Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The Ovington Ramblers: Martham Broad

Martham Broad is part or the internationally important Upper Thurne Living Landscape project area and has survived as a working wetland for generations.

It was yet another beautiful day when we made out visit.  We parked the car in the small car park at the end of the village of West Somerton and first took the northern footpath along the River Thurne. This lush, fertile area demonstrates the importance of working together with wildlife, as could be seen by the large dredger in the main river, and diggers clearing the many dykes, all with the aim of providing the best possible habitat for wildlife.

We started off on the northern footpath and within minutes we were surrounded by dragonflies and damselflies of all colours and sizes. Never had we seen so many at one time. Particularly abundant were the very large hawker dragonflies, darting around to within a few feet of us. Such a shame they wouldn't stay still for a photo opportunity! There were plenty of butterflies to spot including red admirals and peacocks.

In no time at all we saw our first bird of prey, a hobby which circled around and flew into an abandoned windmill.  Next we saw the first of many marsh harriers; long golden legs dangling as it followed the dykes searching for food. Shortly after we were alerted to another marsh harrier by the rising of a flock of terns who had seen the predator before us. We also stood and enjoyed a kestrel diving and swooping over the reedbeds right in front of us.  All this happening and we had only been strolling for half an hour!

We went back to the car for a welcoming coffee break before setting off again on the southern footpath. This was a very different experience from the open north side as we followed a pretty path around the broad and through woodland carr. Along the way you can stand right at the edge of the broad and see shoals of fish in the crystal clear, unpolluted water. We counted over 40 swans in this stretch.

We finished off the day with a late lunch in the Kings Arms in Martham; a delightful pub overlooking the village pond. Thank you NWT for a fabulous day out.

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!