Wild weekly update from our reserves

Knettishall Heath by Steve Aylward

Our reserves team are undertaking their daily checks and documenting some truly stunning wildlife in our county.

Now lockdown is easing slightly, please do continue to stay local and follow government guidelines when you’re visiting our reserves. Here’s some highlights and sightings from this week.

Cows are coming home

This week saw the return of cattle to Trimley Marshes. Using large herbivores to extensively graze coastal grazing marshes creates greater structural diversity across our reserves and allows less vigorous and aggressive plants to maintain a foothold within the sward, whilst helping the Trust deliver on important biodiversity targets. As well as cattle, the Trust use a range of livestock including  Exmoor ponies, konik ponies, hebridean sheep and bagot goats. These animals are carefully selected to suit the required conditions for each nature reserve as their varied grazing techniques produce very different sward structures. 

Cattle at Trimley

Cattle at Trimley 

Flora on the fen

The beauty of Redgrave & Lopham Fen is the variety of habitats and flora. This is down to the differing substrates, all remnant glacial deposits from the last ice age. This results in wet heath (acid), dry heath (acidic), wet calcareous fen (alkaline), sand/gravel acidic grass, oak/birch woodland, alder carr wet woodland and the zones between these differing habitats. This gives way to such a varying range of floral communities and plant assemblages. Botanist David Bellamy OBE did his Phd at the fen and recorded over 250 plant species!  

This week, our reserve wardens spotted some fen favourites such marsh lousewort which is semi-parasitic and more commonly known as purple rattle sitting in the same family as yellow rattle.  It’s found in wet marshes and meadows that are less acidic. Lousewort was also spotted this week and like its marsh lousewort family member, is also semi-parasitic on the roots of neighbouring plants and favours acid bogs and damp heaths.  

Finally, being much bluer than the common dog-violet, the heath dog-violet is a later flowering plant with a yellow/green spur which also was found this week on the fen.

Marshwort - Debs Crawford

Marshwort - Debs Crawford 

Our ancient woodlands show off for spring

Our ancient woodlands are looking spectacular this week with spring flowers and insects in abundance. At Bull’s Wood, the famous oxlips (Suffolk’s County Flower) have been looking glorious, alongside early-purple orchid, spurge-laurel, wood anemone and herb-paris.  

Bradfield Wood is also full of life at this time of year, with swathes of wild garlic and bluebells and the melodies of spring birdsong amongst the coppice. The woodland rides are perfect for early butterflies such as brimstone, speckled wood and orange tip. 

Not to be outcompeted, Combs Wood also had carpets of wildflowers on the woodland floor with wild garlic, wood anemone and moschatel sitting between the ancient hornbeams.  

Please remember to soak up the smells and scents of the wild garlic, but these reserves are ancient woodlands and are designated and protected sites, foraging is not allowed.  

What an otter surprise

Our Dingle Marshes warden, Jamie Smith has been out surveying for water voles this week and was lucky enough to have a once in a lifetime experience bumping into an otter feasting on an eel. Fish, especially eels and salmonids, make up an important part of a otter's diet, but they are also known to feed on crayfish, and frogs are an important food source for them in the spring.

Whilst monitoring for water voles, some excellent signs of feeding stations were found. Many of our mammal species are elusive and prefer to lead secretive lives and so often when monitoring for species, looking for signs and evidence of their presence, instead of spotting the species itself, is an essential monitoring tool. A water voles’ presence can be determined by several signs such as finding latrines, piles of their droppings, feeding stations such as neat piles of chewed vegetation with 45 degree cuts to the ends, and burrows on the banks, although burrows can last for several years and are not a good indication alone.


Water vole feeding station

Water vole feeding station 

Surveying for skylarks

Our reserve manager Matt Gooch and volunteer wardens have been carrying out breeding bird surveys and were treated to bursts of skylark song. Male skylarks put on an impressive aerial display being able to rise up into the air almost vertically from where their farmland, grassland, salt marsh and moorland habitats. Being able to hover with ease signing from great heights of up to 300m before they plummet back down to the ground, these impressive displays can last for up to an hour. Despite displaying dramatically in the air, skylarks are ground nesting birds with parents being able to produce up to four broods a breeding season owing to the short time frame chicks become independent after an astonishing two weeks.

Skylark - Amy Lewis

Skylark - Amy Lewis 

Terns take their turn visiting Peto's Marsh

The fantastic new habitat creation of Peto’s Marsh at Carlton attracted four new visitors last weekend with four white-winged black terns visiting for a short time on their migration. Peto’s Marsh is being transformed from arable farming back to a wet reed bed environment and has already seen several different special visitors stop over.

Carlton Marshes enjoyed some “firsts of the year” this week too with a 4-spotted chaser dragonfly being seen by a volunteer warden and the first of the avocet chicks have hatched with this adding to Carlton’s other new arrivals of 16 lapwing chicks.

The "belties" big day out

The belted galloway have been trying the patience of the wardens and the police in the north of the county this week as they behaved like wilful teenagers having explored beyond their boundaries into Oulton Village! The four “belties” on Peto’s Marsh have thoroughly explored their new field and were pictured enjoying to shallow pools once back, cooling off from their big adventures and from the high temperatures last weekend.

Belties enjoying a dip on Peto's - Matt Gooch