It’s been quite a year here at Leighton Moss. Most of our staff, volunteers and visitors would unanimously agree that the highlight has been the return of breeding bitterns after almost a decade. Not only was this a significant success in conservation terms but it also allowed many people to not only hear that famous ‘boom’ but also to see these notoriously elusive red bed dwellers. In fact this late autumn and winter period has been equally fantastic with multiple bittern sightings most days, primarily from Causeway and Lower hides.

This great outcome is thanks largely to the dedicated work of our wardens and the RSPB’s Reserves Ecologist team. Here, Leighton Moss Senior Site Manager Jarrod Sneyd offers his thoughts on the year and what we can look forward to in 2019 and beyond:

“I am extremely proud that all the hard work of the reserve and ecology team in the reedbed over the last 15 years or so - has finally paid off. This year we had our first nesting bittern in 9 years.

We started with excavation of parts of the reedbed  in the early 2000’s (called ‘bed-lowering’). These areas responded differently from other reserves where it had been tried - and ended up as muddy, gloopy areas with no vegetation. For that reason, we had to try more radical and controversial measures. In the last 3-4 years we dried the reedbed on the south side of the Causeway. This allowed the mud in the ‘bed-lowered’ areas to consolidate, for the surface to aerate and finally to re-vegetate.  Also, controversially, around the same time as we started the drying out, we started to control deer in small numbers because of their significant impact on the reedbed. Recent research has shown that there has been an equally significant improvement in reedbed condition since we started this control work.

In 2018, we also, as a partnership, bought over 30 ha of grassland on the edge of Warton Village (AONB Landscape Trust, The Bannister Trust, Lancashire County Council/Local Enterprise Partnership, RSPB). This has been the culmination of 3 years work involving a wider partnership including the Arnside/Silverdale AONB, the Environment Agency, Natural England, Lancaster City Council and members of the local community. This is the first step on a journey to creating a multiple benefit project that will alleviate flood risk in the village, help to improve the public right of way through the site and deliver added value to the existing grassland and even more value as a home for lapwings. For me, this is the icing on the cake of 2018”.  

Another popular feature of 2018 was the improved bearded tit viewing platform on the Causeway and the implementation of new grit trays near Grisedale Hide. This not only allowed more comfortable watching for our visitors but also helped the birds themselves. Our Visitor Operations Manager and keen birder and ringer Kevin Kelly sums up his highlights of the year:  

Bearded tits are not only an iconic species of Leighton Moss, they also happen to be one of my favourite birds. I am very fortunate to be involved in the long running ringing study here at the reserve, to gather more information on the lives of these fantastic birds, as well as the other key species that occur here. It was fantastic to see bearded tits spread to use the grit trays near Grisedale, and we received numerous colour combinations from our visitors from both the causeway and Grisedale areas. In addition we launched our first “singing and ringing” events, that went very well, and the fortunate participants were afforded a superb experience in seeing many of our reedbed birds at close quarters. This has led to an exciting opportunity moving forward where we are able to offer a bespoke sponsorship package that will include attending intimate ringing sessions as well as other key highlights, with the money raised contributing to our vast array of conservation work, vital for the brilliant bearded tits and all our other reed bed dependant species.  We can’t do what we do without the support of our members, and this is another way that people can share in our passion for the site“.

If you would like to find out more about our bearded tit sponsorship packages please contact jon.carter@rspb.org.uk for details.

Regular readers of this blog will no doubt be familiar with our Visitor Experience Intern, Naomi who has done such a wonderful job of keeping you all up to date with the goings on at Leighton Moss. Here she looks at her progress so far…  

“Hello everyone, I have now passed the half-way mark for my visitor experience internship and so I thought I would tell you a couple of my highlights so far as 2018 draws to a close. I would say my overall highlight would be living here and working with such an exceptional team but I there have also been some stand-out work moments here too. I should mention of course, my favourite birding moments so far have been seeing my very first bittern and being able to hold a male bearded tit in my hand when I attended a ringing session!

Perhaps my favourite work moment was talking to the traders and visitors who attended the Christmas market. It was a fun-filled festive day and it was great to see an event I had a big role in organising be a success. Working alongside Andy during Birding for Beginners and helping attendees identify birds has been a really fun and rewarding experience too. I look forward to working alongside Andy again in February at our next Birding for Beginners.

Learning more about how a visitor centre runs, and more importantly having experience in each aspect of visitor experience, has also seen me working alongside the education team. My favourite moment so far has been watching toddlers at Nature Tots participate in apple smashing with their parents/guardians and also jumping in as many puddles as possible.

I look forward to the next couple of months of my internship, undoubtedly it will be a very fun, varied and engaging experience!“

With so many people visiting the reserve over the Christmas and New Year period it has been a real treat to announce the arrival of the starlings on the reserve! With up to 100,000 recently roosting on one of our satellite sights (with no public access) we have been keeping an eye on them in the hope that they would relocate to the Leighton Moss reed beds, as they did last year. Well, we’re thrilled that they have done exactly this and for the past few days at least 50,000 starlings have been coming to roost on the reserve, much to the delight of the assembled crowds.

The best places from which to observe these impressive flocks at the moment are the Skytower and either Lilian’s or Grisedale hides but it’s always worth checking with the visitor centre staff and volunteers for the latest updates.

Talking of which, our Membership Manager Sophie King would like to remind you that our team are always on hand to offer help and advice:       

“If you have visited Leighton moss before, I can guarantee that you will have spoken to one our wonderfully welcoming ‘Welcome Desk Team’ members. Armed with information about Leighton Moss and what has been seen day-to-day, our volunteers and staff are here to tell you what wildlife has been seen on the nature reserve, where to look for them and how the RSPB are helping to look after them. From booming bitterns to swooping marsh harriers, we know our stuff. Or, if you’re looking for a relaxing walk in nature we can show you the way. The welcome desk team are also on hand for families ready for an adventure. We have fantastic family trails to give to budding adventurers before they head out onto the nature reserve, so be sure to grab one before you go!

Always a GREAT welcome at Leighton Moss!  Whether you are a first time visitor or we see you every week, here at Leighton moss we think that everybody coming through the door should be welcomed with a smile and have all of the information they need to have a fantastic day out on the reserve. So come and say hello to our little team!

 So far this year, alongside oodles of café connoisseurs and shoppers we have greeted well over 100,000 visitors to the reserve. We look forward to meeting you!”

So that just leaves me to wish all our visitors and blog readers and very happy and bird-filled 2019 – I’m already excited about some of the plans that we have in store for the coming year and my mind is filled with thoughts of what exotic avian strays may drop in to thrill us all (penduline tit? little bittern? lesser sandplover?)  

Happy New Year!

Jon Carter, Visitor Experience Manager

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