Thursday, 30 July 2015

Draco gogogoensis - your questions answered

There has been a notable increase in the numbers of dragons spotted in Norfolk recently and our Wildlife Information Service has been busy with many enquiries. Here's our top dragon related questions and answers!

What do dragons eat?
Dragons used to only eat naughty people and goats, but this lead to a lot of obesity and health problems so many now eat vegetables and fruit as well as part of a balanced diet. Chinese lions also like lettuce, but they are not dragons. 

What is the Latin name for dragon?
Draco gogogoensis

Dragons are more common in Norfolk than
bitterns, photo by Nick Goodrum
Are they rare?
There are only around 205 dragons in Norfolk, so they are rarer than stone curlews, but commoner than bitterns. Historical records indicate they were probably never very common.

How do you survey for dragons?
Dragons are quite hard to spot as they can camouflage themselves like a chameleon to blend in. Formerly surveyors would tie a goat or human bait to a post, but this creates health and safety issues, so instead normally we use salad, sometimes with a light olive oil dressing.

Are they protected?
Dragons, like bats, are fully protected against disturbance, but unlike bats they will eat you if woken up. Bear this in mind when shouting "wake up stupid dragon" whilst trying to force feed one an ice cream.

Are dragons the oldest living things in Norfolk?
Maybe - some trees, such as ash coppice, in Norfolk could be 1,000 years old. Some soil fungi and plants like bracken, spreading underground, could be much older.

Why aren't dragons very common?
Dragons have probably declined because of habitat loss and persecution by game keepers, who falsely believed that they ate pheasants. In fact they ate peasants which shows one of the perils of predictive text and why feudalism no longer exists in Norfolk.

Do dragons smoke?
Well they do say there is no dragon fire without smoke so maybe they do. We believe Norfolk dragons choose not to smoke to help reducing CO2 emissions and global warming.

Have you got a dragon or a great crested newt?
Photo by Vernon Conie
There is a baby dragon with a crest living in my pond - what can I do?
Dragons don't normally live in ponds - you may find this is a great crested newt. If it is a dragon you will need a licence from Unnatural England to relocate it and you need to provide suitable replacement habitat e.g. cave or ruined castle.

Do I need a tetanus jab if I get bitten by a dragon?
Yes, as real dragons don't use toothbrushes and their mouths are very unhygienic.

If you have a question about Norfolk's wildlife, get in touch with our Wildlife Information Service on 01603 598 333.
Provided by Chris Smith of Norfolk Wildlife Services who provide ecological advice and wildlife surveys, and who gift aid all profits back to Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Monday, 27 July 2015

Volunteers visit Cley

Angela Collins, volunteer coordinator

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting several NWT volunteers at NWT Cley Marshes. Volunteers across the Trust were invited to see the new visitor facilities and have a guided tour of the nature reserve. There was a good cross representation of volunteers, including livestock checkers, IT support, visitor centres, administration, and education. 

In the Simon Aspinall Wildlife Education Centre
We started in the new Simon Aspinall Wildlife Education Centre where David North, Head of People and wildlife, gave a very interesting talk on the history of Cley, including geology, history of flooding and the people involved. Jonathan Clarkson, the centre manager explained how NWT is taking the opportunity to encourage more people to engage with the Trust and get out and experience the wildlife and landscape, and commented that they are already seeing more families visiting and making use of the new facilities. Our next speaker, Rachael Wright the Cley Community and Education Officer, explained the type of events that are being held to help inspire and attract a wider audience, these include workshops, talks, performances, Tai Chi, art and poetry, a really varied programme. Rachael told a lovely story of a gentlemen that she met recently who had been living in Cley for 35 years, but had never visited the reserve during that time, however, after attending a recent taster event, he has become enthused and is becoming a regular visitor, a real success story for the centre.

We then got to sample the fabulous looking cakes provided by the NWT cafe, the Bakewell sponge was delicious. (I heard the coffee and walnut was pretty good too!)

Volunteers at Cley, photo by Elizabeth Dack
Then for the best bit of the day, a tour of the nature reserve, this was only a flavour of the reserve as we didn’t have time to see the whole thing. We split into groups and I went with wardens Adam Pimble and Carl Brooker. It was at this stage that it started to rain, I am glad to say that no one was deterred, we put on our waterproofs and headed out. Despite the rain you could still feel that you were somewhere really special. 

We walked along Attenborough's Walk heading to Watling Water on the new land at Cley. Adam and Carl explained how they had removed the artificial ponds which were installed by wildfowlers in the past, and have created a more natural scrape, with varying depths, which already looked such a natural part of the environment and was being well used by birds. 

Avocet at Cley Marshes, photo by Elizabeth Dack
We saw an avocet pretending to be injured with a damaged leg, Carl pointed out that this is a trick they use to distract predators from their chicks, and indeed there were two small chicks nearby. We also saw marsh harrier, and learnt how water levels are being managed across the reserve to create the best habitats for birds.

It was a real treat to have a guided tour with the wardens, and I’m sure the other group had an equally interesting tour with David. It was also lovely to be able to talk to volunteers as we walked, everyone was smiling and seemed to be enjoying themselves.

A fun day was enjoyed by all!
Thank you to all who helped make the afternoon a success and to the volunteers who attended as without them it wouldn’t have happened. The afternoon was part of a series of events which take place during the year, to help our volunteers gain an enhanced understanding of the work of the Trust, and also a social occasion where they can meet and chat to other volunteers, share experiences, and hopefully feel more aware of the fabulous team of volunteers of which they are a part and of which the Trust greatly appreciates. If you are interested in volunteering or attending future events please contact me at

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Consider the buttercups

Helen Baczkowska, Conservation Officer

At the recent “Beautiful Burial Ground” conference, a handful of us snatched a few minutes to look at the wild flowers of Horstead churchyard, searching for the gone-over heads of meadow saxifrage and the soft leaves of black knapweed, not yet in flower. I asked the delegates that if they took away just one thing from this brief flower walk, I wanted it to be a willingness to look more closely at buttercups. 

Meadow grasses, meadow buttercup and ragged robin,
photo by Helen Baczkowska
Buttercups are part of our everyday, holding them under the chin, cursing their tenacity in the lawn or vegetable plot; their glossy yellow petals, of which there are usually 5 are as simple as child’s drawing of a flower, but look more closely and the different species are a key to the place they live. Gardeners most often encounter creeping buttercup, Ranunculus repens, with large glossy flowers and dark green leaves; repens meaning creeping or crawling, like the repentant. At Horstead, we hunted for the early flowering bulbous buttercup Ranunculus bulbosus, easily indentified by its smooth yellow sepals; these are the petal-shaped casings that hold the flower in bud. When bulbous buttercup opens, these fold back against the stem, pointing sharply down to the bulbs underground. In creeping buttercup these cup the flower. Once the flowers die back, bulbous buttercup is hard to find, but it is a classic plant of old Norfolk meadows, as is the tall and slender meadow buttercup Ranunculus acris.  Acris, like acrid, means bitter or irritating and indeed, few things eat this unpalatable plant, leaving it to stand tall in older meadows, adding yellow to the greens and browns and purples of meadow grasses. Meadow buttercups reach up to knee height, with fine, almost delicate leaves and sepals. When I see meadow buttercups, my heart races a little, for they are sometimes a sign of meadows that have escaped too many fertilisers, sprays or re-seeding and there may be less common gems underneath: orchids, birds foot trefoil or meadow vetchling that scrambles over the tall summer grass; all of these plants are much loved by bees and butterflies and are characteristic of the old meadows and pastures that have vanished from our landscape at an alarming rate in the past 60 years.

A few weeks ago, I surveyed a meadow in Brundall, tucked on the edge of the Broads, and had to look twice in some places to distinguish meadow buttercup from lesser spearwort Ranunculus flamula, for they are easily confused at a glance. Here they grew side by side, intertwined on the edges of the field’s wet hollows. Lesser spearwort has a much smaller flower, its petals barely 2cm across, but with sepals very like meadow buttercup and distinctive spear-shaped leaves; it is a plant of wet meadows and pond-edges and at the Brundall meadow, beneath the tall flowers and grasses, were the striking magenta flowers of southern marsh orchids. In case you are wondering, greater spearwort Ranunculus lingua is indeed a larger, but less common, version of the lesser, this time with flowers up to 5 cm across.

Celery leaved buttercup Ranunculus sceleratus, also a plant of wet places and the margins of summer ponds, has lobed leaves that do indeed resemble celery, with clusters of small yellow flowers.  Deeper out in the water, the white-flowered crowfoots, of which there are several different species, may float on the surface and these too are buttercups, with the same simple arrangement of petals.

Finally, a word of caution, for in many meadows, the yellow, child’s drawing flowers may not be buttercups at all; many, are potentillas, related to roses: creeping cinquefoil Potentilla reptans has five-fingered leaves splayed out like a hand and creeps on long stems, but its five-petalled yellow flower is less glossy than those of the buttercups; tormentil Potentilla erecta, is a plant of heaths and acidic, often sandy, soils with small flowers, usually with four petals, finely dissected leaves and tall uptight stems.  Silverweed Potentilla anserina has fronds of feathery leaves, silver-white underneath and cheerful pale yellow flowers, close to the ground. 

These brief descriptions are no substitutes for a wild flower book, with their keys, drawings and photographs, but hopefully they will inspire you to search the grasslands around you and take a closer look at these golden flowers of summer.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Progress at Potter reedbed creation site

Nick Carter, Conservation Officer (Fens)

NWT and the Environment Agency are working together to create a new reedbed near the village of Potter Heigham. 

Construction of the reedbed and the internal, deep pools were completed last year. 

Work by Matthew Williams Digger Hire this year has seen work on the ditch network to carry water from Hickling Broad to the site across NWT grassland. 

Construction was completed in mid-June but it won’t be until November that we can let water through to the site, under licence. The aim is to raise the water level up to sea level which should result in the flooding of much of the site to make it suitable for reed establishment.

Reed planting was done in 2013 and last year. The former reeds, around the internal perimeter ditch, have colonised well and should start spreading out into the neighbouring fields as the site is wetted up. 

Naturally-occurring reeds on the site, in the ditches along the field boundaries, are already growing in the field margins. The reeds planted last year have not fared so well. There has been some establishment along the new internal pools but those planted within the fields have failed to grow. Many of the reed plugs were found lying on the ground, either because they had been pulled out by birds or had floated out when water levels were raised last winter. These are being re-planted currently, with warning tape being draped across the caged areas to deter birds from feeding on the reeds. 

This winter, water levels will be raised gradually and the reeds checked to make sure they do not float out.  If required a further year of reed planting will be carried out next year to ensure rapid development of the reedbed across the site.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Methwold & Hilgay updates

Nick Carter, Conservation Officer (Fens)

The fine weather and the all-clear on the archaeology side have meant that construction work by Fen Group is progressing well at Methwold, the joint project with Environment Agency to provide compensatory reedbed. 

Perimeter bank and ditch, photo by Nick Carter
The perimeter bank and ditch, installed as a flood-defence measure, should be finished this week. It is interesting to compare the very sandy soil in this area with that over much of the rest of the site, which has the deep peaty layers. This higher, drier sand island was inhabited by Neolithic people. Simultaneously work is progressing with the main reedbed embankment. Soil is being moved across the site from deep pools to form the key trench below the embankment and its inner core. The deep pools will act as fish refuges and also provide the vital edge between open water and reed that bitterns favour for feeding. 

The first of five water control structures has also been installed. This will control the flow of water between the two main reedbed compartments. The work has to be completed by the end of October and so we are hoping the fine weather continues to enable the work to proceed without delay.

On the Hilgay site the breeding season for some species still seems to be in full swing while for others the autumn migration is underway. The five pochard ducklings are growing well and are now nearly as large as their mother and I also saw four tufted duck broods, including the one with 10 young. 
Great crested grebe and young, photo by Nick Carter
Two pairs of great crested grebes have young while a third pair is still on a nest, as are several pairs of little grebe. The black-headed gull colony is still very noisy and there is a range of ages of birds present. The avocet pair has one remaining chick out of a nest of four eggs while lapwings have finished breeding and have flocked up, with over 80 on site this week. Three ruff remain and redshank, oystercatcher, little ringed plover, green sandpiper and greenshank are still on site. At least 19 little egret were around too and herons were still busy feeding on the site.