Friday, 16 December 2011

Year's End

I haven't added up the figures for the year yet, but this is the time to stock-check 2011 and think about an annual report. I must say, it's been a mixed year for me and I'm not too sad to see it gone!

Just add water.
Dried up silt lagoon at the works.
This time last year we were frozen up with snow and ice. At the same time the District Council was going through budget cuts and staff reductions through voluntary redundancies and the gravel company was taking its second year off from the site. The future didn't look too good.

Despite all this and the dismal financial forecasts on the BBC, I see signs for optimism at Paxton Pits. The Friends of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve goes from strength to strength and they make a huge contribution to what we do here. In fact, this year they have been able to allow us to make progress instead of just marking time.

In April 2012, the  Countryside Services section that we work in will be amalgamated with Parks to become "Greenspaces", headed up by John Craig. That's all we know at the moment, but a review will begin in February to produce a strategy for the new department. This could be seen as a threat but, given that we are still committed to an extension here and that the pressure on all our sites continues to build because of new housing projects nearby, we expect to have an expanding work program for the foreseeable future.

If you look up our Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on the Natural England Website, you will see that this year its condition was posted as "unsatisfactory". At first we were a bit miffed about this, but let me explain what it's about:

Removing shade from the banks of Cloudy Pit
 will benefit invertebrates.
When the SSSI was notified, the site was prized for its populations of flies that inhabit the silty puddles and lakes that are formed around an active quarry processing plant. This habitat is always temporary and is rare in nature, so the beasties that live there are rare too. They depend on small particles of silt suspended in water. The best site here is Washout Pit, but also along the shallow edges of Cloudy Pit. Over the years these sites have become covered with willow trees and other plants and become less suitable for those specialist insects that once thrived there. By giving  the Reserve and unfavorable report, our man at Natural England hopes to spur us into action and to free up some funding to help us restore the best areas.

So, if you look from the boardwalk, across the meadow to Cloudy Pit you will see that we have started work on restoring the open shoreline. We are only taking out willows and hawthorns, leaving the alders, brambles and any dead trees to provide some places for birds. Work at Washout Pit is more problematic and may take some years to complete.
New Ranger office? Matt Johnson christens the new composting toilet.
Copies of this photo (for use in blackmail etc) are available on  request. 

Our workshop area (once known as "the Snakepits") has no water or electricity but we do have a new composting toilet there. Ranger Matt Johnson and his team of latrine-duty volunteers finished building it this week.

Assessing habitat for Dipteran flies
 with staff from Natural England and Bardon Aggregates.
This site is the UK headquarters for a rare green leafhopper.
"It can jump this high".
This morning the temperature was just above freezing and it was trying to snow, but it was still a delight to patrol the Heron Trail because there are just so many birds about. The Heronry Lakes have huge numbers of wildfowl, especially wigeon, and I saw a goosander and a few goldeneyes out there. We also have hundreds of redwings in the hawthorns and, at last, a few dozen fieldfares. On the arable fields near Bardon's works there is a flock of buntings that includes over 100 yellowhammers.

Now the forecast is for colder nights and a bit of a freeze-up in Europe, so I would hope for even more birds to arrive soon. I really hope so because I've promised people over 50 species on New Year's Day. The idea is that you turn up at 10 am and I will take you for a walk around the Heron Trail. It's free, but for every species I show you, you have to pay me 10p. Please have your fiver's ready! I reckon a smew, a kingfisher or a goosander should be worth £5 alone. Otters are extra!

Have a good holiday.