We went to an agricultural show in June 2012 which was very wet and, although incredibly quaint and old fashioned with vintage tractors, rare breeds and country craft demonstrations, the rain drove us indoors eventually.
We took the exhibition tent and got talking to some interesting people at Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.
Where we are based in South Holland, there are very few public footpaths because of the extent of the privately owned agricultural land. We know there are some places that you can go to but they all involve a drive and sometimes into the next county.
Imagine our delight to discover some incredible and readily accessible nature reserves right near us.
Giddy with the joy of it, we joined the LWT at an annual fee of ONLY £33 and walked away with a comprehensive map of the local reserves, a book about all the reserves in the Wildlife Trust’s arsenal across the UK and a car sticker (should have handed that back as we won’t ever use that).
The following day, the weather perked up considerably and off we trotted to one of the newest reserves that happens to also be the closest. Willow Tree Fen
Unfortunately most of the reserve restrict dog access but we did happen upon dog walkers on this one and wished we had brought the furry one.
Willow Tree Fen is exactly what it says it is. It is a fenland farm where Willow trees grow in abundance and it is one of the last farms that was run as a traditional fen farm where the seasonal water level changes are allowed to occur in the low section of land. This in itself, gives rise to all the splendid wildlife and fauna that goes with it:- Willow Trees are in their element, sometimes standing in water for months at a time, the wetland meadows or meres are teaming with flowers, the permanent water ways that edge the farm are home to lots of interesting insect life such damsel flies that are so numerous in types that we got lost counting them, there are water birds, sand martins, swifts, swallows and many more.
It was peaceful and a total delight to have found.
We spent a wonderful afternoon there once we found it (as the directions are a little sketchy) and it is tucked out of the way so is unlikely to get very busy (we only saw half a dozen or so visitors in a whole afternoon). The original 2 hides have posters of the birds that have been seen and visitors are asked to record the breed and numbers that they see when visiting for the reserves records.
Nearly all the work undertaken to build hides and walkways is done by volunteers and there was evidence of some of that work in progress as we meandered around the reserve.
The farm itself was sold to the Wildlife Trust in 2009 after I imagine it became unviable as a business but when you look around the acreage, it is easy to see why if was kept in it’s traditional state but how that would mean low yields and limited options for making a living out of the farm.
It is a great thing that it is being maintained and that is thanks to the foresight of organisations such as the Wildlife Trust.
Since first exploring the reserve, we have been back a number of times and see changes every time we do.
There is a new hide that sits between the 2 original ones and right on the edge of water that is punctuated with trees that were clearly planted in neat little rows at some point in the farm’s history.
These are currently being cleared as they have mostly died in the deep fen water but before this is completed and while we were enjoying the peace and quiet of the new hide, the trees provided a perch for a kingfisher that we were delighted to see.
In a flash of blue it appeared from behind the hide and stayed with us for a few minutes before flying around the front of the hide and disappearing behind the other side with as much flourish as it arrived.
We listed the numerous birds that we have seen this week (some more interesting than others but wonderfully varied all the same) and managed to photograph some of them:-
Swallows (still here)
Snipe (not confirmed as not 100% sure)
Nuthatch (also not 100% sure)
Reed Bunting (numerous)
There is a new woodland walk, a new path along the drain which takes you lower and nearer the meres, there is an education centre, new benches dotted around and at some lovely viewing spots and a wonderful bug hotel at the visitor’s centre that would be the envy of many and has certainly made my little palace look wholly inadequate.
There are other reserves that we need to explore too but we will continue to come back to watch this one through it’s seasonal changes and improvements.
It is a lovely place!
We are lucky enough to see Roe Deer where we walk at the weekends and although they become harder to see when the crops get up, there is always a sign that they are about.
We see slots in the mud, beds of flattened grass where they have slept at night, nibbles on crops but also damage to tree bark where they have been having a feast.
It is inevitable and one of their many wild habits although it is not very popular with anyone growing saplings.
I like seeing the secret signs that the deer are about and know that as long as the damage is not extensive the saplings will survive.
A deer damaged sapling will never grow to be the perfect specimen but this is nature and this is what happens – good, bad and indifferent.
I was reading the UK handmade magazine summer 2013 (which I would highly recommend – you can read the online magazine or you can buy the download pdf)
And as I came to the end and page 81 presented me with a lovely image of a bug hotel project for your garden, I suddenly realised that our recent DIY project (more to come about that) had unwittingly provided us with the building blocks of the bug house and we pretty much had everything we needed around and about.
After a riffle through the recycling, chopping some lengths of bamboo up, selecting some nice short logs from the log pile and steeling a length of waste pipe from the garage I was all set to assemble them along with the slate and bricks into our own recycled version.
It won’t pass the inspection of even the most laid back structural engineer and the hotel inspector would be aghast but as Bug Hotels go, I think it is pretty fantabulous.
I’m very pleased with it and have stuck it in a little corner that does’t have much happening in it but it has been earmarked as our wild corner so couldn’t be better sited.
Fingers crossed for some creepy crawly guests :o)