronation Glen have had a slightly ‘unkept’ look to them. We have been changing the winter and spring maintenance to encourage the wild spring flowers. These were quite exceptionally beautiful and abundant this year and have been multiplying steadily over the last few years.
In addition to these spring flowers, we have always had a very small number of summer Orchids, either Bee or Pyramid types, which are also seen occasionally on other verges on the estate.
The Orchids are locally abundant, but nationally uncommon. This is due to their being specific to the calcareous chalk downland of the Southeast, something that is very particular to the North and South Downs.
Chalk downland in itself is a familiar geological feature around parts of Surrey, but ‘ Chalk Pasture ‘ is very much a disappearing feature, and steps have recently been taken at a regional level, through English Nature, to try and conserve these habitats.
Coronation Glen is a wonderful example, with so many species specific to this type of habitat, including grasses, herbs, more exotic flora and all the associated insects ( some often rare) that harbour in such places. During a brief walk along Coronation Glen it is possible to count over ten different natural and native flora species in a single square metre – this is a rare thing these days. This is of course, like all chalk pasture, a man made habitat resulting from a historical form of land management over the millennia involving the clearance of land for grazing, and it needs to be managed sensitively.