Saturday, 29 March 2014

Careful clearing around the bat hibernaculum

Eilish Rothney, Trinity Broads Warden

In 2002 a bespoke hibernaculum was built for Daubenton's bats on the site of the Essex & Suffolk Water Treatment Works at Ormesby St Michael. Daubenton's bats are also known as the 'water bat', fishing insects from the water's surface with their large feet or tail. 

A total of eight species of bat have been recorded on the Trinity Broads and a number of different bats have used the roost over the years including Daubenton's, Pipistrelles and Natterers. There are three species of Pipstrelle and they are our smallest bats – weighing less than a £1 coin! Natterers are medium sized, feeding on a variety of invertebrates including spiders; they like roosting in crevices.

By 2013 the hibernaculum / roost was getting rather overgrown with brambles and a number of alder were potentially obstructing the flight path the bats use to enter the roost. Brambles can be dangerous for bats as they can become entangled or damage their wings – we needed to do some clearance work! The difficulty was timing this work. To disturb the bats whilst they are in the deep torpor of hibernation could endanger them, but if we left it until the warmer spring weather when they would be more active and less vulnerable, we risked there being birds nesting. Consulting with licensed bat experts we drew up a plan:

Photos: Mick Finnemore and Eilish Rothney
  • First check the Hibernaculum to see if bats were present
  • Clearance work would be done with a crack team of volunteers working very quietly with hand tools
  • Materials would be carried away some distance to be burned so no noise or smoke would affect the Hibernaculum
  • Block the entrance to reduce noise and stop any smoke entering
The work was carried out in early March and I am so proud of my Herculean team who completed the bramble cutting within the day.  Result – hopefully safe happy bats with good access to their roost and good flight paths to the broad and surrounding feeding areas.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The season is near

 Rachael Wright, Isabelle Mudge and David Fieldhouse: Seasonal Education Officers

Spring has officially begun, the sun is out and the education season is about to start.
We - the new Seasonal Education Officers for 2014 - have just finished two weeks of induction training. We’ve been very busy visiting lots of fantastic nature reserves and sites across Norfolk. So far we’ve visited Roydon Common, Hickling Broad, Cley Marshes, West Runton, Ranworth Broads, Holme Dunes and Foxley Wood! We were lucky enough to be treated to guided walks with the wardens at all of the reserves and were inspired by their wealth of knowledge.

If you would like to visit one of our nature reserves, take a look at the nature reserves pages on the new website to get all the information.

It’s great to get out into the field and see where we will be spending our summer. This time of year is particularly inspiring, as everything starts to wake up and new life begins to appear. We’ve already had some amazing encounters with nature. At NWT Roydon Common, Jonathan the warden led us quietly in search of an animal waking up for the season. We listened for the rustling of grass, and looked under the bushes with our binoculars - this animal is great at camouflaging and it was good to have Jonathan's help to spot it curled up on the ground. This turned out to be our first adder of the season, and for some of us, the first adder ever!

Rob Spray and the education team on the coast
Other highlights over our first couple of weeks include watching the majestic marsh harriers at Holme, the large number of avocets at Cley, and smooth newts and dragonfly nymphs at Hickling. All this is just the beginning of the season! Our enthusiasm has certainly been fuelled by what we have seen so far and we are raring and ready to go. We can’t wait to share our enthusiasm to inspire people about the wonders of wildlife, and look forward to seeing you at some of our events this summer.

Visit the whats on page for upcoming events.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Norfolk Wildlife Services studying rare adders

Chris Smith, Norfolk Wildlife Services

Scientists are studying rare adders at Cawston Heath so that their heathland hibernation habitats can be better managed.

Adder, photo by Karl Charters
Dan Cadwallader from Norfolk Wildlife Services, the ecological science company of Norfolk Wildlife Trust, said: "They aren't the cuddliest of creatures, but I am hoping to start in the autumn for a Phd around adder at UEA."  

The company is photographing adders to trace their hibernation places, which are often on sunny banks, rabbit holes and tree stumps. "The hard part is not getting bitten as this is very emotionally disturbing for the snakes. We will be treating any nest of vipers found, well with some proverbial caution."   

The company's staff, who are specially trained, will be equipped with stout boots and specialist snake gauntlets for the photography work, and using digital cameras to record scale patterns, which are unique to each snake.

The animals have been asleep since October 2013, so they are still sleepy as they wake up in the cool spring weather. Generally when they are active, the tramp of feet will cause they to slip away. However we would recommend that anyone with a nosey dog that likes to sniff things to be kept on a lead on the Trust's heathland reserves.  If dogs do get bitten, which is often on the muzzle or nose, consult a vet immediately to get the dog monitored and have pain relief.  The snake venom is designed to hunt mice, rats and lizards, so for anything larger the effect is similar to wasp stings - very painful, but with a similar issue of anaphylactic shock.

Norfolk Wildlife Services is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Norfolk Wildlife Trust and we gift aid our profits back to the Trust at the end of the year to benefit the county's wildlife and wild habitats directly.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Power turned on at Hilgay

 Nick Carter, Conservation Officer (Fens)

With the recent spell of dry weather work has re-commenced at the Hilgay Wetland Creation site. This has enabled Fen Group to place the concrete top onto the pump chamber which in turn has resulted in Panks Pumps, an NWT Investor in Wildlife corporate member, then being able to install the pump. 

Reshaping near pump inlet, photo by Nick Carter
This pumps water from the ditch network back into the storage lagoon so that it can be recirculated around the site. Installation of the pump has involved a new transformer being installed by UK Power Networks, also a corporate member, and a cable being laid across the site and a pump chamber being buried next to the storage lagoon by Fen Group. The pump was switched on and water was pumped into the lagoon, on 11 March but a minor fault in the control panel meant it had to be turned off again. Very frustrating! Panks were back the next day and fixed the fault and the pump was fully operational. The pump can move an incredible 100 litres every second which means it could empty an Olympic-sized swimming pool in less than 7 hours!  Another major milestone in the development of the site had been achieved. With the pump working we will start to abstract water from the river next week to start to wet up the site further.
Water coming through lagoon inlet, photo by David Price
Also on site at the moment are Beatbush Fencing who are completing the installation of fencing and gates across the site to enable the site to be grazed. In particular it is important to keep the grass short on the perimeter banks to ensure any faults can be quickly spotted and to deter animals such as badgers from digging holes and weakening the banks.

Another significant milestone has been the submission of the planning application for change of land use from agriculture to nature conservation for the neighbouring Methwold Wetland Creation site. We should get a decision in mid-June.

In the warm weather, although winter visitors such as jack snipe, fieldfare and redwing are still on site, some species, including shelduck, have been displaying while one brood of Egyptian geese has already been seen. We await the imminent return of little ringed plover, sand martin, nightingale and warblers; let’s hope we don’t get a sudden cold spell.

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.

Friday, 7 March 2014

'Green Oscars' to recognise outstanding efforts for wildlife

Mark Webster, Living Landscape Community Officer

I have recently started work with Norfolk Wildlife Trust on an exciting project, ‘Delivering Living Landscapes’.  My work involves me in helping local communities develop and look after community green spaces and help make them even better for wildlife.

Work party of volunteers at Tolls Meadow, Wymondham
In over 20 years of conservation work, I have never ceased to be amazed what a big difference individuals and small groups can make to wildlife in their local area. Norfolk Wildlife Trust is of course supported by many volunteers who work on nature reserves and also in our visitor centres. but perhaps less recognised is the work and support that NWT can give to individuals and groups who want to help wildlife. Our NWT conservation officers provide free advice across the County to many landowners who look after sites which are special for wildlife. These County Wildlife Sites play a vital part in our vision for Living Landscapes which seeks to bring wildlife back to the wider countryside. My own work in the Gaywood and Bure Valley Living Landscapes means in these areas we are helping support people to come together and set up new practical conservation groups helping wildlife.

Perhaps you are reading this and already involved as an individual or in a group looking after a site for wildlife or running a wildlife project. Well your efforts deserve to be recognised which is where an awards scheme run by NBP comes in.

The Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership (NBP) is seeking to celebrate the efforts of local groups and individuals who are making a difference for wildlife and people in their communities - do you know of a group, individual, business or project that deserves an award?  

The search is on for people involved with voluntary activities that help improve their local environment for nature.  If you know of someone or some group who you feel fits the bill, please nominate them via the form on the NBP website

There are five award categories:
  1. Group Award, which recognises the achievements of a parish council, community or conservation group which has worked to improve its local area for biodiversity and to encourage people to access and enjoy their local nature sites.
  2. Site Award, where efforts have been made to improve a site for biodiversity also resulting in a more accessible and well-regarded amenity.
  3. Inspiring Others Award, which recognises those who have gone the ‘extra mile’ to bring about a wider appreciation of biodiversity. Examples could include: a school which is sharing a wildlife area with the local community; a walks leader; a business that provides a nature trail in their grounds.
  4. Individual Award, which recognises the outstanding contribution of a particular person to nature conservation or biodiversity-related education at a local or Norfolk-wide level.
  5. Themed Award. For 2014, the theme is “Commons, Greens and Churchyards”. This will recognise action taken by local communities to improve biodiversity in these key areas which occur in almost every parish across Norfolk.
I will certainly be encouraging the groups and individuals I am working with to apply. But if you know of someone who has been beavering tirelessly away to help wildlife then do nominate them for an award.  The magnificent efforts of both groups and individuals who do so much to help Norfolk’s wildlife often go unrecognised – but not in Norfolk, where nominations for the 2014 Community Biodiversity Awards are now open.

If you need more information about the awards please contact Paul Holley for more information:

NWT’s Living Landscape approach will provide a wide range of opportunities for people to get more involved in helping wildlife locally.