Thursday, 25 February 2016

The Ovington Ramblers: Holme Dunes

Maureen Simmons

This week we visited the beautiful area of Holme Dunes on the north Norfolk coastline.  For the first time since we started our NWT nature reserve visits, we met plenty of other walkers enjoying the winter sunshine.

We started off with a cup of coffee and home-made shortbread, made by Joyce (pictured) whilst we watched a lone redshank running in and out of a little rivulet, foraging for shrimps and worms. Here we heard our first sky lark of the year.

Joyce Woods who knows the names of all the wildflowers we find;
 taught to her during long walks as a child with her dad, an ex-coal miner
As we walked along the pathway on top of the dunes we saw a flock of curlews and another of ringed plovers coming in to settle by the shallow pools' edges. Some of these pools in the sand dunes are man-made to provide the perfect habitat for the rare natterjack toads. Sitting in the hide overlooking one of the larger pools we saw many curlews, pink-footed geese, coots, shellducks and black and white tufted ducks.

The buds on the sea buckthorn were swelling ready to burst. The orange berries that will form in the autumn on these spiky shrubs will provide an important winter feed for the many over-wintering birds.

Photos cannot do justice to this naturally wild and wonderful area. You just have to be there!

The Ovington Ramblers are a small group of friends who have decided in their 20th year of walking together that we will try to visit all the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserves in their 90th Anniversary year.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The smallest moth with the biggest name!

Eilish Rothney,  Trinity Broads Warden

The lovely little moth I have in mind is Colephora hydrolapathella – a bit of a mouthful, it does have an English name: “The Water Dock Case-bearer” not much shorter! 

With a wingspan of only 13-14mm this tiny moth is classed as a “micro-moth” and there are more than 1,400 species of these in the UK. What is so special about this one I hear you asking? Well it is one of the rare micro-moths, designated a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species and difficult to identify in the adult form. The only guaranteed way to identify it correctly is to dissect the poor little blighter. But the good news is – the larval form over-winters in a small case, only found on Water Dock (hence the name, I always like it when it does what it says on the tin!).

So first we need to know where the water dock grows and this is often in very wet inaccessible areas so the species is probably under-recorded. But if you like having a damp walk in the fresh winter air -look out on dyke edges for the brown winter leaves and tall stems of this dock. Check these tall stems all along their length and spot the 10mm long cases. If you are lucky enough to spot one please place the stem back where you found it and send us in your records! If you are not on a NWT reserve then please send you records to: 

Another reason this little moth is special is, it is what we call an indicator; it tells us by its presence, or absence, how healthy and how diverse the habitat is. This in turn tells us whether we are managing the habitat correctly. Farmers – if you find this on your land it will also inform the agri-environment scheme that you have good wetland habitat and dykes. Although not rare, the Water Dock itself is mainly found in central and south east England, sometimes called “Greater Water Dock” with flower stems up to 2m tall and large leaves.

I remember from my childhood the phrase “look after the pennies and the pounds look after themselves!” Well I think it can be true in nature, if we look after the little vulnerable things then the bigger things will benefit as well and we will have a rich and diverse habitat.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Ovington Ramblers: Lolly & Scarning

Maureen Simmons

We found ourselves drawn to this little hidden treasure in Westfield, near Dereham.  Whether this was  because of its unusual name or the feeling that came over us as we wandered through the diverse little habitats, following the numerous animal  pathways.  We were too early fo

r the thousands of cowslips at Lolly Moor but there were plenty of primroses in the wooded area. It was an icy but sunny morning and the frost on the reeds and seed heads looked amazing. As we were about to leave the moor, we found ourselves in a sea of diamonds as the sunlight reflected in the melting frost. An enchanting moment!

A short drive away in Toftwood we found Scarning Fen. This chalk wetland contains some extremely rare plants which have survived from the last Ice Age. With this in mind, we decided not to venture too far on this frosty morning in fear of damaging the plantlife. (A marked walkway would be of great help to visitors and also help protect the site.) We will definitely visit again in June to see the rare red damsel flies as this is the only place in Norfolk where they are found.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Of dead leaves, green shoots and pots of gold

David North, Head of People and Wildlife

There is no greater alchemy than the bringing of life from death. And yet, as the world turns, and February days lengthen, the sure signs of rebirth are all around us. Along every country lane, in every Norfolk copse and spinney, in field and furrow the seemingly fragile green shoots of new life are already appearing.

One of my favourite walks, very close to where I live, passes through a small wood and  despite strong wind and showers this new growth is apparent everywhere. Out of last autumn’s now grey leaves fragile shoots are pushing upwards towards air and light. Some leaves are still tightly rolled in green wands, others unfurl in exquisite translucent greens catching the ephemeral light of a February sun as it plays a losing game with darkening clouds. For moments, and moments only, each fragile leaf seems lit by its own green light as if fully absorbing the sun’s rays and then radiating them back out in a soft green fire – every new leaf a living light surrounded by crisp and very dead grey leaves and dark, brittle twigs blown out of the rooks’s nests that sway in creaking, tree-tops high above. Here in this small wood these first shoots, holding the promise of spring to come, are the first emergence of wild garlic. Wild garlic, or ramsons as its also called, that by April will carpet this woodland floor in a sea of green above which starry balls of white flowers will shine. To walk across these massed green leaves is to leave a pungent trail of wonderful, but overpowering, garlic. A smell good enough to eat, and yes, just a handful of these myriad leaves will end up back in my kitchen.

This February of course is not at all typical. The mild wet winter has brought forward the growth of many plants by several weeks. My walk to the local village shop,  even in late January, was brightened by ‘pots of gold’, the half-open cups of golden-yellow celandines, which only when the sun shone open to turn into bright yellow suns of their own. Walking the dog around our many farm lanes it’s no great surprise to find dandelion, red and white dead nettle, and mayweed in flower along our local field edges. These ‘weedy’ species are pioneers, adapted to grow fast and flower whenever opportunity arises and at least some will be in flower every month of the year.  But this year even in late January barren strawberry and dog’s mercury were in full flower, true signs of just how unusually mild this winter has been.  And now in February alongside the expected snowdrops (February fair maids as they were once known) are the first flowers of alexanders and in village gardens yellow daffodils whose trumpets really shouldn’t sound until March. The sword-like leaves of wild garlic under hedgerows are already grown large, darker green on their outer sides and lighter green on the inner surfaces of their green cowls. In other years these flowers would make their first appearance a whole month later.

My February walks are also accompanied, at least when I can hear them above the wind, by the songs of song thrush, dunnock, robin and chaffinch, the drumming of great spotted woodpeckers and the ‘teacher – teacher’ notes of great tits. All this may change of course. Should a cold spell set in then the birds now singing will need every daylight hour to feed and hopefully survive the cold of winter nights. At least for now the sounds of garden birds and growing greens along every verge spell rebirth and at least a promise of a spring to come.  

Nature’s yearly miracle of new life is upon us, but perhaps a little early!  In the next few weeks I will be keeping my eye out for blackthorn decking my local hedgerows white, first nodding violets flowering in my garden and the pure gold, shining in wet  hollows, of one of my favourite flowers, marsh marigolds or kingcups as they are also known. Out of dead leaves everywhere the miracle of new life - the kingcup is dead, long live the kingcup.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Ovington Ramblers: Lower Wood and Hethel Old Thorn

Maureen Simmons

This week we visited Lower Wood,Ashwellthorpe, with a short stop on the way to see Hethel Old Thorn the smallest Wildlife Trust nature reserve in the UK. Both places are not far from Wymondham.

NWT Hethel Old Thorn
The Old Thorn, growing at the rear of a very pretty church, is believed to date back to the thirteenth century and once measured over 9 foot around its girth.  Sadly, today, it is only a shadow of its former self, but it was a privilege to stand close to this venerable old shrub and see it awakening from yet another winter sleep.

At Lower Wood, Ashwellthorpe, you can plainly see how the coppicing of the trees is happening and how the new growth is encouraged. This ancient woodland provided the ash poles to a once thriving brush-making factory at Wymondham.

NWT Lower Wood, Ashwellthorpe
The wood was alive with the sound of birdsong. Catkins hung from the hazel trees providing a vital food source for bees just as they are recovering from the cold of winter.  Bluebells and wild garlic were pushing up beneath the trees... spring is indeed on its way!