Tuesday, 31 December 2013

One touch of nature: 50 wildlife resolutions for 2014

 David North, Head of People and Wildlife

There’s learning about nature and then there is learning from nature. Two very different things I think. Learning about nature can be done from books, from television programmes, from websites and of course from other people. Most importantly it can also be achieved by spending time outside simply observing. Learning about nature is great. I take great pleasure in identifying birds, plants, mammals and a rather small number of invertebrates and fungi. My ignorance is massive. So much to learn! Knowledge of nature and natural processes is of course crucial when it comes to conservation. We can’t protect species or habitats without this kind of knowledge. There are of course lots of opportunities to learn about nature with Norfolk Wildlife Trust during 2014 so why not come on one of our many events?

Trees, photo by Brendan Joyce

For me, and perhaps for anyone who draws inspiration from the natural world, there is another kind of learning, a more personal approach. When we talk about reconnecting with nature, for me this is more about learning from nature than learning about nature. Learning from nature can’t be done from books or television screens - it comes from personal direct experience of the natural world and what we learn is primarily about ourselves; our place in this amazing interconnected world. Learning from nature is primarily about self knowledge, a personal sense of perspective, how the changes I observe in nature are part of the same processes of change in myself. Heady stuff perhaps, and not to be taken over-seriously, but with a light touch and a sense of fun, adventure and discovery. The quest of self-knowledge, like all good quests, demands an adventurous spirit and an open heart.

I have put together a list of 50 challenges for myself in 2014. Ways to directly experience nature and hopefully ways to learn from nature, though I’m sure during the course of trying these things out there will be lots of learning about nature too. Many of the things on my list are not that original but it’s the doing that counts! So here is my personal list of 50 challenges for 2014. Ways of connecting to the natural world. Why not make your own list but be sure to stay safe and only take on challenges you feel comfortable with.
  1. Sleep outside under the stars
  2. Swim in a river, a lake and the sea (quite tricky in Norfolk!)
  3. Take a night walk along the sea-shore (on a full moon night)
  4. Spot a shooting star
  5. Take a long barefoot walk
  6. Make a bush fire and cook a meal outside on wood I have gathered
  7. Listen to a nightingale
  8. Feed a wild bird by hand
  9. Watch the moon rise
  10. Watch the sun rise
    Evening sun on Heigham Sound, photo by Craig Humphries
  11. Watch the sun set
  12. Lie on a spring woodland floor and really look at the leaf canopy and its colours
  13. Lie against the wind in a storm
  14. Drink from a spring
  15. Shower under a waterfall
  16. Hug a tree (the old ones are the best!)
  17. Listen to a dawn chorus at dawn on my own
  18. Listen to the wind in tree tops
  19. Lie on my back and cloud watch
  20. Watch the wind – observing wind patterns in crops or long grass
  21. Watch cloud shadows moving across the landscape from a high vantage point
  22. Find silence and listen to it
  23. Listen to waves breaking on shingle
  24. Watch a rough sea and breaking waves
  25. Watch soaring birds
  26. Find a spider’s web covered in dew
  27. Explore a natural place with my eyes shut
  28. Watch swifts screaming
  29. Sit by a pond
  30. Paddle in a stream
  31. Smell honeysuckle or jasmine on a warm summer night – night smells
  32. Go beachcombing
  33. Walk in mist – and watch mist form as evening falls
  34. Watch migrating geese
  35. Celebrate each season 
  36. Watch a spider make a web
    Spider's web, photo by Richard Osbourne
  37. Listen to the wind in reeds – whispering reeds
  38. Find a natural seat in a tree and sit there for one hour
  39. Reveal a conker, hold and polish it
  40. Collect sweet chestnuts and roast them
  41. Hear an owl and answer it
  42. Swim in the sea in winter (well maybe a paddle instead)
  43. Follow an animal track
  44. Find a sun-warmed rock and lie against it
  45. Walk in a woodland in rain and listen to raindrops falling on the leaf canopy
  46. Listen to a mountain stream
  47. Find a touchstone – small natural object that will always connect me to a special time and place
  48. Drink dew from a leaf
  49. Spend a day walking on one of Norfolk’s long distance trails from sunrise to sunset
  50. Spend more time outside watching wildlife!
Of course to be more mindful and aware of nature you don’t need to have a list of challenges – the real challenge is to be more aware of nature all around us on a daily basis. And more aware of how we can live in ways which respect the needs of the natural world as well as our own. Now that is a challenge worth taken on. A proper resolution is for life and not just for the year!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Trustee update: from the vice chair

Ann Roberts, Vice Chair of NWT Trustees

I am thrilled to have been chosen as Vice Chair of Norfolk Wildlife Trust and would like to thank all those who supported me. So I thought I would let you know who I am.

I moved to Norfolk over 11 years ago and became a part of Wymondham Nature Group were I have been Chair for nearly five years and have served on the committee for the last 10 years. I also volunteer with the adult and child education events run by head office; travelling to all parts of the county. WyNG also attend local events in South Norfolk on behalf of the Trust.

But I am a generalist when it comes to wildlife; I enjoy bird watching, surveying wild flowers, practical conservation but most of all just enjoying visiting the wide open spaces across Norfolk. We are fortunate to have some of the best wild spaces in Britain especially the many special sites that the trust own or manage.

The role of a Trustee is varied; we meet 10 or 12 times a year to take overall responsibility for the operation of the Trust. Within this brief we set the Trust's five year Business Strategy, provide other policies, plans and fiscal governance. To carry this out we employ suitable staff, under the management of the Chief Executive, to progress the tasks required. But it’s not all meetings as we undertake a couple of site visits to nature reserves and meet staff members who do the work on the ground. This is one of the best parts of being a Trustee, meeting the staff and finding out what complex work is carried out to maintain good wildlife habitats.

Over the next few years the Trust will be very busy developing the Simon Aspinall Wildlife Education Centre at Cley and preparing the large new area of reserve for wildlife and people. This land project will take several years of work to provide the scrapes, paths, fencing, hides and get the water management levels correct but I expect the wildlife will move in before that.

We also have many other exciting projects ongoing across the county for example; the opening up of more open water areas and other improvements to the Hickling Reserve, or the new reserve being prepared at Hilgay, this should be a great addition to the Wissey area. Another exciting development will be the new programme of working with the community in two of the Living Landscapes. By encouraging local groups, helping and supporting them to look after their wild areas.

Therefore I am pleased to be a trustee at this very exciting time and expect to be kept busy. It’s important that we look after our wild places for the next generations and I look forward to being able to help continuing this valuable and interesting work.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Cley catch-up: after the flood

Barry Madden, Volunteer Bird Guide at NWT Cley Marshes

I didn’t know quite what to expect as I crested the rise along Old Woman Lane last week. Normally the first glimpse of Cley Marshes is welcome relief after the drive from Norwich, but today I knew the reserve had changed and suffered greatly at the expense of the storm surge. First impressions from a distance were not too bad; certainly the salt water had been sluiced off efficiently leaving behind the familiar patchwork of meadow, reed bed and shallow pools. But after a few seconds I registered that perhaps the brown staining was a little too extensive and then I realised that something more fundamental had changed. Parts of the shingle ridge had gone. Where days ago the shingle ridge still partially blocked views of the sea from the land, now only a thin shallow line of shingle remains. The bank will still be protective – it is wider now so absorbs wave energy. And the breaches will be repaired by EA. But the North Sea, calm and blue today lay within view.

The breach at the West Bank, photo by Barry Madden
 Although the reserve had been closed to the public to allow a full damage assessment to take place, I was tasked with walking the accessible perimeter pathways to engage with any people that may wish to understand what was being done in terms of remedial work. A trudge towards East Bank showed very clearly how far and deep the inundation had penetrated with debris strewn across the reed marsh and by the side of the road. Portions of hides, fencing, and other infrastructure lay haphazardly across the flattened roadside scrub which was piled high with broken reed stems and coated heavily with dark slimy mud. The freshwater drain was clogged with sludge and huge chunks had been gouged from the East Bank itself. All in all a rather dispiriting sight.

The beach, photo by Barry Madden
The beach: a scene now littered with chunks of concrete and the exposed underlying bed. An unveiled line of fence posts, which must have marked the historic boundary of the reserve, can now be seen on the seaward side of the shingle; the whole protective bank has effectively been swept inland leaving behind a scoured sandy underlay. Oh, and we seem to have lost the beach car park!

Splattering my way an hour later back along the coast road I overheard a walker say to his mate something along the lines of ‘They’ve got a heck of a job clearing this up’. The enigmatic ‘they’ referenced translates to Norfolk Wildlife Trust I guessed. And he was right; it is a heck of a job. There will be boardwalks, fences and gates to repair, hides to rebuild and clean, flood banks to plug, untold tons of rancid vegetation to clear away, footpaths to restore, signage to replace… I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture. And that is just the stuff I noticed as a layman walking around, there will be more technical issues to grapple with if we are to return Cley Marshes to the richly varied wildlife haven we all know and love.

But you know despite all the doom and gloom, I sense there is a real desire to get stuck into the restoration programme. Everyone I spoke to seemed to have the attitude: we can’t stand in the way of nature’s relentless stride, but we can achieve a positive managed retreat. We need time to manage the retreat effectively for the habitats and resident wildlife, which makes re-instatement of the damaged infrastructure so critical. 

Pink-footed geese, photo by Barry Madden
And in defiance of all that has happened, the birdlife today was prolific. Skeins of pink-footed geese flew across a cloudless sky all day searching for likely looking fields full of beet tops or somewhere to roost. Flocks of lapwing and golden plover spangled the scrapes whilst water rails screeched and screamed from the ditches. A peregrine sailed slowly over my head flushing parties of displaced reed buntings, linnets and meadow pipits from the Eye. The stonechat pair were still flitting around in their favoured patch of scrub and the familiar female kestrel sat preening atop a stunted elder bathed in the warm glow of the golden afternoon sun. Even in its altered state Cley still provides an essential home for many and will continue to do so for decades to come.     

For updates on Cley Marshes, please call the visitor centre on 01263 740008 or visit the NWT website

Monday, 16 December 2013

Christmas time, mistletoe and wine

Emily Nobbs, Wildlife Information Service

Whilst trying to source some mistletoe sprigs to decorate my new home this Christmas, I started thinking, what actually led people to start hanging mistletoe in the doorways of their homes at Christmas? So I have done some digging about the origin of mistletoe traditions, as well as the best way to grow your own.

Mistletoe, photo by Elizabeth Dack
The origin of the mistletoe tradition
During the Middle Ages mistletoe was regarded as a holy magical plant, rooting higher than any other plant to Heaven. It was known to ward off evil spirits, and later earned the reputation as a healing herb. Kissing under its branch began in the 17th Century, when people believed it would fix broken hearts. This beautiful plant continues to be a symbol of new life and the approaching spring to many. Today, all over the World at Christmas people exchange kisses beneath this white berried plant, picking one for each kiss.

Where and when to see mistletoe

You can find this plant growing wild, usually living in branches of, willows, lime, ash and poplars. In Britain mistletoes favourite host is cultivated apple, with around 50% growing on the tree. In Norfolk the commonest host tree for mistletoe is apple trees, followed by lime and then poplar. Mistletoe has not been recorded on ash or oak in the county since 1866. 

Mistletoe on Limes, photo by David Gittens
The best place to see mistletoe in Norfolk is in The Walks in Kings Lynn, between November and March when the trees are bare.

Grown your own

If you want to try your hand at home growing, first you must collect the mistletoe berries in February or early March, not at Christmas! Next crunch the berries and smear them into a young live tree branch (at least 1.5 metres high and 20mm in diameter). Try to smear the plant on a shady part of the branch, for example the underside of a branch; in the wild this is done by mistle thrushes and other birds which are fond of eating the mistletoe berries but discard the seeds by wiping their bills on a convenient branch, spreading the mistletoe from tree to tree. Mistletoe will grow on certain tree species as mentioned earlier, apple trees seem especially receptive. Hawthorn, lime, poplar, whitebeam, pear, field maple and ash are also suitable trees to try.

Mistletoe is not for those of you who wish to see growth results quickly; this species requires patience, as it can often take a few years before the first mistletoe leaves appear.

Top Tips
  • If you picked your berries and stored them somewhere dry prior to smearing you must re-hydrate them by leaving them in water for a couple of hours before spreading them.
  • Mark the sport you smeared your seed! That way you will know where you put it and can watch it grow.
Remember while mistletoe does not kill trees it is partially parasitic so we recommend that you don’t plant it on your best fruit tree! Once it's established you can harvest some each year and both the mistletoe and the host tree should survive for decades.

Please send any mistletoe records to the local records centre, Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service (NBIS) at Norfolk County Council. Please use the four recording Ws - What, Where, When and Who - when submitting a record.
Post - Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service, R301 County Hall, Martineau Lane, Norwich, NR1 2SG. Telephone - 01603 224458. Email - enquiries.nbis@norfolk.gov.uk

Friday, 6 December 2013

Cley Marshes: after the flood

Brendan Joyce, CEO of Norfolk Wildlife Trust

I was at NWT Cley Marshes today to see the effects of the flood.

The reserve has flooded up to and including the coast road and the lower car park to the visitor centre, although the visitor centre itself is unharmed. 

We are hopeful that the water will recede quickly now that the worst has passed and only then can we properly assess the damage to habitats and site infrastructure. 

The north (Swarovski) hide has been completely destroyed but the others remain standing and when the water has receded we will be able to see the effect on these, the boardwalk and paths, fences, gates bridges and other site infrastructure. 

We are concerned about a number of breaches in the shingle ridge and believe it is essential that these are repaired by Environment Agency at the earliest opportunity.

We now face a very big clear up and repair operation indeed as there will be a lot of debris and vegetation to remove and infrastructure to repair and replace. 

As far as longer term impacts are concerned, previous experience of such events, whilst devastating in the short term, suggest that the habitats will make a full recovery although this will take time. For example the numbers of fresh water fish and invertebrates in the freshwater dykes and pools will need to build up again and the grazing marshes may take a year or two to fully recover.

We have been in this situation before and no doubt will be again, but we remain confident that this rare event does not spell doom for the reserves and that they will recover.

The visitor centre and reserve have been inaccessible today and the reserve is likely to remain so until the water has receded and we can repair access routes and visitor facilities. But we aim to re-open the centre as soon as the coast road can be reopened and the car park cleared of debris to make it safe to access. 

Please check our website for regular updates. Our other coastal reserve, NWT Holme Dunes, and those in the Broads thankfully have not suffered as we feared they might.