Photo: Reception building fully open with our volunteers ready to welcome you in.

After what seems an interminably long time, the reception hide at the Fen has been fully opened. The makeshift annex served its purpose well, but in my mind was always a barrier to proper interaction with visitors. Everyone made the best of things in trying circumstances, but it just wasn’t the same. Hopefully, that’s now all behind us.

My first shift in the reopened facility rather served to prove the value of being able to engage in proper face to face communications. At this time of year, people come to the reserve in search of the swallowtail butterfly. Today, the weather did not look very promising, and indeed a steady rain began to fall. Not good news for insect enthusiasts. However, being under cover provided opportunity to get a cuppa and chat about how reserve staff manage the site to help our star attraction. This leads on to discussion of additional reserves that the RSPB and other conservation bodies manage within the Broads area. Cue the unfolding of a map with instructions on how to get to these wonderful places and what other delights can be found therein. This kind of engagement not only helps to showcase our special Norfolk wildlife, but also depicts how Strumpshaw fits into the wider context of Broadland conservation.

We have several keen photographers who regularly visit the reserve at first light. They come for the peace and quiet, hoping for a chance encounter with something unusual or scarce. In this way they provide useful information of what is around and where it can best be encountered. For example, records of water vole, bittern and otter are valuable, as are sightings of American mink.  Our regular ‘toggers’ often pop into the hide for a chat prior to going home for breakfast, or a nap, and this allows volunteers to update the sightings board and ooh and ahh at the great photographs they often capture. Today I was treated to back-of-the-camera views of a Little Owl, Reed Warbler, Hobby and Bittern. These things help to build a picture of the wildlife using the reserve, and to some degree a barometer of how successful management activity has been. It’s so much easier to conduct these exchanges now our normal welcoming area is once again operational.

Another thing that is so much more satisfying now we have our volunteer domain fully functional, is being able to pore through identification guides to show people the key features of a particular bird, butterfly or dragonfly. It serves to provide a better visitor experience when information is dispensed in this way. And of course, it’s a two-way street, with knowledgeable visitors often able to educate people like me on the finer points of, say, hoverfly identification, or the life cycle of aquatic creatures. I learn a lot during these encounters, which I can then use to help other visitors at a later date. The finer points of blue damselfly identification was one such topic discussed today, reminding me that these delicate insects are already on the wing around the reserve, soon to be joined by larger dragonflies such as the Norfolk hawker, another special species attracting visitors from around the country.


Photo: Inside Reception hide at Strumpshaw Fen

With the steady fall of rain today, flying insects were keeping a low profile, but the new drinks dispensing machine proved very popular. It was good to see folk sitting and chatting in the dry whilst being able to view the reserve from the windows of the hide. Bearded Tits were spotted together with Marsh Harriers, Common Buzzards and a beautiful Kingfisher. All seen without getting a drop of rain on the binoculars. With patience, most of the stars of the reserve can be seen from the reception hide, including flighting Bitterns, nectaring swallowtails and our resident otters. Some people spend a couple of hours just watching the ever-changing cloudscape. Some people have a quick scan and move on to find something more specific. All are richer for being able to soak in the tranquillity of our Broadland landscape. It’s good to have it back.