Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Pink-footed Geese at Cley

Tuesday 29th December 2015

   After a day off along the coast it was nice to drop in at Cley and see good numbers of pink-footed geese on the site. Though familiar with good numbers at Holme, seeing large numbers at Cley feeding and roosting was heart warming. These birds are clearly adding a relatively new sound to the Cley area, long may it continue. The purchase of Pope's Marsh has I'm sure helped to make this a now regular winter feature.

The pink-feet (at least 1400) lift off over Cley.
Great to see Bernard and his assistants!

Lead Shot: time to solve the problem

David North, Head of People and Wildlife

Lead is a poison. There is nothing particularly contentious in saying that. After all that is why lead was removed as an additive to petrol and paints, and why we no longer use lead water pipes. This fact, of course, has been known for centuries: it may even have been the decreases in fertility and increased cases of psychosis brought about by contamination of drinking water from lead pipes that was a factor in the decline of the Roman empire! The scientific consensus is that lead is a poison, with no known safe limit, that is capable of killing, and causing many serious health problems, in both people and wildlife.

However despite these bans, which now even include the use of lead in small fishing weights, there is one source of lead into the UK environment that studies suggest is annually killing at least 73,000 ducks, geese and swans. Today it might surprise you that the largest source of lead being dispersed into the UK environment comes not from industry but from the use of lead shot in game and clay pigeon shooting. An estimated 5,000 tonnes a year enters the environment this way and, as lead shot can remain in the soil for up to a century this is a poison that accumulates year on year.

Gadwall, photo by Derek Moore

As Lord Krebs, emeritus professor of zoology at Oxford University and former chair of the UK Food Standards Agency said in a recent BBC interview there is, ‘an overwhelming body of evidence’ that lead used in hunting was ‘a risk both to humans and to wildlife.’ And, ‘on that basis the advice would be that lead shot should be phased out’.

Water birds are especially susceptible to lead poisoning. When they are feeding they seek out small stones from the soil or water’s edge to take into their gizzards to help grind up their food. Unfortunately, if there is spent shot on the ground, they don’t distinguish between poisonous lead and safe natural grit. When a cartridge is fired then the lead shot it contains, (typically more than 200 in each cartridge) spread out, and most, even if the hunter is successful in hitting their target, fall to the ground, irretrievably spread over quite a large area. We have known for more than a century that spent lead shot can kill birds and the ingestion of just one or two can be lethal to birds. A recent study on marshland, now an NWT nature reserve, that had formerly been shot over for decades revealed up to a million spent lead shot per hectare. Shocking, but perhaps not surprising, as in 1992 it was estimated that 1.6 billion lead shot were deposited in UK wetlands alone in the 1990s.

It’s almost 30 years ago that the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution concluded that, ‘urgent efforts should be made to develop alternatives to lead shot and lead fishing weights’ and that ‘As soon as these alternatives are available, the Government should legislate to ban any further use of lead shot and fishing weights in circumstances where they are irretrievably dispersed in the environment’. This is not just a UK issue. It is estimated that millions of water birds are dying globally from lead poisoning from ingested spent lead shot. In Europe alone it has been estimated that around a million wildfowl, from 17 species, die every winter from lead poisoning from ingested lead shot... Globally endangered species, including the white –headed duck, are threatened by this and of course many waterfowl that die from lead poisoning may be eaten by predators. The poison then accumulates up the food chain. Lead poisoning was a major reason that the California Condor came perilously close to extinction in North America and in Europe vultures, red kites and other birds of prey have been shown to be at risk.

The use of lead shot has since 1999 been restricted over English wetlands and for shooting of waterfowl but sadly there is strong evidence that this ban is widely ignored. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust recently carried out tests on over 100 wild ducks being sold for food in England and found that three-quarters had been shot with lead despite the ban having been in force for more than a decade. Recent work has also shown that any wild game shot with lead, even if all the shot are removed from the carcass, will still be contaminated by small fragments of lead. There is increasing concern over the threat this may pose to human health.

So what can be done? Some European countries have already banned the use of lead shot including Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium. Several states in the USA have total bans on its use. Unfortunately calls for a ban are sometimes seen by the shooting community as an attack on shooting but this is not the case. In Denmark for example, where the use and possession of lead shot has been banned since 1996, many hunters now regard the ban as beneficial for hunting. As Niels Kanstrup, a Danish hunter, has commented recently, ‘I’m a conservationist and I’m a hunter, too. I think shooting is a fair and sustainable way to use natural resources, but we can’t have it connected with spreading poisonous heavy metals in nature.’ Safe alternatives to lead, such as steel shot, now exist and at comparable prices and the countries which have introduced bans on lead have not seen any reduction in the numbers of people shooting. Shooters have simply switched to using safe alternatives.

As Stephen Trotter, Wildlife Trusts England Director has said:

"The scientific evidence is clear from a large body of published research papers. There would seem to be no reasonable or logical justifications for the continued use of lead ammunition when safer but equally functional non-toxic alternatives are available. I realise that an adjustment like this will require time and would not be welcomed by everyone but the risks are serious. If anglers can do the right thing for the environment, surely shooters can too?"

The Wildlife Trusts support calls by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, RSPB and the Sustainable Food Trust for lead ammunition to be phased out and replaced with non-toxic alternatives You may wish to consider supporting moves towards a ban by signing the e-petition calling on the Government to ban lead-based ammunition If you would like more scientific information and evidence on this topic then the proceedings of the Oxford Lead Symposium published last month provide more detailed evidence on the effects of lead ammunition on human health, wildlife and the environment.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Natterjacks active again.....

Sunday 27 December 2015

 After another balmy winter's day at NWT Holme Dunes I made another search for a "late" natterjack toad just after 9pm. Temperature was around nine degrees so really wasn't expecting to find anything, but just after reaching the ridge to the beach in the pines I came across this natterjack, running around actively, although a similar size to the animal I saw a few days ago it felt to me to be much fatter and healthier looking.

   I then carried along the footpath and back around the west end of the pines and over the established grey dune, really not expecting to find another one, but doing just that! Sat on a small mound of sand as if waiting for the next meal to crawl to him (or her).

Apologies for poor quality of photos but using torch and camera combined as I have no flash in camera.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Natterjack toad at Holme Dunes in December!

    The unseasonably mild weather this last few weeks had raised hopes we might find a very late natterjack toad, most of our searches have been fruitless until this evening. While coming home from work (around 9.30pm) our resident volunteer warden Tom Parkes found a common toad in Holme village, so hopes of finding a late natterjack were possible. Tom walked up to the beach and within a few minutes had found one! After reporting his finding to me I wasn't able to get out until after 10pm, my first search found the animal but while looking at it I realised a photo would be useful.

   Returning with the camera the animal, which had been quite active couldn't be found! Another careful search of the area eventually located it and photographs were taken with the aid of my torch (my flash doesn't work on the camera) in heavy rain. 


   Although about 4-5cm long the animal was quite thin, may be it's reason for re-emerging from hibernation. Our latest sighting was the 18th November 2013, so this is an exceptional increase and another sign of how global warming can effect our wildlife.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Nail Fungus at Roydon Common

  A brief visit to Roydon Common on the 9th December 2015 provided me with two nice sightings, first four woodlarks flying over, then moments later while searching the ground  a pile of pony droppings covered in what looked like white discs!

 I suddenly realised I was looking at the nail fungus Poronia punctata, it had been found in recent years by our then warden Jonathon Preston. Although familiar with its rarer cousin at Holme I was very pleased to bump into it. It was fruiting well and so now is clearly a good time to look for it. 

 Poronia punctata
 Poronia erici

   As can be seen P. erici is considerably smaller and trust me much harder to find, it prefers rabbit droppings! This species was only known from Scolt Head in Norfolk, being last recorded in the late 1930's. It was found at Holme in October 2010 by a very observant photographer who, at the time was photographing a species of Boletus. It has proved to be erratic in appearance and only from one small area on the site, however it is probably over-looked. Autumn and early winter is the best time to search for it, the public footpath east of the pines the area to explore. Good luck you'll need it!

Monday, 14 December 2015

A woodcock moon

David North, Head of People and Wildlife

The last week of November caught me moon-gazing, captivated by a beautiful and very golden full moon rising on the eastern horizon before it vanished into a blanket of cloud. The November full moon is sometimes known as a woodcock moon as traditionally it was always thought that woodcock would wait for moonlight nights before crossing the North Sea to arrive, sometimes in large numbers known as a fall, along the coast in eastern counties such as Norfolk.

Well whatever the truth of this I was pleased to spot three woodcock in woods close to my house the following morning. Woodcock may be the commonest wader in Britain during the winter months as in some years it estimated that as many as 800,000 cross the North Sea to winter in the UK arriving from Scandinavia or even Russia. Despite these numbers seeing a woodcock is by no means easy! The first one I saw was a fairly typical view: a warm chestnut brown bird, rather rotund with short, broad, rounded wings flying rapidly away from me through trees. This bird ‘exploded’ from a carpet of leaves on the woodland floor and with a characteristic rustling of wings vanished in seconds. The other two I spotted flying high over a ploughed field, distinctive in silhouette the only species you might mistake them for would be snipe but the wings are broader and less pointed and the bill though pointed only half the length of a snipe’s. Most likely these birds had been disturbed by beaters from a shoot as not too far away I could hear the sound of gunfire. Many game shoots do discourage the shooting of woodcock though they remain a legal quarry species during the shooting season.

Woodcock are mysterious birds but we are slowly learning more about them. In recent years the game conservancy has satellite tagged a number of woodcock during the winter in England and this has revealed their long east – west migration routes. Our wintering birds were found to travel to breeding grounds in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Poland, Latvia, Belarus and Russia with some birds travelling over 7,000km.

In the past they were netted in big numbers in Norfolk woods during the winter as their flesh was considered a delicacy. The NWT reserve, Cockshoot Broad, in the Bure valley takes its name from this activity. A ‘cockshoot’ was a clearing made in woodland where wool nets were strung to catch woodcock leaving the wood on their dusk flights when they move to open marshland and pasture seeking their favourite food, worms.

They do breed in some Norfolk woods and in spring and early summer the polygamous males perform circular ‘roding’ flights making curious grunting sounds presumably to impress watching and waiting females below. Its suggested that woodcock at least on occasion carry their unfledged, flightless young with them in flight. Several reputable observers have described the adults carrying a chick clasped between the adult’s upper legs with the tail folded under giving additional support.

Another story about woodcock is the November woodcock moon. It was noted as long ago as Victorian times that falls of woodcock on the coast often coincided with the morning after the full moon. On these cold November mornings large numbers of goldcrests also appeared so it was thought they had ridden across the North Sea on the backs of woodcock and sometimes were referred to as ‘woodcock pilots’. This of course is a myth but it does seem that woodcock do favour clear moonlit nights for their migrations so the tales of woodcock moons may have some truth to them. Whatever the case now is a good time to keep an eye out for a woodcock. You will need to be very fortunate to spot this superbly camouflaged, strange woodland wader on the ground but if you hear a rustle of wings and spot a rufous brown feathered ball hurtling away from you through the trees on broad rounded wings then you too have seen a woodcock – the owl-like wader of our woodlands, a rare sight but possibly our commonest wader, a bird of mystery, tall stories and fascinating contradictions. I hope you spot one!

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Grazing at Holme Dunes

Gary Hibberd, Warden at Holme Dunes

Meet the new "management tools" at Holme

The recent grazing by our konik ponies and English white cattle in the dune slacks and paddocks respectively has highlighted what an amazing job these animals can do on our  sites. I gave an illustrated talk to our local group the other evening and used some recent pictures to show how important they are as management tools. I thought I'd share some of these images here:

The koniks over looking the slacks from the bank that was originally bulldozed up during World War Two.
Note the rank bush grass Calamagrostis epigejos, the bright green vegetation....
the koniks love it!
Another view of the main slack before grazing...
and after, note the "Toads in Holes" scrape in full view!
Now the work rate from the English whites!
The day they arrived at Holme on 29 October
and what they have achieved by 11 December!
A view of the paddocks main area of grassland...
and now. Well done ladies.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Winter access to Thorpe Marshes

Chris Durdin, NWT Volunteer at Thorpe Marshes

I’d be the first to admit that a walk at NWT Thorpe Marshes on a grey morning is often more about fresh air and exercise than wildlife watching.

That said, if you don’t get out you won’t encounter wildlife, and it’s always pleasure to hear squealing water rails, singing Cetti’s warblers or the ‘tsip’ of a wintering meadow pipit. As autumn turns to winter, more ducks appear: a male goosander flew past last time I walked round, and there’s usually a goldeneye or two with tufted ducks and teals on the gravel pit, St Andrews Broad.

Hogweed, photo by Chris Durdin
None of these species are that unusual for a reserve in the Yare Valley, but they still hold an element of surprise in what could reasonably be described as a suburban setting on the edge of Norwich.

I also enjoy the flowers that persist late in the year. White dead-nettle just seems to go on and on. A particular favourite is hogweed, especially if you can find one tinged with pink. It’s also a valuable late nectar source.

Railway bridge into NWT Thorpe Marshes, to be shut for restoration work
The main reason for writing now is to alert blog readers to a change in access coming soon. The usual pedestrian entrance into the reserve is over the railway bridge in Whitlingham Lane. This is scheduled to be shut for major repairs from 5 December to the end of March. You can still walk around the reserve but for this period the way in on foot will be from Bungalow Lane, farther east along Yarmouth Road, and that’s also the plan for guided walks.

It’s worth adding that the Trust’s management gives the landscape a ‘work-in-progress’ feel, with newly dug ponds, ditching work and paths being restored. All good things for the longer term, of course.

Chris Durdin leads monthly wildlife walks at NWT Thorpe Marshes. Details of monthly walks on http://www.honeyguide.co.uk/thorpemarshes.htm 

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

The elephant in the room – climate change

David North, Head of People & Wildlife

Few would dispute that the two biggest threats to our wildlife are habitat loss and climate change. In nature conservation we have been addressing the former for many decades through nature reserve acquisitions, and legal protection of habitats through the various designations, SSSI, SAC, SPA, etc that, at least for those working in conservation, have become familiar terms. Conservation as they say should be ‘habitat forming’ and more recently we have seen recognition of the importance of habitat creation and restoration.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust has been actively protecting special habitats in Norfolk ever since its formation in 1926. We purchased Cley Marshes and today manage big areas of rare habitats from Broadland fens to Breckland heaths, ancient woods to magical meadows. We also today are busy restoring habitats, from tracts heathland damaged and nearly lost through conifer planting at Grimston Warren to arable land in the Bure Valley restored to wet grazing marsh and increasingly through our Living Landscapes approach we are attempting this on a landscape scale. So when wildlife is threatened by habitat loss we know what to do – we have tools ranging from planning controls, site designations or as a last resort land purchase that can save threatened habitats. We even increasingly know how to restore or even create new habitats of wildlife value and conservation all over the country is busy doing this.

Hickling Broad Cadbury's Hide, by Maurice Funnell
But. And it’s a big but. The elephant in the room is climate change. Climate change can undo all our conservation efforts, make our reserves and designated sites, if not irrelevant, then at least impotent to protect many species. With even a 2 degree warming then species may need to shift their global ranges by hundreds of kilometres to stay within the ‘climate window’ that they have evolved to survive and thrive in.

So what can an organisation like NWT do about a global problem like climate change? If we are serious about ‘saving Norfolk’s wildlife for the future’ then surely this should be a key question. And of course it is; though it is one that we like other conservation organisations are struggling with. For starters our vision for Living Landscapes is both long term and predicated on the realisation that if wildlife needs to move, if populations need to shift their ranges as climate changes, then bigger better joined up habitat areas are going to be crucial. So, along with other Norfolk conservation organisations, we are mapping ecological corridors and considering how best to link our reserves together or expand them to make better ecological corridors and bigger, more resilient areas of habitat that will give wildlife the best chance to adapt to a changing climate.

We are also looking at how in the ways we manage our nature reserves we can build in resilience to future climate change: making plans to ensure our wetlands stay wet, and on our coastal reserves that our management plans fully consider the impacts of rising sea levels and the likelihood of more frequent flooding. We don’t of course have all the answers, but then again I’m not sure any of those world leaders in Paris do either! But for both our future and the future of our wildlife we need to be taking action now to ensure that whatever climate change may bring there are areas of linked habitats that give our wildlife the very best chance of survival and that the vision of our Living Landscapes becomes a future reality.

But what can we do as individuals? Well I guess most of us who care about the environment will be hoping that the world leaders who have come together in Paris this week will achieve agreements that really do move us towards the a carbon neutral future. The only sustainable long-term solution for both us and the wildlife we share the planet with is to give up our global addiction to fossil fuels and move to energy sources which don’t bring about global warming. And as we know there is progress: green sources of energy wind, solar, tidal, biomass and others are becoming more widely used and more competitively priced. There is hope, and I for one will be both hoping and, when necessary, demanding that our politicians turn the fine words we are hearing in Paris into actions that actually bring about real change. As Sir David Attenborough has indicated climate change is difficult issue today but if we don’t tackle it now it will become much harder to tackle tomorrow and then if no action is taken will become a problem that no longer can be tackled.

However I’m still left with that nagging question – perhaps my conscience speaking – the question of what actions I can take myself? Am I playing my part in any solution? Climate change is not just for the politicians and world leaders to tackle, it’s also an issue with which organisations like NWT need to grapple. It’s one for all business leaders and local decision makers here in Norfolk and beyond to be taking seriously and its one for you and me too! As both David Cameron and the Pope have said yesterday, along with many other politicians and world leaders, the decisions we make today will have huge consequences not just for present generations but also for generations as yet unborn and will determine the sort of world they inherit.

Short eared owl at Upton, photo by Tabs Taberham

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Reed warbler link

Nick Carter, Wetland Project Officer

Reed Warbler, by Chris Thornton
Kartong Bird Observatory, at the southern end of the Gambian coast, was established in 2010 and so far 12,000 birds, including 256 reed warblers, have been ringed there. Ringing takes place in the reedbeds that have developed in an old sand mine and also in the surrounding Acacia scrub. L930934 was ringed there on 18 January 2014 and I have just been informed by the BTO (which licences bird ringing in the UK) it was re-trapped on the Hilgay Wetland Creation site, a joint venture with Environment Agency, on 11 August 2015, a distance of 4,647km and a gap of 1 year and 205 days. She is a female and had an active brood patch when trapped which means she was breeding onsite. Of the reed warblers ringed at Kartong, six have been re-trapped in Europe but the Hilgay bird represents the furthest north of any of these recoveries.

Numbers of reed warblers are increasing on the Hilgay site as the areas of reeds enlarge with three pairs present in 2014 and up to eight pairs this year. Most of them are concentrated on the reed-filled ditch on the northern boundary of the site although some birds were singing in the southwest corner of the site this year. It will take several years for the reedbeds to develop fully and obviously reed warbler is one of those species that will benefit enormously. Ringing on the site will not only enable us to monitor this population increase but also important breeding parameters as breeding success by comparing numbers of young and adults ringed each year.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Curing the bank erosion problems at Hilgay

Nick Carter, Wetland Project Officer

Bank erosion
One of the main tasks last winter at Hilgay was to fill the storage lagoon in stages up to the maximum level 1.59m above sea level. During the filling process the banks had to be checked to ensure there were no leaks or subsidence. The filling passed without incident but then the maximum level had to be held for at least a month while the checking continued. It was during this month, with the water at the same level, that wave action resulting from the south westerly winds caused some bank erosion along the northern banks of the two arms of the lagoon. The sandy soils prevalent in the area and the poor grass establishment added to the problem.

The erosion matting

A plan was hatched to solve the problem by using erosion matting over a layer of peat sown with a grass mix. The peat would ensure good growth of the grass which would help strengthen the integrity of the bank. At the bottom of the matting a line of reeds would be planted that would grow to form a natural barrier that would break up the action of the waves to reduce the erosion pressure. Fen Group was employed to deposit peat from the Methwold site, where they were already working, along the two eroded banks, 75-100m in length. The grass mix was sown and the two sets of erosion matting were laid over the top and pinned down in position. Well-developed reeds were sown by Broadwood Conservation, who had done reed planting on the Hilgay and Methwold sites this year, and then protected by chicken wire cages to prevent grazing by the resident wildfowl.

The grass has germinated in the mild conditions we have had so far this autumn and is becoming established through the erosion matting. The cages appear to be working in protecting the young reeds which should establish, which combined with the natural vegetation that has developed along the lowered shoreline should protect the bank. Water levels will be raised gradually during the winter to ensure the grass and reeds have the maximum time to develop while temperatures are still mild. The matting will prevent any erosion this winter and as it rots away it will be replaced by the hopefully well-established grass sward and the fringe of reeds.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Reminiscence and the Wild

 Eilish Rothney, Trinity Broads Warden

I recently had the wonderful experience of attending an evening performance at the new NWT Cley Marshes Simon Aspinall Wildlife Education Centre. The theatre group performed “Wanderlust” an assortment of tales and stories gathered from individuals around Norfolk. The evening held me spell bound as I heard tales of illness, tragedy and triumph woven together as a tapestry of life.

A common theme was people’s encounters with wildlife, wild spaces and the rural landscape. Breathing spaces for the soul, we often underestimate how the countryside and all its wonders capture our imagination, lift our spirits and invigorate our health. Research has shown that even looking at a picture of the countryside can help recovery from illness, so, how much more will even a gentle walk through some of NWT’s nature reserves do our health and well-being. So let’s get out there, even if the weather isn’t at its best, we can still make the most of our special places.

Check out the NWT website for information on reserves, guided walks, volunteering and of course other events and performances at the Simon Aspinall Wildlife Education Centre.

Here’s a couple of picks of my favourite places:

Filby Broad by Eilish Rothney
Filby Broad by Dickie Lay

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Bat and moth evening with Norfolk Wildlife Services

Barry Madden, NWT volunteer

Smokey lines of straggly cloud silhouetted against an horizon of red and orange pastel hues; ragged streams of gulls silently and purposefully moving westwards towards their roost on the mud wastes of the Wash; shadow forms of rabbits hopping across the open grassland in the quickening dusk; and the fetid smell of rotting flesh emanating from stinkhorn fungi attracting flies to carry its spores to pastures new. 

Just a few impressions from an evening spent with NWT colleagues at the Mars Foods factory in King's Lynn helping to run a bat and moth evening for staff. First off we were given a tour of the site, extending over several acres, by Dave a most enthusiastic champion of all things wild and natural. He is working hard to develop the whole area into a wildlife haven and our job was to help spread some of this joy to other employees of the company.

But first some context. Mars Foods occupies a site on the Hardwick Industrial Estate in Kings Lynn, an industrial complex like many others scattered around our county and on first impressions the very antithesis of a wildlife friendly landscape. But let's look a bit closer. Behind the facade of iron fencing, beyond the tarmac car parks full of our expensive tin cans and rows of utilitarian warehouses lies another hidden world. A world that cannot be seen from the road; a world that by its very nature and because of its very location can remain largely undisturbed and peaceful. And it is here that enlightened staff, with advice and guidance from Norfolk Wildlife Services (NWS), are giving nature a helping hand, shaping what already exists into something better; creating something new from neglected tracts of otherwise sterile space. 

The space in question comprises small areas of mixed woodland and bramble scrub, tall boundary hedging and a large tract of open grassland some of which is being left un-mown to encourage wild flowers to flourish. The northern edge of the site is bordered by a small river, itself edged with mature trees, offering another dimension for wildlife to thrive. Log piles have been deposited in sheltered nooks, a pond has been dug, nest boxes positioned and a walkway created so that staff have somewhere to stroll during their breaks. It really is very simple, but so very effective.

Our primary concern this evening was to guide a small party of staff members on a bat hunt around the more wooded parts of the site. To this end we furnished each participant with a bat detector device that picks up the echo location calls of bats and converts them to electrical output that we humans can hear. Each species of bat emits signals at a particular frequency and by setting the dial on the bat detector to frequencies favoured by the common, more likely, inhabitants of the area their chatter can easily be picked up. It wasn't long before we were picking up the chipping calls of pipistrelles hunting around the top of a high hedge. At least three of these tiny winged mammals were present hunting mosquitoes and other flying insects of the night. On more than one occasion we were able to listen to the so called ‘terminal  buzz’, a series of increasingly rapid signals made as the bat zeros in on its prey. These emissions, very much akin to someone blowing a raspberry, are proof that ample food is present here and the bats were feeding well.

On one occasion we also picked up the slower more rhythmic call of a noctule bat, a much larger species sadly in steep decline over much of the country nowadays. Its presence here is therefore all the more welcome.

On then to the moth trap which tonight seemed to provide an irresistible lure for numerous crane flies that festooned the dew laden grass. Moths were few at this season and unfortunately we didn't have time to wait for the main emergence. However both large and lesser yellow underwings appeared as well as a few square spot rustics and a snout. A small taste late in the year of what the site could produce. Further trapping events are planned and will certainly produce many more species.

A most enjoyable and informative evening. The management and staff of Mars Foods must be congratulated for their excellent efforts in sympathetically managing this site for the benefit of people and wildlife. It doesn't take much you know; just an appreciation of the positive impact working with nature can bring to the workplace, a realisation that we are part of the natural world and not aliens within. Most importantly the boundless energy of committed individuals such as Dave to make it happen. NWT and NWS are proud to be part of this activity.

NWS can help your company too. For further details visit their page on this website.

Read Barry's own blog at http://easternbushchat.blogspot.co.uk 

Friday, 9 October 2015

Seeing the light

David North, Head of People and Wildlife

Almost by mistake I photographed the secret of life on earth.

Something that’s happening all around us, has been happening for millions - well probably billions - of years and without which there would be no us, and indeed not much life on the planet. And yet most of the time, though it’s happening all around, we simple don’t notice; it’s completely invisible and, as with so many other important things, out of sight means out of mind.

I’ve been on holiday and my wife and I, like lots of people, enjoy visiting gardens, so  we thought we would catch the fantastic East Ruston garden in all its autumn glory. To enter you walk past the plant sales area and it was there I photographed this secret. In a black barrel of water used, I guess, for watering the plants. I thought the pattern I could see in the water looked interesting so grabbed a  couple of images with a pocket digital camera and thought little more  about it. At least that was until I got home. And the image revealed on my laptop made me think... and then think some more. 

Wow, life is truly amazing. A miracle of life - and certainly the most vital of what these days are called ecosystem services - revealed. Quite literally a breath a fresh air! Have you guessed yet? Well the picture below, which is also rather beautiful, not because of  any great photographic skill, but simple because it’s a gateway into a miracle. The miracle of how the natural world sustains life on the planet. When we walk in nature we tend to see places and landscapes but rarely see the processes that sustain our lives going on all around us. 

So the image of course shows the everyday process of photosynthesis: green plants using photons of sunlight to quietly get on with the business of splitting water into its component parts of hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen gets used by the plants for making sugars (carbohydrates) in a process which neatly takes the ‘carbo’ bit from CO2. A neat trick if you can do it. And one which regulates our climate, mops up all that pollution that us animals breathe out (CO2), and at the same time creates the very stuff of life: food. ‘All flesh is grass’ as they say.

So three ecosystem services in one: mopping up CO2; producing carbohydrates in the form of sugars ( food for all animals); and the bubbles in the  image, giving us oxygen to breath. The oxygen coming from the O in H2O (not from the Co2).

Without photosynthesis life on earth would be impossible. All the oxygen in the air we breathe was part of a water molecule that green photoplankton, algae and plants have liberated. Green magic! This is alchemy of the very best kind. The process becomes visible when the plants - in this case filamentous green algae - release their waste oxygen (it’s the H they want to make sugar). As they are underwater the oxygen bubbles become visible.

Surely this is worth a moment’s reflection. If we could actually see these processes happening all around us – the oxygen bubbling up from our lawns, from the trees on our streets, from our nature reserves, parks and green spacesthen perhaps we would value nature more. But out of sight is out of mind. Like most of us I don’t usually think about  what’s truly happening around me, but this chance image made me reflect on this gift of nature, and even do a bit of research to refresh my understanding of photosynthesis. From space we may well be the blue planet but for us earth dwelling mammals it’s pretty much a green planet. And this green is the secret. Chloroplasts inside leaves working from dawn to dusk across the planet on a scale truly unimaginable busy keeping our planet a living one. I don’t know how much oxygen a hectare of green plants produces in a year but, through photosynthesis, a single hectare of wheat (that’s an area 100metres by 100metres) can take 10,000kgs of carbon out of the air from carbon dioxide and produce 25,000kg of sugars!

It’s a green world because the pigment (light absorbing material) chlorophyll is green: which means it absorbs red and blue light. Plants are green because they reflect green light which they don’t need for photosynthesis.

We are quite literally surrounded by this everyday miracle, but we simple don’t see it. We only see the anatomy of nature, of our Living Landscapes. We see places, and the natural communities they support, but we rarely see process. And of course its these processes – these ecosystem services, if you want to call them that which keep us alive and keep our living world turning. If only we could see these processes then I believe our attitude to  nature would be so different. If we could see our planet’s atmosphere change colour as we pump more CO2 into it then I bet our attitude to this form of planetary abuse would be very different. Imagine it. See it. Imagine all those bubbles of oxygen rising from every tree and plant. From the ocean’s surface and its floating phytoplankton that we so rarely think about.  Imagine it. See it.

My eyes were opened by a barrel of greenish water at East Ruston. And an image, which, at least to me, looks like a whole strange universe. I wonder what other miracles of nature are all around me yet I’m blind to?

Sunlight and rain
Twisted through mystery
In green leaves
To power the world