Friday, 4 December 2015

Dec 4th Buckenham Marshes & Postwick Village Hall

Strumpshaw staff and volunteers at Buckenham Marshes
I was at Buckenham Marshes today to join the staff and volunteers of Strumpshaw Fen for our Christmas get together. We had a short walk down to the hide by the river and back. Thanks to the mild winter we are having so far means that the wigeon and geese are not here in large numbers yet. The marshes were near empty of bird life this morning. We did see wigeon congregated on the river and ditches, while Taiga bean geese were seen grazing far into the distance of the marshy fields. A peregrine was sitting on a gate post and we had a stonechat on a bush alongside the path we were on. When we returned from our walk, we all got into cars and travelled to Postwick Village Hall for our Christmas meal.

Wigeon in the air
Canada Geese (and hybrid Barnacle x Canada goose)
Before lunch was served, Strumpshaw's site manager Tim Strudwick gave us a slideshow talk about the history of Strumpshaw Fen. This month is Strumpshaw Fen's 40th anniversary when it opened as a reserve.

In the beginning, Strumpshaw was a piece of land that constantly flooded. In this photo from 1910, what you are looking at is where the toilets are today (where the water is!). The buildings in this photo no longer exist.

Aerial photo of Strumpshaw Fen from 1946
Dr Martin George (left) and Wesley Key
 It wasn't until the 1970's when the idea of making this flooded land into a nature reserve came to light. It was then a man named Dr Martin George saw this piece of land and thought it would make a great reserve for wildlife. Together with Wesley Key, the then owner of the Strumpshaw Steam Museum, they bought a lease of the land for the RSPB and Strumpshaw Fen was born. Dr George also bought a cottage by the reserve and still lives there to this day.

In this photo, you can see the original plans of the reserve. Originally, they had wanted a path across the middle of the reserve with a hide, but this was later scrapped. Also notice that there is no trail along the western length of the river which is now the River Trail where the Tower Hide is and where the Lackford Run path meets.

Aerial photo of Strumpshaw Fen in its early years as a nature reserve

The 1980's saw a lot of management work in creating the lakes and reedbeds. Water pumps were used to shift the water across the reserve. In 1984, the original Tower Hide was built. It was made of wood and was very shaky in strong winds. It was later replaced in 2003 with a more sturdier model.

The original Tower Hide, 1984
The current Tower Hide, 2003
 In these early years, visitors had to meet a volunteer in a wooden hut. Eventually, they turned what is now the Reception Hide as the place where visitors pay their entry fee. Good thing too as I would never see anything over the reserve from that hut!

Marsh Harrier chicks
The reserve's first major milestone was the return of the marsh harriers. This species was extinct in the UK until the 1970's when they started returning by themselves. Strumpshaw was one of the first reserves to have marsh harriers successfully breed. In 2003, the first bitterns began to breed on the reserve too. Bittern numbers had crashed to near extinction in the 1990's, but now they have boomed out of the red and we have a steady population.   

It hasn't been all good news at Strumpshaw despite the success of marsh harriers, bitterns and otters. We have lost species such as lesser spotted woodpecker, turtle dove, willow tit and tree sparrow, all once common here now lost completely. Worst was still to come as we entered the new Millennium with the threat of rising sea levels. Salt water was entering the fen from the river and it was killing wildlife such as fish and dragonflies. We now check salt levels constantly and use our sluice system to drain it from the reserve. Mink was also a threat. As a non-native species, they kill much of the native species at an alarming rate, especially water voles. Traps were placed to capture them and though we still have mink on the reserve, there are now fewer of them around.

Aerial photo of Strumpshaw Fen today
So what about the future? After our Christmas meal, we had a Q&A to discuss just that. I learned that there are plans to replace Fen Hide, improve the toilet area as well as the paths. There will be more to educate the public and children especially about the wildlife on the reserve. Portable signs that will point out wildlife, like certain insect and plant species you may have missed (like the ones used at Minsmere) will hopefully be used in the near future. However, there are issues such as rising sea levels creating constant flooding and high salt levels in the water which we can not control. This could mean we could lose Strumpshaw as a fenland habitat, poisoned by the high salt levels. But whatever the future may bring, the staff and volunteers will keep it running as the place we know and love as long as possible for many years to come. So happy birthday Strumpshaw Fen! Here's to another 40 years and more!

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