February, 2014

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Natures Home magazine uncovered

Behind the scenes at the RSPB magazine and much much more...
  • A Helping Hand for Nature.


    A little over a week ago I had the pleasure of being shown around Alvecote Wood, a small area of ancient woodland near my home in Tamworth. The woodland is owned by the husband and wife team of Stephen Briggs and Sarah Walters, and I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah personally to show me around the woodland. A fellow wildlife photographer, and conservationist, Sarah was a fountain of knowledge and really opened my eyes to the work that is involved with managing land such as this. Before Sarah and Stephen took over ownership of the land in 2007, it is suspected that very little had been done in terms of management for the last twenty years, and in light of recent debates regarding rewilding and peoples involvement with natural spaces, I thought this would prove to be a great topic for this week’s blog entry. If you have any thoughts on rewilding, or the management of natural spaces, then please comment below!

    Sarah started off my visit to the wood with a chance to get some great shots of the numerous birds feeding on the bird feeders that are set up there. Blue tits, great tits, nuthatches, robins, and a nearby woodpecker were there in full force, and it was great to watch them come and go to feed. All in all a great introduction to Alvecote Wood!

     Ed Marshall. A blue tit was making the most of the mess being left behind (bottom) by those fighting for food above (top)!

    As we walked around the woodland, Sarah pointed out the various areas of the woodland that had received a great deal of attention by volunteer groups. Dense thickets of hazel had to be routinely coppiced to make space for the trees to regenerate effectively, and a vast expanse of holly bushes had recently been cut back to allow light to reach the woodland floor around it. Had this been left to continue in this state, then saplings would struggle to seed successfully meaning younger trees would not be present to provide additional habitat in the event of older trees dying, or becoming damaged as so many have been in recent adverse weather conditions. With the holly now cleared and more light reaching the floor of the woodland, it will prove to be ideal for woodland plants such as blue bells to grow, and hopefully see new oak saplings begin to take hold. What I most impressed by, however, was the consideration of canopy dwelling animals such as squirrels and potentially dormice. Great care had been taken to ensure that the tree canopy was connected throughout the area in which the holly had been removed to allow safe passage of these mammals should they need it. I can only hope that they find evidence of this hard work paying off in the near future!

    Sarah also showed me the tiered ponds that had been created, fed by a small stream of water that ran down through the woodland. They were tiered in order to allow the silt to settle in the first pond, leaving the lower ponds comparatively free of sediment, ideal for the growth of various aquatic plants that would prove useful for various insect and amphibian species. There were two more ponds located in Betty’s Wood, a new 9 acres of land that bad been purchased and managed in order to encourage a greater diversity of wildlife. One pond had saplings planted on its south facing side, specifically to cast shade over it, whereas the other was left open to allow various aquatic plant species to grow thus creating two different habitats. The thought behind such work was incredible, and it didn’t stop there. The newly purchased land in which these two ponds were located had numerous new trees planted, including willow, alder, and the side of the field nearest the original woodland site had been left clear to allow new oak seedlings to take hold, spreading out from the already existing oaks. Within this expanse of sapling growth, areas had been left clear to make space for wild flower meadows, an addition that I believe will be very much appreciated by the areas resident honey bees; one man-made hide is present on the edge of this new land, though Sarah reports that there are others within the woodland itself, hopefully suggesting that pollination of newly planted trees and plants will be very successful.

     Ed Marshall. The old oak trees of Alvecote Wood had already managed to result in new oak saplings seeding on the near side of Betty's Wood, which were now marked and protected to encourage their growth.

     Ed Marshall. Sapling trees cover a great deal of the 9 acres of Betty's Wood, with grassy clearings for the development of wild flower meadows.


    On the return through Alvecote Wood, Sarah pointed out areas of the dense bramble that had been left untouched in order to provide suitable nesting sites for the various woodland birds, and even talked about sighting of muntjac deer seeking cover within it. On the whole, Alvecote Wood was a fantastic place , and gave a genuine feel of excitement as to what will be happening with the woodland over the coming years. I am very thankful for being shown around by Sarah, and I hope to see it expand further, providing an even greater range and area of habitat for a multitude of species. It is a true haven for wildlife, and it is all thanks to the hard work and dedication of the people involved.

    Are there conservation areas such as this where you live? Do you think that they are doing a great job, or should it be left to its own natural devices? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think!

  • The UK's Most Elusive Species

    A press release came in to the team at Nature’s Home magazine last week detailing the ten most elusive species in the UK and it got us thinking, have any of our readers seen these species out in the wild for themselves? The report was the result of data collected from the general public, but surely our dedicated members of the RSPB would result in a much higher percentage of us having seen some of these species, so we want you to let us know! Top of the list as the most elusive species sighting in the UK was the nightjar with only 4% of the UK population spotting one in the wild, and the nightjar was joined by other rarities such as the pine marten which has been seen by 5% of us (which doesn't even  include Sir David Attenborough!), and the golden eagle with just 9% of us seeing them in the wild. Other species in the list include the stoat (16%), otter (17%), cuckoo (22%), slow worm (25%), adder (29%), raven (30%), and kingfisher (34%). Let us know if you’re one of the few who have seen one or more of these species in the wild by commenting on this post below!

     Ed Marshall. The kingfisher is one of the few species from the report that I myself have managed to see and photograph in the wild here in the UK. Though I'm sure many of you out there have seen much more!

     Ed Marshall. The otter pictured here is a captive individual. Although they have made a comeback in recent years, with them now being found in every county throughout England, they still remain one of the more elusive species to see in the wild.

    The reason that otters are still such a rare sighting in the UK, and for that matter why I think the results of such studies should be taken with a little pinch of salt, comes down to a number of things really. Most importantly of which I think it is because they are more active at night, and as such it requires a true dedication to seeing them in the wild if you hope to catch a glimpse. This said, it is of course possible to see them in the day if you know where to go, I always find a well-managed animal sanctuary can guarantee a sighting (though this is of course cheating!)

    The golden eagle is considered the third most elusive species in the UK, with only 9% of those asked saying they had seen them in the wild. Yet there are similar points to make about these statistics. Golden Eagles are typically found soaring amongst the Scottish mountains and surrounding areas which isn't exactly where a great number of people will find themselves, unless they really plan on seeing them in the wild. The low percentage of people having seen them therefore isn't surprising to me and the same applies for nightjars. As their name might suggest, you are more likely to spot them around dusk and of a night, something that requires a certain amount of dedication by whoever wishes to see them. Even in daylight you would need the trained eyes of an expert to spot them on account of their amazing camouflage! The only time I have ever seen one was when I was on a 6 week expedition in Bolivia, so I don’t really feel like it counts for my UK species list…

     Andy Hay (rspb-images.com). A rare view of a nightjar, and one that illustrates the wonderful camouflage of this bird.

    With all this said, it is important to remember that these species should be at the top of our priority when it comes to conservation. Yes they are elusive, and this can be down to certain inherent factors to do with their behaviour or ecology, but let's not let these wonderful species reach the point where we are at risk of not seeing them in the wild here in the UK. So see how you compare to the rest of the general public, and see if this gives you the itch to get out and spot some of the UK's more elusive species!

  • A blow out in Kent

    I was up all night on Valentine's Night. The frighteningly damaging gales were causing havoc outside and I've been a bit wary of strong winds since I saw my Mum's washing blowing off the line when I was a kid. I got very upset that it was lost forever! As the bedroom wall started to creak as the wind hit 60-70 mph, I was seriously worried about what I'd find in the morning. 

    My mind was racing with thoughts of losing my favourite cherry tree in the garden, nestboxes and insect homes blown away, or the chimney falling on my car, but as it was the paper-thin fence that I've been propping up between my neighbour finally gave up the ghost and it was smashed to smithereens. No excuse this time for a non-repair by my neighbour! It was terrible to see the damge that occurred across the UK and the very sad  loss of life, so I counted myself very lucky.

    Early riser

    With a sleepless Friday night, Sunday morning's jaunt down to Hythe in Kent to see a Chinese pond heron - a potential first for the UK, but an also equally possible escapee from a zoo - meant it was a particularly rude awakening at 4 am to get to my birding buddy's Ade's house. I'm getting too old for that sort of malarkey!

    We'd toyed with going to see the amazing yellow-rumped warbler found on the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch, but chose the heron as a good day beckoned at RSPB Dungeness, close to Hythe. As it was, the heron didn't appear (making it easy for us to dismiss it as an escaped bird...) and Ade managed to not only blow a tyre, but also shatter the wheel completely after a drain came up in Hythe. Note to self, stay away from Hythe in future...

    "Dunge" was a bit cruel to us to start with as we spent two hours trying to locate the wintering Hume's yellow-browed warbler without success and missed a glaucous gull, but two black-throated divers together on the new diggings, right next to the road were a superb treat - absolute stunners, even in their juvenile black and white. We finished the day in style by connecting with a penduline tit in the reedbed at Hooker's Pits and timed our arrival back at the new diggings to see the glossy ibis fly past on its way to its roost. I loved the letter in the current Nature's Home about the glossy ibis seen in manchester by reader Peter Dagnall and it was nice to get in on the action and see my first of the winter.

    Black-throated diver by Mike Langman (check out his work in Dominic Couzens' Secret Lives in Nature's Home) -  stunning in summer, pretty fine in winter too.

    The "ready runner" tyre that we'd been pushing our luck with on the pot-holed roads at Dunge managed to get us home too, so a definite day of two halves. The came a body blow as we learned that the yellow-rumped warbler looked to have departed on Sunday night, so we wouldn't get to see it this coming weekend. I was so pleased for the family who found this rare bird - especially after our feature in the current issue of Nature's Home about Big Garden Birdwatch and how you never know what might turn up, including real rarities. I felt a little bit smug about that I must admit!

    Let us know what you've been seeing

    We'd love to know what you've been up to in this very mild, but extremely stormy winter. Keep the letters and e-mails coming to natureshome@rspb.org.uk or by leaving a comment here.  It hasn't been a winter for waxwings or influxes of cold weather species from the continent such as wild geese and ducks, but the biggest influx of parrot crossbills for 20 years or so has been a stand out feature and colonising species such as great white egret and glossy ibis are present in some of their biggest numbers ever. But it's not all about the rarities -  my garden birds have been thinking of settling down to breed for the last two weeks.