In your region
At the end of each programme, there's a special section dedicated to nature where you live. Choose your region below to find out what's in store, and to get the background on the featured locations:
Loch Gruinart, Grangemouth, Loch Lomond, Moray Firth & Argyle Park
The RSPB’s Loch Gruinart Nature Reserve and working farm is located on the Isle of Islay, in the stunning Inner Hebrides. This site is simply unique and irreplaceable, with its variety of habitats and birds and its wonderful island situation.
The reserve is an important example of farming systems developed to benefit conservation, and boasts 70% of the world population of Greenland and white fronted geese.
But they couldn’t manage without the help of their local and residential volunteers, some of whom travel from all over Europe to help. Hermione and the volunteers get stuck in, and learn how to manage the land by draining the fields, and conduct goose counts and bird surveys. In return they get the chance to experience a holiday with a difference and get a taste for farm life on the stunning Isle of Islay.
Set deep in the heart an industrial and council estate and next to an oil refinery in Grangemouth, the last thing you expect is to find a wildlife oasis. But it’s there, and it’s called “The Jupiter Wildlife Centre”. 14 years ago a former railway siding for the chemical works which had contained no vegetation at all was transformed into a beautiful wildlife garden.
The local community, including many school kids, became involved in the plans and today the centre contains around two acres of woodland, two acres of meadow, a large man-made pond and a nursery that is used to grow native plants for the site which are also sold to the local community.
Today the site is managed entirely by The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, who come from all over Scotland to help. Hermione decides to keep fit and help local wildlife at the same time and joins the green gym in clearing the pond, meets the local school kids and discovers the joys of pond dipping, and then visits it’s incredible self sustaining nursery
The Loch Lomond National Nature Reserve is in the south east corner of the loch and is made up of the mouth of the river Endrick and the five nearest islands. It is a ‘hotspot’ for wildlife and has a huge diversity of habitats which supports an impressive range of species such as wintering wildfowl, summer breeding migrant birds, otters, and rare wetland plants.
Easily accessible to anyone living in the central belt, it is a place where people can enjoy and learn about wildlife and also help with its management. Volunteers are essential in actively helping to conserve and survey its wildlife, and as Hermione finds out, whether its monitoring moths, surveying birds or pulling up Himalayan Balsam, there is something for everyone in Loch Lomond.
The Moray Firth is a beautiful and unspoilt part of Northern Scotland and home to one of just three populations of Bottle Nose Dolphins around the UK. Research into this residential population of Dolphins has been ongoing for many years now and it is a subject which is close to the heart of the communities that live along the coast.
One such community resides in stunning Spey Bay, which lies on the east side of the mouth of the River Spey as it flows into the Moray Firth. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society’s wildlife centre is always full of visitors and is a hub of activity, teeming with residential and local volunteers who are committed to preserving their coastal habitats and the dolphins that are so close to their hearts.
Hermione will find out about a number of ways the general public can get involved in dolphin monitoring and joins the local community in a huge beach clean.
The stunning Argyll Forest Park covers an area of 55,600 acres of dramatic highland landscape in the south eastern corner of Argyll. This magnificent stretch of rugged hill country was the very first Forest Park for public enjoyment to be established in Britain, way back in 1935. The area is extremely diverse going from sea level to mountain habitats, and is oozing with wildlife. The park has been classed as priority woodland for Hermione’s favourite animal, Scotland’s native red squirrel, which faces major threats from the potential invasion of the North American grey squirrel. Hermione meets the villagers of Stracur, who are determined to preserve their furry neighbours by building squirrel bridges and doing squirrel surveys, and also learns about monitoring barn owls in the forest.
The National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate comprises approximately 7% of the total area of the Cairngorms National Park and is abundant with wildlife. The Cairngorms are internationally recognised as one of the most important nature conservation sites in Britain and contains some of the most remote and scenic wild land in Scotland. The Trust aims to maintain a healthy balance between the conservation of habitats and species, public access and recreation, and field sports. Volunteers play an important part in the management and monitoring of the work on the estate. Hermione meets a group who are experiencing a working holiday with a difference, and learns about path maintenance, dung counting and species monitoring in this very special part of Scotland.
Lulworth, Kimmeridge, Portsdown Hill, Chimney Meadow & Ebernoe Common
Farmland: Lulworth Estate
This privately owned estate is a huge tourist attraction, containing picture postcard coastal geology including Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door, The Lulworth Crumple (Stair Hole) and the Fossil Forrest.
The farmland round the estate is managed with conservation as a priority and that means it’s a great place to spot butterflies, from the rare Lulworth skipper named after the estate where it was discovered to the bluest of all our blue butterflies: the Adonis blue.
The farmland also offers a haven for some of our rarer farmland birds including the grey partridge. The estate organises walks and other events and there are plenty of footpaths. There are charges for carparks.
Urban: Portsdown Hill
Chalk grassland overlooking the city of Portsmouth and dotted with Victorian forts – built at a time when it was wrongly thought a new Napoleon might be planning an invasion. A big programme to restore the grassland is paying off and in the summer clouds of Chalkhill blue butterflies can be seen as well as carpets of wild flowers including rare orchids.
Highlights include bee orchids and bastard toadflax which is nationally rare but locally abundant. In late Spring look out for the caterpillars of the chalkhill blue being tended by ants which help protect them. Volunteers meet regularly every Wednesday and one Sunday in the month.
Freshwater: Chimney Meadows
Chimney Meadows near Bampton in west Oxfordshire is the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust’s largest nature reserve. Only 1500 hectares of floodplain meadow exist in the UK and so Chimney Meadows represents a significant area of a fast disappearing habitat which is vital for wading birds like Curlew and Snipe and over-wintering ducks.
In spring and summer the site is important for its nationally acclaimed wildflower meadows.
The reserve has a huge range of other wildlife including bats, deer, owls, butterflies and moths. The Thames National Trail Path runs alongside the reserve and there is access to the reserve via boardwalks and hides.
Kimmeridge is a voluntary marine nature reserve where visitors are encouraged to treat nature and the environment with respect. It’s a great place to go rock-pooling and a new snorkel trail has just opened with a waterproof guide taking you to several different marine habitats.
There is a visitor centre where you can find out about latest sightings and see some of the marine wildlife in tanks. Volunteer rangers are on hand to help out young rock-poolers and visitors are encouraged to record their finds.
Woodlands: Ebernoe Common
Near Petworth, the best access is the car park next to the church, off Streel's Lane. The highlights are the rare bats including Bechstein and Barbastelle bats and Daubentons bats which hunt over the furnace pond in the heart of the wood.
These are a priority when it comes to woodland management here. Also look out for orchids and other woodland and meadow flowers, adder's-tongue fern, nightingales, woodcock, purple emperor and silver-washed fritillary butterflies, and plenty of rare fungi. This wood holds the Sussex county record at over 680 different species identified.
Wilderness: Arne Nature Reserve
Overlooking Poole Harbour and with views to Corfe Castle, Arne Nature reserve is a wild and primitive landscape. The heathland contains three different kinds of heather, including Dorset heather and is home to all six of our native reptiles: smooth snake, adder, grass snake, sand lizard, slow worm and common lizard. In Summer the heath is alive with insects including lots of dramatic dragonflies, solitary wasps and spiders. Top of the bird pops here is the Dartford warbler – a heathland specialist which just loves those spiders. You can also see nightjars and wading birds on the harbour including the little egret.
Ranscombe Farm, Western Heights, Ouse, Thanet Coast, Standen & Ashdown Forest
Plantlife International is a charity dedicated exclusively to conserving all forms of plant life in their natural habitats across the world. Ranscombe Farm is Plantlife's largest nature reserve in England, occupying a total area of 560 acres on the slopes of the North Downs in Kent. It was recently declared a country park. It is trying to return to an old fashioned mixed farm habitat.
Their pride and joy is the Corncockle. This plant used to grow in wheat fields but farmers regarded it as a pest. Modern seed cleaning methods in the 1950’s practically wiped the Corncockle out overnight. Ranscombe Farm is the only place which encourages this rare plant.
Volunteers help to monitor Corncockle numbers and survey small mammal populations. Ranscombe Farm is open to the public at any time, but please keep to the footpaths.
Kaddy Lee-Preston visits the volunteers of the Western Heights Project in Dover. The Western Heights are a series of underground Napoleonic forts built into a huge hill near the town centre. The grassy slopes of the forts are no good for anything else, so they have been converted into a nature reserve.
It’s a rare chalk grassland habitat featuring Adonis Blue butterflies and Bee Orchids among many others. The habitat will be lost if scrub is allowed to invade. So the volunteers are needed to cut it back and look after grazing cattle that help to keep down the scrub.
The Sussex Ouse Conservation Society is a group of people from around Lewes who are concerned about the quality of the River Ouse. They are particularly interested in Sea Trout. This particular fish needs clean gravel in which to lay its eggs.
Because of droughts and low river flow the gravel gets silted up, so the volunteers have to regularly rake the gravel beds to free them up. Other activities include re-distributing water buttercup, which is an oxygenating plant. They also monitor water quality and feed the information to interested parties, such as the Environment Agency. Many parts of the river have public access.
This programme features a voluntary scheme helping people adopt their local bay or coastline to help safeguard it for future generations. Volunteers can become the ‘eyes and ears’ of their chosen section of coast and can look out for wildlife and activities which could harm the wildlife in the area.
Training is available for volunteers to learn more about their coastline – wildlife identification, monitoring coastal activities - and help to develop links with local contacts. These informal training sessions are free and are led by the Thanet Coast Project and organisations such as the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, the Kent Wildlife Trust, Sandwich Bay Observatory Trust and the Marine Conservation Society.
Standen is a National Trust house near East Grinstead. In the grounds is a stretch of ancient woodland called Hollybush Wood. Volunteers help to maintain the woodland by coppicing trees. They convert much of the cut wood into charcoal and sell it in the house shop.
The theory is that if useful volunteer work can actually generate money, then it’s more likely to flourish. Also, for two years running, Standen has welcomed more than a hundred staff of a large accountancy firm who have spent a day doing large scale clearing work which helps promote wildlife diversity. Please be aware that access to Standen is limited.
Ashdown Forest isn’t a forest. It’s heathland. In fact only 40% of the land is covered by trees. It used to be a forest, but it was mostly cut down by the middle ages. Some trees were retained in the 13th Century for deer hunting. But many of them were cut down and turned into charcoal to provide power for smelting.
As the trees disappeared the open space was used by Commoners for grazing and to collect bracken and firewood. This stopped the trees from growing back. The result today is heathland. And surprisingly, because it was created by human beings – it’s not natural. These days there are hardly any Commoners left, so it’s volunteers who are preserving the heathland by cutting back scrub and maintaining ponds. Ashdown Forest is entirely open to the public.
Saltash. Weymouth, River Camel, Wembury Bay, Haldon Forest Park & Aylesbeare Common
Farmland: Churchtown Farm, Saltash
Churchtown Farm is no longer a working farm in the commercial sense - there is no ‘produce’ as such being sold here. However, traditional farming methods are being employed to create and maintain agricultural habitats (arable, meadow, and hedgerow) that support a wide range of wildlife.
The farm is now a nature reserve open to the public all year round. Churchtown Farm is leased and managed by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust with significant input from local people who have formed the Friends of Churchtown Farm group. Friends organise various events throughout the year including volunteer work parties and nature walks. A winter hedge laying event and summer mammal trapping morning are featured in the film.
Urban: Radipole Lake, Weymouth
Radipole Lake is the RSPB’s most urban nature reserve, situated in the heart of Weymouth. It’s a mixed habitat of reed bed, open water and wet grassland makes it a prime stop off point for many different migrating birds. The RSPB rings some of the summer migrants – including reed warblers and bearded tits – to help keep track of where they go when they leave the reserve in winter. RSPB volunteers conduct monthly wildfowl and wader counts to keep an eye on fluctuating numbers throughout the year.
Freshwater: River Camel, north Cornwall
The River Camel is a designated SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and a SAC (Special Area of Conservation) for of its populations of salmon, bullhead (also known as millers thumb) and otter. There is public access along most of the riverside via the Camel Trail – a path suitable for walkers and cyclists.The programme features different volunteer groups who are working to improve the quality of the river. Anglers, farmers, the Westcountry Rivers Trust and Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s mammal group are all helping to make a difference.
Coast: Wembury Bay
In the fifth programme, Sam sees comorants at The Mewstone. This island is not open to the public, but the coastline around Wembury Bay is managed by the National Trust. There is an education centre at Wembury beach that runs events for all ages. Eagle eyed volunteers are needed by the Seawatch Foundation to man regular watches along the coast looking out for dolphins and porpoises. The information is sent off to a national database - which in Torbay is helping to alert boat operators to areas where extra care is needed.
Woodland: Haldon Forest Park, near Exeter
This coniferous forest is owned and managed by the Forestry Commission. It is an Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its populations of butterflies – which include the pearl bordered and silver washed fritillaries, birds of prey - goshawk, hobby, buzzard - and nightjars. There are various walking/cycling/horse riding trails throughout the forest for visitors to enjoy, and public events throughout the year - like the nightjar walk you'll see in the programme.
A weekly work party of volunteers help ranger Ian Parsons manage the forest for wildlife. The volunteers help create standing deadwood by snapping selected tree trunks. This allows rain and fungi in, so that the tree starts to rot from the inside out, creating breeding places for many creatures like woodpeckers.
The volunteers have also dug scrapes to encourage newts and are clearing the forest of rhododendron – an invasive plant that blocks out sunlight and stops other plants growing.
Wilderness: Aylesbeare Common, near. Ottery St. Mary
Aylesbeare Common is an area of lowland heath, open to the public and managed by the RSPB. Volunteers help to maintain the distinctive heathland landscape by clearing scrub and burning older vegetation to encourage new growth. The mix of vegetation on the common provides good cover for reptiles and four of the UK’s five native species are found here - adder, grass snake, slow worm and common lizard. Areas of bare earth attract invertebrates, including the green tiger beetle and the rare Kugellan’s beetle. Of course, being an RSPB reserve, you can expect to see plenty of birds. Look out for dartford warblers, stone chats and yellow hammers.
Monmouthshire, Cardiff, River Wye, Cemlyn Bay, Coed Craig Ruperra and Snowdonia.
Over 90% of our traditional meadows have disappeared as farming has become more intensive. In 2003, concerned volunteers came together to form the Monmouthshire Meadows Group and launched a campaign to restore and maintain traditional pasture on the Trellech plateau in Gwent.
They’ve since recruited 80 volunteers and taken 500 acres of grassland into their care. The volunteers work hard managing the land so that rare species, such as the greater butterfly orchid, can survive. And it’s not just the plants that benefit. The meadows are alive with butterflies, caterpillars, moths and birds.
Cardiff may not seem like the obvious place for wildlife, but from its built-up heart to the river that runs through it this city is jam-packed with natural wonders. A pair of peregrine falcons has made their home on City Hall’s clock tower. RSPB volunteers are on hand with binoculars and telescopes at the National Museum to give the public a close-encounter of the feathery kind.
And it isn’t just the high buildings that attract wildlife to the city. In winter salmon travel to their spawning grounds on the upper reaches of the River Taff. Local primary school children are learning about and helping to rear and release more salmon into the river as part of the Salmon Homecoming Project.
Renowned for stunning scenery and wildlife, the River Wye is one of the richest rivers in Wales. But it hasn’t always been this way. Streams where fish traditionally spawned were blocked and polluted, and the river banks were broken down and eroded.
When the fishermen and local landowners learnt that their precious river was under threat they decided to do something about it. They formed their own trust – the Wye and Usk Foundation. Thanks to them the river is in better health than it has ever been, and even supports rare and important species such as fresh water crayfish, otters and kingfishers.
Cemlyn Bay, on the north coast of Anglesey, is home to one of Britain’s biggest tern colonies. Over a thousand pairs of Sandwich terns, as well as Common and Artic terns flock here to breed in the summer, making it a site of international importance.
Before the birds arrive, volunteers from the North Wales Wildlife Trust are hard at work. Each spring the volunteers wade through the cold water to the lagoon’s islands to prepare the site for the returning terns. They also put out nesting boxes to encourage roseate terns to breed at Cemlyn Nature Reserve after an absence of ten years.
Coed Craig Ruperra, an ancient woodland near Caerphilly, was destroyed to meet the post-war demand for wood. For over 70 years, dense conifer forest smothered the hillside and stifled the wildlife. In 2000, a group of locals formed a volunteer trust and bought the 150 acre site above Ruperra castle, determined to return it to its former glory. The conifers were felled and 18,000 young native British trees were planted. The volunteers meet regularly to clear the bracken, bramble and voracious cherry laurel, and slowly but surely the wildlife is returning.
The ambitious Snowdonia Mammal Atlas project aims to create a definitive map of mammals in Snowdonia National Park. Volunteer ‘mammal detectives’ are shown how to look for clues such as otter spraints, owl pellets and chewed leaves. These hidden signs reveal the presence of some elusive mammals and will give conservationists an accurate picture of the wildlife in the park so they can work towards safeguarding its future.
It’s hoped that by recruiting local people, the atlas will spread knowledge and enthusiasm throughout Snowdonia. You can help by submitting your sightings, whether it’s a chance encounter whilst walking your dog, or a more in-depth survey of your local patch.
Wick Court, Swindon, Cotswold Water Park, Flat Holm & Lower Woods
Mike Dilger joins city children mucking out on a Gloucestershire farm - and takes them on a wildlife safari. Wick Court near Arlingham is a small picture-perfect farm - run on traditional lines with pigs, cows and sheep grazing together in the orchard pasture. Premium quality Single and Double Gloucester cheese is made here by farmer Jonathan Crump. It's one of a group of farms for city children set up by children's author Michael Morpurgo.
Mike joins up with a group of children from Peckham in London, many of whom have never been on a farm before. It's a sharp learning curve when some very large and hungry pigs get the upper hand as the children attempt to feed them. Mike takes the children on a bug hunt through the fields - where they discover how alive they are with insects and butterflies. The farm has changed little in fifty years - with hay meadow untreated by fertiliser - old hedgerows and some ancient oak trees.
Next Mike introduces the children to the excitement of bird watching - spotting sparrows, green woodpeckers and little owls. The children stay up in their pyjamas for a late night lesson to find out more about the creatures living in the room next door to their dormitories. There are greater and lesser horseshoe bats - off out to feed on Wick Court's plentiful supply of insects. Finally the children get to taste the farm's produce - will they give their seal of approval to the "wildlife friendly" cheese?
It might not be top of your list for wildlife destinations in the West - but presenter Mike Dilger was in for a treat when he got on his bike for an urban safari across Swindon. First stop was right in the centre of town alongside the canal at Rushy Platt. Here he found coots, moorhens and little grebes - building nests just feet away from passers-by.
Roy Cartwright, chairman of the Swindon branch of the Wilts and Berks Canal Trust showed Mike how their newly-acquired weed-cutter boat is helping to keep the weed from blocking the flow of water. "The more we cut, the more we keep the water flowing and that makes things better for all the wildlife. We get beautiful dragonflies and wonderful birds - it's like bringing a little bit of the country right into the town," said Roy.
Mike also visited Swindon sewerage works, where he found Matt Prior a volunteer with the British Trust for Ornithology. The older part of the sewerage works is a real wildlife haven - with freshwater pools and lakes, and a wide variety of bushes providing a great source of water, food and shelter for birds. Matt, a licenced bird ringer, is training one of the BTO's youngest volunteers, 11 year-old Jack Nurse from Swindon, to become a ringer too.
Television presenter Mike Dilger was lucky to catch one of his all-time favourite wildlife spectacles of spring at the Cotswold Water Park - and he only had to move to the edge of the carpark to see it.
It was the performance of a pair of Great Crested Grebe engaged in their mating display that had Mike so enthralled.
The birds enact a synchronised ceremony, bobbing their necks and twisting their heads - culminating in a dive deep under the water to grab a beak-full of weed to 'offer' each other as a gift.
"It's just got to be one of my favourite sights of spring," said Mike. "You've just got to get yourself a pair of binoculars and sit here and watch. It's marvellous."
The Water Park, which lies on the Wiltshire and Gloucestershire borders, is a bigger area of man-made wetland than the Norfolk broads. It's made up of gravel extraction pits - many of them now flooded and home to wonderful freshwater wildlife, like reed buntings and bitterns. There's an active group of volunteers who help preserve the reed-beds by clearing out the encroaching bushes.
Mike also visited one of the working gravel extraction pits nearby, where a colony of about 300 pairs of sand martins have made their homes - oblivious to the giant machinery working yards from their nests.
By evening, Mike found another group of volunteers who'd come to monitor the Water Park's bats. With the help of a night-vision camera Mike showed them the amazing daubenton bats - skimming over the surface of the water as they fed on the plentiful supply of insects.
Mike Dilger visits Flat Holm - an island nature reserve about five miles off the Somerset coast near Weston Super Mare. The island is most famous for receiving the first ever radio message sent across water by Marconi. Now it's home to a big colony of Lesser Black Backed gulls - about 4,000 pairs. Mike joins Gloucestershire bird ringer Brian Bailey who for the last thirty years has made an annual trip to the island to ring the gulls.
His work, carried out as a volunteer for the British Trust for Ornithology, has shown that more gulls are tending to stay in Britain rather than spend their winters in Spain and Portugal. It's still not clear whether that change is because the climate here is getting warmer - but it's the work done by thousands of people like Brian that is helping to build up a bigger picture about how our wildlife is responding to changes in the environment.
An absolute highlight of Mike's trip is when he gets within a couple of inches of a hummingbird hawkmoth, a moth that hovers like a hummingbird. "This is a real red letter day for me. This has got to be one of the best insects you'll ever see in the UK, and I can't believe I got so close to it," Mike says. The moths are summer visitors from southern Europe - probably using Flat Holm as a pit-stop feeding station on their way to the mainland of Britain.
Other highlights for Mike were sitting by the shoreline on Flat Holm watching manx shearwater, gannets, shelducks and oystercatchers.
Presenter Mike Dilger takes a team of budding young nature detectives from Bristol into Lower Woods to uncover its wonderfully rich wildlife. This ancient woodland near Wickwar in South Gloucestershire covers seven hundred acres, making it one of the largest ancient woodlands in the West of England. In Nelson's time the oak timbers from here were cut to build ships for the British navy - now it's a nature reserve owned by Gloucestershire and Avon Wildlife Trusts.
Mike and his team discover beautiful springtime woodland flowers - bluebells, primroses and wood anemones. They also learn how to record the evocative dawn chorus of birdsong - the woods are particularly known for the nightingales. They go on the trail of dormice - to check up on how a project to protect the little mammals is doing. They also help with work to clear the woodland rides - improving the habitat for the summertime stars of the woods - the spectacular silver-washed fritillary butterflies.
Toft Farm, Moseley Bog, voles, River Severn, Horn Hill Wood & Prees Heath
75% of the West Midlands is given over to agriculture, and more and more farmers are taking responsibility for enhancing the diversity of wildlife on their land. Miranda Krestovnikoff finds out what’s being done by West Midlands farmers to help encourage wildlife, and how their work can inspire all of us to help increase the diverse richness of plants and animals in our countryside and closer to home.
At Toft Farm in Warwickshire, Miranda meets Jim Russell, a farmer who’s made it his life’s work to create a variety of rich habitats on his 900 acre farm, attracting good numbers of lapwings. And she travels to Radford Semele, where on a smaller farm, they're still managing to find space to allow nature to take a foothold.
For those of us who don’t live in the countryside, nature can feel a world away. But even for city-dwellers there are plenty of opportunities to get closer to wildlife. Miranda Krestovnikoff joins the growing number of townies doing their bit to improve the green spaces which are inhabited by a dazzling array of plants, insects, birds and animals. The city of Birmingham has over 200 parks and open spaces, and there are plenty of opportunities for volunteers to get involved in nature. At Moseley Bog, Miranda joins a group trying to improve the habitat to encourage diverse wildlife, while protecting an ancient earth mound, and she joins city children as they explore the wildlife along the River Cole for the first time.
Once a familiar sight along our riverbanks, and the inspiration for Ratty in the classic story, The Wind in the Willows; the water vole is now Britain’s fastest declining mammal. Loss of suitable habitats, and an increase in the numbers of American Mink – a non-native species which attacks the voles – has led to populations becoming scarce. Miranda Krestovnikoff travels the West Midlands in search of one of our most charismatic native animals and finds out what is being done to help - from creating new habitats to monitoring predators. And Miranda finds a colony of water voles thriving in the most surprising of places.
The West Midlands has no coastline to call its own, but the closest thing we do have is the River Severn. At over 200 miles, it’s Britain’s longest river and a route used by a surprising variety of sea life to reach food sources and spawning grounds. The mudflats at the estuary of the river provide a habitat for a huge number of wading birds, and the opportunity for the public to get closer to these visitors by helping out with volunteering and habitat management. Miranda Krestovnikoff journeys along the Severn, meeting people with a fascination for the coastal wildlife which visits our part of the world, and following the path travelled by sea-life including Atlantic salmon, lampreys and eels.
One of the most traditional methods of woodland management, coppicing is an ancient technique of cutting back trees to encourage new young growth. As well as providing a supply of wood used in traditional country crafts, coppicing also creates a unique and rich habitat for wildlife, with a more diverse population of plants and animals able to survive than are found in denser forests. Visiting Horn Hill Wood in Worcestershire, one of the West Midlands’ last surviving ancient coppiced woodlands, Miranda Krestovnikoff learns the skills which have been passed down for generations, and finds out more about the wildlife to be found in a coppiced wood.
In lowland Britain, including the West Midlands, there is very little true wilderness. The habitats which typify this landscape have to be managed to preserve their unique characteristics – the type of soil, flora and fauna which inhabit what we know as wilderness must be kept in check by man to preserve the delicate balance and ensure a broad spectrum of wildlife. Miranda Krestovnikoff explores Prees Heath in Shropshire, a wilderness which resulted from human intervention, and learns about the role of a charismatic little butterfly in the wider community of plants, birds and animals which make the heath their home.
Tewin Orchard, Peterborough, Norfolk Broads, Snettisham, Rockingham Forest & Dunwich
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking agriculture must mean bad news for wildlife. Yet in the east there’s one ancient type of farming which shows it can be of tremendous benefit. Tewin Orchard in Hertfordshire was planted more than 70 years ago and is managed specifically to encourage wildlife. That means tidiness is out - wild trees mingle with fruit trees, fallen branches are allowed to rot and a carpet of nettles and flowers cover the ground. This in turn brings in the bees and insects which are vital for pollination.
But the orchard really comes into its own in the autumn. There are plenty of apples available to sell so nobody’s too worried about picking up the windfalls so these in turn provide a fantastic bounty for birds such as redwings, fieldfares and woodpeckers. The damp, rotting environment is also the perfect place for fungi to flourish. And come night-time the wildlife just keeps coming as badgers, deer and foxes all use to the orchard with their visits closely monitored by members of the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, hidden in a specially-built mammal hide.
For many years it was thought wildlife and our homes were mutually exclusive – once we moved in, the wildlife moved out. But a massive new housing development in Peterborough is proving that with a little bit of thought, nature and people can live side by side. The Hamptons will eventually see eight thousand homes being built on the site of a former brick-works, a classic brownfield site. But before building began it was discovered that the unique landscape of hummocks and ponds left behind by the brick-makers was the perfect habitat for one of our rarest amphibians.
More than 30,000 Great Crested Newts were discovered on the site along with other threatened species such as toads and water voles. One other surprise was that the water in the ponds was so pure rare plants like bearded stonewort grow, which is found no-where else except in a Scottish loch. Now developers and conservationists, particularly the charity, Froglife, are working together closely to ensure there is room to make homes for wildlife and people. Design features such as newt tunnels and walls help insure the endangered creatures don’t come to harm.
And how do they know there are 30,000 Great Crested Newts? Well, they are very difficult to see during the day so the volunteers head out under cover of darkness to count them by torchlight.
East Anglia has one of the most spectacular and unusual areas of freshwater anywhere in Europe – the Norfolk Broads. For years it was thought the landscape was natural, but in-fact it’s entirely man-made – the result of centuries of peat-digging leaving huge hollows which filled with water.
Today the magical margin between land and water provides the perfect habitat for one of our rarest birds of prey – the Marsh Harrier. A few years ago you would have stood little or no chance of seeing these birds – now if you visit Hickling Broad there are around fifteen birds to spot with several young. The rich bushy reed-beds are also great for our most dramatic insect – the dragonfly. Species such as the Norfolk Hawker and Brown Hawker thrive on the broads. But they are under threat – dragonflies may prefer the warmer temperatures brought on by climate change, but they don’t like salt-water, so if sea-level rises and floods the broads it could spell disaster.
But this beautiful landscape doesn’t take care of itself. The broads were created as a by-product of industry and without our intervention the open water would soon revert to marsh. That means there are plenty of opportunities to get stuck in and help. One of the most dedicated band of volunteers of them all is the Broads Ladies Group which has been working in the area every week for the past eleven years…
The East Anglian coast is one of the best places anywhere in the world to watch wildlife. From the winding estuaries of Essex to vast open mudflats of Norfolk it has more than 500 miles of shoreline – and it’s teeming with bird-life. But if you really want to see one of the East coast’s most spectacular sights you need to head to Snettisham in the winter to witness tens of thousands of pink-footed geese roosting on the vast mudflats of the Wash.
As the light trickles through, huge flocks take to the air shaping into massive ‘V’ formations or skeins as they head in-land to feast on sugar-beet tops. The geese come to the Wash from Iceland and will spend the winter fattening up before heading back north to breed.
But the geese aren’t alone – up to 400,000 birds come to the Wash each year and what brings them in is the mud - it’s packed with food such as worms and molluscs. Birds also have an added incentive to come to Snettisham – artificial lagoons just behind the beach make great stopping points for widgeon, tufted ducks, little grebes and diving ducks.
The Wash Wader Ringing Group aims to provide a better understanding of the waders that use the Wash. Run by volunteers they use cannon and mist nests to catch birds and record data. Since the group set up in 1959 nearly 250,000 birds have been ringed, providing vital information on this amazing habitat.
Rockingham Forest in Northamptonshire is made up of a patchwork of ancient woodlands spread between Kettering, Corby and Peterborough. The combination of woodland interspersed with farmland makes it the perfect habitat for the Red Kite. Ten years ago you’d have had little chance of seeing these magnificent birds of prey with their five-foot wingspan, but now thanks to a successful re-introduction there are around 400 in the area. Other rare species are also trying to make a comeback. Dormice have been re-introduced into some of the woodlands, helped by the Forestry Commission’s policy of planting a mix of broadleaf trees and plants which provide a variety of food for the tiny mammals.
That mix of trees interspersed with sunny glades is also vital to the survival of the Black Hairstreak Butterfly. Its numbers were badly affected in the 1950s and 60s as broadleaf woodlands were cleared to make way for pines. This beautiful butterfly is now so rare it is only found in 45 sites between Oxford and Peterborough. One of its strongholds is in the Rockingham Forest area where volunteers from the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Peterborough Wildlife Trust have been busy surveying its progress.
Many people wrongly believe East Anglia has nothing that resembles wilderness. In fact it has one of the rarest wilderness habitats in the world – lowland heath. Dunwich on the Suffolk coast is a remnant of a vast unbroken heath which once stretched from North Suffolk to Ipswich – almost the entire length of the Suffolk coastline. For a few short weeks each year it erupts into a sea of purple as the heather bursts into bloom. There are three types of heather found on the Sandlings - the bell, the ling and the cross leaf and their brightly coloured flowers attract the insects, which in turn draw in the birds such as stonechats and the rare Dartford warbler.
But the heaths are under threat. In the last century eighty percent of lowland heath in the area has been lost to development and all that’s left is a patchwork of forty two heaths known as The Sandlings.
At Hollesley, just down the road from Dunwich, volunteers from the Suffolk Wildlife Trust are trying to turn back the clock by removing bracken and trees and allowing the heather room to spread.
What’s amazing is how quickly the heath can re-establish itself once the bracken and trees have gone. Within just a few years the heather starts to return and sheep are now often used to keep down the bracken. Once the habitat has been restored snakes such as grass-snakes and adders do well on the warm sandy soil and the Suffolk Reptile and Amphibian Group regularly carry out surveys to monitor their numbers.
Hardwick Park Farm, Derby, Leicester riverside, Freiston Marsh, Sherwood Forest & Peak District
Farmland: Hardwick Park Farm, Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire
Hardwick Hall is one of Britain’s finest Elizabethan manor houses. Standing high on a hill above on the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire border the hall is a testament to one woman’s desire for wealth and status. It was Bess of Hardwick who built this fantastic house after becoming one of the most important women in the court of Elizabeth I. The house is surrounded by 500 acres of parkland and woodland and just a few hundred yards to the east of the hall is Hardwick Park Farm. The farm is part of the estate which is now owned by the National Trust. And now a major restoration programme is taking place here. The aim is to bring back wildlife, open up the farm to everyone and restore the parkland.
Presenter Sanjida O’Connell meets farmers Richard and Clare Aldis who have taken on the challenge on making farming and conservation work together and she discovers that wildlife is already coming back. Sanjida said: "One of the main aims of this project is to turn all the arable land back into grassland to provide a good habitat for wildlife. I was very lucky, as well as seeing a family of lapwings with week-old chicks nesting in the newly-sown hay meadow, I also watched a group of courting brown hares. It was a great privilege to see these hares wrestling and running all over the parkland – it just shows what an impact this project is having on the wildlife."
The film also features three other farmland locations in the East Midlands where volunteers are needed to help out wildlife – in Loddington, Leicestershire; Newark, Nottinghamshire and in Southwell.
Urban: Derby city centre
Normally if you were heading off to watch wildlife – you’d be driving down the East Midlands country lanes and striding over muddy fields. But you don’t have to go far to find great wildlife as Sanjida O’Connell discovers when she travels to Derby city centre to discover what lives near its football stadium, in its waterways and high up in its rooftops.
She starts her journey at Derby’s newest nature reserve – The Sanctuary near Pride Park, Derby County’s football stadium. There she discovers sandmartins breeding in a purpose-built nesting bank and lapwings living in the scrub land on the site which used to be the council tip. Travelling into the heart of the city she then discovers local people hard at work clearing Markeaton Brook – which is an important habitat for the white-clawed crayfish.
Finally Sanjida ends her journey at Derby Cathedral where she sees peregrine falcons nesting high up a specially built platform. Sanjida said: "Seeing the peregrines on Derby Cathedral rounded off a fantastic day in Derby. The chicks were being fed by their parents – all captured on web cameras put up by the city council so everyone could get a close look. It just shows you don’t have to go out into the countryside to see great wildlife."
The film also feature three other locations in the East Midlands were volunteers can help their environment – The Orchards, Leicester ; Ruddington, Nottingham and Kettering, Northamptonshire.
Freshwater: Leicester Riverside
You don’t need to travel out into the countryside to find great freshwater habitats in the East Midlands. Presenter Sanjida O’Connell travels into Leicester city centre to discover a revitalised riverside is provided a great habitat for wildlife.
The riverside in Leicester stretches right through the city along the River Soar and the Grand Union Canal. For 12 miles the waterway meanders past the city’s most famous landmarks – the Space Centre, the football stadium and reminders of its industrial heritage. But, as Sanjida discovers, until recently this stretch of waterway was largely ignored by most of the city.
She said: "It had become known as a place for crime and vandalism – a bit of a no-go area. But now that’s changing. The city council and the local people are working together to turn this river back into a top spot for wildlife".
Sanjida starts her journey at the city’s newest nature reserve Aylestone Meadows – this former council tip has been turned into a wetland habitat which attracts a wide range of birds and dragonflies. She travels down the river on a narrow boat – enjoys bird watching and meets volunteers struggling to control a plant – the floating pennywort - that’s threatening the whole of the river’s eco-system. The day ends in front of the Space Centre with a spot of pond-dipping.
The film also features three other locations where volunteers are needed – Foremark Reservoir, Derbyshire; the Ashby Canal; Rutland Water.
Coastal: RSPB Freiston Marsh, Boston, Lincolnshire
Freiston Shore is a new nature reserve just a few miles outside Boston on the mouth of the Wash. The Wash is the most important site in the UK for wintering birds, with over a third of a million wildfowl and wading bird present during the winter. Presenter Sanjida O’Connell visits the reserve on one of the highest tides of the autumn and discovers why it’s becoming a vital lifeline to our coastal birds.
Ringed plovers, oystercatcher, redshanks, common terns and turnstones are just some of the wading birds that are now living on the reserve. The RSPB decided to build a reserve here after a flood defence scheme was developed along this coast. Banks were built to protect the towns from rising sea levels but there was a downside – a loss of saltmarsh – a vital wildlife habitat. So the RSPB decided to take action by breaching the new banks to allow the sea to flood part of the land to create a new saltmarsh. They have also created one of Britain’s rarest coastal features – a saline lagoon – complete with cockle shell nesting banks created by local people.
Sanjida said: "This is a fantastic new reserve which is already attracting thousands of wading birds on the high tides and nesting birds. Avocets, the emblem of the RSPB, are already nesting on new banks – it’s a great place to get a close look at the birds on the Lincolnshire coast."
The film also features three other locations in Lincolnshire where volunteers can help out – Skegness beach; Gibraltar Point Nature Reserve; Saltfleetby-Thedlethorpe nature reserve
Woodland: Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire
Sherwood Forest is the most famous woodland in the East Midlands – home, of course to the Major Oak – Robin Hood’s legendary hideout – but there’s much to this area than one tree.
Sherwood Forest Country Park is a rich patchwork of woodland, heath land and grassland habitats. But this woodland needs careful management – many of the veteran trees are showing their age and will soon need help if they’re going to survive.
Presenter Sanjida O’Connell meets Ted Green, of the Ancient Tree Forum, who’s been coming to Sherwood for forty years and is passionate about the Forest. He says: "There’s just such a fantastic concentration of old trees which is what makes this Forest so special. These trees are not just Nottingham’s rainforest or Britain’s rainforest they are Europe’s rainforest. These trees are green monuments – they are part of our living heritage and we owe to society to keep these trees going as long as possible."
Sanjida also goes bird watching where she sees cuckoos and tree pipits and discovers some rare insects lurking in the undergrowth. Her journey ends with helping out a local bird ringing group who are checking on the health of tawny owl chicks who have hatched in their nest boxes.
The film also contains three other woodlands in the East Midlands that need volunteers – Battram, Leicestershire; Calke Abbey, Derbyshire; Rockingham Forest, Northamptonshire.
Wilderness: Peak District, Derbyshire
The Peak District in Derbyshire is a stunning landscape of hills and moorland. This dramatic landscape has been popular with walkers for many years. But parts of this landscape are under threat. The pressure of too many walkers, forest fires, pollution and climate change has taken its toll and this fragile habitat is in danger of disappearing, taking with it precious moorland wildlife. Presenter Sanjida O’Connell discovers that the main problem is peat erosion. In some areas the peat has eroded so badly that huge gulleys have been created all across the moors.
The peat is a vital habitat for moorland birds such as dunlin, golden plover and red grouse and the Peak District’s most timid mammal the Mountain Hare. But it’s not all depressing news – the Moors for the Future project is a £5 million programme to restore the moors. Sanjida goes right up into the hills to discover volunteers hard at work – planting grasses, pinning strips of material to the hillside – all trying to help stop further erosion of the moors.And she discovers a success story – the black grouse which became extinct from the moors in the 1980s due to loss of habitat is now returning due to a re-introduction programme run by Severn Trent. Sanjida said: "I was really shocked by how badly degraded the moors were in certain places but heartened to see that local people were getting involved to save this landscape for the future."
The film also looks at three other wilderness projects across the East Midlands where volunteers are helping preserve the landscape – Bagworth Wood, Leicestershire; Mam Tor, Castleton, Derbyshire; Sherwood Forest Heath, Nottinghamshire.
Hunsdon Mead, Kings Cross, River Lea, Two Tree Island, Warburg Nature Reserve & Wimbledon Common
Hunsdon Mead sits on the borders of Hertfordshire and Essex and is one of the last remaining sites in the area to be managed using the ancient Lammas system of hay making followed by winter grazing. Lammas farming and differs from modern farming techniques by using only a single hay cut which is, crucially, timed AFTER the plants have had a chance to re-seed. In addition to this, fertiliser has never been used on site. This means that it avoids the sort of problems caused by modern farming techniques which have had some devastating effects on plants and wildlife – such as lapwing.
They are left with a large area of unimproved grassland which means that the Mead continues to be home to green winged orchids, as well as other locally uncommon plants such as yellow rattle, Adder’s Tongue and Slender Tufted Sedge. In spring time the meadow is alive with all sorts of creatures – May Flies, painted demoiselle dragonflies and orange tip butterflies are a common sight. The skies are filled with the song of skylarks which make their nests in the grass and swifts dart to and fro across the mead.
Whilst the hay is cut by the tenant farmer, Paul Abbey, kestrels hover waiting to pounce on the prey no longer hidden in the long grasses. And later in the autumn, when he brings his sheep on to graze, pied wagtails mingle happily with the sheep, enticed by the insects exposed by the short grass and even the insects living in the sheep dung! And during winter Redwing and a variety of Tit species visit – feasting on the winter berries around the site.
Increasingly farmers are being encouraged to follow the sort of example set by Hunsdon Mead – and the amazing thing is that simply by following the lead of the natural calendar, cutting the hay at the right time and adding a few munching sheep afterwards the Mead pretty much looks after itself!
The urban surroundings of Kings Cross are an unlikely setting for this little oasis – Camley Street is a man-made mosaic of habitats set over two acres and includes wetlands, woodlands and a wildflower meadow. The nature reserve was converted from a disused coal yard just over 20 years ago. In recent times reed warblers and reed bunting have been found nesting here – a tribute to their conservation efforts. The nature park also seeks to expand the diversity of plants on site – for example striking Snakes Head Fritilleries have been sewn here and will be added to should their numbers decline. Also locally rare plant species such as Marsh Sow Thistle are successfully growing on site.
Camley Street was runner up in The Observer Ethical Awards 2007 Conservation Project of the Year category. It has a full time education programme for Camden schools as well as drop in volunteer session and holiday play activities. They are currently looking for lots of volunteers to help its work in the park and around Camden.
By night the neighbouring Regents Canal is home to bats which hunt over the water. Soprano Pipistrelles are known to be in the area – they are a good illustration of just how well the area is doing for wildlife as bats are known to be very sensitive to adverse changes to the environment.
The River Lea stretches from its source in Hertford in Hertfordshire heading southwards through Enfield and Walthamstow to Bow in the East of London. It was once a hive of activity bringing cargo into London for, amongst others, the brewing industry. Since the decline in the number of local brewers the river has pretty much been left to its own devices – this may seem like a good thing but this can also cause problems when undesirable plants threaten to upset the natural balance of the river.
Non-native plants which are discarded from garden ponds - such as floating pennywort and duckweed - are a real problem here. This is because they grow very rapidly and are inedible to local wildlife – the end result is a totally choked waterway. The Lea Rivers Trust takes volunteers up river to manually clear away the weed. The trust also combats the daily influx of rubbish with groups of volunteers who undertake the clear up exercise.
They are also installing rafts planted up with vegetation to form a sort of floating bird box – overcoming the problem of the concreted banks of the river. River birds can use them as nesting boxes, whilst the plants attract insects of all kinds. The rafts also form refuges for fish which can hide from birds such as herons which would otherwise prey upon them.
And for an urban river the Lea is actually teaming with wildlife – cormorants, herons and kingfishers are a frequent sight – tempted to visit the river by its fantastic supplies of fish including dace and bream.
There are also many different sorts of dragon and damselflies to be found and even, in certain sections, populations of otters which were re-introduced successfully in 1991 – there have been sightings as far south as Walthamstow.
Discover the efforts made by volunteers from the Essex Wildlife Trust to conserve the fast disappearing salt marshes around the coast near Two Tree Island (not far from Southend). In the last 25 years around 40% of the salt marshes have been eroded. The conservation effort includes making 'faggots' from recycled scrub removed from the nature reserve at Two Tree Island. The faggots are laid down in the salt marshes where they act as a buffer against the tide – taking some of the force out of the waves as they hit the salt marshes as well as encouraging silt to build up behind them.
The salt marshes are a vital habitat which needs conserving for the wildlife dependent upon it – it is place for wading birds such as oystercatchers and curlews to roost, as well as being rich in insects and invertebrate life.
It is also home to a unique array of plants including sea purslane and sea lavender – but the salt marsh is more than a pretty area of grassland. It also benefits human beings as it acts as a natural sea defence for the land. Anecdotal evidence so far is that their work is already paying off, but as one volunteer warden explained the work laying faggots to defend and protect the salt marshes is never over “every July we start all over again. And there are various new creeks that are wearing away, so we find new ones to stabilise all the time.”
Discover how the 200 acres of mixed woodland that make up Warburg Nature Reserve near Henley on Thames are being managed by allowing some areas to mature and rot naturally, thereby promoting a habitat which is perfect for all sorts of plant and wildlife. Some of the 900 species of fungus – from Turkey Tail to Fairies Bonnets - flourish in the decaying environment of this part of Warburg Woods and all sorts of bug life from millipedes to moths, which hibernate inside rotting trees, find a place here.
But this is only one part of the picture of modern woodland management – work is also bringing back the traditional method of clearing wood at Warburg known as 'coppicing'. This involves cutting back hazel in a six to seven year cycle to allow new growth to establish. Any wood that is cut is then used for crafts and making fence panels known as hurdles.
Unfortunately one of the woods' more beautiful but destructive inhabitants – muntjac and fallow deer – have a tendency to feast upon the new growth so the management team have to try and protect the new growth either by fencing it off or simply piling on wood over the top.
However, the rewards of their efforts are especially evident in Spring when smaller, herbaceous plants have a chance to grow now that they are exposed to sunlight on the woodland floor. Delicate orchids including the Fly orchid grow here, and there is evidence of ancient woodland as both Herb Paris and Yellow Archangel grow in the woods – they both rely on a relatively untouched environment to flourish.
In turn the flowers promote an environment which attracts varied bug and bird life – one of the more spectacular sights around Warburg are Red Kites which were successfully reintroduced to the area in the 1980's after being virtually wiped out after centuries of persecution.
Wimbledon Common is the largest area of heathland remaining in the Greater London area and it is especially precious as, since 1945, over half of England's heathland has disappeared. Only one sixth of the heathland existing in 1800 now remains in England and much of what is left is in small isolated fragments, vulnerable to an advancing tide of unmanaged scrub, agriculture, forestry and buildings.
It is perhaps no surprise that London once had acres of heath – you only have to check London street and place names to see evidence of this – obviously Hampstead Heath, Blackheath and many other famous place names. In fact there is now a strategy in place – in conjunction with Natural England (including English Nature) - to attempt to conserve and restore many areas of heathland – and this includes Wimbledon and Putney Heaths.
Wimbledon heath is home to many characteristic British plants and animals but the heath is only able to survive due to the intervention of the teams of volunteers who painstakingly weed out the plants which threaten to crowd out and upset the balance of acid soil upon which the growth of heather depends. As David Devons, Head of the Common’s Conservators put it "the volunteers are a bit like 21st Century sheep," charged with the task of pulling out the scrub and saplings which threaten the heath. A strange quirk of the law protecting the commons means that the area cannot be enclosed and therefore putting cattle on to graze is out of the question.
The heathland at Wimbledon is home to a variety of wildlife – there are all sorts of grasshoppers, crickets and bushcrickets; increasingly rare slow-worms, grass snakes and lizards can be found in the barer, sandier areas; and dragon and damselflies hunt over the heath. Frogs and toads live on the heath for two or three years of their lives – returning to the water later on to breed – these in turn provide food for the common’s kestrels – there are known to be five pairs breeding here.
Thorne and Hatfield Moors, York Cemetery, Dalby Forest, Flamborough, Gibraltar Point & Old Moor
Wilderness: Thorne & Hatfield Moors, Thorne, Doncaster
These vast expanses of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire might look like a moonscape - but they're actuality one of the North's best spots for wildlife. It's a rare and specialised habitat - home to more than 5000 species of plants and animals. For many years both sites were a scene of destruction as millions of tons of peat was scraped from the landscape. The water was drained to enable the peat extraction to take place - now the water is being allowed to stay and the wildlife has come flooding back. As well as being home to many rare insects, it's also one of the best spots to see our only poisonous snake, the adder. It's also a great place to see and hear nightjars - an exotic looking bird that hunts across the moors at night searching out moths and other small insects. The site is run by Natural England and the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.
Urban: York Cemetery
York Cemetery is an oasis for wildlife just a few hundred metres from York's medieval city walls. This is an unusual cemetery - it's not run by the local authority but by a charity. They stepped in after years of neglect when the cemetery company went bust. But much of the wild nature of the cemetery has been kept - and now more than 20 species of butterfly can be found here. Volunteers teams remove some of the plants that would otherwise outcompete the plants that provide food for the butterflies and their caterpillars. Amongst the species to be found are the holly blue and the speckled wood. The nearby site at St Nicholas Fields has only recently gone wild - 30 years ago it was York's landfill site. Now it's home to meadows, glades and woodland - attracting small birds and many insect species.
Woodland: Dalby Forest
Dalby Forest near Pickering is one of England's largest areas of woodland - containing more than 20 million trees. It's a commercial forest - but local volunteers are working closely with the Forestry Commission to select 100 trees which will be allowed to grow old and die. It's hoped that these trees - some of which could live for another 700 years - will be exploited by a great diversity of plants and animals as they grow old. The forest has one or two key species - including the northern hairy wood ant. The ants exploit south facing slopes to build large nests occupied by more than 100,000 individuals. As well as being ferocious predators, they're also a food source themselves for other animals such as green woodpeckers.
Farmland: Flamborough, East Yorkshire
Head Farm at Flamborough is a real wildlife success story. Simon Waines was encouraged to farm intensively - but in doing so wildlife suffered. Now he's being paid to farm in a more sympathetic way and the wildlife has started to return. He now plants crops that will attract insects that will feed the birds and their young. His fallow fields are full of skylarks and his hedgerows and farm building busy with tree sparrows. Several times a year volunteers working with the RSPB come onto his land to count and monitor the number of bird and insect species.
Coast: Gibraltar Point near Skegness
This diverse and unspoilt spot on the Lincolnshire coast is one of the UK's great migration stopping off points. It's also a place where volunteer work has made a great difference in protecting and preserving an internationally scarce mosaic of habitats. There are mudflats, meadows, woodland, freshwater and sea - home to almost 400 species of plants and 200 types of visiting bird. Amongst the many success stories is the healthy owl population - both barn and short-eared which hunt in the rich coastal grasslands.
Freshwater: Old Moor
This RSPB reserve near Barnsley was once known as Hell's Kitchen. It was the epicentre of the Yorkshire coal industry - and the coal in the pityard used to glow at night. Now that mining no longer takes place here, water has moved in to the sunken lands the industry left behind. Volunteers are working to restore the habitat - planting reed beds which will be home to insect species which in turn will provide food for birds such as reed buntings. One of the big success stories is the colony of tree sparrows, a once common bird that's in decline elsewhere in the UK.
North East & Cumbria
Wooler, Morpeth, Bassenthwaite Lake, Teesside, Castle Eden Dene & Cumbrian Bogs
Matt Baker visits a wildlife friendly farm in north Northumberland. Local farmers near Wooler certainly thought Simon Henderson was up to some strange things on his land. He was smashing up the drains in his field. As Matt discovered he wasn’t being reckless. Simon was actually trying to stop excess fertiliser washing into the local river Till. He broke the drain and built a trap to catch all the silt. The rest of the water is then cleaned in a reed bed. That’s just one example of how this farmer is trying to benefit the local wildlife.
Matt came across one field planted with Quinoa. But this crop isn’t planted for human consumption – it’s there purely for the wildlife. The plant produces massive seed heads, but in the cold winter months when other food sources are scarce. The whole field has been turned into a massive bird feeder.
Father and son team Philip and Hugh Hanmer are regular visitors to the farm as they keep an eye on the Barn Owl boxes. These beautiful birds have been struggling in some parts of the county but things are looking up in north Northumberland. In one of the boxes they found 3 chicks. Teenager Hugh is one of the youngest people licensed to handle these protected birds and he showed Matt how the birds are ringed and weighed so their progress can be closely monitored.
Simon is happy for the public to visit his land and has opened the Fenton Visitor Centre, but as he told Matt he’s hoping fellow farmers will also realise you can run a farm and look after the local wildlife.
Matt Baker discovers rare wildlife is thriving right in the heart of a Northumbrian Market town. There are some very special residents in Morpeth but most of the townsfolk have probably never caught sight of them even though they’re right under their feet.
Matt Baker joined a group of local schoolchildren privileged enough to get up close and personal with the White-Clawed Crayfish. They look like mini-lobsters and they thrive in the River Wansbeck. Yet this is one of the few places in Britain where they still survive. They have been in decline ever since the introduction of the American Signal Crayfish which carries a virus – our native species has no immunity and doesn’t stand a chance.
Northumberland Wildlife Trust expert Kevin O’Hara explained to the children how important it is to ensure fishermen or boat enthusiasts don’t accidentally bring the signal crayfish into the Wansbeck from elsewhere as it could spell disaster.
Matt also joined in with some volunteers who were willow spiling in the town’s Carlisle Park. By planting willow into the banks of the local beck it forms a living barrier to help shore up the sides which were eroding and damaging the local wildlife habitat.
Elsewhere members of the Friends of Carlisle Park showed Matt how they were using water colours to illustrate wildlife guides so local people could identify and enjoy all the plants and animals right on their doorstep.
Matt Baker discovers how Cumbrians are trying to save one of their precious lakes. Holidaymakers flock to Bassenthwaite Lake near Keswick for the spectacular scenery but few realise just how much the local wildlife is under threat.
The lake is getting shallower and pollution is seriously harming the local environment. Matt has been taking a look at the efforts by volunteers to save the lake and the wildlife that depend on it, such as the ospreys and a rather special fish called Vendace.
Matt joined in with National Park volunteers who were removing Himalayan Balsam from the banks of local tributaries. Although the plant has been popular with gardeners it spreads like wildfire and once in a river it smothers other plants and leads to erosion. All that extra silt washes into Bassenthwaite covering the spawning grounds of the Vendace.
Few people ever see Vendace as they prefer to live in the cold depths of the lake but as Bassenthwaite is one of only a couple of sites in the British Isles where you’ll find them – it’s vital that efforts are made to protect these elusive fish. They are also threatened by pollution so farmers are also being encouraged to use less fertilisers on their land as rain can wash the chemicals into the lake.
Among the most spectacular sights are the Ospreys which now return to the lake each year to nest. Ensuring these birds are allowed to breed undisturbed takes an army of volunteers. Matt met some of them and discovered they lead a contradictory life. On the one hand they keep people away by mounting a 24-hour vigil to guard the eggs from thieves; on the other hand they actively encourage visitors to watch the ospreys -but from a safe distance at the special viewpoint at Dodds Wood.
Matt Baker discovers how wildlife is thriving right in the heart of Industrial Teesside and why volunteers are building homes for birds off the Northumberland coast. Many people are surprised to find a national nature reserve in the heart of a heavy industrial landscape. Right next to nuclear power station and against the backdrop of steelworks, oil terminals and chemical works you’ll find a whole host of animals happy to call it home.
As Matt Baker found out such a bleak horizon is actually great for wildlife because virtually no one comes here to disturb them. That’s particularly true of the seals which haul up onto the mudflats. There are a few humans about and Matt met some of the volunteers who were planting hedgerows next to the nuclear plant. Instead of an industrial fence, the blackthorn and hawthorn will provide a habitat and food for some of the birds and mammals.
In complete contrast Matt also set foot on Coquet Island. The reserve just off Amble is home to the largest colony of Roseate Terns in Britain. That’s down to the hard work of the RSPB and Northumberland Coastal Volunteers who have embarked on a grand housing scheme for these endangered birds. Roseates normally nest in burrows but they face fierce competition from puffins. Each spring the volunteers create special terraces on which they place nesting boxes. The roseate terns have taken a great liking to them and their numbers have increased dramatically.
Although the public are not allowed onto the island they can see what goes on at first hand. A special live video link beams pictures to the visitor centre in Amble on the mainland.
Matt Baker revisits his childhood haunt - Castle Eden Dene near Peterlee. Matt - who grew up in nearby Horden in County Durham - regularly used to visit the Dene as a child. Now he returns to see the area’s wildlife and meet the volunteers who help look after it. Its steep banks mean man’s activities have largely been kept at bay so it’s one of the best preserved gorge woodlands in Britain.
As Matt wanders through the Dene he meets Arthur Bowes who each week carries out a butterfly transect. That’s a regular walk where he notes down all the butterflies he sees. It forms part of a national survey and Arthur has noticed the arrival of species that have moved north – possibly an early indicator of how the region is warming up.
Elsewhere in the Dene Matt comes across recovering drug addicts. They come down each week to help out with conservation work. Not only does it benefit the wildlife, they learn that you don’t always have to chase a quick fix – you can do something and with a little bit of patience you can see the results. Matt helped them remove Rhododendron – a plant introduced by the Victorians but which smothers out native plants.
Finally down by the coast Matt has a go at butterfly marking. The Northern Brown Argus has died out in other parts of the Dene and by marking and studying the insect it’s hoped more can be done improve their habitat.
Matt Baker discovers that there’s nothing better than putting on some wellies and heading into the Cumbrian Bogs.
The vast majority of Britain’s peat bogs have been lost but on the North West tip of Cumbria volunteers are helping to ensure the remaining raised mires are preserved along with the vast range of wildlife they support.
As Matt Baker discovered it all comes down to water. Cumbria Wildlife Trust volunteers have been putting in special dams to keep the water in the bogs. They’re trying to reverse the damage done when drains were put in to improve local agriculture. As well as the 14 different types of sphagnum moss you’ll find several varieties of sun dew. That’s the British equivalent of the infamous venus fly trap that catches and feeds on insects.
Matt finds out from the local RSPB volunteers how they survey the dragonfly population and have seen a huge increase in numbers since the conservation work has been underway. He also gets a lesson on how to trap spiders with nothing more sophisticated than a well placed yoghurt pot – all part of the scientific research into how these ancient peat bogs are doing.
At first sight this wilderness on the edge of the Solway Firth might seem rather barren but when you peer down into the bog itself it’s teeming with life.
Manor House Farm, Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, Cheshire ponds, Sefton coast, Grizedale Forest & Roudsea Wood and Mosses
A visit to Manor House Farm at Nateby near Preston is like stepping back in time. Owners Michael and Sue Parker have joined Natural England’s Environmental Stewardship Scheme, turning their backs on intensive farming to create a farm more in tune with nature. By using the minimum of fertilisers, leaving some fields unploughed and allowing hedgerows to grow tall and bushy, they have actively encouraged wildlife to flourish on their land.
Regular surveys by RSPB volunteers monitor the different species of birds using the farm. There are more than 50 different species including, rather surprisingly, mudflat waders like curlews and oyster catchers. These birds have been visiting the farm since the Parkers cut several scrapes into their fields. The waders love grubbing around the shallow edges of the pool looking for insects and invertebrates.
Manor House Farm is a great place to spot grey partridge – a traditional farmland bird whose numbers are in decline and as a result have been placed on the RSPB’s red list of endangered species.
As well as all the bird life, the award winning farm is full of brown hares. They take advantage of the natural grasses and plants that have been allowed to flourish due to the reduction in fertiliser use.
There is a public footpath running through the bottom of the farm from which members of the public should be able to spot the wildlife.
St James’s gardens can be found in the grounds of Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. Formerly a quarry, then a cemetery, the gardens were for many years a no go area. But with the intervention of the Friends of St James’s Gardens, all this has changed and the park is now a favourite with local people and dog walkers.
The Friends of St James’s Gardens wanted to keep the gardens as natural and wild as they could in order to attract wildlife. With the help of the National Wildflower Centre at nearby Huyton, they planted seeds so wildflowers like Red Campion, Buttercups, Blue Bells and Wild Garlic could flourish. This has in turn attracted insects into the gardens which are the most northerly site to play host to the Mediterranean Snail, a species ordinarily found on the south coast of England.
The gardens are also a haven for birdlife with forty four species using the gardens. These include a variety of raptors – kestrels, sparrow hawks and peregrine falcons which have nested in the cathedral bell tower. The array of raptors is testament to the large number of smaller birds to be found in the gardens.
The gardens are open to the public.
Cheshire has more ponds than any other county in the UK. This is a legacy of when the underlying clay, known as “marl” was used in agriculture. The pits the marl was dug from filled with water and became ponds and a great place for wildlife. Going pond dipping could reveal a whole spectrum of creatures from water beetles and spiders to water scorpions and back swimmers. If you’re lucky you may also spot newts. There are two types found in Cheshire ponds the smooth, or the common newt and the real king of the pond – the great crested newt. Steps have been taken to protect the great crested newt whose numbers have been in decline. They are protected by law, so you mustn’t handle them and their habitats are now being protected from developers.
Another species you may find in our freshwater sites across the North West is the water vole. These furry brown creatures have been losing out in the turf war between themselves and the American mink who have taken over their natural territory of large rivers. Because their numbers have declined by as much as 94% over the last 60 years, Chester Zoo has started a captive breeding programme in which they release voles into ponds where mink won’t go in order to boost their numbers. They’ve attached radio collars to the creatures so they can monitor their progress.
The Sefton coastline, north of Liverpool, is a haven for wildlife. Half a million people visit the Nature Reserve at Freshfield every year, mainly to see the Red Squirrels which live in the pine forests but explore the dunes and the beach area and there’s much more wildlife to see. The dunes at Formby are home to what’s known as a “scouse colony” of sand lizards. They lay their eggs in the warm sand and can be distinguished from the common lizard by their green, iridescent colouring and the two grey tramlines which run along their backs. A captive breeding programme is used to keep their numbers plentiful but you may need some patience to be able to spot them.
Further north, towards Southport, is the so-called “Green Beach” at Birkdale. This stretch of land represents just 3% of the total coastline and yet it contains 25% of the total plantlife, including some very rare orchids. This stretch of land is also home to the Northern Dune Tiger Beetle. Birkdale is only one of two sites in the UK where this species of beetle can be found.
The shallow ponds on the green beach are the breeding ground for another rare creature – the natterjack toad. Protected by law – you have to have a licence to handle them – the natterjack toad is nocturnal and has a distinctive yellow stripe along its back.
Grizedale Forest is in the heart of the Lake District National Park and covers six thousand acres. Owned by the Forestry Commission and bordering Coniston Water and Windermere, Grizedale is home to a wide array of wildlife. Members of the public can book to take part in badger watching evenings and an otter holt has recently been built to encourage this rarely seen mammal to make use of the tarns in the woods. Evidence of the otters' presence was found during a recent survey of the tarns which are a haven for birdlife like coots and herons.
Tawny Owls are in decline across the UK and at Grizedale the rangers are trying to reverse this trend by erecting nesting boxes for the birds and monitoring their numbers. Visitors can book to see rangers ringing and handling the birds, and can also hire mountain bikes to enjoy the various trails.
Roudsea Wood and Mosses is a nature reserve in Cumbria, situated on the flood plain of the River Leven. The ancient peat bog dates back to the last ice age and is teeming with wildlife. Roudsea is the only place in Cumbria where you’ll find dormice and is home to the Rosy Marsh Moth which was previously thought to be extinct.
It’s a haven for all kinds of insect life. As well as a variety of dragonflies you’re likely to find Raft Spiders – the largest species of spider in the UK, which hunt on the water’s surface and can dive below the water’s surface to catch small fish.
There’s a large population of birds in the neighbouring woodland and surveys are currently being carried out on the Marsh Tit which is on the RSPB’s list of endangered birds.
Visitors are welcome at the nature reserve, but must stick to the trails and specially constructed boardwalks. A permit is needed from the Site Manager before venturing onto the moss. Dogs must be kept on a lead at all times to prevent the wildlife being disturbed.
Slievenacloy, Bog Meadows, Lower Lough MacNean, Drumlamph Wood, dolphins and whales & Ballynahone Bog
Slievenacloy is situated in the Belfast Hills on the west side of the city and is special because of its bio diversity. The 125 hectare site is an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) and is a rich mosaic of different habitats including grassland, wet heath land and rush pasture alongside bog and stream systems. Its hedgerows are a reminder of a former time when it sustained a number of small holdings today largely abandoned.
The site is managed by the Ulster Wildlife Trust who are carefully monitoring and nursing the former hedges back to life, wildlife corridors home to an impressive array of flora, fauna and bird life. Defined as unimproved grassland, a rare commodity, this ASSI location is rich in purple orchid, tway blade, greater and lesser butterfly orchid, frog orchid and marsh orchid. The area is renowned for its waxcap fungi present only on the drier swards.
The grassland and heath support a wide range of animals and invertebrates. On higher ground, you’ll find hares, while birds include lapwing, skylark, grasshopper warbler, reed bunting and meadow pipit. Along the river you’ll find dippers and barn owls have also been spotted.
The fact the Bog Meadows has survived in the heart of inner city Belfast is something of a miracle. It remains because local people cared enough to fight for it. Sandwiched between the M1 and West Belfast it would have become just another inner city industrial site but local people fought to raise its profile and launched a campaign to help save it. With the help of the Ulster Wildlife Trust and various government agencies, the Bog Meadows future was secured, an urban wildlife wilderness in the heart of the city.
The Bog Meadows once covered a 400 acres site, the floodplain of the Blackstaff river. This was lush farmland used for hay making and grazing in summer and flooded in winter, providng a haven for wildlife such as corncrake. Today a precious 47 acres remain and is home to a rich array of wildlife. With a mixed habitat of marsh, water, grassland and a small amount of woodland it attracts all kinds of birds both local and foreign including sedge warblers from South Africa, Willow warblers from Ghana, grass hopper warblers and white throats, alongside Graylag Geese, swans and mallard ducks. Off the water, there’s also meadow pipit, skylark.
Across the way a field of wild meadow flowers has recently been planted up with cornflower, poppy and flax. The open water and ditches are ideal habitat for plants like the water starwort, fool's watercress and brooklime, tufted hair grass marsh willow herb and many more. There’s also wild orchid, ragged robin, sorrel and ragwort.
A small meandering stream crosses the site flowing down from the neighbouring hills. Only just perceptible is the rushing sound of distant cars on the nearby motorway - this is a real haven for wildlife.
Lower Lough MacNean is an impressive freshwater lake in County Fermanagh fed directly from Upper Lough MacNean by a small river. Belcoo is the bridging point between the two. Lower Lough Macnean then flows into the Arney River. The Lough contains two islands Cushrush and Inis Island and there is a causeway running between both. Cushrush Island, it would appear, was inhabited as early as the Mesolithic period - indicated by flint tools found on the island.
The Loughs, both upper and lower, are home to a wide range of birds, fish and mammals. Bird enthusiasts should look out for sandpipers, great crested grebe ducks, dab chicks, teal and tufted ducks. In the winter there’s a chance, if you’re lucky, to see Greenland white fronted geese. Along the river banks you’ll find otter, pine martin and stoat.
Set against the backdrop of this beautiful freshwater wilderness is the Marble Arch Fish Hatchery which is championing a breeding programme for local native brown trout. They aim to restock the Erne catchment to return the pure Erne Brown trout back to predominance with the help of genetic screening, harvesting eggs from trout caught on the neighbouring Claddagh River.
Local people care deeply about their Lakeland environment which is amongst the cleanest in Western Europe. Just outside Belcoo, on the shores of Lough Macnean, a lottery funded project has been carrying out various environmental projects to enhance the local environment. Based at the picturesque 19th century Mullycovet Mill, the Wildlife Guardians have been monitoring water quality on the Lough alongside other projects including heritage and herb gardens, a three and a half acre tree plantation and a bird box building and refurbishment scheme.
Irish waters are among Europe’s richest for cetaceans. Around 24 species have been identified off Irish coastlines. Such an impressive range of marine life prompted the southern Irish government to declare Ireland a whale and dolphin sanctuary. Among the species regularly sighted are bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoises, and basking sharks. Other sightings include killer whales, Atlantic white sided dolphins and Russo dolphins.
The North Antrim coast is an especially good location to spot many of these species. In August 2007, the Irish Whale and Dolphin group recorded between 70 and 100 dolphins swimming off the coast at Car Lough. The group split, with some heading out into the North Channel, the remainder swimming south towards Glenarm and on occasions were spotted just fifty metres from the shore.
Drumlamph Wood, County Londonderry, is one of the jewels in the crown of the Woodland Trust. Once part of the ancient forest of Killetra which stretched across mid Ulster to the sea, it exudes the atmosphere of a place caught in time, like a secret ancient woodland.
Situated in the shadow of the Corndodger Mountain and Sperrins, it’s a place where bluebells, wood anemone, wood sorrel, primrose and wood speedwell are flourishing amidst mossy boulders.
The 42 acres are dominated by oak and common alder with elm, birch, hazel and holly and hawthorn and is home to green hairstreak butterfly, red squirrel and Irish hare. Also spotted within the wood are red deer, while birdlife is rich in variety - buzzards, hobbies, woodcock, kestrels and the occasional Peregrine falcon have all made their homes in Drumlamph.
Historical references to Drumlamph date back to the 1600’s although earlier Christian relics remain including a rath or hill fort. Local people say a settlement existed from AD 700 – 1400. There are several others nearby alongside souterrains, or underground tunnels which were almost certainly escape routes from Viking and tribal raiders.
The site was brought to the attention of the Woodland Trust by the local Carntogher Community Association, concerned it should be protected and celebrated. Grazing was having a major effect on the site but in Feb 2000 its future was secured with the help of financial backing from various government and charitable agencies.
Today Drumlamph along with the surrounding area is managed on behalf of the Woodland Trust by the Carntogher Community group. The group is involved in developing the surrounding wetlands and refreshing the ancient forest along its periphery. Drumlamph is very much at the heart of the Carntogher community’s blue print for the future, helping to reinforce and restore a local sense of its ancient identity.
Ballynahone Bog is one of Northern Ireland’s premier examples of lowland raised bog. This ASSI site is situated in southeast County Londonderry, bordering County Antrim. Ballynahone is now one of only a handful of raised bogs that constitutes any size or scale due to the exploitation of the land for turf and agricultural reclamation. Only 9% of lowland raised bogs are now intact in Northern Ireland. Its natural reserve covers just over 98 hectares with hummock and hollow pool complexes providing habitat for some of Ulster’s rarest flora and fauna. Peat land flora includes bog rosemary and four sphagnum moss varieties including the S fuscum and S molle which form hummocks on the intact surface and the S pulchrum which grows as a prominent pool edge species.
The bog also provides an important habitat for breeding birds such as curlew, black cap and snipe gallinago. Wintering species include birds of prey like the hen harrier and Merlin falcons, and other species like the jack snipe.
Peat lands such as Ballynahone began to grow after the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago. The preservation within the peat of plant remains, particularly minute pollen grains, allows scientists to examine how our landscape developed over time and is therefore a wonderful scientific research tool.
In 1987 this hauntingly beautiful and remote place was being considered for commercial peat exploitation. However original planning permission was overturned when the local people successfully challenged the decision in court. The site was later declared an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) and is now managed by the Ulster Wildlife Trust with help from the Friends of Ballynahone group.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Monday, 17th September 2007
Last updated on: Thursday, 4th October 2007
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