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: Gemma Wells, RSPB Community Engagement Officer
The song of the skylark has inspired artists for generations. In 1881, English writer George Meredith penned The Lark Ascending, a soaring, lilting poem that imitates the rising flight and continuous trilling of a male skylark’s song.
He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake,
All intervolv’d and spreading wide,
Like water-dimples down a tide...
As up he wings the spiral stair,
A song of light, and pierces air
With fountain ardour, fountain play,
To reach the shining tops of day...
Composer and Cambridge graduate Ralph Vaughan Williams then took inspiration from this poem and its source material and premiered his orchestral version of The Lark Ascending in 1920. The fifteen minute-long piece follows in the form of both Meredith and the male skylark as it warbles, trills, crescendos to towering peaks and drops steeply back down, all in a heart-wrenching, pentatonic glory. No surprise then that Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending has repeatedly been voted the nation’s number one Desert Island Disc.
Vaughan Williams also gained inspiration from the East Anglian countryside. His composition In the Fen Country perfectly captures the stark, isolated and understated beauty of the Fens.
A skylark perched on a fence post with a caterpillar in its bill. Credit: Chris Gomersall (RSPB)
Sadly the wildlife that inspired artists like Meredith and Vaughan Williams, such as the skylark, are slowly disappearing from our countryside. Dramatic population declines in recent years make our tuneful skylark a species of great concern to conservationists. This is why the RSPB is developing and testing new wildlife-friendly farming methods to benefit bird species such as the skylark at our 180 acre Cambridgeshire farm, called ‘Hope Farm’.
Our hope is that the Cambridgeshire countryside will continue to inspire artists for generations to come!
To encounter the landscapes and wildlife that so fascinated artists like Meredith and Vaughan Williams, it’s only a short journey to the Ouse Valley. Farming practices employed by a network of fantastic farmers in the area mean that farmland birds and wildlife can be spotted easily, including the impressive flight of the famous skylark.
Author: Rachael Murray, Communications Officer, Eastern England Regional Office (EERO)
Everyone is taken by a different aspect of nature. Some quest to see as much of it as they can, ticking off myriad species as they go. Others are wedded to particular creatures, developing a strong allegiance in the form of sponsorships, cuddly toys, perhaps even taking a once in a lifetime adventure to spot them. I know people enraptured by the fluffy and others enthralled by the feathered. Me? I am quite simply enchanted by anything that grows in the fields, flowerbeds and forests around me.
In particular, at this time of year, I love the feeling of delighted surprise that I get when I first realise that the cherry blossom tree in my front garden is in bloom. In what feels like an instant, the tightly packed buds burst into frilly existence, like floral popcorn, signaling fresh life and new beginnings. Somehow my tree blossoming has become symbolic of the joyous potential held bud-tight, ready to unfurl in the months ahead.
Ask anyone about the nature moments that really fire them up and they’ll probably all say something different, however we are all united by the simple fact that whatever you love about nature, it has a hotline to our heart.
I feel soothed by the gentle green of buds and shoots, I feel a genuine optimism as the world fills with colour, slowly erasing the grey of winter and I feel hope as I look closely and see just how many creatures are enjoying the new growth as much as I do. Bees are filling their knees with pollen, the first few butterflies of the season are tentatively supping nectar from the brave early blooms and birds are busily house hunting amongst the branches.
For those of you, like me, craving a summer of growth, one of perfect things to get on with in the wildlife-friendly garden at this time of year is sowing seeds.
Wildlife Garden. Credit: Andy Hay (RSPB)
There's little more satisfying than poking a few seeds into some pots of compost (peat-free, of course!) and tending the seedlings as they emerge. How is there so much energy and knowledge packed into those tiny, lifeless packages?
The RSPB’s wildlife gardening expert, Adrian Thomas, gave me some tips on his favourite hardy annuals for wildlife to be sown outside directly into the flowerbed – he guarantees us that if we grow a good patch of these, come summer, the butterflies and bees will be on their way!
And if sowing from seed seems a bit too much, you can always head to the wildlife friendly plant section in your local garden centre and buy them fully grown!
Echium vulgare Blue Bedder: With short, crowded spikes of violet-blue flowers, magenta flushed when fading, and pink buds, this plant, also known as ‘viper’s bugloss’ is very attractive to pollinating insects.
Cosmos bipinnatus: Considered a half-hardy annual, although plants may reappear via self-sowing for several years. The cultivated varieties appear in shades of pink and purple as well as white and will flower through the summer and into autumn.
Cerinthe major: With blue-green leaves and tubular yellow and purple flowers, ‘honeywort’ is a winner with wildlife.
Phacelia tanacetifolia: In bloom, the ‘fiddleneck’ will reward you with an abundance of densely set soft blue or lavender-blue flowers through summer and autumn.
For more information on planting for wildlife, visit www.rspb.org.uk/homes.
Author: Rupert Masefield, Communications Officer, Eastern England Regional Office (EERO)
Last month in this column I wrote about the urban dawn chorus I enjoyed one morning as I made my way through the city to work. This month I find myself irresistibly drawn back to the subject of feathered songsters, this time to shed some light on nature’s sopranos, tenors and baritones.
The dawn chorus may sound like a frantic melee with the most beautiful voices with the birds competing to get their voice heard, but there is method in the madness and the singers know exactly when their slot is and if you listen regularly you will start to recognise certain species habitually starting before others. So, without further ado, here is a very brief guide that will hopefully help you start to identify who’s who in the choir:
Act one: robins and dunnocks
Act two: blackbirds, songthrushes and skylarks
Act three: chiff chaff, chaffinch, wood pigeon, and collared dove
Act four: blue tits, long tailed tit, great tit, goldcrest and tree sparrows
Chaffinch. Credit: Ray Kennedy (RSPB)
Dunnocks and robins are among the earliest to warm up: to hear the first act you’ll need to be in the stalls early as they start to sing about an hour before sunrise.
Blackbirds and song thrushes come hot their heels, probably because the ground is wetter in the morning so worms are more active and the ground is softer.
Finally, contributing to the crescendo, wrens, tits and warblers come in, with the tiny call of the goldcrest on the stage too. These later arrivals to the choral scene eat insects and are perhaps more sensitive to the coldness of dawn.
Unbeknown to many there is also an evening performance, with a chorus at dusk, but it’s much quieter, and it’s easier to hear birds like blue tits and tree sparrows. They sing in the morning too, but we are less likely to notice them among the cacophony!
Great tit. Credit: Grahame Madge (RSPB)
Guest performers and soloists:
Summer migrants join the chorus
As the breeding season approaches its peak, migrating birds like cuckoos, nightingales, turtle doves and warblers returning to this country for the summer will join the chorus of resident blackbirds, wrens, dunnocks and robins.
If you’re lucky enough to live in area with farmland, woodland or reedbed nearby, you might hear the unmistakeable songs of some of these traditional heralds of summer. Otherwise, an early morning visit to one of Norfolk’s many nature reserves is a great way to track down these more elusive songsters.
Male nightingales prefer to sing alone, turning their performance into an all-night after-show, singing until sunrise. They can’t rely on visual clues to attract a mate so their song is particularly important and they can’t risk it being lost among the other voices.
What’s all the noise about?
At this time of year, birds are in the market for a mate for the breeding season. Male birds establish a territory- an area they will defend against competing males of the same species- using their song both to stake their claim and to attract a female.
They are at their loudest early in the morning, which is not a good time to go foraging for food if you’re looking for insects and relying on sight to find them.
The louder your dawn chorus the more proud you can be of your efforts to give nature a home too. If you’re providing food, water and shelter, it is bound to make their voices as strong as possible!
Singing is hard work, so it is usually the fittest, best fed males who sing the loudest. In many cases, once a female has been serenaded the male will sing less often as his work is done.
Find a nature reserve near you to go and experience the dawn chorus: www.rspb.org.uk/reserves
Dawn chorus events on our Norfolk nature reserves:
Join one of our guided dawn chorus walks at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen or Titchwell Marsh nature reserves.
For details of these walks, including cost and to book (essential), please contact:
RSPB Strumpshaw Fen – 01603 715191 email email@example.com www.rspb.org.uk/strumpshawfen
RSPB Titchwell Marsh – 01485 210779 www.rspb.org.uk/titchwellmarsh