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.
I have always loved nature, ever since I was little. Hours wasted moving frogs from a rust and dirt mingled wheelbarrow to the pond, so obviously created for these very creatures. The place they were meant to be, enclosed in those four slab-paved sides, whether they liked it or not. There was nothing quite like the coldness of their skin on mine on warm spring days, and the feel of their quickened heartbeat on the palm of my hand. I knew, even if they didn’t, that I was doing them a favour. Saving them. Giving them a new lease of life.
This overwhelming urge to catch frogs stayed with me well into my teenage years. Even now I have to resist the idea of slimy skin on skin. I didn’t know of any peers that shared this fascination and I certainly wasn’t going to shout about it, it wasn’t something you discussed at state school.
Until one English lesson, when laid out in front of us was Seamus Heaney’s poem, Death of a Naturalist. I had never been interested in poetry before. Too abstract for me. But here, Heaney captured the beauty of my favourite amphibian, in the most disgusting way, true to their form. I loved it. I was there, with him, in the flax dam filling ‘jampotfuls of the jellied / Specks to range on window sills at home, / On shelves at school, and wait and watch until / The fattening dots burst, into nimble / Swimming tadpoles.’
Sadly for Heaney, his obsession with ‘gross bellied frogs’ didn’t last through later adolescence, and the naturalist within him died, disgusted by the froggy form. A reality we see all too often in tweenagers and teenagers who somewhere down the line lose that connection with nature.
The most beautiful thing about the poem though, was how Heaney had managed to capture everything I felt in so few words. I didn’t have to wade through it like a novel, this simple construction was one of the most relatable things I had read. Heaney had fixed this concept and his poem in his heart and mind, and in turn successfully shared his ideas with others, capturing their hearts and minds.
Each of us has a creative side, ideas, and relationships with places and nature, and it is so important that we take the time to express them. Writing is not only cathartic, but rewarding. Even if your work isn’t published, it will always be personal and something to be proud of.
The RSPB, together with The Rialto, BirdLife International and the Cambridge Conservation Initiative are encouraging more people to write poetry in their latest poetry competition, themed around ‘Nature and Place’.
The competition is important in two ways: entries raise money for nature, providing vital conservation funding wherever it is most needed, additionally, everyone who sits down to write a poem for the competition, who then carries it with them, thinking about it, crafting and re-drafting before finally submitting, is working with some part of the natural world.
If the craft alone is not enough of a draw, there is a fantastic selection of prizes on offer, including: 1st prize – £1000, 2nd prize – £500, 3rd prize – a place on a creative writing course at and generously donated by the Tŷ Newydd Writing Centre, and finally two additional prizes including a personal tour with Mark Cocker of his most cherished wildlife places in East Anglia, and a personal tour with Nick Davies of his beloved Wicken Fen to learn about his research there.
Poems must be submitted by March 1st 2018 and for more information visit www.therialto.co.uk/pages/nature-poetry-competition-2018/
Top tips for writing the perfect poem:
Get outside with a pen and paper: spending time outside, whether it’s just in your garden, or sat on a park bench with a coffee and some homemade sandwiches during your lunch break, is the perfect way to feel inspired. Jot down whatever comes into your head: you never know what you might want to use later!
Consider what nature and place means to you: Does nature offer you a sense of calm? Maybe there’s a certain place that’s your sanctuary? Everyone associates certain places and the nature that inhabits them with memory and emotion.
Don’t forget people too: We want to hear about animals and plants, but we also want to read about human nature within nature.
Nature and place can be anywhere: local or global! Some of us will feel inspired by the blackbird in our own back garden, others may take inspiration from elephants in Africa. Previous winners have written about everything from cow pats, to Panamanian golden frogs, to black kites in Delhi, to a single marsh thistle. Competition judges will give a wide interpretation of the theme ‘nature and place’.
Show the Love for Halvergate Marshes
Mark Smart - Senior Site Manager of Berney Marshes and Breydon Water
The impact of climate change
Whether you’re a climate change sceptic or completely accept it, we must all appreciate that our weather systems are changing and becoming increasingly unpredictable.
Gone are the balmy summer days I remember as a child and teenager in the 80s, and gone are the predictable, traditional English seasons and their associated rain fall patterns that controlled my working life on farms throughout the early 90s and in more recent times for the RSPB as Site Manager of Berney Marshes.
If we want to maintain our reserves to provide high quality habitats for our existing wetland species, and create new habitat for the species that we are expecting to gain in the future, then we have to make changes. We also have to change our approach to water management.
Drone image of Halvergate Marshes works - Jeff Kew (RSPB)
At RSPB reserve Berney Marshes, in the heart of the Norfolk Broads, we have been trying to think outside the box, developing water management systems that will not only protect the reserve from times of drought, but also ensure the provision of water to one of the UK’s largest areas of wet grassland, Halvergate Marshes.
Berney marshes is a 700ha grassland site that sits within the 3500ha of Halvergate marshes. The ability to hold and manage water is one of the biggest challenges we face in the management of this amazing landscape.
Water is the life blood, the very elixir that draws in wildlife through the spring and winter months, but it is becoming difficult to achieve the levels that are needed in terms of quality, quantity and at the right time of year.
Without water, the area would not be able to support approximately 300 pairs of breeding waders or the 100,000 wintering waterfowl, or provide local farmers with safe grazing for their cattle and enable them to deliver their High Level Stewardship commitments.
Over the past 2 years, we have been working closely with the Water Management Alliance (on behalf of the Broads Internal Drainage Board) and the Environment Agency to design and build a water storage system that will overcome some of these problems as well as create new habitat for our expected new colonists.
Drone image of Halvergate Marshes - Jeff Kew (RSPB)
The current situation
Two sides of the area are surrounded by tidal rivers. More and more salt water is being pushed up these river systems from Great Yarmouth, meaning it is increasingly difficult to find points in the tide when fresh water can be drawn in through the main sluice onto the marshes.
When the sluice was first located on the River Bure in pre-Victorian times, it was never anticipated that salt water would start being pushed further and further up the system, reducing the time that fresh water was available.
But this is what we are seeing today. The time window available to let water onto the site has dramatically reduced, particularly in the summer when river flows are at their lowest, allowing the salt water to be pushed up the river systems.
Map showing the new fleet scheme. The blue line and red route (which depicts the new fleet route) show the existing main water supply. The green line shows the lower level drain. Blue hatch demonstrates new semi-natural washland, and the buff areas are existing RSPB managed land.
Cue the innovative new design
Thanks to the construction of our innovative new design, more water can be stored in a purpose-built washland right in the heart of Halvergate Marshes, all on RSPB land. This area, approximately 80ha, (equivalent to 80 football pitches) will be filled up when water quality is suitable through the winter and spring months, then gradually fed across Halvergate Marshes when required. With time, this semi natural washland will develop to support a rich habitat of wetland species which might include include long-legged colonists such as crakes, herons, spoonbills, black-winged stilts and ibises.
New channel being excavated
The beauty of this design is that we are using the natural contours of the ground to create a network of ‘islands’ surrounded by shallow water. The water will come and go as water is let on and off the washland into the surrounding grassland. This will ensure that ditch communities full of important aquatic plant, invertebrates and mammals are supported on the reserve and across the rest of the marshes and ensure local farmers can continue to safely graze the marshes with livestock as they have done for centuries, without the risk of the animals becoming poisoned by salt water.
When fresh water is available at the sluice it will be let in to refill the area, thus creating an ever-changing dynamic system. The partnership of the WMA engineering expertise coupled with the RSPB wetland management and creation expertise has ensured a design that will work for everyone. It won’t be the standard reservoir type design with high bank holding back large volumes of water back. It will take us back to what the area might have looked like pre-1400 before the Dutch drained the marshes to convert them to grazing marshes.
One of 6 aqueducts that have been installed
12,000 cubic meters of clay have been excavated to enable the construction of 6 aqueducts, creating 8km of new bank, and 4km of new channel ranging from 7-15m wide, allowing us to hold an additional 60,000 cubic meters of water! By the time the work is completed 6 new scrapes will have been dug to provide material for the new banks and 12 new water control structures will have been installed.
All of this will have been carried out with little to no impact on the native wildlife, as demonstrated by the breeding waders who had their best year in 2017, but to reduce the impact on some of the specialist ditch species such as water voles, large scale mitigation works were and continue to be carried out before the main engineering works begun.
Water vole mitigation prior to the main work starting
All in all this has been a huge project, but one that I am proud to say will ensure a good water supply for years to come.
James Robinson, Regional Director Eastern England
This piece first appeared in the Eastern Daily Press on 31st January 2018.
What will you be doing this Valentine’s Day? Romantic dinner? Trip to Paris? Buying a last-minute gift? Indulging in a takeaway with friends?
Chances are, you’re not going to be dwelling on the state of the planet. It’s not a topic that generally comes up on the most romantic day of the year. More likely you’ll be thinking about your loved ones: the time spent together, the most meaningful ways to show your appreciation for each other.
We know how to show our love for our nearest and dearest, but how do we show our love for places that shape us? For that nature that we are part of? For the water, air and soil that give us life? For the landscapes that define us?
Recently I visited one of the most important landscapes here in the east, a landscape I feel very passionate about. Halvergate marshes lies in the heart of the Norfolk Broads, hugging the Acle Straight from both sides for miles. It’s an engineered landscape which now holds the title of region’s largest grazing marsh; a source of freshwater, livelihood, and a wealth of wildlife.
All of which is threatened by the impacts of climate change. Sea levels are rising and the regularity of tidal surges is predicted to increase, having major consequences on inland landscapes, like Halvergate.
The River Bure is a source of freshwater for Halvergate marshes. However, rising sea levels and rising high tides are pushing more and more saltwater down the River Bure, a problem exacerbated by reduced rainfall, another predicted consequence of a changing climate in the east. Less rainfall means less water to hold back the salt, resulting in fewer opportunities to move freshwater from the river onto the marshes during spring and summer.
A supply of freshwater is needed throughout the summer at Halvergate to provide a home for rare and important freshwater plants and invertebrates, as well as the essential ditch systems which act as ‘wet fencing’ and allow traditional grazing – a practice enshrined in the culture of the Broads - to continue.
It goes without saying that overcoming climate-induced threats is a challenge, but it’s not impossible. It starts with dedication, passion, commitment, and imagination – all the ingredients for love, which create a solution.
Working with the Water Management Alliance on behalf of the Broads Internal Drainage Board, local landowners, and with funding from the Environment Agency, together we have created a scheme that will ensure freshwater is always available in this important landscape. A new four-kilometre watercourse – known as a ‘Higher Level Carrier’ - leading from the River Bure will allow freshwater to be stored and used for farming and wildlife.
It will be made from clay and enable about 60,000 cubic metres of freshwater to be stored at any time. When freshwater is available (when there is no salt adjacent to the inlet sluice on the River Bure) it allows a lot more water to be let in and stored ready for times when we can’t let more water in because it’s too salty. This will offer a reliable supply of freshwater, especially in times of drought or flood, supporting and protecting freshwater species and wet grazing practices and ultimately allowing the marshes to adapt to climate change in the future. As if the project couldn’t be any more innovative, the clay used to form the carrier has been sourced from RSPB-managed fields to create shallow lagoons for nesting waders. A combination of this shallow-flooded wetland and a series of natural islands is perfect for long-legged birds like crakes, herons, spoonbills and wading species such as black-winged stilts, which are expected to move to the UK as climate change makes their current habitat unsuitable.
If we are to keep special places like Halvergate marshes safe and sound, we need to act now, so that habitats have time to develop and become suitable. This will require more innovative work from us, other conservation organisations and governments. However, it also begins with us.
To influence governments, businesses and organisations we need to start the conversation. We need to show our dedication, passion, commitment and imagination in saving places, people and species from climate change that are important to us. We need to show the love.
So this Valentine’s Day, take some time to think about the people and places that are dear to you. Join in with the Climate Coalition’s ‘Show the Love’ campaign. Make a green heart. Wear it with pride. Start a conversation. Show the world that you care.