Wednesday, 22 February 2017

'The times they are a-changin’ - NWT Thorpe Marshes

Naturalist and Norfolk Wildlife Trust volunteer Chris Durdin reflects on 'new nature' and how wildlife responds to climate change at Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Thorpe Marshes reserve on the edge of Norwich in Thorpe St Andrew.

Approaching dusk in February, and there’s a loud burst of song: a Cetti’s warbler
Cetti's warbler by Elizabeth Dack
. It’s an unremarkable record in 2017 for this bird, unusually among warblers a resident species.

But it’s a reminder of how wildlife responds to changes in climate. Cetti’s warblers first bred in Britain in Kent in 1973 and they soon moved into the Yare Valley. Broadland is now a stronghold and they are also found in wet scrub in much of the south and east of the UK.

There are plenty of other examples of ‘new nature’ on my local patch. We see little egrets fairly regularly. The first little egret I saw, in my student days, was in the Camargue in the south of France, and I can clearly recall my first in Norfolk, on Breydon Water, years later. Today it’s a distinctive and easily-recognised Broadland bird. Like Cetti’s warblers, numbers can be hit if there is a long cold spell, but how often do we get weather like that?

The Migrant Hawker dragonfly was once known as Scarce Hawker, and the new name came after regular appearances in the UK in the 20th century. Now well-established as a breeding species, it’s often the commonest dragonfly at Thorpe Marshes in late summer and with luck you can see them laying eggs. 


Speckled wood butterfly by Elizabeth Dack
More recently arriving still is the Willow Emerald damselfly, breeding in Britain for just a decade, but in good numbers at NWT Thorpe Marshes, elsewhere in the Broads and beyond. The northward spread of the speckled wood butterfly is another example.  


Losses related to climate change can be more difficult to pin down. Snipe used to ‘drum’ – their distinctive breeding display – at Thorpe Marshes when I first knew the area but have stopped breeding here, as in much of lowland England. Climate is probably partly at issue, but also subtle habitat changes. Willow warblers are getting scarcer, and cuckoos too, but for these and other birds that winter in sub-Saharan Africa other factors play a part.
For me, spotting how wildlife responds to changes in climate is obvious: what my eyes and ears reveal backs up what climate scientists say. Perhaps the climate change sceptics are less in tune with the natural world. Writing here, I hope I am preaching to the converted … and that naturalists everywhere will use the evidence of nature to challenge the cynics and doubters.

Discover Thorpe Marshes
Chris leads monthly wildlife walks at NWT Thorpe Marshes. Details of these and recent sightings on the reserve are on www.honeyguide.co.uk/thorpemarshes.htm. The website also has the 15-page NWT Thorpe Marshes Wildlife Report for 2016.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Winter wildlife magic at Hickling Broad

Wildlife enthusiast, blogger and NWT Volunteer Barry Madden braved the bitterness of the east wind on a February evening to watch the spectacular wildlife at Stubb Mill Raptor Roost at Hickling Broad.
A fly past of common crane at Hickling Broad Nick Goodrum

It is cold here. Bitterly cold. A raw easterly wind whipping in from the North Sea a mile or two away; the boundary between the flat lands of eastern Norfolk and the miles of cruel grey water marked by a line of raised dunes seen as a smudge of dull green on the horizon. The scene before us a patchwork of reed bed, course grazing marshes and fen, interspersed with twisted and stunted hawthorn. The closest you can get to a barren wilderness in this part of the world for there are but scant traces of human activity: a forlorn and long abandoned wind pump, its skeletal sail arm pointing defiantly skywards; a single distant house rendered almost invisible by its light-coloured walls blending seamlessly into the gathering murk. Nothing else, just the wild open landscape unique to this Broadland haven at Norfolk Wildife Trust’s Stubb Mill Raptor Watchpoint at Hickling Broad

Us five friends have trudged to this spot, nothing more than a raised bank bordering a drainage dyke, to witness one of nature’s most thrilling and humbling spectacles; the winter roosting of the harriers. We are quite early, 90 minutes before true dusk, but already the leaden, squall-laden skies are casting their shadows over the marshes. Light is poor, visibility far from ideal, but we know the birds will come to seek out this quiet sanctuary to spend another bitterly cold night. And we don’t have long to wait before harriers sail in. First a dark marsh harrier, then a brighter male both gliding on slightly raised wings, buffeted this way and that as they cruise low over the boggy ground. Then delight; a ringtail hen harrier, its bright white rump shining as a beacon through the gloom. A flock of fieldfares appears in a nearby tree and jinking parties of smaller birds, perhaps finches or maybe yellowhammers, are flushed by a buzzard which perches atop a bush before joining another pair of harriers purposely heading towards their roosting zone.

Whilst our attention is focused on the raptors, a pair of common cranes glide over us, dropping down into a hidden pool where they are instantly consumed by the tall ranks of thick reed; lost to sight. These birds are doing well here, naturally arriving as a party of 9 nearly 40 years ago they found the place to their liking and took up residence. Slowly and painfully, with many false starts, the birds began to breed until we now have over 40 gracing the rich and fertile acreage around Hickling and Horsey. In recent years maybe 10 or so pairs attempt to raise young with varying degrees of success, allowing the birds to expand their range into other Broadland reserves and further afield into neighbouring counties. This success story owes all to the sterling efforts of NWT, other local conservation bodies and landowners. Cranes have recently been artificially reintroduced to Somerset, but it must be remembered that in this remote corner of Norfolk where the harriers circle over the reeds and the bittern still finds refuge, we have had majestic cranes for decades. And they always manage to thrill us.


Hen harrier by Elizabeth Dack
Things begin to hot up now with more harriers drifting into view, amongst them a simply beautiful, ghostly grey, resplendently perfect, male hen harrier. What truly gorgeous creatures they are, these birds of wild open spaces. This one drops to the ground seemingly finding his supper, an unlucky pipit perhaps, before he reaches the roosting zone. Through my telescope I can just make out his head tugging at the flesh of the prey he has caught. Such rare birds these and we are privileged to be able to see them in such a setting.

On past visits, on milder, sometimes even bright, winter evenings, the harriers, merlins, barn owls and cranes can put on a wonderful show with massed spiralling as a new bird joins the throng. Merlins arrow into the roost and will happily harass the much bigger harriers, chasing them across the vast open sky in sport. They choose to spend the chill of the night perched atop small hawthorn bushes whereas the larger raptors will roost on the ground or on low branches of dead and broken willows. The owls quarter the fields silent and relentless whilst the sky slower darkens and the stars come out to play. Not today though; the wind chill is numbing our hands, cutting through coats, hats and gloves and making our eyes water. We decide we have seen enough and head back along the narrow, lonely lane to the reserve centre where it is evident much activity is taking place to update and refurbish ready for the coming summer season.

Before this place became more well-known, I used to walk back alone along this lane, bordered by high dark hedges, with all kinds of ghoulish fancies running through my mind. I defy anyone to make this lonely journey and not look over their shoulder every 100 yards, just in case there may be something following; a darker shadow amongst the gathering gloom, an echo of footsteps or an unnatural rustling in the bushes. Hard not to speed up against all reason to reach your car before darkness falls complete. It is the workings of M R James; the fleeting glimpse of something unholy, for nobody knows you are here and your screams will be lost amidst the howl of the wind.

For us five folk though, chatting as a group, we had no such concerns. We instead were lucky enough to see three more cranes, a family party probably, fly towards the broad before we sought welcome refuge ourselves in the warmth of the local pub. Back to civilisation, cosy and comfortable, whilst close by there were the harriers roosting in the reeds, steeling themselves silently against the chilling bitterness of a moonless February night.   


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Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Exploring layers of history in the Norfolk Claylands

January may not be abundant with wildflowers but there is plenty to discover on a winter's walk as Helen Baczkowska, Conservation Officer with Norfolk Wildlife Trust records in her Claylands Diary for January.
 

Although I am an enthusiast of wild flowers, January walks are strangely a joy; for once I am not distracted by the delights of stitchwort or speedwell, by trying to sort greater from lesser bird’s foot trefoil.  Instead, I can look out on landscapes, study bare trees and cold winter ponds with a different eye.

On a walk through the heart of the Claylands Living Landscape, my brother, an archaeologist, slowed us down by lightly kicking at molehills. One revealed the treasure he sought – a thin, curved blade of flint I would not have looked twice at.  The chipped edge he showed me was human made, one of the thousand upon thousand Mesolithic flint tools discarded across these lands.  Most, he explained, were found on dry sandy soils, the reasons uncertain, yet how, he asked, had they recognised these places?  For an ecologist, this one question begs many more about how the vegetation of Britain developed as the last glaciers retreated to the north and as herds of large herbivores, from prehistoric bison, to deer and ponies, spread out across the cold steppe grasslands and scrub.
Gorse by David North
   


One thing I could certainly say is that even today, the patches of sandy soils left on the edge of the ice sheets can be easily distinguished amongst the ground up chalky clay of South Norfolk; earlier walking over the County Wildlife Site at Wood Green, we had crossed an area of gorse and fine grasses, visible even in winter.  In summer, heath bedstraw and heath speedwell grow here, although most of the common is clay, with meadow vetchling, meadow buttercup, cowslip and black knapweed.

Nearby Fritton Common is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, with orchids and ponds were great crested newts breed, but in the bleakness of January, my attention was drawn to the almost straight rows of oak trees, most noticeable on the western boundary.  Some of these are huge old trees, the largest in the south-west corner showing signs of pollarding – a way that small wood was once produced by cutting and re-cutting above the height of grazing stock. Collecting small wood from pollards was often the right of the commoners, whereas the timber trees themselves were the property of the lord of the manor. 


Old oak tree by Brian Beckett
In the centuries when barns and houses and especially warships were built on oak frames, these trees were valuable, their management and planting central to a farm’s income and survival; it is likely that the amount of oak across many English counties is not a virtue of ecology, so much a legacy of old economies and the insatiable need for timber for ships.  Today, being winter bare, these trees make curious shapes, with a large, gnarled trunks and many holes; invertebrates inhabit the crevices and barbestelle bats, which are have been recorded hunting over the common, no doubt find a roost in the cracks and fissured bark.

The lines of pollards continue south of Fritton Common, along a sinuous path, known locally as Snake Lane.  Hedges in the Claylands are often tall, with mature trees and a flora suggesting these are old fragments of woodland. The wide hedges of Snake Lane indicate long generations of woodland management, with pollards of oak and field maple; between them the pale slender trunks of hazel show signs of past coppicing.  Like pollarding, this produced small wood for hurdles and tool handles by cutting and re-cutting, but this time at ground level; the re-grown trees have many stems and a distinctive stump or “stool”.  A few hornbeam grow here too, their bark smooth and twisted into long creases, their timber once famed for its hardness.

Returning home, across Morningthorpe Common, a whisper makes me look up.  With a sound like the lightest of summer breezes in tall trees, a flock of fieldfares is heading to roost.  I have spotted a lot of these large, grey-backed thrushes over the past week, no doubt forced briefly south by cold weather. 
Fieldfare by Elizabeth Dack
 

By the end of our walk, dusk is wintry, grey and damp; warmth and hot tea beckon, but so do more days of walking the quiet, hidden tracks of the Claylands, exploring the endless, inseparable layering of human and natural history.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Gathering gadwall

St Andrew's Broad with tufted duck and gadwall Chris Durdin
Regular NWT blogger, local resident and wildlife enthusiast Chris Durdin puts the seemingly 'dull' and overlooked gadwall in the spotlight. Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Thorpe Marshes reserve is in the Norfolk Broads, yet on the edge of Norwich in Thorpe St Andrew. Local resident Chris Durdin writes.

I’m in two minds. The mild winter means that there has been no big hard weather influx of wintering ducks at NWT Thorpe Marshes. That must be good for the birds’ survival.

On the other hand, the birdwatching on St Andrews Broad, the gravel pit, is therefore largely routine: tufted ducks, teals scattered around the edges, an occasional shoveler or wigeon alongside the many gulls, the regular great crested grebe and a cormorant or two.

A constant, though, is that the most obvious dabbling duck species on St Andrews Broad is the gadwall, with some 50 or so regularly present. They like to feed by waiting for coots to surface with waterweed and then snatching it. But coots are relatively scarce so this bullying tactic is the exception and mostly they feed for themselves.

A new birdwatcher’s first impression of gadwalls is often that they are dull-looking. Then a close view, perhaps through a telescope, causes a conversion to admiration when much of the grey plumage is revealed as rather dapper black and white mottling. 

Gadwall by Elizabeth Dack
Flashes of white when loafing or swimming expand when gadwalls flap or fly: the distinctive white speculum, part of the trailing edge of the wing. Not that identification at Thorpe Marshes is a challenge: mallards all but disappear here in winter.

Normally a wintering bird at Thorpe Marshes, last year gadwalls also bred with young seen in spring and summer. The highest count of gadwalls on the reserve in 2016 was 114. These are two of many nuggets of information in the NWT Thorpe Marshes Wildlife Report for 2016, which is now online at on www.honeyguide.co.uk/thorpemarshes.htm along with details of monthly wildlife walks.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Your voice matters

Why now is a good time to take positive action for the future of Norfolk's wildlife by David North, Head of People and Wildlife.  
Swallowtail by Tim Melling


If you are reading this then the chances are that you, like me, care about Norfolk’s wildlife.  Fortunately huge numbers of people in our county do value nature and now is an important time to make our voices heard.

 
Norfolk Wildlife Trust is making its voice heard by writing to our MPs asking them to sign a ‘Pledge for the Environment’.  The Wildlife Trusts, along with many other conservation organisations, including RSPB, WWF, and CPRE, are all asking MPs to support measures to ensure protection for the environment and wildlife. The full text of the pledge can be read here:http://www.green-alliance.org.uk/GreenerUK
 

There are real concerns that the protection of our environment may suffer when we leave the EU and it’s not just environmentalists that are raising this concern.

You may have heard on the news that in a recent report,  The Future of the Environment after the EU Referendum (4 January 2017),cross-party MPs from  the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) have warned  the Government of the very real risk that vital protections for our environment, countryside and wildlife could be weakened  through the process of leaving the EU. This Committee of MPs is therefore calling on Government to introduce a new Environmental Protection Act before we leave the EU.


Currently around 80% of our environmental laws are tied in with the EU so ensuring these protections for our wildlife and countryside are not weakened during Brexit is absolutely vital if we want a positive future for our wildlife. Currently more than 170 MPs nationally have signed up to the ‘Pledge for the Environment’ but only three of our Norfolk MPs are on this list.


Water vole by Kevin Anderson
If you care about wildlife then now is the time to write to your MP raising your concern that protection for wildlife must not be lost when we leave the European Union.  Let’s show our leaders that protection of the environment is not a side-issue to be thought about only after other concerns, like the economy and immigration, have been addressed but is an issue that is fundamental.
 
 

We all know and understand that a healthy environment rich in wildlife is actually essential to human well-being and the bedrock on which a sustainable economy can be built.  Let’s make sure our MPs understand this too and that they know we want Britain to set a world standard in environmental protection ensuring that our wildlife recovers from current declines.

To see a list of MPs that have signed the Pledge for the Environment and to check if your MP is on the list visit: http://www.green-alliance.org.uk/GreenerUK http://www.green-alliance.org.uk/GreenerUK http://www.green-alliance.org.uk/GreenerUK 


Please add your voice now by writing to your MP asking them to sign this pledge if they have not already done so.   For the Wildlife Trust’s top tips on how to contact your MP visit www.wildlifetrusts.org/Greener-UK/Take-Action www.wildlifetrusts.org/Greener-UK/Take-Action   Decisions made in the next two years are likely to determine the fate of our wildlife and countryside for decades to come.



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Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Little gems: Roadside Nature Reserves (RNRs)


Roger Jones, Norfolk Wildlife Trust Volunteer Surveyor puts the spotlight on some special but often overlooked and special places for nature.

Meadow saxifrage at the roadside. David North
There is a little known, and underloved, set of nature reserves in Norfolk. There may be one on a roadside near you. Yes, Norfolk Wildlife Trust, along with Norfolk County Council, has recognised a whole series of Roadside Nature Reserves (RNRs). However, they are under publicised, though they support many interesting wild flowers. 

Whilst the rest of you whizz by at 70mph (OK 30mph – this is Norfolk) I have long harboured an affection for some of them. My interest was kindled around 25 years ago when the marker posts appeared outside a local supermarket. Over the years I have been visiting several which have particular specialities. This summer my wife Jenny and I set out on a semi-organised survey of RNRs. We’ve found pepper saxifrage, stone parsley, 500+ common spotted orchids (yes, on one verge!), knapweed broomrape, spiny restharrow (ouch!), danewort, sheepsbit and many more fascination and uncommon wild flowers.

On one of the survey days I became troubled by what I saw just outside Taverham on the A1067. A sign advertising the works for the Northern Distributor Road (NDR) had been neatly placed right over the RNR marker post. After contacting Norfolk County Council to find out the fate of this RNR I was informed that it was (as I suspected) due to be lost by the NDR works. However, the County Council already made great efforts to collect seed from this RNR last summer, and this will be used to establish a new grassland verge in the vicinity in 2017, which should hopefully be larger than what will be lost.

  
Pyramidal orchids by Roger Jones

In total we surveyed 40 of the 111 Roadside Nature Reserves in the county. We hope to carry on exploring and surveying our road verges next year! 

To find out if you have a roadside nature reserve near you, please contact Norfolk Wildlife Trust or simply look out for the distinctive roadside markers when you are driving in Norfolk.  


To view list of the RNRs in Norfolk please visit the NBIS website: www.nbis.org.uk/designated-sites 


Friday, 2 December 2016

Ovington Ramblers: Buxton Heath and Holt Lowes NWT Reserves


On 22 November 2016 - we fulfilled our ambition to walk every possible NWT owned or managed public access reserve in their 90th Anniversary year!

Our first stop was at Buxton Heath, six miles north of Norwich just off the B1149.  By the time we arrived the early morning drizzle had ceased and the sun was pushing through the clouds.  We began our walk to the right of the car park through low lying heather and scattered gorse bushes in full flower.  There were lots of different mushrooms to see and the moss in all its emerald glory was a stunning sight.

A 'Cromer Crab-like' giant mushroom

Afterwards we walked straight ahead in a different direction from the car park, a more wooded area full of oak and silver birch.  It was here we had our first site of the wild ponies that graze the area and couldn't resist the photo opportunity. The animals were very obliging and didn't seem to mind our presence at all. Buxton Heath is managed by Norfolk Wildlife Trust in partnership with the owners, Hevingham Fuel Allotment charity.  A wonderful reserve where the silver-studded blue butterfly was reintroduced in 1985 and where you can also find purple hairstreak and white admiral butterflies in summer.
Wild Konik ponies on Buxton Heath

Back at the car we had a quick coffee break and then drove north up the B1149 to Holt Country Park, where there is a large car par and toilet facilities.  You can walk through the lovely wooded area and eventually out on to Holt Lowes. The Lowes is a botanist's delight, with lots of rare plants, which are obviously scarce at this time of year.  However, it is still a picture in November with the last leaves of autumn hanging on the trees. The abundant heather is particularly tall as it vies with the gorse bushes and spruce saplings which are springing up everywhere. The walk on this bright, windy day certainly blew the cobwebs away and we thoroughly enjoyed it. This special reserve is managed by NWT in partnership with the owners, the Holt Lowes Trustees and is a wonderful reserve for dragonflies with over 20 species recorded including the rare keeled skimmer.

A view of Buxton Heath
Sadly, after visiting nearly 40 reserves this year, we have now come to the end of our mission. However, we have enjoyed every minute and will still have very many happy memories to keep. I am sure we will be visiting all our favourite reserves again in the future.  (Photos courtesy of  Maureen Simmons)



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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.'
www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/support-us/local-groups/breckland-local-group
 

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 http://www.norfolkcranes.co.uk/


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

Please donate today:

  •  Call: 01603 625540
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    *(Please  note that you may incur a standard network message charge based on your service provider rates).