Friday, 27 May 2022

Reserve updates and New dates for tours


Tophill Low update

Unfortunately, the reserve continues to remain closed to general visitors due to the ongoing engineering works taking place at the adjacent water treatment works. This is involving large machinery which continues to cause safety issues for visitors, and the need for closure of the reserve.

In recent weeks our contractors Houltons have been reworking the old wildlife centre into a new welfare hub for the workers that will be constructing the new filter beds at the water treatment works. This has resulted in a lot of heavy goods vehicles blocking the access road for large amounts of time as vehicles are unloaded.

Two existing hides, east hide overlooking D reservoir and L shaped hide which overlooked O reservoir have finally been removed in readiness for the instalment of two new, accessible hides which will be positioned on top of the two mounds that will be constructed in the same areas. Again, this has involved large machinery. Once down we could see why these hides were reaching the end of their life span, rotten wood surrounded by concrete was all that was left in the support bases. Another one of our hides, overlooking Watton has been relocated to allow full access for all visitors observing Watton nature reserve.

An addition to the site has been the arrival of the new volunteer hub, which is now in place near the reception hide, across the access road from the classroom. Once in use this will provide the facilities for volunteers to have their breaks and lunches, pure luxury in comparison to sitting outside the present office building, often in inclement weather and always spilling over into the car park. For all the hard work that the volunteers do they really deserve some comfortable space to recover from their labours.

Our volunteer team have continued to provide the site team with hours of hard work on a wide variety of tasks. New fencing has been installed along Barmston drain, brash walls have been completed within reception woods, the willow arch leaving north lagoon has had some care and attention, drainage ditches have been slowly cleared, fences have been repaired and much more. One job has been to revamp and paint the old familiar sightings hut. This has now been placed just inside the reserve on the path to reception hide.

Sightings of birds throughout 2021 are in the process of being logged and a report compiled. It has been interesting which species are often recorded regularly and others which are not noted. According to the sightings records from last year no one saw a woodpigeon or magpie on the reserve! This links to one of the new instalments that we wish to introduce at the reserve. This will be a different way in which visitors can contribute to this vast data collection, whether it is the observation of a kingfisher carrying food, a family of long tailed tits or a passing red kite, we want your records. In order to find out which method our visitors like best to submit their sightings, and to be involved, we would like you to take part in an on -line survey. By following the link below and answering the 10 questions you will be helping us in this task. Thank you for your time.


Recent observations around the reserve, either by volunteers, site staff or on one of our guided walks (More about them later) have shown some interesting happenings.

We believe that this year there are three pairs of marsh harriers breeding on the reserve: one at north marsh, one at south marsh east and the third between north and south lagoon. Recent school groups have seen both the male and female coming into the reeds at north lagoon, delighting observers. Similarly, we have had great views on south marsh on our walks.

We have been reporting bittern on site for a few months now, with a male calling earlier on in the spring. There have been several sightings on south marsh west, and on one occasion two birds were noted. As yet, we have no evidence of breeding, but we can hope.

Common terns have returned to south marsh east, with 16 birds, hopefully 8 pairs, ready to breed in amongst the black headed gull colony. In the  black headed gull colony last week, 95 nests were counted, an increase from 75 last year. A pair of oystercatchers have 2 young at present and a family of gadwall had 7 ducklings yesterday. The pair of little ringed plovers have chosen to nest further out into the marsh this year but no sign of eggs yet. Mute swans have a brood of 5 young on north lagoon, yesterday seen dragging themselves across the mud as the water level continues to fall, ahead of complete drainage of the lagoon. This will be completed in late summer after which the lagoon will be dredged, allowing it to be refilled in time, from the water treatment works.

A family of willow tits moving through O reservoir woods was an exciting sight this week. Willow tit numbers have declined steeply, by 94% since 1970 across the UK, so this would be a significant record for the reserve. Their preferred habitat is wet woodland or scrubby wetland, excavating their holes in rotting wood. Their diet is predominately wetland invertebrates which are abundant in damper areas; Tophill Low and its habitats hopefully providing these ideal conditions.

Another potential breeder on the site could be grey partridge as a pair have been sighted on a few occasions in the Hempholme area. Once very common and widespread, it has undergone serious decline throughout most of its range and is a Red List species. Watch this space to hear of its success.

Many of our regular visitors and readers will have taken advantage of our guided walks in recent weeks to gain an insight into what has been happening on the reserve. These walks have proved to be very popular. In response we are putting on five more walks in June. Again, these walks can be booked via Eventbrite website and are free to members, non-members are asked to pay the normal admission price. Please follow the link below to book on one of these walks, places are limited so please book NOW!

School groups have continued to visit the reserve for their outdoor learning, pond dipping being a favourite activity. My recent publication in an academic journal (Education 3-13)  highlights the importance of this experience to pupils' wider curriculum and language. The abstract gives a summary of the research findings that were carried out with visiting pupils. The link is below:

School bookings are now being taken for the autumn term and for any visiting school groups are FREE so please let any teachers know that they can book via our dedicated education pages on the Yorkshire Water site.

Hopefully we will see some of you booked onto one of our guided walks in the coming weeks.


Tuesday, 5 April 2022

Tophill tours - limited access to reserve

As promised is an update on the current opening status of Tophill Low;

Currently forestry work is all but completed, but there is much disruption to footpaths and hides, which is shortly to be compounded by major landscaping work, and as such we are currently unable to admit visitors unsupervised to site; And we must set the expectation this will be the case into the summer. 

Whilst it’s a great shame to restrict access to our much-loved reserve, the long-term benefits of new habitats, bird hides, accessible paths, reductions in disturbance to local communities by minimising haulage & carbon emissions, whilst delivering savings for bill payers yet providing facilities we could not fund through the reserve budget alone, mean this short term disruption for visitors is unavoidable. 


However, we are conscious that many regulars and visitors are desperate to see the site.  As such we’ll be running a series of guided reserve walks.  Risk assessing the hazards we can maintain this level of supervised access in the interim. 

Places will be strictly book in advance only and are limited in numbers.  Initially dates will be through April / May and we’ll add more subject to interest. 

The tours will meet at 10am in the car park – again strictly pre-book only.  Tours will be approximately 2 miles in length and last 2-2.5hrs in time, where visitors can visit those hides and routes accessible at that time with one of the Warden team showcasing the best wildlife and taking questions on the current projects and work undertaken. Please be aware that many of the paths are very uneven and therefore unfortunately, not accessible to all at this current time.

Please note all participants need to remain together as part of the supervised walk.  Our safety policies dictate all persons must be supervised on what is still an operational Water Treatment site, and on all walks we need to don high viz.  We will linger for photographic opportunities but we can't leave folks unaccompanied in hides either during or after walks.  

All dates and bookings are undertaken online via Eventbrite – Link HERE.

For members (with cards valid to 2020 or 2022) admission is free.   For non-members standard admission applies payable at the ticket machine on site. 

Note we will still be granting a membership extension to those whom have missed out due to the closures as planned, once we're fully up and running again.  

To demonstrate why we’ve been, and why we will be closed to unrestricted access, here’s some images of what we have been undertaking in recent weeks so you can see why having families and folks in camou gear wandering round is just too difficult to manage safely;

Conversion under way on the old wildlife centre;

With prep underway for the new volunteer quarters at the other end of the car park;
Poplar removal in the car park by Fountains Forestry / RG Blakey; 

All logs and chip are being dispatched for biofuels; unglamorous as it may be in the current world green energy is much in demand;

Add into the mix storm damage to be sorted also;

Elsewhere paths being upgraded by Galliford Try; 

Defoliating the spoil mound prior to landscaping to ensure no nesting birds are impacted; 
Revealing the scale of work to follow;
Much of this needs to be rehomed in coming weeks hence the need for continued restrictions - much of this will be transferred by 'Moxy' truck (wikipedia):
As before you can imagine our concern with members of the public present.  As dramatic and alien to Tophill Low as it seems we've been here before - here's South Marsh West being dug in 1991:
And before that here's the view from East Scrub in 1958 (O res wood and the now departed Tophill Farm in the background):
Without re-utilising the material on site we would have to remove all of it up the single track lanes to Tophill Low; The final exit (or not) of the tunneling scheme crane illustrating why we'd want to avoid this: 
As we've previously covered Tophill Low is a dynamic reserve and still a very active water treatment works supplying Hull, so although a disruptive phase, it is the whole origin of the reserve as we know it.   

That said it's not all landscape scale - this cleared ditch will allow us to better manage the south marsh for wading birds:
A seal of approval from one individual...

We've still been able to keep volunteers present under supervision;  A lot of clearing up has been undertaken and some spectacular brash walls created:

Swamp walk re-pollarded:

Existing hides being maintained:

Some sad news is the loss of Twitchers snack bar adjacent to the reserve.  Whilst announced just recently, unfortunately the service closed prior to the recent works back in January.  A much missed venue by visitors, volunteers and staff alike, Netty and Andy have moved to pastures new with the property changing hands.  Many thanks to them both for a great addition to the site, but alas the remote nature of the reserve coupled with flooding, covid and then major WTW upgrades has been challenging.  We hope to offer a limited hot drinks service as we had prior, but I'm afraid our culinary skills won't be comparable to Netty's and we wish them all the best for future endeavors as we welcome new neighbours.          

Nice to know we still have some rare residents still present on the marshes - work revealing harvest mouse on the marshes;