Fen Raft Spider surveys, meadow clearance, beach cleans...

By Steve Aylward

As numbers of wintering duck, geese and waders are increasing across the marshes, the wardens and volunteers are working hard to prepare their winter home. Read on for wildlife and reserve management news from across the Suffolk Broads, and to hear about the volunteers that make it all happen!

Across the reserves numbers of duck, geese and waders are increasing as birds head to the UK for warmer winter temperatures. Last year saw thousands of Pink-footed Geese, Lapwing, Wigeon and Teal across Carlton, Oulton and Castle Marshes. So we are looking forward to their return. Head to the scrapes at Carlton and the viewing platform at Oulton Marshes to see increasing numbers wintering wildfowl and waders. Take your time to scan for camouflaged Snipe at the edges of the scrapes and look out over White Cast Marsh, the tidal reedbed, for your best chance to spot small flocks of Bearded Tits. Our friendly Cattle Egret has been present at Carlton Marshes for over a month now, head to the river Waveney and then along the river wall towards Beccles for the best chance to see this unusual visitor.

September and October saw volunteers continuing to clear grass cuttings from our wildflower rich meadows and the wardens topping the grazing marshes ready for wintering wildfowl. Using wooden rakes and hay forks volunteers remove the grass cuttings to reduce the fertility of the soil which maintains the huge diversity of rare and unusual wildflowers that you find across the Broads. Whilst most wildflowers have set seed by September time, one of my favourite plants, the late flowering Devil's-bit Scabious adds deep purple to the autumn colour palate. September is also the time of year when you finally learn whether the Hobbies have bred successfully again. So secretive in their towering treetop homes until now, you can hear them before you see them, as the young call loudly whilst flying over the meadows. A pair bred at both Carlton and North Cove reserves this year.

volunteers at north cove nature reserve

Clearing the meadows across the reserves is always a big job, so its great when we can get extra help from local businesses. This September we had a team of volunteers from UK Power Networks help us clear the wet meadow at North Cove nature reserve. Grass cuttings are heaped into habitat piles for reptiles, which are a perfect place for basking, breeding and hibernating Grass Snakes. The wildflower season may be largely over now, but remember next year to head to North Cove for Bog Pimpernel and Marsh Pea, Carlton Marshes for Devil's-bit Scabious and Oulton Marshes for Bogbean.

Fen Raft Spider surveys continue into the first weeks of October, as the spider mothers protect their second and third broods, often dying in the act of protecting their young. Fen Raft Spiders are the top of the food chain in the dykes often catching small fish and large dragonflies as prey. This year the young wardens at Carlton Marshes were lucky enough to witness a huge female Fen Raft Spider ambush a female Southern Hawker dragonfly as she was laying her eggs into the dyke. Dedicated volunteers walk the dykes here weekly to count the number of Fen Raft Spider nursery webs. This survey tells us whether the introduction of Fen Raft Spiders to Carlton and Castle Marshes in 2012 continues to be a success. So far it is! With 200 nurseries recorded at Carlton and over 1000 recorded at Castle this year.

Thanks to the Waveney Valley Wildlife Group for organising a Beach clean at Gunton Warren nature reserve this month, as their first event as a group. Nearly 50 local people attended, collecting 60kg of litter, including plastics, fishing line, glass and bagged dog mess. All of which could of ended up in the ocean without this huge effort from volunteers. Gunton Warren is a great reserve throughout autumn for interesting migrants. Recent sightings include Snow Bunting, Pallas's Warbler and Yellow-browed Warbler. Search the shoreline and areas of woodland for these unusual visitors, but remember to keep an eye out to sea for Grey and Common Seals.

Volunteers Jonny and Robyn

Meet the volunteers!

Jonny and Robyn have been volunteering for Suffolk Wildlife Trust for a year and a half now. They have taken on a huge number of volunteering roles including Fen Raft Spider surveys, Lapwing productivity surveys, conservation work parties and trail camera monitoring. Jonny told me "volunteering at Carlton was something I had always wanted to do. However, I couldn't have imagined just how much of a positive effect it would have - I have discovered a new self-confidence and found an absolutely fantastic new friendship group". Through volunteering Jonny and Robyn have become good friends and are pictured here with their scopes bird watching at NWT Cley Marshes. I asked Robyn why she started volunteering for Suffolk Wildlife Trust and she told me "After really getting into bird/wildlife watching a few years ago I decided I needed to contribute towards looking after my local patch, I never even thought I'd end up doing so much. There has been many lovely moments, amongst my favourites are checking barn owl boxes for chicks and of course mine and Jonny's spectacular experience watching the American Bittern at Carlton. I've learnt so much about our local wildlife and I've loved getting hands on with it!"


Ellen Shailes at ellen.shailes@suffolkwildlifetrust.org for more information about volunteering across the Suffolk Broads reserves or

Vicky Bolton at waveneyvalleygroup.swt@gmail.com for more information about the Waveney Valley Wildlife Group.

Current volunteering roles:

Conservation work party volunteer - Gunton Warren nature reserve

Walking Warden - Gunton Warren nature reserve

Reserve volunteer - Carlton Marshes nature reserve

Learning volunteer - Carlton Marshes nature reserve and across Lowestoft

Suffolk Wildlife Trust

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters and a £4 million grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, our vision to buy and restore 384 acres of land for wildlife in the Broads National Park is taking flight.