Monday, 10 March 2014

Work starts again at Hilgay

Nick Carter, Conservation Officer (Fens)

After several months of inactivity, due to the very wet ground conditions, construction work started again. With just a few weeks work left to do it has been very frustrating not to be able to finish it off before the end of the winter.  Last week Fen Group was able to install the top for the pump chamber which will enable Panks Pumps to connect the pump to the mains. This will allow us to pump excess water from the ditch network back into the reservoir to ensure we lose as little water off the site as possible. Once the pump is working there are just a few minor jobs to do, such as testing the abstraction system for leaks and finishing off the perimeter bund and an internal ditch where the main access point was.

View across north east corner
With the site wetting up naturally and with little disturbance from contractors and visitors to the site the number of waterfowl has increased. Several jack snipe have been flushed, usually from the same locations over the winter although Snipe have not been as common as last year.  Mallard, gadwall, teal, wigeon and shelduck have been using the site, including the scrapes dug last autumn.  Parties of lapwing and winter thrushes are also passing through. One interesting observation was a couple of weeks ago when I flushed an Egyptian goose from an old nest in Jubilee Wood although it wasn’t there the following week. They are early nesters but frequently fail because of poor weather conditions.

With spring around the corner we are waiting to see what other species turn up to nest.  Several pairs of little ringed plover nested last year although no young were seen and lapwings also fared badly. Avocets, which had bred in 2012, just passed through last year and there was no evidence of breeding from the shelduck that loaf around in the lagoon area.

We have just submitted a planning application for change of land use for the adjacent Methwold site. This will provide a further 18ha of reedbed, enough hopefully to attract a pair each of bittern and marsh harrier. This is again in partnership with Environment Agency, and also Natural England. If the planning application is successful work could start in July.  The soil on this site is more peaty than the more free-draining sandy soils at Hilgay so it will be more susceptible to wet ground conditions so it is important for work to start before the winter.

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