Meeting Reports for 2018

The Nightjar and other woodland species in Thetford Forest. Speaker Greg Conway (BTO.) 18th January 2018.

Reporter: Sue Gale

Nightjar, Tree Pipit, Firecrest and Goshawk: These four species, although very different, are all ones we associate with the Brecks, and Thetford Forest in particular. In an evening packed with interest and information we learned about the research that has been carried out on these species by the BTO over some ten years. Thetford Forest, created in the 1920s, is a designated Special Protection Area (SPA) for Nightjar, and also for Woodlark and Stone Curlew. It consists mainly of Scots and Corsican Pines, with some areas of mixed woodland. As a managed forest, there are trees of all ages, and there are always areas of clear fell, where native vegetation thrives.
Nightjar numbers in the UK have recovered recently to about the same as in the 1970s, but the breeding range has reduced. Worse, in Thetford Forest even the numbers have been declining, so it has been important to try and identify the reasons. There is no evidence that increased predation might be the cause, so research has concentrated on habitat use and availability of food. Nightjars like to feed on large moths, and may take beetles, but they need to forage in areas where larger insects are found. Detailed accounts of their movements have been obtained using tracking devices. This requires an initial identification of nest sites, so that mist nets can be used close by to catch and tag the birds. They need to be re-caught to obtain the data. Much has been learned:- Nest sites are in areas recently felled, although they may be in deep bracken; Foraging sites are some 2-5km distant from the nest sites, and birds will cover this distance at least a couple of times a night; Grassland of some kind, including agricultural areas, is necessary for foraging, not just areas with heather cover, as had previously been thought; The availability and proximity of foraging habitat is therefore of primary importance.
A second series of investigations into movements of unpaired males have found that nightjars can fly for quite long distances when exploring an area or searching for food. This has extended to mapping of migration routes and timings. Nightjars do not seem to over-winter in the area of West Africa that had originally been expected. They fly south using a direct route, crossing the Mediterranean and later the Sahara in single leaps. Similarly they hop over tropical rainforest to reach scrubby grasslands. They do, however, make use of stopovers to rest and feed before undertaking these long flights. Returning in spring they tend to take a longer route, much further west, that avoids the big flights over desert and sea. The big lesson here is that the stopover sites are crucially important and work to protect suitable habitat here is vital.
Tree Pipits, now red listed as Birds of Conservation Concern, are also declining in numbers in England, although they fare a bit better in Scotland and other upland areas. Investigations have also involved tagging birds from the forest to follow their migration routes. Birds from Norfolk have been found to mostly use a very westerly route, stopping over in Portugal, following the coastline, and then wintering in the very west of Africa. There is no sign of particular problems with this migration route, but the plan now is to do the same investigation with Scottish tree pipits to see if this may explain why they are doing better than the English ones.
Firecrests, you will be glad to know, are on the increase. They are our second smallest bird and insectivorous. Their life is very short, with an average life expectancy of less than one year, but they are extremely productive. They may produce two broods a year, with 7-10 eggs per nest. Breeding birds may leave from mid August, but they tend to be replaced by wintering birds arriving from the continent. In both seasons the range is expanding, probably due to our less severe winters. In Thetford Forest the numbers are not actually increasing, which is why Greg and colleagues have been studying them. It seems that they like to nest in Douglas Firs, but don’t like Scots Pine. Ivy, Box and Yew are also favoured, but Firecrests will breed in any suitable trees, even just a couple of Leylandii. Ringing studies have found that small numbers of breeders may now overwinter here, but whichever strategy they choose only some 10% survive until the next summer.
Goshawk was the last species discussed. The Brecks are a regional stronghold, and there is even a nest camera which can be viewed at High Lodge Visitor Centre. It seems they mostly eat Grey Squirrels (half of their diet) and corvids, Wood Pigeons and a few rabbits. Game birds don’t figure large in this diet, in spite of the Goshawk’s reputation. Young birds have been tracked and are found to travel quite widely, for example North to Sandringham or into the Wensum Valley. They may nest in the forest, but they seem to hunt over farmland or the edge of the forest. They will settle or roost on any tree, hedgerow or shelter belt.
This was an evening packed with information, and left many of us keen to get involved. Many thanks to Greg for a brilliant summary.

 

Driven Grouse Shooting – our part in its demise : Speaker Mark Avery 15th February 2018

Reporters Keith Walker & Alwyn Jackson with editorial comment from Alan Hughes

 

Mark Avery was introduced as a scientist by training and naturalist by inclination. He worked for the RSPB for 25 years including 13 years as Conservation Director. He went freelance in April 2011 He is a member of various Wildlife Organisations and is a keen supporter of the Labour Party.

His talk about Red Grouse was unusual in that he brought no slides and simply engaged the audience. Whilst it was a very serious topic it was delivered with a light handed touch with some levity, but this did not detract from his message.

The presentation was split into two halves. The first part was scene setting and not opioniated. It was explained that since the early 1800’s a sporting pursuit had developed where Red Grouse where shot for sport and game. Therefore it could be argued that this was a tradition.

The Red Grouse live and breed in the UK principally in Scotland and Northern England and reside in Moorland. Their diet is heather and they particularly favour the young shoots. Landowners manage the habitat by burning off older heather to encourage the new growth. Other steps are taken by the landowners and employees to encourage healthy and abundant numbers of Grouse to support the annual cull.

Parties of guns pay huge sums to kill grouse and pay c £75 per bird shot. Nevertheless the bird remains the property of the landowner who also sells off dead birds for c £4 per bird for human consumption. The land tends to be owned by landed gentry and, because of the income generated, is very valuable. Some of the Grouse Moors are also owned by utilities such as Water Companies. Value of the land will be driven up by the yield of birds per season.

The Red Grouse are ground based and beaters will be employed to drive in a line, flushing the birds towards the waiting guns. A party of eight can kill c 3000 birds in a day. It is estimated that 500,000 Red Grouse will be shot in the UK in an average year.

Great efforts are taken by the Landowners to minimise predation which has led to a dramatic reduction in raptors in the Moorlands, particularly Hen Harriers who are believed to take young Grouse. The population of other mammals is also managed so numbers of creatures such as foxes and stoats have reduced draconially. There is also an issue with Mountain Hares, who can pass on disease to the young Grouse and Hare numbers have been decimated by eradication.

In theory birds have protection from The Protection of Bird Act 1954, but this is extremely difficult to police and there are many instances of illegal killing of raptors by shooting and poisoning. In England there is no vicarious liability so blind eyes can be turned.

It is now believed that there is only c7 breeding pairs of Hen Harriers in England which is between 1-2% of numbers that can be supported. There should be c300 pairs nesting in the English Uplands. Numbers are similarly reduced in Scotland. Anecdotal evidence following tagging shows raptors mysteriously disappearing.

Defra have recently launched the Hen Harrier Recovery Plan which has not been well received by Mark or the RSPB.

In the second half of the presentation Mark came off the fence and firmly expressed his opposition to Driven Grouse Shooting.

He suggested that Slavery and the No Votes for Women were traditions which were eradicated as we saw the light and Grouse Shooting was another tradition that needed to be eliminated. He also suggested that if any one came up with a business model for Grouse Shooting today it would be totally ridiculed.

As well as the ethical issues and the need to preserve wildlife there were economic ones with the damage to the environment from the burning of heather, the pollution costs from the management of the land,and the higher flood risks created by adverse land management.

Mark organised a petition called Ban Driven Grouse Shooting which was signed by 123077 people which precipitated a debate in parliament. Sadly the number of MPs at that stage who were prepared to speak in his support were totally outnumbered by MPs who support the landed gentry. He does however regard this debate as a major step in raising public awareness.

Mark believes that continual pressure will move this issue up the political agenda and banning driven shooting will receive more support from ordinary MPs due to public outcry. There are currently two further petitions which he asks members to support.

The first is from Ed Hutchings and is to regulate Grouse Shooting – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/207482

The second is from Gavin Gamble and is to ban Grouse Shooting https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/201443

In Scotland the SDP are proposing the introduction of Licensing in 2018 and whilst Mark favours a total ban he believes any increase in control in England would be welcome.

The evening closed with a lively robust Question & Answer session, where Mark dealt with the issues in a forthright manner.

Editor’s note: Despite vigorous campaigning by conservation groups and by individuals such as Mark, as well as many of us signing the two petitions listed, the response from DEFRA so far has, to my mind, been disappointing:-
“Grouse shooting is a legitimate activity providing economic benefits, investment in remote areas and benefits for wildlife and habitat conservation. The Government has no plans to introduce licensing.
The Government has no plans to license grouse moors nor to introduce vicarious liability in England for offences related to wildlife crime. The introduction of such new regulation would require evidence that it will be effective. We are not aware of compelling evidence that the introduction of such provisions would have a significant deterrent effect on those who persecute wildlife. We will continue to monitor the situation in Scotland and to consider whether this approach is necessary and proportionate to assist in tackling wildlife crime in England.
The Government appreciates that many people have strongly held views on grouse shooting. The Government also recognises that shooting activities bring many benefits to the rural economy and the environment, in particular wildlife and habitat conservation. The Government therefore continues to support shooting, recognising it is vital that wildlife and habitats are respected and protected and we ensure a sustainable, mutually beneficial relationship between shooting and conservation.
With regard to birds of prey, like all wild birds they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The current legislation and guidance balances competing social, economic and environmental interests, while protecting the conservation status and welfare of the relevant bird of prey species. Some species of birds of prey need specific protection because their low numbers indicate that their populations are struggling.
The Government takes the decline in the hen harrier population in England very seriously and is committed to securing its future. In January 2016 we published the Hen Harrier Action Plan to increase the English hen harrier population. It contains six actions that individually can bring benefits for hen harriers, but when combined underpin each other and have the potential to deliver positive outcomes.
The Action Plan was developed with senior representatives from organisations including Natural England, the Moorland Association, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, National Parks England and formerly the RSPB. These organisations, led by Natural England, will monitor activities and report annually on progress to the Defra Uplands Stakeholder Forum and the UK Tasking and Co-ordinating group for Wildlife Crime.
Raptors, like all wild birds, are afforded protection from illegal killing by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. However, the Government is concerned that there are still individuals who continue to commit these crimes.
As a result, the Government has identified the illegal persecution of raptors as a wildlife crime priority. Each wildlife crime priority has a delivery group to consider what action should be taken, and develop a plan to prevent crime, gather intelligence on offences and enforce against it. The Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group is made up of representatives from Government and non-government organisations working together to help preserve and protect the six UK priority raptor species (goshawk, red kite, golden eagle, hen harrier, peregrine falcon and white tailed eagle).
Additionally, the National Wildlife Crime Unit, which is part-funded by Defra, provides valuable intelligence and operational support to police forces in tackling wildlife crimes, including raptor persecution. There are strong penalties in place to punish those committing offences against birds of prey and other wildlife. “

If any interested birders have not yet signed these two petitions, there is still every reason to do so – if a petition reaches 100,000 signatories, the Government is obliged to consider this issue again for a parliamentary debate.

 

Birds & Climate Change: Speaker James Pearce-Higgins (BTO) – 15th March 2018

Reporter Alan Hughes

The accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has already caused an average 1 degree rise in global temperatures, and this is likely to increase to 2-3 degrees in the future unless action is taken. There is already a measurable effect on some bird populations in the UK:- Red Grouse. These are heavily managed as game birds, with predator control, heather monoculture, medicated grit etc., but despite this, they are strictly birds of upland areas as only here are the climatic conditions suitable for their success. If springtimes are increasingly cold and wet, chicks are less likely to survive to maturity. Heavy average rainfall produces poor heather quality. Increased summer temperatures dries out the peat substrate leading to the death of insect larvae and poor emergence of adult insects in the following spring, and less food for growing chicks. Wet weather in spring lowers the survival of predator chicks, reducing the number that will eventually prey on the grouse chicks. Disease such as parasitism is a greater problem in a wetter climate. All of these climate-related factors may impact on the grouse population, and if global warming continues, numbers are likely to be significantly reduced in our highland areas by the end of the century. Grey Heron. At 90 years old, this is the longest survey recording scheme at the BTO. The UK population is generally seen to be steadily increasing, although cold winters will cause a temporary crash in numbers. Wren. Their population follows a similar pattern with a decline in numbers recorded in years following a cold winter. Data shows, however, that there is some variation with area, suggesting a degree of local adaptation to climate: In Scotland, numbers only register a decline if there are 12 days of frost, whereas in the southern UK, only 6-7 days of frost will result in a decline. Further investigation showed that Scottish wrens are significantly heavier, and therefore presumably more able to resist cold temperatures. UK resident species in general. Vunerability to the effects of global warming in these populations is particularly seen if climate changes occur during the breeding season (March – June) or in the winter. Warmer temperatures are generally resulting in an increase in populations, and for species with a primarily southern distribution (eg. Nuthatch) records show that these are spreading northwards at a rate of approximately 3km per year. UK migrant species. Here the effects are more mixed: Warmer temperatures during the UK breeding season may increase numbers, but reduced rainfall in their wintering grounds (eg. Droughts in the African Sahel) may lead to a reduction in insect numbers and/or vegetation growth, and therefore a population crash.

Here, James introduced the idea of “abiotic” effects (direct) and “biotic” effects in which changes in another species/taxa has an effect on the population of a bird species. This latter disruption of the enmeshed natural systems is the most important influence on bird numbers; for example, the arrival of Swallows in the UK, and their egg-laying, has advanced by 10-15 days in the last 20 years. However, the emergence of new leaf buds and the hatching of insect larvae that feed on this new foliage has not advanced as much, such that the hatching of swallow chicks does not always coincide with their best food supply. This problem is believed to affect one third of our woodland bird populations. Seabird numbers are also severely affected by climate change; for example, warming seas reduces the number and quality of Sandeels and this has had a devastating effect on Puffin numbers. Climate change in upland areas may also result in biotic effects; for example, warmer moorland temperatures reduces the number of Cranefly larvae in the soil, and hence the Golden Plover, whose chicks feed on the emerging Craneflies, are at risk of extinction by the end of the century. The size of Cuckoo populations are quite different depending on the area of the UK, crashing drastically in the south, but increasing in Scotland. Extensive satellite tagging studies have now shown that those in the south follow a quite different route on migration to their wintering grounds in the Congo, and that this is likely to be where climate change is having a negative effect. Global warming may also lead to new colonisation by species such as the Fan-tailed Warbler ( Zitting Cisticola), where there are healthy numbers on the other side of the Channel. So generally it is accepted that continued global warming will lead to bird species extinctions, although there is considerable uncertainty as to the predicted level of this: A 3 degree rise has been predicted to lead to extinction levels of between 5 and 30%! So what can be done to avoid the worst of this? 1. Nature reserves have been shown to be of increasing importance, and are vital especially for the conservation of endangered species such as the Bittern and Dartford Warbler. However, coastal sites such as Minsmere and Cley are increasingly threatened by sea level rise, so the development of inland reserves such as Lakenheath is essential. 2. There needs to be increased connectivity between these reserves so that wildlife populations are able to move between them. 3. Land management action eg. Increasing water withholding on upland sites to prevent soil from drying out too much, improving insect numbers. 4. Other threats such as overuse of insecticides, loss of natural habitat etc need to be addressed. 5. Greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced. But increasing reliance on renewable energy brings its own problems eg. Windfarm siting may affect bird movement.

It would be impossible here to reproduce even a small proportion of the wealth of detailed information and data that James Pearce-Higgins reported in his presentation to us, but I think it would be fair to say that this was an excellent demonstration that the BTO is primarily a science-based organisation. Nothing is taken for granted, all statements are supported by rigorous research and observation (in which “Citizen-Scientists” play a key role), and sometimes the data can take us by surprise. Global warming, and its effect on the natural world, is a great example of an issue where the BTO is playing a leading role in teasing out the facts from the fiction, and James, Head of Science, used his talk to give us many examples of where they have gathered good evidence that climate change is affecting bird populations, although not always in the expected way. James’ talk was illustrated throughout with a large number of graphs which I, for one, would have liked more time to understand and absorb. Nonetheless, he made a convincing case that global warming is having a significant effect on all wildlife (not that any of us doubted this, I suspect) and that these effects were likely to increase with time unless a huge effort was made to reduce carbon dioxide emissions now. Not all effects on bird populations in the UK were negative, but many were detrimental and, linked with other pressures such as intensive agriculture, loss of habitat, hunting birds on passage in the Mediterranean, the future for much of the natural world looks gloomy. We will only mitigate the damage wrought by climate change if we can convince those in power (including a majority of the electorate) that this is a genuine, important and almost entirely detrimental global threat. The work of naturalists and scientists such as James, and organisations such as the BTO, are vital if we are to preserve healthy bird populations. He thanked all those BTO members who submitted data through their various record schemes, and I would urge everyone else to consider joining the BTO. This was an interesting, well-informed, but ultimately very depressing presentation.

 

AGM 2018 Thursday 19th April2018 –

A brief AGM was held on Thursday 19th April and the following Officers and Committee were elected to serve for a further year:
President: Liz Bridge
Chair: Alwyn Jackson
Secretary: Lin Pateman
Treasurer: Martin Spriggs
Committee: Alan Hughes, Sue Gale, David Gibbons, Ray Gribble, Keith Walker, Mary Walker.
The AGM was followed by an excellent presentation by James Lowen who gave the members present his ideas on what he considers to be the highlights of European wildlife that can be seen over a weekend visit.

Followed by Europe’s Best Wildlife Weekends: Speaker James Lowen

Reporter: Sue Gale
James Lowen has a new book out called 52 European Wildlife Weekends, and he based his talk at our AGM around this book. He promised to cram a year’s worth of weekends into two half hour sessions! He did this by choosing only one of the four possible selections for each month, but even so it was a rapid, but entertaining, race through. And I am going to repeat that process of reduction by only telling you about three of the sites selected. They in fact cover four weekends because James recommended Extremadura, in Spain, for two different seasons.
Extremadura is an arid region, but does include some wetlands. In January the region is very quiet; so quiet that the toenails of the breeding Griffon Vultures could be heard scratching on the rock! The Spanish Imperial Eagle might be displaying overhead. On the plains can be found flocks (yes flocks) of Great Bustards, which do their displaying nearer the ground. And Common Cranes are doing well here with 140,000 of them overwintering under the oak trees. In May we need to look overhead for Alpine and other swifts, in particular the White-rumped Swift. The ancient walled city of Trujillo seems to me to be the place for birders to explore. Not only do Lesser Kestrels nest in buildings in the city, but the bullring, which houses around ten pairs, is closed from February to July to avoid disturbance. Crag Martins and White Storks also nest in the town, and there are plenty of lizards and butterflies to get to know. Out on the plains Rollers and Sandgrouse do well as well as the Bustards.
For a weekend in June James recommended exchanging the south for the north of Europe, to the weird landscapes of North-eastern Iceland. Here we can see nesting Red-necked Phalaropes and other waders, and look out for Ptarmigan. Two spectacular ducks are a must on most birders’ lists – the Harlequin and Barrow’s Goldeneye. The latter breeds nowhere else in Europe. But it is for the whales that James most wants to go to Iceland in June. Humpback and Minke whales are the most commonly seen, but the one everyone really wants is the giant Blue Whale. Indeed whale watching is a mainstay of tourism in this part of the country.
For November, how about a trip to Tenerife – the Galapagos of Europe. It has a wide selection of endemic species because of its isolation, well out in the Atlantic. And it contains 3 or 4 distinct habitats. In the arid scrub can be found pipits and the Plain Swift, alongside more than ten types of lizard. In the laurel forests to the North East are birds that look familiar but are not quite right! They are the Tenerife versions of our Robin, Chaffinch, Blackbird etc. In the pine forests at the foot of the volcano are sub-species of Raven and Goldcrest and the African Bluetit, but also the more exotic Atlantic Canary and Tenerife Blue Chaffinch. Finally the top of the volcano yields few birds (hence the 3 or 4 habitats) but is alive with endemic butterflies.
James tailored his talk for WVBS by concentrating on birds, but he is in fact a naturalist and interested in all living things. Much of the book recommends places for their plant or reptile life as much as for birds, so worth having a look if you want ideas for a weekend away.

‘A Journey around an Archipelago’ Patrick Barkham. 17th May 2018

Reporter Lynda Vincent

As an introduction to his latest book , Patrick asked us to spot the error on the original fly cover. Having successfully spotted it, Patrick then continued to describe a few of the 6200 islands and islets around the United Kingdom. Life can be simpler on an island, where people and nature living in harmony but it can also difficult earn a livelihood.
Viewing an island from the mainland is tantalizing and the travel to the island can be an adventure whether by foot along a causeway, or by ferry boat. His young children did not enjoy their first trip to the Isles of Scilly as it was a very rough crossing!
The first island he visited was the Isle of Man, which has two different landscapes, the north being a lot quieter are, mainly wet willow woodland. There are 100s of roosting Hen Harriers here but they don’t eat the (originally escapee), red necked wallabies as they assume they are ‘little people’.
On Orkney, Patrick saw a resident who had been on the island since Neolithic times- the Orkney vole. Its nearest relation is in Belgium and one theory is that it was brought over as a food source. The voles now provide food for hen harriers and short eared owls, although these are decreasing in numbers due to the introduction of stoats to the island.
Barra is one of the islands once owned by the author Compton Mackenzie, who campaigned for the island’s conservation. He described the Barra islanders as ‘aristocrats of democracy ‘as there was plenty of room for individuality. Community is important on an island and those living on Eigg have recently purchased the island and are now balancing local democracy and living with nature successfully. The population has increased since the purchase. No-one lives on nearby Rhum which is a now an early re-wilding project and conservation area.
Rathlin , off the north coast of Ireland is a cheery place with the same geology as the Isles of Scilly. The people are generalists, good at all sort sorts of things, for example one man is the RSPB warden, fireman, coastguard and nettle farmer amongst other jobs. The nettles are imported and planted to encourage corncrakes to return. He works with the local population to lessen the conflict between encouraging bird tourism and the interference of ‘outsiders ‘changing the island way of life.

St Kilda is an iconic island, difficult to visit due to the weather. It is possible to camp with minimum facilities on the island, except welcome hot showers supplied by the generator for the military base. There are fantastic numbers of seabirds, although numbers are decreasing, plus endemic species of wren. This bird is gradually increasing in size whilst the local soay sheep are decreasing in size, possibly due to climate change. The new rulers of St Kilda are the Bonxies who only arrived in the 1970, but are eating many Leach’s storm petrels.
In contrast the final island Patrick mentioned was Ray Island, off Essex. This low dome scrub and marshland but whilst camping alone Patrick had the feeling of the world just going about its business with a natural succession of the changing landscape without man.
A very interesting quick tour of the islands, with some wonderful photos, mainly showing the islands in good weather!

Carlton Marshes – The Southern Gateway to the “ Broads National Park”  21st June 2018 Speaker: Matt Gooch, Warden

Reporter: Keith Walker

Matt gave us a highly informative talk delivered in a relaxed and at times humorous style.

He became warden at Carlton Marshes in 2006 and has seen significant developments since then which will be crowned this year by a huge land purchase and development on the enlarged site.

The site at Carlton Marshes is owned by Suffolk Wildlife Trust principally ( a small part is owned by others and leased to SWT on the basis they manage it).

When Matt started it consisted of c 300 acres of land close to Lowestoft at the Southern end of the Broads.

In 2008 SWT started buying up odd plots of land which has continued to date.

Adjacent to the site was a large area of land which had been purchased in 1968 by a Dutch company. Surprisingly the Dutch company agreed to sell the land which comprised of c 384 acres just prior to the Brexit vote, for £3.1m, The Brexit decision has led to a dramatic fall in the value of farming marshland and the price was reduced to £2.6m on the basis of a prompt completion. This is set for 29th June 2018. The purchase is being funded by a loan of £2m with the balance being found from SWT resources.

The acquisition has triggered a request for funding of £4m from the Heritage Lottery Fund which was agreed on the basis that £1m was raised locally. This is on the brink of achievement with the current donations standing at £943K. The attraction to the Fund was the possibility of creating a modern exciting Reserve close to a major conurbation which is rare indeed.

The site will now be in excess of 1000 acres and the funding will be used to put water back into the landscape. Over the next three years, Peto’s Marsh will be transformed into a wet landscape of reed bed, grazing marsh and pools. This will create an ideal nesting and feeding habitat for Common Crane, Bittern & Marsh Harrier.

There is also a commitment over the next two years to create a waterscape of shallow scrapes and pools over 24 acres at Share Marsh to attract breeding waders and support rafts of wintering wildfowl. This year has already seen 5 breeding pairs of Avocets and 15 maturing babies.

The site is already known for Cettis’ Warblers, Marsh Harriers, Fen Raft Spider, a huge population of endangered Water Voles, as well as numerous Dragon Flies such as Norfolk Hawker and Variable Damselflies. Plant life includes Insectivorous Bladerwort, Southern Marsh-orchid, Marsh Pea, Bog Bean, Marsh Marigold and Ragged Robin.

Alongside the land development there is also a plan for a New Centre with impressive facilities including shop, cafe and playscape with a view to attracting the next generations of nature lovers. The plan is to have it open in Easter 2020. Presently the site attracts 40,000 visitors each year and it is believed that there is scope to increase this to 100.000.

There will also be seven viewing points including a Tower Hide.

The Heritage Funding of £4m is the second largest award ever and was only topped by The Great Fen Project. Coincidentally we will have a presentation about this at our August indoor meeting.

Matt’s records show that there have been sightings of 191 species on the site with the American Bittern being seen there this year for 39 days. The Bittern arrived on the day that Rob Wilton a well known local birder was getting married nearby and the wedding party descended to look for the bird

The Reserve has been very clever in raising its media profile with endorsement from David Attenborough, appearance on Country File and articles in lots of journals and newspapers including Simon Barnes from the Times. It seems fate has been very kind to Matt but how he secreted the American Bittern in, we will never know:)

A splendid presentation from Matt which created tremendous anticipation of a National Park of great significance being developed on our doorstep.

The Great Fen Project Speaker: Henry Stanier 16th August 2018

Reporter Sue Gale

Members were filled with enthusiasm for the Great Fen Project when Henry Stanier came to talk to us about it. It is certainly on the list for a future club visit, and we have plenty of time as it is a 50 year restoration project. The result will be a huge wetland area, mostly on peat soil, and much of it currently drained and farmed. Thanks to the Rothschild family some land was bought and kept as reserves. Now the project is unusual in that it is sufficiently well funded to be able to buy and restore some farmland so joining up and enlarging the current National Nature Reserves. The process on purchased land will move forward in stages. Land will be cropped for a few years, and monitored for all types of wildlife (Stage 1); then grassed over at Stage 2 and finally water levels will be raised to increase still further the numbers of farmland species. Local farmers will bid to manage the land, changing from cropping to grazing and hay production.
Already much has been learned by the large team of volunteers and workers. Because of its size, and the fact that the land is owned by the project, it is possible to host research from other organisations, on such issues as climate change and water quality. Wildlife monitoring is throwing up some fascinating facts. The Tansy Beetle has colonized the area of Woodwalton Fen, even though there is no Tansy there! The only other site in England is the Ouse near York, where it does rely on the herb. The Great Reed Bush Cricket has also moved in, using the mainline railway as a route. There are great Crested Newts in the area, and newly formed ponds are rapidly occupied by toads, newts and water plants. Bats have been monitored at Woodwalton Fen since 2010, with 9 species found. Wintering and breeding birds are monitored. Transects zigzag through the farmland and can be used in stages 1 and 2, but when water levels are raised they become impractical. Fortunately modern technology comes to the rescue and drones are now used, flying high so as not to create disturbance. 24 hectares of land (not peat soils here) grows bird seed and Corn Buntings and Tree Sparrows are benefitting. Every field in the Project has a 5m border that is not farmed, although it is cut occasionally to maintain grassland habitat.
On the Northern part of the Fen there is a system of viewpoints that are excellent for raptors in the winter. Birds like Short-eared Owl are increasing, with 16 seen together in the last 2 years. Again the route of the East Coast Mainline is proving important, this time for migrant birds, with Redstart, Brambling, Firecrest and Yellow-browed Warblers reported. 75 species, like Lapwing and Redstart, are breeding on restored land. Yellow Wagtails also breed, but many more are seen on migration when 500 to 600 pass through! Up to 10 Cuckoos have been seen, great news when this bird is declining in England. There is also a breeding population of Grey Partridge. Latest sightings are reported on the website, www.greatfen.org.uk, along with details of viewing points etc.
The great difficulty is going to be choosing a time of year on which to visit! Many thanks to Henry Stanier for an inspiring talk, and very best wishes from the club for the future of this heartening project.

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