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.
This weekend of blistering temperatures and the threat of summer actually arriving, has reminded me of a weekend we were lucky enough to disappear on recently.
It was a gloriously sunny and fun weekend in the peak district to catch up with friends that we haven’t seen in far too long.
We booked a cottage that catered for all our needs, that was in a rural location but also close to the amenities of a little market town called Wirkworth.
We did brilliantly well with our choice and the cottage was amazing. Recently converted from a barn just next to a very pretty public footpath, it afforded us quite a lot of privacy but the occasional distraction from passers by; especially since Max decided to greet each and every one with his big bark!!
It was just what we all needed. We went with absolutely no expectations and found it completely charming and far better that we could have hoped.
We had good weather, gorgeous surroundings, great company and enough beer to kill a man. What else do you need?
Everyone mucked in, there was lots of booze drunk, rubbish spoken and food eaten and it couldn’t have been better.
Mostly we just chilled out at the gorgeous, gorgeous and perfectly appointed cottage. We played cards around the garden table or set up tennis (for the more energetic amongst us), we read, we chatted (a lot!!) and thoroughly relaxed.
When we did venture out (we were very tempted to stay put but really felt that we had to see more than the wonderful view from the barn garden), we were just as happy with what we found and some of it came as a complete surprise.
We had briefly passed through Matlock Baths on the Friday night as we arrived, so we decided to go and wander through this sleepy little ribbon town on Sunday morning. We would grab a coffee, maybe an ice cream and enjoy the peace and quiet of the riverbank walk and it’s pretty shops. It should be pretty quiet leading up to lunchtime.
I think we were the only people in the whole county who DIDN’T know that every Sunday, Matlock Baths is overrun with bikes and scooters of all shapes and sizes as well as the diverse collection of people that ride them.
Every single parking space along the length of the village has 2 wheels parked in it and even the station car park was struggling to accommodate the 4 wheels that had chosen to visit at the same time.
JC got some cracking shots of some of the bikes (clearly someone’s pride and joy) and the irony of the huge, seemingly out of place, ‘think bike’ sign wasn’t missed on us – you really couldn’t help thinking about bikes since it was practically all there was as far as the eye could see.
Once we thought about it, it made sense that this funny little place couldn’t sustain about 8 fish and chip shops a greater number of cafes and 2 bike wear shops without something spectacular like the sunday pilgrimage to contribute to the coffers.
Everyone was clearly happy and there was a nice vibe.
Not remotely what we had expected but quite wonderful all the same.
We eaked out as much of the weekend as we could and didn’t leave until the latest possible (our booking was until monday am but we all had to get back for work!! boohoo) with another walk to check out the local station of Wirkworth and the sweet town centre itself.
These small towns are clearly affected by the out of town supermarkets and the change in our shopping habits but it is hanging on in there. Like all small market towns, it has it’s problems but it is surviving. It has retained its charm and there are a handful of brilliant little retailers as well as decent pubs and I hope it lasts.
We are going to make this little weekend an annual event now because we were so taken by the place and the surroundings. We’ll be booking it well in advance so we aren’t disappointed.
I’m looking forward to it already!!
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)
When we walk the dog/dogs at the weekend, it is evident that the place is teaming with wildlife. We see some of it but mostly we are left with only signs of vast amount wildlife that is in the area.
There are deer living in the trees, grazing on the crops and moving through the cover. Their footprints (or slots) can be seen everywhere, especially when the ground is soft.
There are badgers, muntjac, hares, foxes, rabbits, predatory birds, herons, pigeons, pheasant, owls and partridges to name but a few.
The deer are the ones that we look out for most as there is always a chance that you will see them. We know some of their favoured spots and the regular routes that they take in their day. We see small groups, singles and larger family groups but lately they seem to have been even more shy than usual. We know they are occasionally hunted in the area and that might affect their numbers slightly but they aren’t hunted a lot and should be quite comfortable in the area and certainly not small in numbers.
Deer are jumpy and shy at the best of times so they are never really relaxed for long. They are constantly looking out or moving on if they don’t like the look or smell of something.
We recently found out from someone (who knows lots about this kind of stuff) that an injury to a deer when it is young or something else has interfered with it’s growth creates asymmetry in the antlers which can be seen in their hooves too.
The lop sided nature of the antlers is one of the things that hunters prize.
Deer look so serene when they are grazing or gently moving around their territory but they are spectacular when they running. They can move at great speed.
The photo of the slots above was taken this morning in the frost. The dips at the back of the hooves are the dew claws and although these tracks aren’t fresh (they are a few days old), the slots show that the deer were running when they were made. You don’t always see the dew claws as hopefully they are grazing or wandering about, rather than running from some perceived danger
We have a tracking book that shows all these kinds of interesting details that you miss most of the time and you could make it a lifetime’s work just studying the tracks and trails of any one species.
I find it fascinating and I love the fact that they have been out there before you in the silence of dawn or the depths of the night, quietly going about their business and sensibly getting out of the way when us humans appear making lots of noise!
every year the wildlife photographer of the year comes to the natural history museum and it is a must see.
being a bit partial to some wildlife photographer myself even it we are talking totally different leagues, it makes my appreciation of it far greater I think.
Some shots are so incredibly difficult to get. Equipment isn’t as key as patience and sometimes a huge amount of luck.
that is not to say that each one of the incredible images that we saw in the recently finished 2011 winners exhibition wasn’t technically incredible and that technical skill truly comes into it, it’s just that sometimes luck gives you the hand you need to make the difference.
some of the images come into the category of under 14s which always blows my mind. HOW? when someone is so young, do they manage to achieve such brilliance when it should be the domain of the greatly experienced?
These photographs which I took of the postcards we brought home that depict some of our favourites from the show do them no justice what so ever and the originals really must be seen to appreciate just how fabulous they are.