John Muir Discovery Award Round Up

17 October 2020


In my last two blog posts I have mentioned that I have been getting involved in the John Muir Discovery award and I wanted to share a round up of what I have been up to. I've thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it and there's so much I have learnt already and things that I will continue to do after the award. 

I discovered a new wild place close to home that I had never known about before. Over the years I have been busy visiting places across the country but during the pandemic I have taken the time to explore places closer to home. Visiting Willington Wetlands made me see even more that you don't have to travel far to see wildlife and this was proven when I saw a kingfisher and a whooper swan on the same day when I was exploring the nature reserve. Through discovering and exploring I learnt about sand and gravel pits and how important they are for wetland wildlife as these flooded areas create a habitat for many different species. I learnt more about reedbeds, shingle and grass islands that provide a home for wetland birds and how they provide a breeding ground for them. It's been a lot of fun to find out more about this wild place. 



During my conservation part of the award I have been involved in some practical volunteering with my local community. I was out walking one day down my local nature trail and spotted a lady working on the wildflower meadow and woodland area of the trail and asked her if she volunteered there. She was ever so grateful to have someone else join up for volunteering work and I have been putting time aside most days in the week to help out with digging up weeds, removing any invasive plant species, building up the stumpery area for the wildlife and planting bulbs for spring. 

I've just finished my second week of volunteering with the team, planting trees in the woodland area, planting bulbs for spring, keeping plants to provide nectar for the bees, butterflies and other insects and completing the clearing of the southbound end triangle of the shaded area. Whilst this volunteering has been mainly as part of my award activity, it's become something that I would love to get involved in more often whenever I can as it's been very enjoyable. It's been nice to spend some free time outdoors, helping the community and working in nature. We've had some rainy days and days where the sun has been bright which is lovely to see shining through the autumn trees. It's also nice to hear the chorus of robins singing in the trees whilst I've been working. 

Continuing thinning out the southbound end triangle


Planting the daffodil bulbs for spring

Woodland area where we've planted new trees

There can always be something to do for the nature and wildlife, whether that be in our own gardens, at schools and workplaces or in the local community. I've thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the John Muir Discovery award and I am sure at some point I will look to progress to the next award level!

John Muir Award


Discovering & Exploring Willington Wetlands

14 October 2020


I've always been one to explore. Whether that be the rolling hills of the Peak District, peaceful lakes in the Lake District or ancient forests in the Cairngorms, I've always had the desire to explore the beauty of nature. However during these difficult times during the pandemic, it's encouraged me to explore places more closer to home. I've explored more of my local nature trail, I've really given more time to walk along its paths and discover things I never noticed before, like the call of a buzzard soaring above the canopies or discovering badger sets amongst the woodland and even get stuck into some voluntary work. During this time I've really been able to appreciate nature right on my doorstep. 

Over the past year or so I've been enjoying exploring wetland reserves and discovering new species of wetland birds and spending time sat in bird hides to watch wildlife. So I decided to do some research and see what wetland reserves I could find nearby. After reading up on the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust website, I came across Willington Wetlands which isn't too far of a journey. As mentioned in my previous blog post, I have been working towards the John Muir Discovery award and I chose Willington Wetlands because I wanted to show how you never have to travel too far to see a variety of wildlife. 

Over the past two weekends I have been out to Willington Wetlands to see what wildlife I could find. Willington Wetlands is a former sand and gravel quarry in the Trent Valley, it's flooded gravel pits are very important for wetland wildlife as it creates a habitat for rare birds and a variety of species. The grass islands provide a home for birds and are suitable for breeding waders and in spring large number of curlew gather on the grassland before they set off North to breed. Willington Wetlands is spread over 44 hectares and is owned by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and has restricted access which helps to prevent disturbance to the wildlife, however visitors are still able to access viewing platforms along the Meadow Lane. Up to 20 species of waders visit in spring and autumn along with dragonfly, damselfly and otters, so it's not just birds that visit!





On my first visit I walked down the single track road along Meadow Lane towards the wetlands, wellies were certainly needed as it was rather muddy. Walking along the single track road I could hear robins singing in the trees and geese honking in the distance. When I got to the bottom of the single track road I stopped to read the information board which had plenty of information about the wetland reserve and what can be seen. I set off along the muddy trail a spotted blue tits, robins, great tits and a goldcrest in the trees and felt the odd droplet of rain falling from the tree branches above me. As I walked along the trail, I stopped to walk up the viewing platforms to look out across the water and reedbeds. As I was looking out from one of the platforms, suddenly I saw a flash of blue fly past me and land in the reedbeds. I thought I would wait a while to see if it would come back and after a few minutes that bright colour of blue was back. I followed it with my eyes and right there in front of me the kingfisher landed and perched on a branch just above the water. I couldn't believe my eyes, a kingfisher was perched on a branch right in front of me and was sat still for a while, just long enough for me to take a few photos! It then flew off back into the reedbed again and I decided to take a walk down to the next platform where I saw a grey heron, cormorant and a skein of geese fly over. 

As I was walking down to the bottom of the trail, I spotted a swan flying towards the wetlands in the distance. I got out my camera and zoomed in to see that it was a whooper swan. It gracefully past the autumn trees and landed gracefully on the water. I had seen whooper swans at Martin Mere last year but never had I ever seen one closer to home before, it was a spectacular sight. After spending some more time at the bottom platform, I decided to set off back down to the start of the trail. I spoke to a couple of locals about the sightings we had seen and we were all very happy to have seen the whooper swan! 









The next Sunday, I decided to take another visit as the weather was drier and brighter and to see what other wildlife I could see. The wellies were back on and I set off along the trail, with the sun shining through the golden autumn trees and a cool breeze in the air. Once again the trail was bursting with the sounds of birds singing in the trees and the calls of wetland wildfowl towards the reserve. I got to the first viewing platform where I watched the reflections and ripples in the water and spotted a lapwing across the wetland next to some rocks in the water. There was no sign of the kingfisher but I could see a grey heron hiding amongst the reeds, cormorants flying over, mute swans, Canadian geese, female and male mallard ducks. Beside one of the platforms was a table where seeds would have been left for the birds, I had taken some bird seed with me and so I scattered some on the table. After a few minutes the birds started visiting the table, the robin was first, closely followed by great tits, blue tits and a dunnock. 

After spending a while at each of the platforms, I headed back along the trail and told some locals of my sightings. Instead of heading back the usual way along the single track road, I took a left turn along another trail to take me back into the village. I spotted blue tits amongst the hawthorn trees and blackbirds too who were interested in the berries. In the distance I saw a bird of prey soaring in the sky above the trees, I couldn't get a close enough photo as it was far away but I guessed it was a buzzard. I arrived back in the village after walking along the trail past a smaller gravel pit surrounded by reeds where I spotted two mute swans. I will definitely be making a trip back here soon, as I've discovered what makes this place special is that you're always going to find wildlife throughout all of the seasons. I'll be sure to make a return throughout winter to hopefully spot a bittern!

Willington Wetlands

Volunteering at the Local Nature Trail - Week One

11 October 2020


I'm posting something a little different on the blog than usual, as lately I have been getting involved in some practical volunteering work at my local nature trail. I have been working towards the John Muir Discovery award (which you can find out more about here) and as part of the 'conserve it' section I decided to get stuck into some practical conservation work and help out in the local community. I've always loved sharing what I've been up to in nature and so I thought I would document my volunteering on the blog!

Last week I was walking along my local nature trail with my camera, taking in all the autumn changes throughout the woodland paths. I got down to the bottom of the trail where the wildflower meadow had been scythed for next years regrowth and I saw a lady digging up some weeds with a fork. I'd seen people working on this part of the nature trail before and I wanted to find out more and so I approached her and asked what she was working on. She told me all about the place and how it once used to be a railway station and that a group of volunteers have come together to work on a project to restore and conserve what remains of the station and to turn it into a place where people can come to sit and admire the nature that surrounds it. I spoke about how much I enjoy walking down there and appreciate having such a beautiful place to walk around in the village. I asked whether she was looking for any volunteers, to which she replied "of course! We're always looking for help around here". I agreed to help out and got stuck into it this week! 



On my first morning on Tuesday, I got stuck into clearing most of the widespread Herb-Robert around the stumpery and shaded area to make space for the spring flowers to bloom. In spring this would become a space where there will be a display of flowers such as English bluebells, forget-me-nots and daffodils. I was told about the stumpery area which has been formed together with logs, branches, rocks and bracken. It has become a haven for wildlife, with sightings of frogs, toads, butterflies and plenty of insects who take up residence there. I dug up some bracken that had started growing in the shaded area and re-planted them around the logs to provide more cover for wildlife. We found bulbs along the way, mostly bluebell bulbs and dug deep holes in the ground to re-plant the bulbs for spring. We also found English maple and Sycamore trees beginning to grow around the patch due to seeds being dispersed in the wind or by birds and so we dug these up to be planted in a more suitable place amongst the woodland part of the nature trail. 

Before

After

On Wednesday I came back to help out in the afternoon and we continued to clear the Herb-Robert and nettles around the stumpery area. I was excited to have discovered jelly ear fungus that was growing on a broken branch beside the stumpery. I was told to leave the dandelions as they are rich in pollen and nectar for the bees for when they start to emerge in spring and are on the hunt for a source of pollen and nectar. I came across more bulbs that needed to be planted again ready for the spring and so I got my shovel and made deep holes in the earth to place the bulbs in and cover up. I pointed out beautiful deep pink flowers standing tall and was told that they were called common mallow and was told to leave them as they are a source of nectar for the insects. There were also cyclamen flowers in bloom which are a hardy perennial that likes shaded border areas and gives colour throughout the winter months. We also found primroses beginning to grow amongst the Herb-Robert and nettles and so we made sure not to disturb them too. 



Before
After
End of week one

I came back on Friday to spend some time in the morning, helping out with clearing more of the Herb-Robert. We came across a lot of dried wildflower stems which would made a perfect material for birds nests so we made sure to keep this to one side for the birds. I found more bracken to dig up and plant around the stumpery, providing cover for the wildlife and saw that the jelly ear fungus was still there growing upon the broken tree branches. We spotted prints in the dirt along the pathway between the shaded area and had a feeling it could have belonged to a badger. I was told that there are badgers that are usually seen around this patch at night as a nearby neighbour has spotted them on their trail cam. 

Before packing up we took a walk down to the woodland area to plant up the English maple trees we had found growing in the shaded area. It's been a lot of fun helping out at the local nature trail and I look forward to popping my wellies back on and continue the rest of the project next week. It's given me plenty of ideas for my own garden projects such as making a mini stumpery in the garden for the frogs that visit the garden. It's amazing how you never know what's around in your local area and there are plenty of things you can do to help care for wild spaces.