Friday, 11 November 2016

Our local patch.

This article was written for Little Paxton Parish News, where a reduced version will appear.  This is the full text.

A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all the Friends, the volunteers and staff at Paxton Pits Nature Reserve.

It’s a curious fact that our local nature reserve is more famous nationally than it is locally. The close proximity of the A1 has a lot to do with it, and of course, the nightingales. Bird lovers swoop in on us from all over England and Wales, and even from Scotland. Birders will travel hundreds of miles for a rarity and we get our share of those too, but more often they will pop into us on their way back from a distant “twitch" somewhere up the East Coast. There are people who twitch dragonflies, butterflies, moths and even fungi and we are on the map for those too.

For most of us though, Paxton Pits is just “Our Patch"; the place we know best, where we can form a closer attachment to nature, walk the dog, get a bit of solitude or meet up with friends. Every time I walk around the Meadow Trail I see something new. It may be an insect or a plant, or it may a rising mist, a lone star in the winter sky or a pink puff of cloud above the Little Barford Power Station. Lately I have been watching starlings and other birds come in to roost. The meadow is the best place to be at sunset.

Local people probably make up the majority of our visitors, our volunteers and our membership and we have seen a big increase in visits by families wth young children. Since Debbie and the Wildlife Trust moved in to our Environmental Education Centre it has become a common sight for us to see half a dozen toddlers playing with toys from our toy box while their mums have a good natter. We also see a lot of adult groups including Nordic Walkers, Healthy Walkers and the local U3A group. So why do we see relatively few people from the village in the visitor centre? The answer is obvious really: Why pay for a cup of tea when you can get one at your house which is only minutes away? What is there in the visitor centre for local people anyway? Well, I think there is quite a lot!

The Friends of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve run a little shop that sells refreshments, books and gifts but our best sellers are bird-food and our own honey. Our second-hand book sales are quite a big earner too and we sell all sorts of books, not just wildlife related ones. All of the money we make is spent on the Reserve. The Visitor Centre is the place to pop into for information including "what’s about?” and upcoming events.  Speaking of which, you might like to know about what’s coming your way over Christmas and the New Year.

On Sunday 11th December at 14:30 there’s a chance to get into the Christmas spirit and join us for a guided walk followed by seasonal refreshments and music from St Neots Folk Club on your return.
Tickets will sell out so don’t delay. They are available from the Visitor Centre, £5.00 for those aged 12 and over. £3.00 for children aged 3-11. We look forward to seeing you.

Why not start 2017 with our New Year's Day "Ice Breaker”?  Spot birds and wildlife while making a valuable contribution to funding our Reserve. You will have a choice of walks starting at 10.00am and 11.00am from £2.50 per head. Our famous Tick'n'Twitch walk leaves promptly at 10.00a.m. Come and join our experts and enjoy a great start to the New Year. Don't forget your binoculars! Suitable for all the family and no experience necessary.
The new Kingfisher Hide will be open for the New Year,
(we hope).

Looking further ahead, the Friend’s events programme is available now. In 2017 we have decided to focus our attention on our “regulars” and the programme is packed with events aimed at the village. We would also like to get more involved in the community by taking part in village events. Please invite us!

In the autumn, the questions that you asked me most were “Why is the water so low?” and “What’s happening with the quarry?”

The quarry is now operating pretty well “flat-out,” as you can tell from the number of lorries. Sand and gravel are being excavated from near Boughton Lodge Farm and brought to the sorting plant via a long conveyer. The sand and stones are separated using water from Heronry North Lake, and that’s why the water level got so low in the Autumn, giving us great birdwatching for several weeks. After washing the gravel, the dirty water used to be pumped out into Washout Pit from where it found its way back to the Heronry Lakes through a pipe, so water extraction had only a slight effect on the lakes. This year Aggregate Industries found a temporary solution which was to run the dirty water north to Island Pit just using gravity. This was obviously unsustainable without any water coming in to replenish the lakes from Southoe Brook. It will take a lot of rain to get water levels back to normal but meanwhile the gravel and sand still have to be separated. In November an electric pump was installed that will slowly fill the Heronry Lakes back up again, using Island Pit as a reservoir. The slow rising of water levels will mean a decrease in shallow-water birds like waders and dabbling ducks but perhaps they will be replaced with more diving birds.