In this blog Andy, our residential volunteer reserve warden, reflects on the rainfall over the past few months, wildlife on the reserve and the work of the warden team during the winter season. As we shall see, Andy really has come to appreciate getting first hand experience of putting the word wet into wetland. 

Although no ducks have been available for comment, their webbed feet carried their votes to those pools where the seeds of submerged vegetation remained within their reach, most particularly Tim Jackson’s and Lower Hides.  June to October were the wettest since our records began in 1987 and we had ¾ of our average annual rainfall in those four months alone. Leighton Moss is very low-lying land, in the 1800s it was still an arm of the Irish Sea, and so it is very difficult for us to lose surplus water and secure safe access for our management work.  

Wet weather, ironically, creates problems for how we manage our wetlands.  One thing we can do to help is to remove water weed from the ditches of the reserve using long-handled forks called cromes.  Navigating the canal by boat and working in our waders in lines along the banks of the main ditch has given us the chance to see parts of the reserve that members of the public are unable to access.  There’s something very therapeutic about the activity and trying not to fill one’s waders with water adds a little drama; it’s best to save the diciest edges until the end of the day!

“Preparing to Row” by Andrew Francis

At Tim Jackson, Grisedale and Lower Hides we have opened-up views, created loafing areas, floating islands of reeds for ducks and waders and provided open areas for wildfowl foodplants, like water docks, to grow.  You may have heard the sound of brushcutters or seen us raking up the cut material into big piles.  Cutting new lines into the reeds helps to bring shy reedbed birds like bitterns and water rails onto the open pools.  You may have seen the new grit trays towards Grisedale hide where they are set into a recess cut into the reeds.  We would be very pleased to hear from you if you have seen bearded tits on the new grit trays.

Sculpting the more visible reedbed into suitable habitat is very rewarding work, especially when we can see birds using the newly cut areas, we hope that you can see and enjoy the results as much as we do. Regular cutting keeps the reedbeds clear of detritus allows freshwater fish, such as the rudd, to circulate and encourages the bitterns that feed on them.  We hope that water levels will fall and allow us to cut in larger swathes of the reedbed.    

Weather proof bird by Andrew Francis

Whatever opportunities the weather allows us we are never short of work here at Leighton Moss. The high water has not kept us away from the drier reedbed edges with their own diverse and less reed-dominated fenland habitats.  In these fenland areas we are preventing the encroachment of willow scrub, with chainsaws, particularly from the Allen fields and towards the Lower Hide.  Towards Lower Hide willow cutting and coppicing has opened up the rare tussock-sedge habitat and we have left some standing dead-wood which provides habitat for wood-boring insects.  We have done some opening up of the winter finch feeding station near the Allen Hide. At the moment you can enjoy great close views of big flocks of greenfinches, chaffinches and reed buntings along with the more occasional tree sparrows and bramblings.

Richard, bund and Excavator picture by Andrew Francis

We are also pleased to report that repairs to the banks that hold water in the Eric Morecambe Pool are complete.  Last autumn’s high tides damaged the banks resulting in a loss of water from the scrapes with the receding tides and we had to wait until the worst storms of winter and the breeding birds had finished before carrying out the major land working required.  Grass-growth and hessian netting have helped to consolidate the banks and the repaired sluices and pipes allow us to alter water levels in Allan and Eric pools independently. 

Whether we are cutting reed or willow we are resetting nature’s clock so that habitats stay young rather than growing old and tired.  The work is labour-intensive but it’s fun, helps bring people together and provides the best results for nature.

Andy Francis