Monday, 22 August 2016

Dragonflies at Hickling Broad

Barry Madden, NWT Volunteer
Away from the brisk westerly breeze sweeping across the swaying mops of fading pink hemp agrimony, apart from the rustling of thousands of swaying reed stems, we found a sheltered spot in the lee of gnarled and twisted birch. Here was the domain of the dragonfly. Atop every dead stem a common darter perched, its multi-faceted eyes scanning the area around its chosen observation point for potential prey or a mate. We watched these four winged predators as they sparred, hunted and courted, arrowing through the warm August air on their short-lived mission to foster another generation. We were quite mesmerised by these jewels of the insect world; wings glistening, backlit against the burning sun of high summer. With the aid of binoculars every minute hair on the dragonflies legs could be seen, every vein on the paper thin wings, every hexagonal lens of their bulbous, rich brown compound eye. The challenge of course was to photograph these sparkling miracles of nature and do justice to their form; an impossible task really, but we felt compelled to try and capture something of their ethereal beauty and record the moment.

The venue for this spell of insect photography was the wonderful Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve at Hickling Broad. I can remember the first time I espied this rather special place. On that occasion it was from the high ground near Martham on a pristine June day the best part of half a century ago.

Me and my young friends had spent the day aimlessly cycling along country lanes with no particular destination in mind and here we were taking a breather whilst overlooking the famous Broadland haven. Eric Hosking was to blame for us having knowledge of this place; his autobiographical work ’An Eye for a Bird’ had enthralled us and filled our young minds with visions of exotic places and even more exotic birds. But the most interesting aspect of the book (borrowed regularly from the local library) was the whole chapter devoted to Hickling, a place held dear to his heart and one this pioneering photographer visited regularly during the war years. Within this chapter were accounts of intimately close encounters with bitterns, bearded tits, harriers, both marsh and Montagu’s, as well as anecdotes concerning other species we had hardly heard of let alone dreamed of seeing. But it was getting late, the sun slowly lowering into the western sky and we had 20 miles to cycle home. The reserve was tantalisingly close but its exploration would have to wait for another day.

As it happened that day was many years in the future; the 1980s in fact when I began to visit the area regularly to watch the harriers and cranes coming in to roost at Stubb Mill, then simply a raised muddy bank, exposed and lonely. And it wasn't until I started working for NWT much later still that I got to know the reserve better. Of course much has changed since the days of Hosking. NWT now manages a vast area of this unique landscape allowing public access to much of it year round. Summer boat trips take eager eyed visitors to secret niches where otters, spoonbills, waders and purple hairstreaks can be seen, whilst the Visitor Centre ensures a warm welcome. But the essential wildness remains; acres of reed interspersed with shallow creeks where the billowing sails of river craft glide sedately past. Wide open skies punctured by silhouettes of wind pumps and stands of wet woodland. Broadland at its most evocative.

For all that, it can sometimes seem an empty place, frustratingly devoid of the bird life for which it is renowned. But then a brown spangled form will rise from the reeds and fly over your head, a bittern moving between feeding stations. Or yelps from lapwings will alert you to a passing peregrine. A feeling of being watched will make you look up into the spindly oaks to find a pair of fledgling tawny owls curiously gazing down at you and a gang of bug hunting children, or you will find a swathe of marsh thistle where swallowtails dance supping nectar. Or as today you will chance upon a quiet, sheltered spot where a swarm of dragonflies entertain you with their aerobatics beyond anything man can, or ever will, be able to achieve.

We were privileged to have a brief encounter with creatures whose world we will never fully understand and whose pedigree is eon. Soon this year’s generation will succumb to the gathering chill of autumn but for the next few weeks they will buzz around this excellent nature reserve completing their life cycle. Go look, go experience their mastery of the air, go to simply celebrate their existence, go because you can. 

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The Ovington Ramblers: Booton Common

Continuing our mission to visit every NWT nature reserve this year, today we went to Booton Common.  This area of rich fen and wetlands is just a short distance from Reepham and lies in the valley of a tributary of the river Wensum. It is quite difficult to find but, once you see the unusual village sign, it is down the narrow lane on the opposite side of the road.

The reserve is grazed by ponies, cattle and deer. Although we didn't see any of these animals, there was plenty of evidence of their presence here. However, managing to survive was a nursery of young alder trees which love the boggy ground.

We enjoyed the abundant butterflies and wildflowers including heathers, meadowsweet, buttercups, purple and yellow vetch, ragged robin, campion, euphatorium, and water mint all enjoying the damp  ground. One surprise was a lovely white thistle – the first 'albino' thistle we had ever seen!

We have now visited about two-thirds of the reserves.  Those remaining are the furthest away, so it will have to be a full day out each time, with lunch at a local pub. Isn't retirement just great!

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Work experience at Cley

Oscar Conway

I applied to Cley Marshes work experience week because I felt it would give me the perfect opportunity to know what it is like to work around nature and on a reserve. Seeing as this is what I would prefer to do later in my life, a week of interesting and inspiring activities ‘woke me up’ to the great work environment and range of tasks and jobs needed to run a reserve.

After arriving and being introduced to the site, team and common wildlife found on the reserve, I helped out with a school visit. This involved myself and other volunteers explaining the conservation work going on at Cley and other Norfolk areas to the children. I helped out with the activities they participated in, like pond dipping and beach exploration.  This gave me a chance to improve my confidence for interacting with people of various ages as the school group consisted of different age groups.

As well as this, the activities also allowed me to be out on the reserve where I could also enjoy my passion for nature and wildlife spotting. Species I observed at Cley included: spoonbill, bearded tit, dunlin and many more. I managed to fit in lots of time to observe birds and wildlife between my time working. This might have been on the till with a few other volunteers to answer people's questions, give tickets out to reserve members and first-timers and deal with purchases made by visitors in the visitor centre. This was extremely enjoyable because of the satisfaction from helping people and because it was generally fun to use the till.

Other tasks I really enjoyed at Cley were the mornings out on the reserve with the warden and volunteers where I helped put up signs, collect grass-cutting equipment from the storage facility and clean different areas of the reserve. It was great to experience the ‘hands-on’ side of looking after Cley and nature as a whole. One of the vital needs for running a nature reserve and visitor centre is a brilliant and friendly team and this was certainly the case at Cley.

Overall, the week on the reserve was a fantastic experience, it was both useful for learning new skills and highly enjoyable throughout. 

We are fortunate to be able to offer work experience at Cley where we have a Community Education Officer, unfortunately we are not able to offer work experience weeks at our other reserves.  If you are interested in a career connected to conservation and would like to do your work experience at Cley please see our website for more information and an application form (scroll down to the green feature box).

Monday, 8 August 2016

Crafts and Curiosities at Wells Carnival

Ellie Howell, Cley Marketing Intern

On Monday 1st August Community Education Officer Rachael and I went to Wells Carnival for an afternoon of marine inspired creativity and learning. 

While the stalls were not due to open when we finished setting up, there were lots of children eager to explore and to create. 

With ties to the Wildlife Trusts’ Living Seas vision, we wanted to discover what in particular makes the seas valuable to the families that came along. We also wanted to get them thinking about what helps and what harms our marine environment. 
We spent the afternoon creating wildlife pictures with natural materials found on the beach. We decorated crabs, fish and starfish with sea lettuce, crab claws, horn-wrack and other things that wash up on the shore. The children also enjoyed making jellyfish from the plastic materials we’d scavenged on the beach. 

Grandmother Angie Richards who travelled from Romford to spend time with her grandchildren said the activities were ‘fab for teaching and educating children on sea life and the environment.’ Her grandchild Ruby said she’d like to make fifty more for her bedroom!

There was also a display of marine objects for inquisitive minds to discover with items such as belemnites over 900 million years old. It was also a chance for the families reacquaint themselves with objects of childhood memory – mermaid’s purses (or egg cases as they are more scientifically known), razor shells, whelk eggs, cuttlebones and horse mussels.

Monday, 1 August 2016

The Ovington Ramblers: Cley and Salthouse Marshes

It was one of the hottest days of the year when we visited Cley, NWT's oldest nature reserve. We parked the car in the large car park at the modern visitor centre, which offers excellent facilities and information. The panoramic view from the cafeteria is truly amazing!

The boardwalks through the reeds are very good with occasional seating and even passing places for wheelchairs. As the breeze rustled through the reeds you could shut your eyes and imagine yourself in a ballroom full of ladies swirling in taffeta skirts.

We were able to cool down in the hides and we sat for some time engrossed in the comings and goings of wild geese, ducks, herons and the beautiful dragonflies. A goldfinch sat just outside pecking away at the thistle seeds.

A short distance to the east of Cley is the quieter area of the Salthouse Marshes.  These two reserves and much of the adjoining land make up a Living Landscape project managed by NWT.  Here we saw plenty of yellow horned poppies growing in the shingle and lots of wildflowers in the grasslands including harebells, bladder campion, ladies bedstraw, fox and cubs, yellow vetch and sandwort.

We enjoyed a wonderful day here and when you visit this area you will completely understand why NWT call it their jewel in the crown!

Friday, 15 July 2016

County Wildlife Action Surveys

Angela Collins, Volunteer Coordinator

Today I went to visit some of the volunteer Community Surveyors who are taking part in our County Wildlife Action Project. I began at Barrow Common in Brancaster where Jenny, Linda, Mary and Rosalind were habitat mapping with Gemma the NWT Project Officer. This means walking the whole of the site, while making up a map of the different habitat areas. I arrived in time for their lunch break picnic and an un-forecasted very heavy rainstorm. This didn’t deter their spirits and as the rain started to ease they set out to do some more surveying. Unfortunately the rain soon started again, and as writing down what they see is such a  crucial part of the survey it was decided that it was not practical to continue, so arrangements were soon made for a date to continue the survey, and some of us headed to a warm and dry tea shop to finish my interview with the team.

Next on to Bowthorpe Riverside, an interesting County Wildlife Site right next door to a modern housing estate. I was warmly welcomed by the group - Sally, Stacey, Carolyn and John - and offered a spray of insect repellent as Stacey had been unlucky to get 31 bites on one visit! There are two other members of the group, Paula and Dominic, who unfortunately couldn’t make today.

The previous heavy rain and the presence of ponies made the going very muddy and difficult at times, but the group was not to be deterred and searched out plants that they had not recorded on a previous visit, and together helped to identify the less common.   
What struck me about both groups was the positive lets get on with it attitude and the way that they helped and learnt from each other throughout the whole process. Both groups were strangers when they first joined the project, but they have quickly formed teams and friendships, dividing tasks, working out who can do what and when, and getting the job done, which is to survey these County Wildlife sites in order that management plans can be drawn up by the Trust.

Thank you to the Barrow Common and Bowthorpe Riverside teams for letting me join them for a few hours and answering my many questions. I very much enjoyed meeting them and seeing them in action. More than 200 community surveyors are involved in the project this year, they are doing a fabulous job and our thanks go to all of them.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

A Skylark's Song: concluding Cley Calling with the North Norfolk Sinfonia

Ellie Howell, Cley Marketing Intern

On Sunday evening, the North Norfolk Sinfonia played a wonderful array of classical music inspired by bird life to conclude Cley Calling at St Margaret’s Church. The evening marked the opening of Cley16, an exhibition of contemporary art organised by the North Norfolk Exhibition Project.

Living in Norfolk means we are inherently tied to its diverse landscape and to its countryside – it is a kind of special natural heritage that is passed to us by the landscape itself. The North Norfolk Sinfonia channelled this feeling throughout their performance. Bassoon player Ian said it was ‘a joy to perform for Norfolk Wildlife Trust’, having been a member for over twenty years He also said that Cley Calling has ‘brought the community together and showcased the work the NWT do at ground level.’

The last piece of music played by the Sinfonia was The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams, featuring the fantastic violin soloist Thomas Leate. Remarkably between movements a skylark could be heard.

It was a poignant end to a week of fantastic events which brought audiences new and old, members and non-members alike. It was a joy to host such a diverse group of people and events, especially since the weather was particularly pleasant throughout. Those who travelled from far and wide were particularly endeared to the Cley Marshes and many wanted to return in the future. Who can blame them?

Friday, 8 July 2016

Cley Calling: Rozi Plain

Ellie Howell, Cley Marketing Intern

It was a memorable evening last night at the NWT Cley Marshes Visitor Centre, where we were lucky enough to host the talented musicians Rozi Plain and Milly Hirst. The Simon Aspinall WildlifeEducation Centre, which is an unmissable part to any visit to NWT CleyMarshes, was transformed into a striking space for the first music event of Cley Calling

Milly Hirst with a view of the marshes in the background. During her set, Milly said that Cley has a very special place in her heart as she was married at Cley Windmill in the spring

Rozi’s merchandise

Rozi with her support Rachel Horwood, taken in front of our wildflower area

A beautiful sunset washed over the horizon as Rozi’s set concluded with a song aptly called ‘Marshes’.

After the music had finished, attendees moved from the Centre outside to the reserve and to the dimly sunlit landscape, reporting sights of barn owls, skylarks and marsh harriers.