Hello  

This will be my last blog from Strumpshaw Fen as I am moving on in the new year, up to RSPB Insh Marshes in Scotland, for another residential placement. I know I will miss this place immensely, having loved all my time here. I feel very lucky to have begun my career change here. It is a beautiful place to live, work and be, at all times of the year, with a lovely group of people to work with. I am very grateful to all the staff and volunteers who have taught me so much and made my time here so special. I will definitely be back to visit.  

We have had quite a few high tides this month, which has meant flooding on the riverbank. Occasionally, we have had to go and open or close one of the sluices. We open the sluices when it floods so to allow the salty flood water to easily drain back into the river. Meaning it has less time to damage the fen plants that do not like salt water.  We have two types of sluice in the fen, a crank sluice and a drop board sluice. We have mostly had to use the crank sluice and turn a key to lower or raise it. We will also go and close paths if needed, most often the path to tower hide as that floods often at high tide. It was interesting to see the government webpage for checking flood and tide levels and relate this to what we were seeing on the riverbank and in the fen.  

With the high tides and flooding in the fen, we often found we could not go out and cut reed. So, we had a few work parties where we did some other smaller jobs. We took apart some wooden railings that were no longer needed on the Lackford run. We cleaned some roofs and gutters of leaves.  We took apart an old and derelict jetty hidden amongst the reeds out the front of reception. One day, we had to walk through some of the riverbank flooding to replace some fenceposts that had gone rotten and become wobbly.  We cleared some grass and moss that had been slowly creeping across the Sandy Wall path and after that, we just had time to take down the yurt at Basecamp that had been up all summer before a storm came in. Once taken down, we had to hang it up in the workshop to dry by letting a hot air blower heater sit underneath it. We did once go out to cut some reed to the right of Fen hide but found the area to be nearly a lake! We aborted the mission as, although we had waders on, the volunteers that were going to come and rake and pile it did not. There would have been many wet feet.  

 

Pictures: The flooded fen and taking down the yurt. 

In a more successful read cutting task, we did get out to cut some reed to repair the reed screens by reception. We learnt about how reedcutters bundle up reed ready for thatching. To collect and prepare our reed, we held a small bundle of cut reed by the heads and whipped it up and down to shake out short bits and leaves. We then also used a nailbrush to brush out the leaves. Then we tapped the bundle onto a board to line up all the ends. Once you have done a few small bundles you tie them all together ready to go. Fixing the screens was also interesting, as we had to take them apart, then cut the reed to length and pack it in the appropriate gap, and then put the screen back together to hold it in place. It was good to put some cut reed to use.  

 

Pictures :  Out bundling reed and the finished reed screen. 

Another new task for me this month was helping the assistant warden, Dom, with repairing gates. Gates do take a lot of punishment from the cows and the weather and they eventually need repairing. We learnt to think about where the gate is going to go and which way round it will hang. This depends where it will be in the field or along a track and you always try to make sure the side with the bolts is facing away from the cows so they don’t scratch themselves on them. We added hinges to a new gate and we replaced some of the crossbars on another.  Hopefully we will get to take them out to replace broken gates at Buckenham sometime soon. 

  

Pictures: Aiden adding a hinge and fastening a new crossbar.  

Friday jobs may have won the battle against nettle and bramble growth for now, but we have recently had two new tasks that make me think of Sisyphus forever rolling his boulder up a hill. We have to rake up leaves from various areas and paths as well as flatten mole hills on the riverbank. As you can imagine, for both these tasks, after a day or so it looks like you didn’t do much at all! More leaves fall and moles always seem to need to make more hills every day. I must admit the leaf raking is very satisfying when you look back and see what you have cleared and I realise soon the leaf dumping will be over. But I have often wondered if moles hibernate. The answer is that they do not and are in fact quite active in winter months. This definitely fits with my own observations. 

 

Pictures : Leaves before and after . 

A very satisfying two days came from travelling over to Surlingham Church Marsh to reinforce a path that had become very muddy. Some of it had already been reinforced but the parts without had become impassable without wellies. The previous reinforcement had involved putting in wooden rails either side and then filling the space between with stones, the rails holding them in place. We were to extend at each end and fill in the gaps. On the first day we took the wooden rails ( 2 by 4s ) down and added them at each end and in the gaps, cutting to length where necessary. Aiden and I had to fill in a gap that was slightly longer than one rail, so we had to cut a short length to cover it with one full rail. We probably spent too much time positioning and levelling them, but we wanted to get it right. We eventually managed to get them wedged in the gap and banged them into the mud and then we banged in posts on the outside that would go in deeper and hold them in place. Once the posts were in, we nailed or screwed the rails to them. This immediately made the whole structure sturdier. But banging in nails and posts in very wet mud did lead to a lot of mud splatter. I did seem to get more than my fair share of it. 

 

Pictures : mud splatter and the path after day 1  

For day two, the assistant warden headed off earlier to pick up the stones we would be using to fill in the path with a tractor and trailer. We headed to Surlingham with wheelbarrows and shovels and started to prep the path. We had to staple a geotextile sheeting between the rails to help keep the stones in place. It would allow water to flow through the path but not allow vegetation to grow up through it. In some places it was still very boggy between the rails and when the stones arrived I would quickly learn where we should give the sheeting more room to stretch. The stones were ferried down to the start of the path by the quadbike and trailer and then we used wheel barrows to carry them along the path to where they were needed. Starting at the beginning meant we would then run over them with the wheelbarrow and so firm them into place. Where the ground was extra boggy, we did find that wet mud squeezed up as we laid down the stones. We had to walk up and down on it and add more stones in those areas until no more mud squeezing occurred. We met several people out in wellies who were very pleased to see this happening. It was good to know we were doing something that the local community would be very happy to see. It felt good to be wearing my RSPB fleece. We just about had enough stones to cover the full length to a satisfactory level. I was very happy to see the finished result.  

 

Pictures : Nearly finished and the finished path , end of day 2  

Aiden and I carried on the marsh harrier roost count this month. We were joined by one of the wardens this time, to help prepare us for a marsh harrier roost event we would be running one afternoon. Since last time more birds had joined the roost so we knew the count would be higher. Sunset was at about 4pm, so we headed out to Fen hide at about 3pm.  There were two or three marsh harriers already there when we arrived, so we followed them with binoculars to look for distinguishing features and to record the sex. We would also be looking out for the tell-tale white rump or barred tale of the hen harrier. At the beginning this was not too hard but as we lost the light it became harder and harder, until the very end when they became only silhouettes. It also became tricky to keep track of how many were coming in ( 6 at one point ) and to manage between using binoculars with a narrower view, whilst making sure to scan without binoculars to watch the whole sky. They occasionally fly up in groups before settling for the night so we try to scan the roost area often with binoculars to count how many we can see at once. They only flew up a few times in groups and I think we did get to see 10 in the air at one point. However hard we tried we couldn’t make any of them be hen harriers so a 0 was recorded for the hen harrier count for that evening. Our total marsh harrier count was 30. We heard that the next morning another volunteer had counted 36 leaving the roost at sunrise. Some may have snuck in without us noticing or arrived before we got there and immediately settled in for the night. A few days later we also heard that someone had reported a hen harrier at Fen hide, so fingers crossed for the next survey evening.  

For the marsh harrier roost event, Aiden and I prepared some places we could stop on the walking section and impart information or history about the reserve. For example, at the beginning we mentioned that the reception hide building stored the perishable goods before they were put on boats, or at the first pond dipping platform we explained how we could see the main stages of succession that we see on the reserve, reedbed, scrub and woodland. We were very lucky at the event that right at the start, at reception Aiden mentioned we often see an otter at reception broad. Then sure enough, a few minutes later, one of the attendees spotted one fishing in the broad and we all got a good look.  We got lucky again later too, as two otters swam about in the water in front of fen hide for a few minutes.  While sitting at fen hide we saw a lot of marsh harriers and even though we had mentioned several key places as observation points (e.g. it's near the orange crane), I did find it difficult to explain where birds were at times. “It’s just over the green trees” just doesn’t cut it. We also saw a rainbow and a sparrowhawk (again it was tricky to describe its position as it flew so quickly) and on the way back I was able to point out Jupiter, Saturn and Venus in the darkening sky.  It did get very cold so some people had left a bit early, but I think they all enjoyed it.   

Here is a marsh harrier coming into roost at sunset. 

 

 

Also with the visitor team, I was involved in setting up the exciting RobinRobin trail, a family trail with QR codes on the signs that can be used with smartphones. As part of the trail, we had to hide the characters for families to try and spot in the woodland. We may have hidden some too well to begin with, as early reports stated they could not find one or two of them, so we moved them to hopefully allow all of them to be found. I did watch the RobinRobin film too and thoroughly enjoyed it.  

 

Picture: Adrian and Aiden enjoying the trail with their finished sign. 

This month I must admit I have not seen as much and with the days getting so short there is a lot less time to be out and about with my camera.  

However, I did manage to get this shot of a bittern just after it had flown past fen hide. 

 

When we took out the old jetty we did find this fungi growing in the gaps. 

 

I popped along to Buckenham station to see the corvid roost.  The moon was also there.  

 

 

And I will definitely miss these characters. 

 

 

I have enjoyed writing these blogs and I hope you have enjoyed reading.  

I am a big fan of a cartoon strip, Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson, and the motto I stole from that and have used as my own is “The days are just packed”. At Strumpshaw they definitely have been. 

Bye for now!  

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