Darren Tansley was one of the first people that we contacted when we started on the project. He works for the Essex Wildlife Trust, as well as being involved with many other projects, and has had a keen interest in nature since he was a boy hiding out in the woods at Arger Fen to watch the badgers, which is exactly where we met him on this bank holiday morning.
His knowledge of the terrain, trees, plants and wildlife was fascinating and we spent a good few hours walking around the woods and open scrubland in search of interesting finds. One of the main topics of conversation was deer, and even though we didn't see any we did see evidence of their having been around: the 'munterway' paths that the Muntjac deer make in the undergrowth by following regular routes through the woods, nibbled bluebells, and sometimes a 'browsing line' if a lot of deer eat everything within their reach.
Darren pointed out lots of tree varieties, how you could tell if a tree grew in a dense or thin area even if that area was different now and trees that were healthier as they were growing on the site of an old ditch. There was also a lot of ash dieback in an area that was previously agricultural land, but not present in the more mature woodland. The difference between habitats was quite markedly different in areas within close proximity and even though the areas are managed a reasonable level of natural redevelopment has been encouraged.
The area was popular today with many families going for a walk on their bank holiday, and to get a few pictures of the abundance of bluebells, but Darren took us down into the darker, more secluded areas of the wood where he used to roam as a boy and you could tell he was at home there. He took us to the badger setts and explained about them having many bedroom chambers, the problem the badgers have with parasites, the line made by excavated materials and dung pits away from the setts.
Ruth and Darren identified and discussed many local plants such as stitchwort, campion, dogs mercury, British bluebells (as opposed to Spanish ones people sometimes plant there), lords and ladies, horsetails, yellow archangel, wood sorrel, ramsoms (the leaves of which we ate), and bracket fungus (which we didn't). We also heard many birds including a cuckoo, chiffchaffs, yellow hammer and a woodpecker.
All in all it was a very informative and personal walk and we look forward to Darren's walk-and-talk during the summer (details of that soon).