Monday, 21 September 2009

Building a Bigger Reserve

This week we are making progress on so many fronts that its hard to know where to start. I'll try and remember everything.

Up at Pumphouse Pit we have been clearing willows that grow on the water's edge in advance of the rising waters. The water is coming from Diddington Pit which is being drawn down in preparation for landscaping. Next week-end, a work party, organised by the Friends of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve, will continue to clear willows from the shore to stop them from being used as perches for predators such as crows. This will be important during next year's wader breeding season.

On the north shore of the pit there is a footpath which joins the Ouse Valley Way to the village of Diddington. Cambridgeshire County Council has funded a new bridge and will provide some fencing. Our job is to improve the path itself, providing a short diversion to give a view of the lake.

From now on there will be two Pumphouse Pits; East and West, divided by a large bund. Pumphouse East, with its islands and undisturbed shores, will be inside the reserve while Pumphouse West, soon to be filled with water, will be in private hands. We want the bund to be a secure area for wildlife, free of disturbance from predators such as foxes, and from humans. To achieve this the Friends have funded the construction of fox-proof fences at both ends of the bund. Our contractor, from Ramsey, started work site today.

Meanwhile, back at base, we are well into building an extension to the visitors' centre. The ground has been cleared and foundations have been laid. "Pinelog" (the construction company) have impressed us all by arriving on time with no fuss and staying tightly on schedule (so far, at least).

Managing our grassland requires grazing to reduce nutrients and produce a healthy but varied sward.

While our Highlanders on the Great Meadow are running out of grass, we have excellent grazing on the meadow near the visitors' centre. On Friday, nine heifers were brought in to graze the grass until Christmas. They are mostly South Devon crosses, but one is a Hereford cross breed. The logic behind this is two-fold: These cattle are less scary than our Highlanders as they don't have horns and are used to the public walking by them. At the same time, we want to keep guest graziers involved so that we can operate in a flexible manner in future, rather than going it alone.

Already, our bull and the younger bullocks have moved up to the Great Fen at Holme. The "girls" will follow later but we are awaiting the birth of a couple of calves. Actually, one of them was born on Saturday morning. He's a strong little chap and is being licked, almost literally, into shape by his mum and the young females in the herd.

Change can be challenging for all of us. Many people look to the reserve to provide peace and stability in their busy lives and they worry that any change might be for the worse. I understand this, but I'm really very excited that we are moving swiftly towards a bigger and better reserve, able to cope with increasing pressure from visitors while giving lots of undisturbed space for wildlife, and little chaps like the one on the left!