Friday, 1 December 2017

Roving Roadside Nature Reserves Surveyors

Norfolk’s roadside verges stretch for literally thousands of miles and are such an integral part of the landscape for many wildflowers, insects and small mammals that it is easy to take them for granted. Some verges contain plant species that, although once common, are now rare or scarce in Norfolk to include sulphur clover (Trifolium ochroleucon) and crested cow-wheat (Melampyrum cristatum). To help to protect them, these special verges are designated as Roadside Nature Reserves (RNRs). Under the RNR Scheme, they are managed to benefit the plants and animals that live there. There are currently 111 designated (as of last update, 2017) with a combined length of over 15 kilometres.

Norfolk County Council manages the RNR Scheme. They mark these areas with distinctive posts and strive to ensure they are managed for the species they are designated for. As with many wildlife areas, there is a lack of up to date information on the wildlife of these verges and so the work of Roger and Jenny Jones will be valuable in updating the information held on these special verges.

I hope you enjoy this post from two of our volunteers.

Emily Nobbs (Conservation Officer)


by Roger & Jenny Jones
Reviewing Roadside Nature Reserves (RNRs) can become addictive. We never know what we might find. The tour of inspection began in 2016 when we managed to visit 40 RNRs. It actually started because of our involvement in NWT’s Churchyard Conservation Scheme – there were quite a few RNRs adjacent to the South Norfolk churchyards we were surveying. Then we just started to add “a few more”.

RNR25, sulphur clover, photo by Roger Jones
e ended the year on a slightly downbeat note as RNR 59 seemed to be about to disappear under the Norwich Northern Distributor Road. The good news is that the new bit of road is now open and the bank is still there. We also understand that seed was taken from the plants on this RNR and will be distributed on a suitable site nearby.

In 2017, there weren’t as many RNRs adjacent to our churches. Nonetheless we wanted to carry on and we mapped out RNRs near to places we were likely to visit. That led us to another 23. In some ways we hoped to be better prepared. We now had full citations for many of them, which should have been better than a mere list with grid references. However, we found that, in several instances, the marker posts showed different places to the maps in the citations. So, which was right? It boiled down to a best guess.

RNR1 proved difficult; we had largely wanted to visit because in was No 1. We had been to the location in 2016 but failed to find it. All we had to go on was a grid reference. We were sure we were in the right place but there were no marker posts. Which side of the road were we supposed to look? In 2017 we tried again with the benefit of the citation map. We were in the right place last year. But we still couldn’t find the key species, Dutch Rush (Equisetum hyemale). To be honest, we were uncertain what exactly it looked like – never having seen it before. There is another RNR that highlights Dutch Rush. Curiously, that one does not have marker posts either – but we think we found Dutch Rush. A conundrum to be solved in 2018.

Then at RNR5, we found something that ought not to exist. The site is quite lengthy and covers both sides of the road. When visited, it comprised largely long, rank grass. Then an oddity caught our eye. A single plant with double yellow flowers. Searching in the undergrowth, it proved to be a meadow buttercup. We have never seen a double-flowered one before. Later research at home led us to a cultivated variety with double flowers; but how did it get to be on a long and lonely RNR?

RNR26, crested cow-wheat, photo by Roger Jones
astly, we set off in search of a great rarity. Early in 2017, the charity Plantlife issued a paper about disappearing wild flowers and the importance of roadsides for certain species. Amongst other things, it featured crested cow-wheat. The stronghold, if a handful of sites can be so described, is in Cambridgeshire where it exists largely on roadsides. And … there is one site in Norfolk, RNR26. It’s hard to find just a few plants in the long grass and it looks very vulnerable. But the search is worth it, the flower has a certain exotic look to it.

If you are interested in surveying Norfolk's wildlife have a look here on our website. Or if you fancy volunteering with us and sharing your skills, whatever they may be, have a look at our volunteer section.

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