You will find out about all the exciting stuff going on with the RSPB in the east of the UK. We cover our sites in the following counties: Norfolk, Suffolk, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, and some of our great Lincolnshire ones. So if you are if you have never heard of the Strumpshaws and Snettishams or Stour Estuary or Sutton Fens here is you chance.
Author: Sarah Osborn
At first glance, frogspawn floating in a pond can have a slightly alien appearance. But looking closer at the black dots suspended in clear gelatinous orbs, soon to emerge as wriggling tadpoles, I can’t help but smile at how amazing nature is.
Whilst most people are familiar with the lifecycle of a frog, watching it unfold right in front of your eyes is enthralling. There is something magical about seeing the little tadpoles gradually transform, bit by bit, into adult frogs as the days pass.
And what a great way to get youngsters enthralled by wildlife! During the spring, this incredible drama is playing out in parks and gardens the length and breadth of the county in full squelchy, Technicolor glory.
You have to look carefully into the depths to see clouds of spawn; then the resulting froglets are many in number, easy to spot and incredibly cute! Baby frogs will soon be appearing perched at a pond near you, their proud posture suggesting their delight at having made the leap from black dot to fully functioning amphibian.
Female frogs lay an amazing 2000 eggs every season, but only a tiny fraction of them survive to become adult frogs. And the challenges for our amphibian friends don’t stop there. These days, adult frogs are struggling to find shelter in our neighbourhoods and countryside, and we have seen their numbers dramatically decline in the UK in recent years.
To keep this miniature wildlife spectacle alive in your neighbourhood, why not consider giving a frog a home this spring? There are lots of different ways you can help provide them with a much needed home and a meal, from creating ponds and log piles to growing patches of long grass in your gardens and parks. You don’t have to do all the hard work, as frogs are happy hopping from garden to garden in search of all that they need, as long as you make sure you’ve provided a little hole in your fences to allow them passage.
Common Frog. Credit: Eleanor Bentall (RSPB)
Whatever you do for frogs will be appreciated by a whole host of other garden wildlife, providing you with many more mini wildlife spectacles in years to come!
To find out about how you can give a frog a home on your patch, visit www.rspb.org.uk/homes.
Author: Rupert Masefield, Communications Officer, Eastern England Regional Office (EERO)
Some of my most vivid memories from my childhood are of seemingly endless hours and days spent playing in and exploring nature in the garden at my grandparents’ house. Here, together with my younger brother and assorted cousins and friends, I had many of my first encounters with all kinds of creatures in what, to my young eyes, was a veritable wonderland for wildlife. There were frogs hidden in damp nooks near the pond, where I learned about the amazing life-cycle that sees tadpoles emerge from the submerged spawn and transform as they grow into adult frogs and leave the water for the first time; and all manner of beetles, bugs, woodlice, spiders and other captivating creepy-crawly invertebrates living in the foliage, amongst the leaf-litter and in the soil.
Years later (let’s not go into to how many years), I found myself on one spring afternoon at Minsmere nature reserve another wildlife wonderland for the many people of all ages who visit the reserve to enjoy close encounters with the creatures that live there. Standing on the boardwalk over the shallow water of the Island Mere, surrounded by reedbed and bathed in the warm afternoon spring sunshine, a series of low, mournful notes reached my ears and brought back a memory from those long-but-not-lost days spent as a wildlife explorer in my grandparents’ garden.
Back in that garden, not far from the pond where the frogs laid their spawn, there was a giant ornamental glass bottle sat into a recessed brick alcove. Needless to say, our intrepid gang of garden explorers, because that is what we were, saw this as an opportunity to compete to see who could make the loudest noise by blowing across the mouth of this bottle. The trick was to get the angle just right and not blow too hard, or you got an echoing raspberry, hilarious, but not what we were after. Occasionally, to our delight, one of us would manage to get everything spot on to make a sound like a foghorn that would resonate around the little chamber the bottle sat in and almost deafen the lot of us. The adults in the house were less than delighted, apparently the sound travelled well, and would put a stop to it when it got too much, but there was always the pond!
It was the same sound I was hearing all those years later at Minsmere. I didn’t know it at the time, but we had been imitating the call of the bittern in that garden and now I was standing listening to a ‘booming’ male bittern in real life. There were no bitterns in the garden at my grandparents’ (apart from us), but the time we spent there certainly helped to develop the fascination with nature the sends a tingle down my spine when I hear them today.
Bittern among reeds. Credit: Andy Hay (RSPB)
It is an evocative sound and one that today can be heard not only at Minsmere, but in reedbeds around the country. Now is the perfect time of year to get out there a go in search of the booming bitterns, and I would encourage anyone with an interest in nature to do so and take your kids or grandkids with you!
Learn more about bitterns at www.rspb.org.uk/bittern
Where to hear (and if you’re lucky see) bitterns
In Norfolk, RSPB Strumpshaw Fen in The Broads and Titchwell Marsh nature reserve in North Norfolk.
In Suffolk, RSPB Minsmere on the Suffolk Coast and Lakenheath Fen.
Find an RSPB reserve near you where you can go in search of bitterns: www.rspb.org.uk/reserves
Bittern gliding across a reed bed. Credit: John Bridges (RSPB)
Author: Rachael Murray, Communications Officer, Eastern England Regional Office (EERO)
On a short walk during my lunch break last week, I was delighted to spot my first bumblebee of the season. Not only is it such a joy to watch their unfeasible flight, all big furry body and tiny wings, they are usually one of the first insects to appear in spring, reminding us that, just as our patience is wearing thin with this interminable chill in the air, warmer weather is on the way.
I’ve always found something inherently jolly about bumblebees. Their soft appearance evokes in me memories of cheerful, fuzzy characters from my childhood. Even their name has a child-like ring to it.
Of all my early wildlife memories, bumblebees feature highly. I recall many a summer day spent outdoors playing mini conservationist, frequently stumbling across hungry bees and other insects in need of a pick me up. My garden adventures were often punctuated with a desperate race against time to find a jam jar lid, some tissue paper and a drop of sugary water to coax a tired bee back from the brink. The utter satisfaction I felt when I returned to my DIY bee feast to find that the creature had eaten its fill and taken flight to continue meandering amongst our flower beds, stuffing its knees with pollen along the way, is something that remains with me to this day.
Cuckoo bumblebee. Credit: Grahame Madge (RSPB)
As an adult, I still consider myself a fully accredited insect paramedic, and as the days get warmer, I never leave the house without an old boiled sweet about my person, ready to be transformed into emergency nectar should the need arise!
With all their childhood charm, bumblebees make the perfect creatures to get youngsters inspired by wildlife. These sizeable, bright creatures live in large colonies, so can be very easy to spot and, best of all, they serve a very useful purpose in our gardens and across the wider countryside.
Many of our bee species are declining globally. And whilst it’s always bad news when wildlife is in trouble, bees are estimated to pollinate around a third of our food crops, including strawberries, tomatoes and more, so if the bees disappear, so does our food.
We can all help bees by growing flowers and shrubs in our gardens and parks that are full of nectar and pollen, to give them a rich feeding ground throughout the year.
Bees seem to have a thing for purple, attracted by carpets of aubretia, spotted deadnettle and delicate snake’s-head fritillary. In the summer, they love the vibrant purple pom poms of alliums and are never happier than when they’re collecting pollen from deep inside bell-shaped foxglove blooms. It helps to keep bees well fed right into autumn, so whilst you are out planting, why not pop in a few single-flowered dahlias and a clump of ivy to ensure the bee buffet continues into the latter end of the year?
To discover more ways to help bumblebees thrive, visit www.rspb.org.uk/homes.
Get inspired to garden for bumblebees and other wildlife
Nestled deep in the heart of Constable Country, the RSPB’s first dedicated wildlife garden is open for business again to provide you with all the inspiration you will need to transform your green patch into a wildlife oasis!
For those of you who haven’t yet paid a visit, the garden is situated in the beautiful and historic hamlet of Flatford, where John Constable used to paint. With flower borders full of nectar and pollen, a small wildflower meadow buzzing with life, a young apple orchard, woodland gardens and a kitchen garden, it is designed to teach and inspire people to help wildlife in their own gardens.
The RSPB will be holding frequent events and activities for adults and families at the garden, and hidden amongst the blooms you’ll find friendly staff and volunteers on hand to answer all your wildlife gardening questions!
Between 27 March and 3 November, the garden is open seven days a week, 10.30am to 4.30pm.
For more information visit www.rspb.org.uk/flatford.
RSPB's Flatford Wildlife Garden Suffolk. Credit: Andy Hay (RSPB)