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: Bryony Tuijl. This piece was originally published in the Eastern Daily Press.
We’re climbing higher and higher. I can’t see out of the windows and I’m not sure I want to. Over the noise of the engine I can see the instructors motioning to each other and we all begin to shuffle forward slowly. Before I know it I’m sat in the open doorway of the plane, my body leant forward. We’re thirty thousand feet in the air and a sea of clouds lies below me and beyond that, the very distant ground. We jump.
Skydiving was fun but it had been scheduled in my diary for months and I felt prepared. I knew exactly what I was going to be doing that day. There are easier and more effective ways to get in touch with your wild side than leaping out of a plane. The kind of wildness that thrives on spontaneity, the kind of wildness where anything can happen, the wildness that can only be found in nature.
I live and work as a Visitor Experience Intern on an RSPB nature reserve, Strumpshaw Fen, and every day is filled with the possibility of seeing something new and amazing. Just yesterday as I walked by a pond I saw the unmistakable dark and fluffy outline of a water vole perched amongst the reeds. I sat and looked at him; he looked back at me and then continued munching away. People often wait for hours by the pond hoping to catch a glimpse of this fuzzy little fellow. I felt very lucky, like I’d been let in on a well kept secret.
In my time here I’ve seen marsh harriers acrobating above the reeds, baby stoats darting around mischievously and bejewelled kingfishers skimming the surface of the broad. Swallowtail and silver wash fritillary butterflies have brushed my cheek on their fluttering journeys around the reserve and a hare has whisked past my legs in the wild flower meadows. I’ve watched the sun dip beneath the horizon and wash the sky moody purple and vibrant pink on warm summer evenings. I’ve stood in the woodland and immersed myself in the symphony of birdsong while watching a solitary treecreeper skip up the bark towards the canopy.
These precious moments have taken my breath away and I’ve felt my inner wildness roar in delight.
As a species we were once surrounded by nature but over the years we have become more isolated from our natural roots and this can have adverse effects on our health – both physically and mentally. It is estimated that one in four of us will experience mental health problems at some point in our lives. Fortunately, there is extensive evidence that spending time in nature can improve our mental health and general sense of wellbeing.
Becoming distant from the natural world means that precious moments like those I’ve experienced at Strumpshaw Fen are often out of our reach. It is time to rewild ourselves and reconnect with nature. Come and explore Strumpshaw Fen and rediscover your inner wildness and who knows, maybe the water vole will let you into his fascinating little world too?
Author Emily Kench
The knot is a medium sized dumpy shorebird. On the face of it, it’s nothing special, and its name appears just as plain.
Knot on The Wash, RSPB Snettisham. Photo by Andy Hay
But what’s in a name? Well this name is thought to be steeped in history. You may have seen a blog on this topic last week, but here is a more in depth look at the origin of the name knot.
King Canute (or King Cnut in Danish), a strapping Viking, ruled the North Sea Empire: Denmark and Norway and eventually England in 1016. During his reign across this widespread kingdom, the successful monarch was worshipped among obsequious courtiers as if he were a God.
To prove a point, as the result of the incessant flattery, King Canute headed to the shores of the North Sea where he set his throne. The incoming tide approached the grandiose royal seat. Used to dishing out the commands, the King ordered the intruding waves to halt; but even the King was unable to control the inevitable phenomena of the rise and fall of the waves.
The true motivations behind the actions of King Canute are a mystery. It is unknown whether he believed he had supernatural powers and was humiliated as a consequence, or as 12th-century English historian Henry of Huntingdon suggests, Canute was reprimanding his courtiers for holding him in such high esteem. In Huntingdon’s account, as the tide powered on wetting Canute’s feet, he spoke of secular power being incomparable to the supreme power of God: his humble protest simply an attempt to prove his earthly state.
So what does the tale of King Canute and the waves have to do with our unassuming knot?
Well, in Scandinavia, the King’s name was pronounced ‘Knud’ or ‘Knut’, a close variation of ‘knot’. These inconspicuous waders are thought to have inherited the name through their own inability to control the tides. Gathered in huge huddles on mudflats on The Wash in west Norfolk, it’s easy to see why. Even in their masses they look wholly vulnerable in the face of the rolling tide.
Flock of knot, photo by Andy Hay
Like Canute, knot ‘leap’ up on an encroaching tide in an attempt to keep their feet dry, creating spectacular clouds of weaving wings. Alone, the knot looks comical, but flying in the air with its own it oozes audaciousness, blending into a tangle of knot. Finally they relinquish, finding their feet again inland, above the tideline.
However, airborne is not how King Canute deemed them at their best. These stout knot have been termed ‘really excellent eating’ and many have claimed that they were a particular favourite of King Canute when fattened up and served with bread and milk, meaning they may have inherited their name from the King’s fondness of this food. In more recent times they remained a choice among old wildfowlers, given that they could bring down large numbers in a single shot.
Now thankfully, knot are no longer a sought after cuisine. Instead, thousands of us flock to see the knot partake in the wader spectacle at RSPB Snettisham on the west Norfolk coast: a site that is internationally important for knot and another 15 species.
Whilst we no longer need to dissuade people from dining on knot, we still need people to feel inspired to give knot and other nature a home.
Knot, photo by Andy Hay
We are currently in our final hours of crowdfunding (you can still donate until 11.59 pm on 13 August) to rebuild the hides lost at Snettisham in a storm surge back in 2013. A bigger, better, storm resilient hide will help to inspire future generations of nature lovers and make people feel passionate about protecting our wildlife here in Norfolk. To help us rebuild Snettisham hide, donate at crowdfunder.co.uk/snettishamhide. There are still exclusive rewards on offer and you can even name a knot!
Wader Watch at RSPB Snettisham
Friday 22 September, 6:45 am
Price: £7 adults £5 children (£1 discount for RSPB members)
Booking essential: 01485 210779
Take your place at the Wader Watch point in the company of our experienced guide and share the excitement of large numbers of waders taking to the air. Watch all the action as swirling black masses soar against the backdrop of The Wash. Move on to the hides and enjoy the chaos and drama that unfolds before your eyes as flocks of noisy birds find space in the lagoons to roost.
Author: Ellen Robson
Stuck for things to do with your summer holidays? There is a huge range of family friendly activities for you to try as part of the RSPB’s Wild Challenge. Completing challenges will earn you awards, so see if you can go for gold! You can sign up for free here to have a look at the full list, but below are just a few examples of the things you can do to help give nature a home, and have fun while doing it!
1. Build a bird bath
Help encourage nature in your own garden by making your own bird bath to allow our feathered friends a source of clean water to drink from and bathe in. They will be able to use this throughout the summer and for the rest of the year so is a great thing to do to encourage wildlife in any season. This doesn’t just benefit the birds, it will also allow your family to get a closer look at the local species which can be a really captivating experience for kids and adults alike. If you don’t have the time or materials to make your own bird bath, you can always buy one – the birds won’t be able to tell the difference!
Going on holiday to the seaside, or lucky enough to live nearby? Rockpooling is a great way to explore some of the more unusual wildlife you aren’t likely to see in your own garden. You can do this with no equipment at all - but having a net, bucket, and an ID sheet which can be downloaded from our website may make it a more educational experience. You might see anything, from starfish to sea anenomes. Rockpooling is bound to make a trip to the beach more wild, and can be done even if the weather isn’t perfect!
3. Shake a tree
Tree-beating allows you to investigate the minibeasts that would normally be hiding in the branches. Gently shaking a tree or bush branch onto a sheet will reveal some of the insects living in there. This is a really easy way to find a range of species in your area and learn all about the insects living in your own garden or the local park. Our spot-it sheet will help you to identify the many-legged friends you find.
4. Let it grow
A really simple way to encourage wildlife in your garden is to let the grass grow. This will mean one less chore for parents and more fun for the kids! Even if you don’t want to let your whole garden grow wild, a small patch of unruly grass can be great for wildlife, especially encouraging more insect species. You might even see some wildflowers in there. Longer grass will often increase biodiversity, and is always exciting to play in!
5. Make a compost heap
Our waste is wildlife’s treasure! You can make a compost heap for plant waste in your garden which insects can eat and recycle, turning it into fertiliser which you can use. Some species may also use your compost heap as a home – so it’s a win-win-win situation for you and the minibeasts in your garden! It’s also a great way to reduce the amount of your rubbish going to landfill.
Another thing you can do to get your kids more involved with nature is to look up your local RSPB wildlife explorers group. These groups are led by passionate volunteers who want to inspire future generations to love nature. They give a fantastic opportunity for children to meet like-minded friends and learn all about the environment around them.