Monday, 14 December 2015

Forestry on the Holkham NNR

Over the last few weeks the Holkham NNR wardens have been working closely with the Forestry Department to remove dead trees in the pine woods at Holkham Gap.
Two years ago a storm surge through Norfolk causing significant damage to coastal areas, Holkham NNR was no different. The strong wind low pressure and high tides flooded the reserve. Pine trees are a hardy species but once the sea water worked its way into their roots they began to die. Approximately 400 dead trees and will be cut down before Christmas.

The team all ready to go! 

400 trees sounds like an alarming number but this is a very small percentage of the woodland. Where possible trees will be left as dead wood which is an important habitat for many insects and birds but most will be felled as they are next to busy footpaths around Holkham Gap.

The tree trunks were cut into lengths and loaded onto 
a trailer to be taken to the bio mass boiler.

The timber from the felled trees is not going to waste! It is being taken to the biomass boiler to produce heat for the Hall and Victoria Hotel. Even the branches are chipped and used by the garden department on the estate.  The remaining unused material is burnt with the help from your wonderful volunteers!

Inspecting the wood chip which was used throughout 
the estate.

So next time you walk through the woodland look out for what new species pop up in these new open areas!

Monday, 23 November 2015

A Peaceful Corner of Pinewoods Holiday Park

Abrahams Bosom is nestled amongst the bustling Pinewood Holiday Park. This often over looked part of Holkham and is a peaceful haven for both wildlife and the caravan residents.  Last week the warden staff and volunteers were working hard to remove the rank grassland taking over the meadow and thinning dense birch thickets. This was to encourage more wild flowers, insects and birds to use the area.  Due to the inaccessible nature of the site this was mostly done by hand and the hard work of our volunteers.  Our final task was to establish a path for the tractor in to the grass meadow. Allowing the tractor to cut the meadow next year will save a lot of time and hard work!

Volunteers burning the cut grass.

This SSSI site is popular with many small mammals such a Common Shrews, Harvest Mice and Hedgehogs. Predators such as Tawny Owls and Peregrine Falcons are seen hunting in the evenings. Larger animals like Muntjac Deer can often be heard barking and if you are very lucky you might even get a rare glimpse of the Wells Otters.

A Common Shrew takes shelter in a pot as we
 were brush cutting

This site has lots of varied and unique habitat (including the reserve’s only Heather plants!) and we are looking forward to seeing the site develop into the future.

You would never know you were surrounded by a 
Holiday Park!

Monday, 16 November 2015

A Brand New Sluice

As part of our ongoing water level management we have been replacing the old leaking sluice gates. The new sluice will allow us to accurately control water levels to ensure sufficient water for breeding birds such as lapwings and a balance of grassland species.

Everything was especially made for the job.  The sluice boards are an integral part of the system and oak is regarded at the best material. Luckily, here at Holkham we have been working closely with the Joinery Workshop to help construct these precisely cut boards using oak felled on the Estate.

The boards were made to measure.

Before the shiny new sluice gate could be fitted the old one had to be removed, no easy (or clean) task! Dams were built either side of the sluice and the water pumped out. This allowed us to easily cut the old sluice free.  The new specially built sluice frame was installed and precisely positioned to allow accurate water control. Hessian sacks filled with concrete were used to construct a water tight wall around the frame. Finally the oak boards were slotted into place to create a water tight seal. These boards come in various heights to allow us to set the water level depending on the season.

A huge eel wiggles away as the water is pumped out.

RIP old sluice, you served us well.

The new frame was delicately put in place. 

Hessian sacks filled with concrete ready to go.

Very chuffed!

With it complete we retreated to higher ground to survey our handy work.


Not bad if I say so myself!

A long but successful days work.

Monday, 2 November 2015

October Birding at Holkham

October is a month that every birdwatcher in Britain waits for with great anticipation. It is at a time when birds from all parts of the World are on the move. Whilst our own familiar summer breeding birds such as Swallows and House Martins are beginning their journeys south for a winter south of the Sahara Desert many other less familiar ones are actually heading our way. From the taiga forests of northern Europe, thrushes like Redwings and Fieldfares start to arrive while wildfowl and wading birds such as Pink-footed Geese, Wigeon, Teal, Brent Geese and Dunlin amongst many others come from the Arctic tundra of Greenland, Iceland and northern Russia. 

The thing that makes North Norfolk so special at this magical time of year is that it juts out into the North Sea, making it the first landfall for many migrating birds as they leave Europe. This is where and when Holkham really comes into its own. Ever since the late 1960s when the study of migration became more popular, Holkham with its mix of coastal sand dunes and woodland has always been a place where rare and unusual species have turned up sometimes amidst huge numbers of commoner migrants. The phenomenon is weather dependant and first and foremost a prevailing wind from the east or north east is required. Fine weather on the continent prompts migration and with an easterly wind behind them, birds are drifted towards the UK instead of south to the usual wintering grounds. If this is combined with rain over the North Sea the results can be unbelievable. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of small songbirds can be grounded by bad weather and amongst the common species such as Robins, Goldcrests, Blackbirds and Chiffchaffs there will undoubtedly be rarer species. 

A newly arrived lost migrant Goldcrest feeding on the 
ground on the dunes.

This is what sets the pulse racing of avid birders and what brings them from all over the UK with high hopes of seeing something unusual. Most regular amongst the rarities are birds that breed in the birch forests of Siberia and generally winter in the foothills and lowlands of south east Asia. It is really an amazing feat that birds such as Yellow-browed and Pallas’s Warblers, brightly marked songbirds smaller than a Wren can travel all this way. 

The tiny but brightly marked Pallas’s Warbler from the forest 
of Siberia photographed at Lady Anne’s Drive. (Geof Douglas)

In 1975 when the wind blew easterly over several weeks an amazing variety of unusual birds made landfall at Holkham. Britain’s first ever Yellow-browed Bunting was recorded along with Norfolk’s first ever Olive-backed Pipit, Isabelline Shrike and Black-throated Thrush. It was such an unprecedented event that at the time it was described in the respected magazine British Birds as ‘the finest mainland birdwatching ever experienced in the British Isles’! Whilst such events have probably not been surpassed there have been years when it has almost been equalled. The most unusual species recorded surely has to be the Red-breasted Nuthatch that arrived in October 1989. This tiny Blue Tit sized bird actually breeds in Northern Canada and the United States and spends the winter in Central America. Quite how it ended its migration at Holkham remains one of nature’s great mysteries!

Isabelline Shrike with a male Blackcap beside the 
Washington Hide at Holkham. 

This year has also been phenomenal. An amazing selection of Siberian breeding species appeared and over the weekend of the 18th several hundred birders visited the reserve, with the Wells end of the Pinewoods attracting birdwatchers from all parts of the country. The list of species was phenomenal, some have suggested it was a period close to the legendary days of 1975. Prize of place went to two Red-flanked Bluetails; one at Holkham, one at Wells. These colourful Robin like birds nest across Asia from Hokkaido in Japan west to eastern Finland ! Other exceptional species included Isabelline Shrike near the Washington Hide, an Olive backed Pipit at Wells, up to 5 Pallas’s Warblers, a Radde’s Warbler, a Dusky Warbler, a Hume’s Warbler and a Blyth’s Reed Warbler. Heady days indeed for the visiting birders and a year that will go down in history as being the one that was almost as good as 1975…..

Similar to a Robin but with a vivid blue tail and red flanks,
 the very rare Red-flanked Bluetail.

Andrew Bloomfield, Holkham National Nature Reserve

Monday, 5 October 2015

Holkham Bombs

The sweeping grass and shifting sands of Burnham Overy dunes gives the area the impression of timeless serenity. However is hasn’t always been that way. The name Gun Hill alludes to the area’s military past.

During the Napoleonic wars there was a gun emplacement built on the site (no remains exist to-day). It wasn’t until the naval attack on great Yarmouth during WW1 that defences were built along the Norfolk coast. During WW2 the Overy dunes were used as a live firing range. Bullets, mortars and artillery shells were fired but not all of them exploded on contact. It means that almost 70 year’s later live explosives can still be found in the dunes.

As I mentioned in my previous blog a shiny new fence has been erected from Holkham pines to Burnham Overy. During the work the fencing contractors uncovered quite a few bombs.

An old Mortar shell found in the dunes.

The police were called from Wells to assess a bomb and make sure the public were not at risk. They passed the details onto the RAF Bomb squad. A controlled explosion was carried out. I have seen many of these controlled detonations in my time at Holkham and usually they are very disappointing but this one made quite a bang!

The bomb going up in smoke!

If you find a suspicious object that you suspect to be a bomb or ammunition, please ring the Holkham estate office on 01328 710227. Pass on as much detail as possible about the object and its location. Most of all please do not handle the object, old age often makes the explosive and detonator very unstable and moving them could cause a detonation.

Monday, 28 September 2015

The Nature Reserve is a Hive of Activity

The reserve is currently a hive of activity! The grazing marsh is a mosaic of wetlands but over-time the ditches have silted up, this has led to the scrapes and in-field features drying out earlier and earlier in the year. This can have a detrimental effect on the breeding birds. The ditches are therefore cleared on a 7-year rotational programme, so that water can flow more easily around the reserve. This work will greatly improve the habitat for breeding birds by ensuring the shallow scrapes hold water for longer.

Work in progress.

Water levels on the reserve fluctuate throughout the seasons and from year to year. The amount of standing water present is controlled through a complex series of sluice gates. Water levels are controlled to create a good balance of wetland plants and grassland species, and to ensure ideal conditions for breeding birds, water voles, and otters.

Also, a shiny new fence now stretches from the end of Holkham pines to the Overy boardwalk. This protects the fragile marsh and reedbeds as well as the natterjack ponds.

A Meadow Pipet inspects the new fence.

Look out in the coming months for more work being done on the reserve, as our attention turns to improving the grazing marsh fields close to Lady Ann’s Drive. 

Monday, 21 September 2015

The Great British Beach Clean at Holkham

Last weekend was no ordinary weekend as it was the Great British Beach Clean Event organised by the Marine Conservation Society. This annual nationwide event is a beach cleaning and litter surveying programme. Marine wildlife is increasingly under threat from the waste and litter in our seas, with hundreds of species accidentally eating or becoming entangled in litter. Last year 5,349 volunteers found 2,457 pieces of litter on 301 British beaches. The data collected is used by MCS to campaign for a marine litter strategy.

Last Friday Holkham played its part with 15 volunteers from Aviva kindly lending their time away from the office to take part in removing litter from our beautiful beach. The day was a great success! Everyone had fun, no bombs were found (this time), the sun shone and we recovered 35 bin bags full of litter from the beach, as well as other large items including fishing nets, buoys and bits of boat.

The most shocking discovery however was the amount of beer cans, bottle tops and other party paraphernalia found in the dunes. While we love the fact that people travel to Holkham to enjoy the sun, sea and sand it is disappointing to see such a huge amount of dangerous litter being left.

If you are interested in joining us for future litter picks or helping us on the reserve then take a look at our volunteer days HERE

Monday, 7 September 2015

Holkham National Nature Reserve Needs You!

We are looking for enthusiastic people to volunteer and help us improve and protect the beauty of Holkham NNR. We need passionate volunteers young and old to help carry out vital practical conservation tasks in sunshine, wind and rain! If you'd like to join us, in wheeling a barrow, planting a sapling or simply handing out the warming cuppas, we'd love you to join us!

Our volunteer days are friendly and informal and no prior experience or skill is necessary just a passion and enthusiasm to get involved. Volunteers will work alongside our skilled and experienced wardens carrying out various habitat management tasks and survey work, but best of all you’ll have a great time while doing it! Everyone is welcome and even a small commitment can have lasting effects on the reserve and its wildlife.

For those looking for a job in the environment volunteering with Holkham NNR not only offers you the chance to learn new skills, make new friends and enhance your CV but you will get the opportunity to gain that all important hands-on experience desired by so many employees.

Hokham NNR will be running conservation workdays every week on Wednesdays, and the first Sunday of every month, you can come along as often or as little as you like. 

Refreshments are provided but volunteers should bring their own packed lunch, sturdy waterproof footwear, wet-weather gear and enthusiasm! Volunteers from all age groups are welcome, however the minimum age is 18 unless accompanied by an adult.

Your time and skills could make a real difference, come and join us.

You can find the dates and times of our weekend volunteering days HERE