Wednesday, 30 November 2016

NWT Breckland Local Group: A butterfly ramble at East Wretham Heath Reserve

As winter draws in with cold frosty mornings - Carole Herries, Secretary of the NWT Breckland Local Group reflects back on a lovely day out earlier in the year in Breckland where she and the group encountered a host of butterflies and a beautiful moth.
'On a fine autumn morning on 14 September 2016, 21 members of the NWT Breckland Local Group set out on a walk at East Wretham Heath Reserve. The walk started at the information board on the reserve, and was led by the Matt Blissett, the Breckland Reserves Manager.
Peacock moth with 'footprints'

On the walk, the group viewed the many Breckland pine trees that are a key feature in the landscape.   Another welcome sight was a beautiful peacock moth with its characteristic footprint-like markings on its wings quite evident. 
Small copper butterfly

Later on a small copper provided a colourful display for us.  During our visit we walked through the wooded area of the reserve, the route taking us on a 3 mile walk which took approximately 2 hours. 


Speckled wood butterfly

Amongst some of the ferns, we observed a speckled wood butterfly which posed very nicely for the camera. Matt's talk was very informative and enjoyable talk whilst walking around the reserve - refreshments and a chat afterwards completed a really good morning.



The Breckland Local Group have recently reformed and are hoping to organise several more walks next year.'

All photographs by Carole Herries 

Monday, 28 November 2016

The Ovington Ramblers: Swangey Fen

The Ovington Ramblers recently visited the penultimate site in their 90th anniversary tour of  NWT reserves- this was an extra special visit to Swangey Fen. This is a reserve which can be visited but only as part of a prearranged and guided group tour on request so a special day out for everyone.

This week we were privileged to be shown around Swangey Fen, an ancient wet woodland of almost 50 acres near Attleborough.  Our guides were Richard and Hillary, two enthusiastic, hard-working volunteers with an obvious love of the site they have been caring for for the last 20 years. 
Black rush and saw sedge, Swangey Fen

We were given a brief history of the area as Richard told us that a hundred years ago this was an area where the local poor people could come and forage for food and fuel.  It was later taken over by the Otter Trust where a successful breeding programme resulted in the many otters in the area today.  Finally, when the Otter Trust's work was over, they donated the site to Norfolk Wildlife Trust in 2009.

Richard and Hillary visit the fen 3 or 4 times a week during the summer and about once a week in winter, cutting the reeds on a 2 year cycle, clearing pathways, making and repairing bridges and walkways, servicing dykes and checking water levels and so much more. Sometimes volunteer groups give a helping hand with the larger tasks, but Richard and Hillary are always there for the everyday tasks and we take our hats off to them!

At present they are actively helping the growth of the black bog rush, collecting and storing the seeds in an airing cupboard at home.  They are also protecting areas of saw sedge and encouraging the development of this plant which is used by thatchers on the ridge of thatched roofs.
Mound of reeds Swangey Fen
Walking between the birch, alder, ash and sallow you come across huge mounds of reeds and rushes collected from many years' cuttings, which now provide homes for small mammals and snakes. Here and there you can spot a beech tree in its autumn glory shining through the branches of the other leafless trees. 

Wax Caps

At this time of year the fen is very wet and boggy (as two of us found out when we ended up on our bottoms).  You can clearly see lots of different size hoof prints from the numerous red, roe and muntjac deers that frequent the fen.  We also saw where the deer had chewed off all the bark of a fallen sallow to obtain the salacylic acid.  Salacylic acid forms the basis of the common aspirin, so we can only assume there were plenty of deer with headaches that day!


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Monday, 21 November 2016

Cranes and Hickling Broad

Common Crane Photo: David Tipling
It would be stretching it a bit to claim that that the cranes of east Norfolk are grateful that NWT has launched an appeal to buy the freehold of Hickling nature reserve, but they should be. Hickling played a role in the return of the crane to the UK as a breeding bird, and it continues to be a key site for them.

Two cranes came to Hickling on 13th September 1979. It was these that prompted a phone call about the “Biggest bloody herons” that a local farmer had ever seen. Taking that call was John Buxton of the neighbouring Horsey Estate, which is where the cranes stayed, first attempted to nest in 1981 and raised the first crane chick in the UK for 400 years. Once a tightly held secret, this is now a well-known part of the cranes history, told by John and me in the book The Norfolk Cranes’ Story.  

It would, perhaps, have been a neater story if the cranes had bred at Hickling rather than Horsey. It was from Hickling that there is a written record of a payment for a ‘young Pyper crane’ in 1543. That is generally interpreted as the only – and last – indication of cranes breeding in East Anglia, until their recent return. That full circle was not completed until 2003 when cranes nested at Hickling again. They have been there ever since and Hickling remains the place to go to if you want to see cranes, not least as Horsey is a private estate. 

Hickling Broad by Richard Osbourne
There is a Hickling anecdote that didn’t make it into the book. Secrecy may have been the best way to safeguard the cranes in the early years, but they could be tricky birds to hide. This dilemma was illustrated by the visit of a group of conservation students to Hickling nature reserve in about 1985. Richard Hobbs, then the Trust’s Conservation Officer, was with them. John Buxton from Horsey was also there, with Christopher Cadbury from Hickling who was a generous benefactor of Hickling reserve. One of the students heard the sound of calling cranes coming from nearby Horsey. He pointed them out with some confidence as he came from Sweden and heard cranes there regularly. John and Christopher simply denied it, and the student looked perplexed. Richard, a leading figure in the local conservation scene, knew about the cranes’ return to Horsey, and after John and Christopher departed confirmed to the student that he was right.

I don’t get to Hickling as often as I should, but the place and its wildlife have a knack for creating memorable experiences. Inspiring your family to take up your interest in wildlife isn’t always easy. At last it seems to have worked with grown-up son Jim, and last winter we made that afternoon visit that you’ve probably done too, to Stubb Mill. The distant harriers over the marshes were great, and there was a grey blob that through a telescope was just about recognisable as a crane. But it was on the walk back to the car park that we had a proper crane encounter. Three came over in the half light, calling as they flew. I could almost hear the penny drop – now I get it about Dad and cranes.

I returned to Hickling in January, this time to meet the team planning a BBC Countryfile programme from east Norfolk. John Blackburn from NWT Hickling was there, and it was enjoyable to share the recce visit, including the sights and sounds of cranes on a gloomy day. The sun came out for filming in the following week, adding to a wonderful opportunity to showcase both the cranes’ story and Hickling.

Chris Durdin usually blogs about NWT ThorpeMarshes  but is also co-author of The Norfolk Cranes’ Story. More about the book on


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Friday, 18 November 2016

The Ovington Ramblers: NWT Thorpe Marshes

The Ovington Ramblers continue their odyssey to NWT reserves in our 90th year 

A view across the water at NWT Thorpe Marshes
Our walk today took us to one of NET's newest reserves - Thorpe Marshes on the outskirts of Norwich. We couldn't believe how close it was to the city! It was almost surrounded by transport links with the train track to the North, the River Yare to the West and South and the Southern Bypass with its constant hum of traffic only a short distance away to the South and East. In spite of this, we were enthralled by a splendid wild life haven and this was on a wet and miserable day! St Andrew 's Broad at the centre of the reserve was larger than anticipated. Many birds were enjoying it including swans, black headed gulls,ducks, a coot and a lone cormorant. When we were observing the water we heard the song of a Cetti's warbler and also caught a glimpse of it in the scrub willows - difficult to understand how such a tiny bird can sing so loudly!

The trees today were really colourful clothed in shades of copper and gold. Some of the ash trees had lost all their leaves while other trees were quite green. We noticed several buddleia  trees leading down to the reserve- expect they entice many butterflies when in flower.The most interesting tree was an ash with a forked trunk. A large branch from one fork was growing into the side of the other fork forming a bridge across the centre and under this were clustered a great many snails. Presumably they'd taken up residence for the winter. As this was at least a metre above the ground we just wondered how word had spread about their desirable winter quarters? Other productive trees we saw were guelder roses bejewelled with berries as were hawthorn and ivy all providing food for the birds in the coming months.

Interpretation board at Thorpe Marshes

We saw the remains of several flowering plants including Eupatorium, great willow-herb, meadow sweet, water mint and on the drier path to the east of the reserve we noted ox-eye daisies and white dead-nettle in full bloom.


In spite of the inclement weather we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this reserve. We found the information boards to be a great asset and we're looking forward to a return visit in the future. 


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Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Churchyards, rabbits, rain and rising water levels

Angela Collins, Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Volunteer Coordinator has just met up with some of our committed and hardworking Visitor Centre Volunteers for an end of season get together and update on the year's progress.

"This week I had the pleasure to meet with some of our Visitor Centre volunteers at an end of season event.   The day started in the village hall in Thompson. Nick Morritt, Visitor Services Manager gave a very interesting review of each centre and highlights of the year together with plans for next year.  It was great to hear that visitor numbers have been good across all the visitor centres this year with the majority showing an increase, sales have gone well, particularly our specialist wildlife/nature themed books collection, which rivals any on the high street. The special duck and swan feed being sold at Ranworth this year was a huge success and flew of the shelves, with the double benefit of good for fundraising but also hopefully preventing wildfowl being fed with more harmful white bread and cake.

Then Emily Nobbs, Conservation Officer, told us all about the NWT Churchyard Conservation Scheme.   Churches and their grounds, which have been there for years and experience little change, are important wildlife refuges in the landscape, protecting a huge number of species, including flowers, bats, butterflies, birds, lichens, slow worms, and veteran trees.   Emily explained how the scheme helped churches to survey the church grounds to find what is there, and then give focused management advice and support to help the churchyard to be managed sympathetically for people, remembrance and wildlife. 

Hardy NWT volunteers at NWT East Wretham Heath

By this time the weather didn’t look quite as bad as the forecast, with only light showers, so we checked everyone was still happy to go out, some understandably chose to leave, but the rest of us headed to NWT East Wretham Heath, where we were met by the warden Matthew Blissett.  Matt explained about the history of the heath and the importance of wild rabbits to its management; the way they are able to create the short cropped sward which is so important for the biodiversity of the site, including the rare wildlife found in the Brecks such as stone curlews and many rare plants.   

Unfortunately, rabbits across the UK are being infected with rabbit hemorrhagic disease which is causing a big decline in their numbers in some areas, including the Breckland heaths, this is something we need to continue to monitor to better understand how this will affect our heaths.   

Taking in the view at Langmere
Matt then took us to the Sydney Long memorial alongside Langmere, which is an interesting mere with fluctuating water levels fed by rising ground water, there is a long delay in months of how the mere fills after rainy conditions, it was dry in February this year, but was looking very full now after a dry summer. Matt helped us understand how this might work; imagine an empty bucket with holes in the bottom, being placed in a bath full of water, the bucket would slowly fill but it wouldn’t fill straight away, well that’s how Langmere works.   

The rain continued and got a little heavier but we were not to be deterred and carried on round to the hide with more discussion about the management of the heath and the wildlife found there.

An enjoyable and interesting day for all I think.  Thank you to all of our volunteers for their tremendous support in our visitor centres over the summer, and we look forward to seeing everyone back again when Hickling, Ranworth and Weeting reopen in the Spring, and of course Holme and Cley continue year round with winter opening, with the much appreciated support of so many volunteers there."


Help us protect Hickling Broad – the heart of the Norfolk Broads

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