Since joining the warden volunteer work party team at the start of the year after relocating to this area, Mark has sent snippets and photos of what they've been getting up to across the reserve.

Back in mid-March, we did consider it could perhaps be the last volunteer work party for a good while, given the current circumstances. We spent the morning clearing bramble growth from the reserve footpaths and rebuilding a dry stone wall up near Burton Point. In the afternoon we 'spring cleaned' the wildlife garden around the reserve office and volunteer house. Spring was in evidence all around; frog spawn in the ponds, mating toads, queen bumblebees looking to nest and flowers in bloom. We also spotted a spoonbill out on the marsh first thing and had plenty of singing chiffchaffs, then at the end of the day I also saw my first marsh harrier from the visitor centre since moving to the area.

 Dry stone wall repair (Mark Varley)

Fast-forward three months and after a long wait, I have just completed my second volunteering day back on the reserve and how different they were.  Last week it rained, hard for all six hours of work and I can safely say that I don't think I have ever been so wet. We were replacing two large gate posts around the sheep field on Burton Point headland. It was hard work and the need to socially distance did not help but still fun and nice to be back with friends.

This week (25 June) we were working on preparing the trail past Bunker Hide ready to reopen at the start of July, so lots of pruning, raking and strimming. This time, no rain but 30 degree heat and no shade! As a perk, we found a few late flowering bee orchids, a plant I have never seen before. Birds were a bit thin on the ground but I added reed and sedge warblers to my year list and enjoyed seeing a marsh harrier, which by this point we knew had nested on the reserve. Have to hope next week is dry but not too hot.

Less extreme weather for the work party today (2 July) and a good turnout of six of us. The weather was wet early but improved thankfully. Today we worked on the electric anti-predator fence in front of the visitor centre and around the whole wet grassland area. Foxes and badgers have been active through spring and we were trying to reinforce the gates, fill in holes dug around the fence and plug gaps forced in the wire mesh. The picture shows our Heath Robinson inspired gate guard, a simple but effective method known as a "floppy-top".

There were few birds about but marsh harriers are becoming hard to miss, and young avocets were good to see. Butterflies featured well with loads of meadow browns and small skippers.  Just before we finished work, I was lucky enough to catch a brief glimpse of a weasel; a great way to end the day.

 Installing gate floppy-tops (Mark Varley)

This week (9 July) under yet more grey skies, the Thursday work party once again had a healthy six volunteers and with all due social distancing and minimal tool sharing, we set off to the far end of the reserve to work on the Inner Marsh Farm trail to ensure it doesn't become a complete jungle whilst it remains closed. It is amazing how quickly nature takes over when left unchecked. After plenty of brushcutting, loppering and fetching and carrying, the path is now passable although it and the hide it reaches are unlikely to be deemed safe to open for visitors any time soon.

Wildlife highlights included good views of the marsh harrier, loads of swifts, sand martins and a fleeting glimpse of what I think was a cuckoo. We also had good views of a very trusting young fox on the boardwalk. Hopefully the sun will come back for next time out.

 Clearing path edges (Mark Varley)

If you like the idea of getting involved with what Mark and other volunteers have been getting up to supporting the warden team, drop us a line on deeestuary@rspb.org.uk for more information on volunteering.

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