Anyone ever noticed that there are lots of birds and wildlife in Cornwall? I know I’m not a birder as such, but I’ve paid attention to birds and wildlife for a few years now and despite only being here for a month, I have seen eight species that I hadn’t seen before and many more that I have only seen once or twice!  And the really amazing thing is, I’m not even really looking for them.  There are many more species that I know to be locally around at the moment that I have yet to see: the Goosander, the Red-necked Grebe, the Glaucous, Ring-billed and Icelandic gulls, the Hudsonian Whimbrel, the Great Skua and the list goes on...

In short, I’m very pleased to be here. So, I’m Phill and I’m covering the Assistant Warden position for the Cornwall Reserves until April.  This is while Jen is working with colleagues on a RSPB reserve in the North of England.

I plan to use this blog to share news of what is going on the reserves. I’ll keep you informed on some of the work we are undertaking to manage the reserve and why we are doing it, I’ll promote any events that we are running, share information that may be important for your visit, highlight recent sightings or interesting activity that you may see and be letting you know how you can get involved.  Along the way, I expect I’ll be subject to a fair amount of whimsy and share personal views and experiences.  I hope you’ll indulge me! 

Of course, this is social media.  So, if you have suggestions for what you want to see in this blog, or have questions about the reserve, it would be good to hear from you.

On a housekeeping note, I don’t plan to write separate updates for the Hayle and Marazion reserves in this weekly blog . We will of course use the separate pages for specific notices that relate to just those sites, but this blog will straddle both.

So introductions aside, what has been going on over the last month?

It has been, and continues to be, a busy time on Marazion Marsh. Prior to Christmas we were busy working amongst the reed to remove scrub and encroaching willow. 

Given the position of the UK, our reedbeds are particularly important as the most westerly habitat of this type in Europe and nowhere is this truer than Cornwall. Marazion Marsh is actually the largest reedbed in the county and as such provides an important sanctuary for wintering bittern, reed nesting heron and it has hosted the very rare aquatic warblers.

However, if scrub is left unchecked it will colonise drier sections of the marsh and directly compete with the reed for nutrients and water. Furthermore, as species like willow grow, it shades out the surrounding plants and produces large amounts of leaf litter that prevent other species from growing.  Over sufficient time this could cause the site to dry up and progressively develop into woodland. 

On top of this, we also have to manage the reed itself. If you visited during the first week of January, you may have seen a strange contraption making its way around the Marsh.  The Truxor, essentially an amphibious vehicle that can move on land or water using specially modified caterpillar tracks, has a reciprocating saw (a bit like a giant hedge trimmer) mounted on the front to cut reed beneath the surface of the water.  Over the course of a week, the marsh was transformed.  Lots of open water and channels have been exposed, thus increasing the reed boundary area, which is great hunting ground for herons, bitterns and egrets.  It also helps ensure that waterways don't become too clogged up, which improves the habitat for fish and eels.

While the cutting of the reed is a relatively quick process, it does leave enormous piles of this supergrass (Phragmites australis) around the edge of the marsh. This can be a problem for many of the species that we are managing the area for, e.g., bittern, and it can enrich the reedbed with nutrients that promote growth of scrubbier plants like willow.

Thankfully, I have inherited a crack team of knowledgeable volunteers, who come out for the Tuesday and Thursday work parties and have been methodically stacking the cut reed into vast stoops, resembling tee-pees, so that it can dry. After a couple of days we return to finish the job and burn the dried material.  The race is on as we aim to complete this clearance before the herons begin nesting so we don’t disturb them.  As notoriously early nesters and with it having been such a mild winter so far, we are on continual look out for the signs of broody herons!

Photo: Phill Catton
Stacking - the only way to dry reed in Cornwall

This week we were also making other preparations for spring. The water levels around the site are carefully managed and controlled using a variety of sluices and mini weirs.  Sadly, what works well for controlling water levels, last year caused problems for some young ducklings that become trapped in a sluice.  Again, the work party sprung into action and we now have what we believe, and clearly hope, is a duckling proof sluice.

Photos: Phill Catton
Patented ducking screen for weir style sluices

Phew, and this is all in the last few weeks. Busy times!  If any of it has whetted your appetite for practical conservation and you would like more information about joining our Tuesday or Thursday work parties, please get in contact by calling the office on 01736 360624.  We will happily give you more details and I can guarantee* beautiful locations, Cornish weather(!), tea, coffee, biscuits and if you are lucky, perhaps cake!

Photo: Phill Catton
Nice spot to volunteer in

Well, I hope you have enjoyed reading this. Have a good weekend all, and don’t forget, this weekend is the Big Garden Birdwatch. It isn’t too late to register and take part and contribute to the world’s largest wildlife survey.  Please follow the link for details:


P.s. For those interested, my eight new species were: Yellow Browed Warbler (RSPB Hayle), Firecrest (RSPB Hayle), Great Northern Diver (RSPB Hayle), Mediterranean Gull (RSPB Hayle), Barn Owl (RSPB Marazion), Chough, Dipper and Black Redstart.

* Not an actual guarantee, more of a very strong possibility – except the weather which is guaranteed!