Monday, 30 September 2013

Cley Catch-up: 30 September 2013

Barry Madden, Volunteer Bird Guide at NWT Cley Marshes

There is a subtle change in the air. The lazy, hazy soporific days of high summer are over to be replaced with something less certain, more dynamic and, for birders at least, perhaps more exciting.

The vestiges of summer cling on, but you sense there is a slowly building momentum of nature’s need to wind down, move on or batten down the hatches and dig in for the short days and chill to come.

This seasonal adjustment was aptly demonstrated at Cley Marshes today where the morning sunshine slowly gave way to low cloud and early autumnal gloom.  Gone now are the butterflies and moths that only a few weeks ago bedecked every bloom across the reserve. Gone too are the noisy, bickering avocets, the piping oyster catchers, screeching terns and chuntering reed warblers. They have been replaced by vanguard parties of moulting teal and wigeon, post breeding groups of dunlin, curlew and golden plover whilst those late emerging migrant hawkers live up to their name by patrolling the ditches and channels in search of prey.

Bearded tit, photo by Barry Madden
It is a time when things seem impatient and are keen to be on the move. Today bearded tits were ‘pinging’ their way urgently through the reeds and occasionally a family party would show itself as they moved from one area to another giving tantalising glimpses of their deep orange-brown plumage. The mewing calls of a buzzard made me look upwards and there spiralling over the reserve were a party of six that steadily moved north-west. Probably continental birds slowly making their way to their wintering grounds, or maybe local breeders looking for a change of venue; hard to tell in these times when the species has become so widespread in the county.

There were plenty of people on the move too. Several organised touring groups were filling the hides or scoping Arnold’s Marsh busy listing as many birds as they could find. I stopped to chat to all of them and was sometimes able to help with identification or to give advice on the most likely spot to give up a particular species. It’s what I’m there for after all. I always find it interesting to discover where these folk are from and why they make the pilgrimage to Cley Marshes. Invariably the response is along the lines of they visited as a young person and fell in love with the place or perhaps have heard so much about it they simply had to come see for themselves. Most are at least annual migrants to this ever-changing patch of our beautiful coastline; all of them happy to be out in the fresh air pursuing their favoured pastime.  

As I progressed around the reserve it became clear that the sea was an area that today would provide rich rewards for anyone even mildly appreciative of the natural world. Nobody could fail to notice the large numbers of birds enlivening the eerily flat calm North Sea. Brent geese, wigeon, teal, waders and red-throated divers were all heading west in a steady stream, whilst gannets and a few straggling sandwich terns and swallows headed east. The former assemblage moving into their wintering quarters, the latter coasting south to theirs. A couple of loitering arctic skuas, themselves migrating south, provided menace for any fishing tern. Nothing was permanent, all was transient. It pays to stand and stare at these wonderful natural spectacles when you are lucky enough to witness them, because in this most diverse of environments tomorrow it will all change.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

What do wild places mean to you?

David North, Head of People and Wildlife
Over the last few weeks I have been working with Richard Fair from the Forum Trust in Norwich to help create a screen-show about NWT’s Cley Marshes nature reserve.  You can catch this show in the Fusion Gallery at the Forum Norwich daily from 10am to 5pm from Monday 16 September. It’s free to enter and we hope it brings a touch of North Norfolk coast magic to the heart of Norwich.

What I have learnt from both helping put this screen show together, and my involvement with the NWT Cley Marshes Land Purchase Appeal, is that people really care about Cley Marshes. This is a very special place that has huge personal meaning to huge numbers of people who have come to know and love this area over many decades of its history.

Avocet with young, photo by David Tipling
The screen show of course features stunning wildlife as you might expect. Awe inspiring images of marsh harriers grappling talons over the marshes, intimate moments as downy young avocets seek warmth and safety under their parents ‘tummies’ and great skeins of geese and flocks of waders seeking a refuge on Cley’s wetlands.  

 However what has affected me most deeply, inspired me the most, is not these wildlife images or the equally amazing filmed sequences of Cley’s stunning land and skyscapes – storms moving along the shingle ridge and the great panoramas of marsh, reeds and sea are beautifully captured by the many local photographers who have generously given of their time and skill to create this show. What has inspired me is the voices of artists, local people and visitors to Cley whose love of this place shines through every word of their interviews. This has been echoed to in our Cley Marshes Appeal with so many people donating not only funds but their stories and experiences of why this place has special meaning to them. So many stories: of rare birds seen for the first time, of friends made, of inspiration for amazing artwork or simple of space found to make sense of troubled lives or gain new perspectives.  Cley is truly an inspiration.

I hope you are able to catch Cley Marshes: A Wild Vision at Fusion over the next couple of weeks. We gave award-winning local photographer David Tipling the challenge of catching a falling star in his photography of the Marshes. Sure enough, during the recent Perseid meteor showers, he didn’t disappoint, achieving some remarkable and awe inspiring night-time film sequences which open the show.

I hope Cley Marshes is an inspiration to you too!

Please note the screenshow runs from Sept 16 to Sept 28 from 10am to 5pm but is closed on the morning or Thursday 19 September and all day Sunday 22 September.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Bats and reeds at Wissey Wetland

 Nick Carter, Conservation Officer (Fens)

I decided to sign up the Wissey Wetland for the Norfolk Bat Survey, partly to increase coverage in the Fens and partly to learn more about the bat species using the developing wetland sites. The survey involves setting up an unmanned bat detector overnight in three locations, at least 200m apart, in the same 1km square. As the Hilgay Wetland covers one square and the Methwold site a neighbouring square we would get 6 nights of bat data at the end of August/early September. I was fortunate that two volunteers, Darren and Alison Williams, live locally to the sites and were able to move the detector each day.  Many thanks to them for helping out with the survey.

I had barely got back to my office after delivering the detector back to the BTO when the results were emailed through to me. Although we had done bat surveys on the sites before, the detector had recorded three species not found in the earlier surveys: barbastelle and whiskered (although difficult to completely exclude Brandt’s bat at current time) bats, both relatively uncommon in Norfolk, and unexpectedly Nathusius’ Pipistrelle, only recently recorded in Norfolk and with only a few records in the Fens. We hope to repeat the survey annually to see how the bat community changes as the wetland sites develop. It is too late take part this year but if you feel you would like to take part in future years then check out the website at to see if your 1km square is already being covered.

Reed planting, organised by Adam Pimble from the Hickling Team, has been going well at Hilgay, despite the generally dry conditions. A professional team of planters led by Kev Dowe has been busy aiming to reach their target of 40,000 reed plugs planted in a month. In addition, we have had two corporate days with volunteers from Atkins and Environment Agency erecting protective cages and planting reeds. The hot, dry weather has not only been hard on the reeds it also makes the planting uncomfortable. Despite this the two teams have managed to plant a further 7,000 reeds, mostly in the storage lagoon. As I write the weather is turning cooler and wetter which will be good for reed establishment.  Although the abstraction system is now installed a minor leak has been detected. This will have to be rectified before we can start abstracting water from the River Wissey to secure the survival of the reeds over the winter.

Friday, 13 September 2013

New Meadows From Old

Helen Baczkowska, NWT Conservation Officer

Many readers will have seen the press stories this year about the Coronation Meadows – this is national scheme, spearheaded by HRH the Prince of Wales, to create new hay meadows by collecting hay-rich seed from flowery meadows and spreading it on new areas. This has long been recognised as one of the best ways to create new meadows, collecting a variety of local seeds all at once. Flowery hay meadows were once a common site across Britain and hay was vital for feeding stock over winter; however, since the end of World War 2, about 97% of lowland hay meadows have vanished as hay has been replaced by silage and hard feeds or field have been converted to arable uses, development or sown with high-yielding grasses.

Coronation Meadows were established across England and Wales earlier this year and Norfolk’s was probably the smallest – a couple of hundred metres of road verge at Wood Lane, near Pulham Market. Although tiny, the verge supports a range of wild flowers, such a dyer’s green weed and pepper saxifrage, with the star being sulphur clover – a large, downy, yellow clover that is nationally scarce, but has its stronghold on the road verges of South Norfolk.

On a sunny day in late August, I met with Henry Walker from Farm Conservation, plus Shane Plant and Martin Plane, who had been funded by Norfolk County Council (who are responsible for the verge) to cut and collect the hay from the verge – aiming to gather as much seed as possible.  Shane and Martin brought a reciprocating mower and I brought my scythe, the cut hay was raked and packed into large sacks, then driven to Wreningham, where Henry had worked with a farmer to prepare an area of ground for the seeds.  The ground has to be prepared by “scarifying” – creating some bare soil for the seed to germinate in.

Previous attempts to sow sulphur clover hay have proved successful, but the new meadows need to managed by cutting and removing the hay each year.  With this management, the new meadows  should flourish and provide not just a home for wild flowers, but for bees, butterflies, crickets and grasshoppers, reptiles and small mammals.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Foreign delegates visit Cley Marshes

 Barry Madden, Volunteer Bird Guide at NWT Cley Marshes

The European Ornithologists’ Union recently held its 9th biannual conference at the UEA. To allow delegates to experience something of the East Anglian countryside and to provide relief from the confines of the lecture theatre, trips were arranged to various coastal nature reserves including NWT Cley Marshes. The appointed day dawned bright and cheerful and 9.30am saw a number of us volunteers and staff assembled in the Visitor Centre awaiting coach parties of professional ornithologists and associated conservation minded people from just about every country in Europe. There were even delegates from as far afield as Australia and the USA. 

The EOU was established in 1997, with the objective of fostering the advancement of ornithology and the promotion of the scientific study of birds among ornithologists within Europe. So, being favoured with a visit meant we were all determined to show these very dedicated, knowledgeable and interesting people the best that NWT can offer. I’m pleased to say that everybody certainly seemed very impressed with the way the whole enterprise is managed. And they also saw some good birds, had a paddle in the surprisingly warm North Sea and just enjoyed being out in the lovely fresh air of North Norfolk.

Bearded Tit at Cley Marshes, Ian Simons
It soon became clear that this was not only a fact-finding experience, but also an opportunity to indulge in a spot of relaxation. One young man from Portugal really wanted to see bearded tits. Now hearing bearded tits can be relatively easy, but seeing them isn’t always so simply. He was in luck though, for on this warm, fine summer day a party of four young birds obligingly perched atop the reeds near Arnold’s Marsh. A particularly pleasing episode, result: one happy birder. And then there were two ladies from Scotland who particularly wanted to see butterflies and were so happy with the common blues and wall browns still on show. But this was nothing compared to the added bonus of being able to watch a pair of clouded yellows that were still flitting around on the path near Bishop’s Hide. Big smiles and a life first for these young ladies. This coupled with the good selection of waders on show meant everybody had a chance to see something new. It is very easy to get blasé about these things when you encounter them every day, and it takes the genuine excitement and pleasure of others to bring home how lucky we all are to live in such a wonderfully diverse and nature-rich county. 

There was the odd glitch of course. I was sure one lady was asking me about flowers (she pronounced it ‘plowers’ but I thought that's what she meant). I merrily gabbled on about those very few plants I could recognise until it became clear she was getting more and more confused. ‘But do you get grey and golden ones?’ she asked. Grey flowers I thought, what on earth… and then the penny dropped, she meant plovers. A quick recovery with a straight face and European unity was restored.

We all agreed that it was most interesting to compare the state of the nature conservation movement within other countries as it compares to our own. The general consensus was that the UK has a very mature and well established conservation programme underpinned by a sound network of well managed and well supported organisations.  Sadly this is not the experience enjoyed by many of our European neighbours where there is a considerable way to go in developing nature reserves and changing the culture from one of abuse of wild creatures and wild places to that of preservation. But it is clear these people are determined to make a difference. Being able to see at first-hand how we in the UK  operate will hopefully lead to much better cooperation between our respective countries together with vital exchange of ideas and research for the common good. It was good to play a part, albeit small, towards realising this most important objective.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Men (and women) went to mow

Helen Baczkowska, NWT Conservation Officer

On a rainy Saturday at the end of August, a hardy group gathered at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse museum to learn how to scythe.  Far from being a tool from our rural past, scythes have, in recent years, taken the UK by storm, as they provide a practical alternative to brush cutters for cutting small areas of hay, bracken, brambles, nettles and other vegetation.  

Simon Fairlie, course tutor and scythe importer, started the day by providing a background to the Austrian scythe; this is over 60% lighter than the traditional English scythe and made from a bent ash handle (correctly called a “snath”), with a lightweight steel blade. These are still used on Alpine meadows and tradition hay fields across Europe. For the rest of the rainy morning, the group huddled in a barn learned about setting up the scythe, looking at the range of snath heights on offer and the different blades for cutting different vegetation.

Delegates on the course included apprentices from Gressenhall, the owner of a small meadow and volunteers who work on County Wildlife Sites (CWS) across Norfolk, where low-cost management is key to maintaining the wildlife value of the sites. Volunteers from Hoe Common CWS want to limit the growth of bracken and at Thwaite Common CWS, thistles need to be kept in check.  For these sites, the scythes are lighter than brush cutters, cheaper to buy and run, less smelly, easier for volunteers to handle and don’t require a certificate for insurance – there is also the attraction of just putting one over your shoulder and doing a small amount of work on a walk!

In the afternoon, the rain stopped and delegates had a chance to scythe a field and learn the arts of sharpening and “peening” – thinning the edge of the blade to keep a keener edge.  Everyone went home armed with a new scythe and impressed with their new skills!

For more information on Austrian scythes, the scythe Association of Britain and Ireland and for more courses next year, please contact Helen Baczkowska at Norfolk Wildlife Trust.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Remember a Charity Week

Nick Acheson, NWT Volunteer

At Norfolk Wildlife Trust we love life. We love wildlife and we love human life. Our nature reserves protect thousands of species of life – most of the terrestrial and freshwater species found in Norfolk – from the merest bacteria to extravagantly beautiful great crested grebes quivering their bronze-and-black crests in display in the Broads. In addition, we work with human life, meeting thousands of people each year – landowners, families, teachers and children – to enrich their lives, inspire them to love nature, and encourage them to protect wildlife in the future.

NWT Lower Wood, Ashwellthorpe, photo by Richard Osbourne
Do you too love life in Norfolk? Do you smile at the peacock and red admiral butterflies sunning themselves in your garden? Do you make an annual pilgrimage to watch hares boxing in a spring field? Does your heart skip a beat as you come across a barn owl floating ghostly over a misty water-meadow? Do tears come to your eyes as you hear a nightingale pouring his soul into a warm May evening on a North Norfolk heath?

If, like us, you love wildlife in Norfolk, you have the opportunity to celebrate it, and support us in our work to protect it and enhance our human relationship with it, by leaving us a legacy in your will. Remember a Charity in Your Will Week, which runs from 9 to 15 September 2013, is an annual event aimed at encouraging people to leave legacies to charities in their wills, once their loved ones have been provided for.

For Norfolk Wildlife Trust, as for charities all over the UK, legacies are vital. With your legacies Norfolk Wildlife Trust buys new nature reserve and sets in place the plans needed to protect them and enhance them for wildlife and for future generations of Norfolk people. With your legacies Norfolk Wildlife Trust takes school children to its nature reserves, allowing them to build a relationship with wildlife, for the rest of their lives and their own children’s lives. It repairs hides and builds boardwalks, the better to allow access to reserves; it puts up boxes for bats, makes ponds for natterjacks, and erects platforms in the hope that ospreys will return to Norfolk to breed. A legacy to Norfolk Wildlife Trust is a promise to the future of Norfolk’s wildlife and of Norfolk’s human life.

So this September, as summer’s end is foretold by the wind gossiping in the reeds at Cley, by the thousand thousand birch seeds spinning over the heath at Buxton, and by the gathering of the marsh harriers at their winter roost at Stubb Mill, pause for a moment to look and to breathe. As you look, as you breathe, reflect on the beauty of the wildlife which shares our Norfolk with us and, if so moved, please consider leaving a legacy in your will which will help Norfolk Wildlife Trust to protect it.

For our part, we promise to use your legacies to look after Norfolk’s wild habitats, now and in the future – through spring’s birth and autumn’s end, and through the annual comings and goings of the birds – so that they may be enjoyed forever by Norfolk’s wildlife and by Norfolk’s people.