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”.

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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?

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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.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Orchards East in Norfolk



Tom Williamson and Rachel Savage

Everybody seems to love an orchard: they tick all the boxes in terms of conservation. Like ancient woods or hedges, orchards lie at that fascinating interface of history and natural history, of nature and culture. And, whether laden with fruit in late summer, or bright with blossom in the spring, they have a strong aesthetic appeal. Orchards, and especially those managed on more ‘traditional’ lines - with tall trees and minimal use of herbicides - are an important wildlife habitat, a fact recognised by their definition in 2008 as a UK BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) habitat. They have a rich grass sward, are often surrounded by a band of scrub in the form of hedgerows – and above all have their trees, providing (in the best examples) an important reserve of dead wood as well as an abundant source of nectar. Rare fungi, wood-boring insects like the noble chafer, wild flowers, lichens and epiphytes all thrive in these diminutive wood-pastures. But their numbers have fallen catastrophically over recent decades.

Orchards East is a new initiative, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and based at the University of East Anglia. We are cooperating with a wide range of partners, such as the East of England Apples and Orchards Project and the county Wildlife Trusts, across the six counties of eastern England (Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire – and Bedfordshire). We aim to record and research old orchards, to conserve existing examples and create new ones, as well as to provide people with the appropriate practical skills that are needed to ensure that orchards can be maintained into the future. 

One important part of this project is to map, and understand the history of, surviving orchards – both ‘traditional’ examples, attached to old farmhouses; and more recent examples, for even these, if long-established or neglected, can contribute significantly to biodiversity. Our programme of recording and research will be carried out in cooperation with local volunteers, who will seek out existing orchards – or the remains of orchards – in their local area, and perhaps research their history at local record offices. Subsequent, more detailed, surveys of selected examples will assess their wildlife significance. We are particularly interested in knowing the extent to which the presence of particular epiphytes, fungi or saproxilic insects is simply related to the antiquity of the individual trees present within an orchard, and how far to the age of the orchard site itself.

We are currently recruiting volunteers to help record orchards (everyone is welcome and you don’t need to be an orchard expert!), and – ultimately – the kinds of wildlife found within them. The project is being rolled out gradually across eastern England over the next few months, on a county-by-county basis, and our Norfolk launch will take place at the Green Britain Centre at Swaffham on 4 November 2017.

If you are interested in attending – or are unable to attend, but keen to be involved - then please contact the Project Manager, Rachel Savage, on Rachel.Savage@uea.ac.uk. Or take a look at the website www.orchardseast.org.uk

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Hedgehog season


Hedgehog, photo by Peter Mallett
This time of year you may see hedgehogs and be concerned if they need help and if so what to do. Time is of the essence – little hogs can die very quickly of hypothermia, so action is needed straight away.

Any hog under 600g will not make it through the winter – they are too small to hibernate, so will starve or freeze. Little ones, roughly the size of a tennis ball or just bigger are especially vulnerable. Here is what to do:
  1. Put the hedgehog in a high sided box or small animal carrier
  2. Give it a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel – if you don’t have a hot water bottle, then a plastic milk bottle or glass bottle filled with warm water is fine; if you don’t have an old towel, newspaper will do!  Direct heat is essential to stop hypothermia – a warm room is not enough.  Make sure there is space for it to get off the bottle if needed and keep the bottle warm – don’t let it go cold.
  3. Offer a small amount of meaty (not fishy) cat or dog food and fresh water.
  4. Keep the box somewhere warm and quiet – NOT a garage or cold shed.
  5. Ring for help or take the hog to the nearest animal sanctuary for help. Vets are often not able to offer the care that little hogs need, so an animal sanctuary is much better.
Hedgehog baby being weighed, photo by Elizabeth Dack
If the hedgehog has breathing difficulties, many ticks, fly eggs or wobbles when it walks, it is very sick indeed – tell the sanctuary this.

Ring us on 01603 598333 for local contacts or get in touch with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.






Monday, 16 October 2017

Wildlife going off the rails?


Old railway lines in Norfolk can be fantastic havens for wildlife, according to project officer Mark Webster. As part of the County Wildlife Action project, the trust has been surveying a number of them for wildflowers, and we have been ‘chuffed’ to discover some real rarities at sites where steam trains used to rush past! So why not muddle along and go somewhere along the Norfolk Trails long-distance paths?
 
It can be a bit of a strange experience walking along the old railway lines that criss-cross the county. You can be feeling how tranquil the area is, far from the sound of traffic, and then suddenly realise that exactly where you are walking, and not so long ago, express trains used to rush along, perhaps passing a line of trucks filled with cattle on their way to market - or a seaside special would be taking hundreds of excited families from the midlands off on their annual holiday on the sandy beaches of Norfolk’s east coast.

Platforms and original fencing at Briggate
Honing old station as it was
One of the sites I’ve been working at is the old Honing station at Briggate, and it’s a fascinating place – an abandoned station where you can walk among the remains of the brick walls, stepping from ticket office to waiting room – and even into the ladies and gents, where you can still see the layers of paint where the Midland and Great Northern railway’s brown and cream colour scheme was covered later by the green of the Great Eastern railway company. The M&GN was somewhat affectionately known and the ‘Muddle and Go Nowhere’ railway, because of its tortuous route across country from one little village to another. This section of track didn’t even last until Dr Beeching swung his axe – it shut in 1959, but still the original wooden criss-cross fencing survives, along with the huge platforms, and remains of the signal box and cattle pens, now with brambles and nettles growing where once was a busy workplace.

And there is a lot of wildlife along this route too – recent surveys have recorded several species of bats feeding here, and there are surveys for fungi coming up on 18 October, and mosses on 8 November, both of which are open to the public to join, with absolute beginners welcome to come and learn about these often forgotten organisms. 

Small-flowered catchfly in Felmingham
Nearby at Knapton and Felmingham, there are substantial railway cuttings, amazingly dug by hand. And the work of the navvies is not wasted now, as the cuttings’ south-facing slopes have become hotspots for wildflowers and the butterflies that feed on them.  I was especially delighted to come across lots of the endangered small-flowered catchfly (Silene gallica) here last summer: it’s a delightful little red and white flower which depends on the open sandy soil here.

Most of the old railway lines around North Walsham are owned and managed by Norfolk County Council, and there is more information about these and other walking routes here. Or if you would rather not explore these places alone, why not join one of the free activities run by our partners TCV (The Conservation Volunteers) which include some free short wildlife ID courses in October and November. The Mushroom Foray is led by county fungi recorder – and real enthusiast for his subject - Tony Leech. Find out more about these curious organisms.
 
Indoor events will include renowned wildlife cameraman Jerry Kinsley showing some of his stunning nature photos – and sharing the secrets of his success, which includes the somewhat surprising use of a skateboard – at Honing Village Hall on Tuesday 17 October at 7.30pm, and a talk by local railway author Nigel Digby on the M&GN at North Walsham Community Centre exactly a week later.  

For more details about how to join any of these walks and talks, please contact me via markw@norfolkwildlifetust.org.uk  or 07843 069 567, or see the What’s On pages of the NWT website