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Monthly Archives: January 2014
Yesterday our British Met Office announced an incredibly wet January in parts of Southern England. Before the month was over, ‘the southeast and central southern England region has already had its wettest January in records going back to 1910.’
The downpours have caused terrible floods. A year ago, we knew this was going to happen.
One of the worst hit areas is the Somerset Levels. The Levels are in southwest England, also called the West Country. This year some land has been underwater for weeks already. We see residents on the news, telling us that ‘the Levels flood, but not like this. Drainage systems aren’t being maintained! Pay for our ruined homes and we’ll move away!’
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The Softrack, a new-state-of-the-art cutting machine, is helping the RSPB to give wildlife a home in Blackloftands, the largest tidal reed bed in England.
The light and agile vehicle that is able to cut reed quickly and efficiently and can easily access the wettest areas at the heart of the reedbed. This means the RSPB is able manage the site more effectively, by creating open areas across the reedbed that benefit a huge range of wildlife including rare bitterns, bearded tits and water voles.
Pete Short, Humber Reserves Manager, says: “In the past we used a tractor with hay mower to cut the reed but the weight of the vehicle meant that it sank in the wetter parts of the reserve. This meant we had to resort to using a heavy-duty strimmer called a brush cutter, which was hard physical work and pretty miserable as we used to get very wet and cold.
“With its caterpillar rollers and lightweight design, the Softrack can get anywhere in the reedbed and cut about four times as much reed as a team of three people using brush cutters. It is saving us a lot of time, money and energy.”
As well as benefitting plants and animals, the RSPB also plans to use the Softrack to harvest reed for use as a low carbon fuel. Funded by landfill tax charity WREN, the Softrack is part of Back to the Future, a five-year RSPB project that will restore wetlands to their former glory and manage them sustainably for wildlife through modern conservation techniques.
Over the past few centuries, large areas of the Humberhead Levels’ important wetlands have been lost due to drainage schemes, which have had a devastating effect on wildlife.
Enjoyed this post about Hedge Court Nature Reserve, which is close to Gatwick airport and organises informative strolls during the summer.
On the airport run collecting my brother from Gatwick. A wet day (surprise, surprise), but one which would not detract too much from a quick visit to nearby Weirwood Reservoir, a diversion I had done once before in the early-autumn. Then, I had enjoyed watching Green Sandpiper probing in the shallows, admired the extravagancies of the Mandarin drakes and glimpsed a Kingfisher from the birdhide as it sped across the water. I had seen a few Teal already gathering back then and anticipated a fair gathering of winter wildfowl to be viewed from the road and hide. This may have indeed proved the case had I actually managed to make it there. The inevitable hold-up on the drive from South Essex and the perhaps also inevitable missed turning in my search for the reservoir, left me without the time to get there and then back in time for the airport pick up.
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More than half a million people are expected to be watching their garden birds the weekend (25-26 January), for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch.
It’s the biggest wildlife survey in the world and this year participants are being asked to log some of the other wildlife they see in their gardens too, including deer, squirrels, badgers, hedgehogs, frogs and toads.
Also new for 2014, is the RSPB’s LIVE bird counter, making it even easier to take part. The counter can be accessed from the RSPB website and doesn’t even need to be downloaded – simply take your laptop, tablet or smartphone to the window, enter the birds you see as you see them, while the clock counts down your hour.
Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director says: ”Winter has felt more like autumn for many of us and this could have a significant impact on the number of birds in our gardens.
“Birds come into gardens for food when they can’t find it in the wider countryside but if insects and berries continue to be available long into winter, numbers visiting gardens may be down. The Big Garden Birdwatch will be really interesting this year and will be a good indication of just how much the weather affects their behaviour.
“The key thing for the RSPB is that even if you feel you don’t have as many birds in your garden compared to normal, we still desperately need your results. We will be able to compare results to other mild winter years and compare regional trends, so if you don’t see many birds, we still need to know, it’s really useful information.
“The more people that take part, the greater our understanding of the threats and the solutions will be.”
Starlings hit an all time low in the 2013 Birdwatch with their numbers sinking by a further 16 per cent from 2012. Numbers of house sparrows, which are of high conservation concern, dropped by 17 percent in gardens compared to 2012, whilst numbers of bullfinches and dunnocks were down by 20 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.
The data gathered on the mammal and amphibian species will be shared with conservation partners so they can add it to their own records and will be used to help the RSPB tailor its advice on giving nature a home so people can help their wild visitors nest, feed and breed successfully.
To take part, people are asked to spend just one hour at any time of the Big Garden Birdwatch weekend noting the highest number of each bird species seen in their gardens or local outside space at anyone time. They then have three weeks to submit their results to the RSPB, either online or in the post.
Participants don’t have to actually count the other species like hedgehogs and frogs during the birdwatch hour; just tell the RSPB whether they have ever seen them in their gardens, at any time of year.