Leighton Moss is a special reserve for a number of reasons. With so much achieved and so much spotted over the last year, we take look at what 2016 has brought us...
Sunrise over the reeds by Fran Currie.
In February 2016 we officially opened our boardwalk. The boardwalk prevents visitors having to walk out onto the road and provides easy access for pushchairs and wheelchairs to our causeway hide and enables visitors to stroll through our wonderful reedbed and brings the inhabitants of the Moss even closer. It also provides the perfect opportunity to listen for the 'pinging' call of our bearded tits and the pig like squeal of our water rails.
A booming male bittern was heard on the reserve during February 2016, even though it turned out to be a poor 'booming' year for the bitterns at Leighton Moss. Bitterns have still provided us with much excitement during 2016 however, with displays of their impressive 'gull-calling' behaviour during March. It is thought that bitterns preform this 'gull-calling', where they produce a call much like that of a gull, just before they are about to migrate. This call will attract other bitterns residing within the reedbed. The group of bitterns will then fly in circles until they are ready to embark upon their migration flight together. 2016 has also been a successful year for sightings of wintering bitterns, with visitors frequently and excitedly reporting their sightings from lower, causeway and Lilian's hide.
An inquisitive bittern by Paul Yates.
At Easter, we made the path to our Eric Morcambe hide wheelchair and pushchair accessible, providing visitors with a great spot to watch our charismatic wading birds. Autumn 2016 was great for watching waders as we were treated to large flocks of lapwings, redshanks and black-tailed godwits, many curlews, and even some less commonly spotted species of waders such as the little stint, curlew sandpiper and the spotted redshank. The main reserve also provided much excitement during the autumn in the form of great whites egrets. We had a peak of 12 great white egrets joining our roost of approximately 170 little egrets at island mere, seen from our causeway and lower hide.The impressive large white herons have frequently been seen fishing around the reserve, and more often than not, being chased off by their jealous relative, the grey heron. Both the saltmarsh and main reserve pools have been absolutely teaming with wildfowl from autumn onwards, with large numbers of teals, gadwalls, shovelers, pintails and wigeons busily feeding.
A stretching spotted redshank by Mike Malpss.
Spring 2016 also provided some great wildlife highlights with a spotted crake having been seen for the second consecutive year! Visitors were treated to an exciting sighting of this bird on our Dawn Corus event! Spring/Summer 2016 also proved to be a mega year for warblers, with our team of bird ringers seeing and increase in the number of willow warblers, black caps and chiffchaffs using the reserve during their migration route. A whopping 88 willow warblers were processed/ringed during one ringing session alone! The strong Easterly winds the country experienced during the early Autumn saw an influx of yellow-browed warblers to the reserve, with a total of four ringed birds. To play host to these warblers was particularly exciting as yellow-browed warblers breed in Siberia before migrating south-west each winter.
Ringing the yellow-browed warblers by Annabel Rushton.
Our summer season was a very exciting time for our marsh harriers with three nesting females successfully raising and fledging six young! During the summer our boiler room played host to a maternity roost of over 350 soprano pipistrelle bats, the UK's most common and widely spread species of bat.
At the end of May we were joined by our herd of redpoll cattle, brought in to graze the small field to the right of the boardwalk that we started to lease at the beginning of the year. The field is dominated by grass but we have dreams to turn it into a wild flower meadow! The redpoll cattle will help to graze the grass in this area, giving other plants a chance to grow. This Summer, the children of Silverdale St. John's Primary joined us to help sow yellow rattle seed. Yellow rattle seed is a really special plant that quickly becomes the dominant species over grass and makes way for other wild flower species to take hold.
The children of Silverdale St. John's Primary planting yellow rattle seed by Jarrod Sneyd.
Working towards creating a wildflower meadow is just one of the many ways we are working to provide a bigger, better and more connected habitat for our nature. Our wardening team have carried out a diverse range of conservation work across the reserve from willow coppicing and clearing, to reed cuts and reed planting.
Willow coppicing takes place at Leighton Moss on a three year rotation in order to provide structural diversity within our willow habitat. With greater diversity we can provide a home for more species. Five to six hectares have been cleared of willow this winter in order to make sure all the important areas remain prime habitat for reedbed specialists, such as our bitterns. Bitterns require a very specific habitat in order to prey on fish and to raise their young. They need tall reeds and deep clear waters indicative of new reedbeds. The reedbed here at Leighton Moss is over 100 years old however, and through the process of natural succession old reeds have decayed down to create a thicker soil that does not allow for clear, deeper waters. We therefore carry out winter reeds cuts and burn the harvest on site, so that new reeds are encouraged to grow in place of the old ones, and so that old reeds can't decay down. Our hard working wardening team have cut back vast areas of the reedbed this winter, as seen near our Grisedale hide, and have planted over 2,500 reed plugs (new reed plants).
The winter reedcut by Julia Harrison.
As well as carrying out conservation work in our reedbed habitat, our wardening team carries out all important maintainance work at our Warton Crag site. The Crag is home to species of rare and nationally important fritillary butterflies such as the high brown fritillary. The team carry out brushcutting work here that clears overgrown areas and opens them up, providing sun trap areas and habitat for the high brown fritillary's food plant, the violet, to grow.
Residential volunteer warden Chloe brushcutting at the Crag by Alice Hadley.
Our wardening team have also faced an ongoing battle with our saltmarsh pools, with both of the banks that allow us to control the water levels having broke at various points throughout the year. Our Allen pool bank has been successfully repaired, so we are now able to hold the water levels high, killing off the vegetation on the islands and making it ideal habitat for breeding avocets come next spring. We will carry out repair work on the Eric Morcambe pool bank in the new year.
As well as it being a great year for wildlife and conservation work at Leighton Moss, this year has also been fantastic for visitor engagement. Our membership team are on track to make new 1000 members by April 2017, having currently made just over 800. Support from membership increases support for the work of the RSPB and allows us to continue giving nature a home.
Leighton Moss has engaged with visitors through exciting events such as Birding for Beginners, Bats, Bones and Broth at dusk, Dawn Chorus, Nature Tots and through our engaging school visits provided by our fantastic learning team. Our cafe and amazing catering team have extended our wonderful visitor welcome by continuing to serve a wide range of locally sourced and organic produce and providing excellent customer care...they even got a new contactless card reader at the beginning of the year!
A gaggle of ghouls at our Bats, Bones and Broth event by Jarrod Sneyd.
We hope you have enjoyed 2016 at Leighton Moss as much as we have, and we look forward to welcoming you again in the New Year to see what 2017 brings.