Tuesday, 12 May 2020

tops and lows

A bit of a roller coaster week on the reserve this week.  First off an update on the current status of Tophill given the redefined restrictions on the 10th May;

Unfortunately the reserve will remain closed at present for the following reasons;
  • The reserve is very much hide based.  We can't safely open the hides as we can't ensure social distancing or cleanliness.  If we were to open the reserve with no hides it would inevitably lead to disturbance of the SSSI's or sensitive breeding marshes with species which for the last 5 months have had little to no disturbance.  
  • We can't ensure the cleanliness or social distancing of toilets and being a clean water site we cannot operate without them.  
  • We are an admissions based site.  The current government covid19 guidelines state that "As with before, you cannot: ...visit a private or ticketed attraction" - of which Tophill Low is both.  Having seen some of the anti-social behaviour issues during the lockdown we intend to be maintaining an admissions system on re-opening  - which in turn means restarting the membership and ticketing process and all the personal contact that entails and we need safe systems for this.   
  • We still have tree hazards and maintenance to resolve from way back in February as we haven't had contractors operating - and now we're into the complication of bird breeding season.  
  • We have been directly requested not to open by the Water Treatment Works management; "We are concerned that opening the nature reserve would invite members of the public from far away to site and therefore the risk to the key worker team would be increased"
We are also bench-marking our decision against other organisations.  Not least Yorkshire Water's current position on recreational car parks:
"Our reservoir car parks are still currently closed while we create a plan to adapt to changes in the government guidelines.  Once we've reviewed the changes we'll let everyone know what's happening... Please don't drive to our reservoirs as the car parks are still closed and inappropriate parking impacts our ability to access the reservoir safely as well as disrupting local residents"

The RSPB are currently echoing on their website:
"It goes without saying that we are champing at the bit to get our nature reserves back up and running for their incredible wildlife and for you all to be able to enjoy them too. But returning from lockdown will not be easy and it won’t be simple. 
  • The health and wellbeing of our employees, volunteers and all visitors to our nature reserves is our paramount concern. 
  • Walso have to make sure the wildlife that calls our sites home are ready to receive attention after a couple of months completely on their own. With reports of rare species nesting on and near busy paths, it's going to take us some time to make sure they are safe too.
  • As you will have heard we are also managing differences in approach to coming out of lockdown across the four countries of the UK, and possibly between regions too.  
Because of this, we will be taking a gradual and phased approach over the coming weeks and will only be opening individual reserves when we are absolutely confident we can do so safely.  
This will likely mean different sites reopening at different times, and with different levels of access and facilitiesIn order to avoid any disappointment, I would urge you to check our website for the latest information before making any visits."   
And likewise the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust concur on their update:
"Following the Government’s announcement last night, which encourages an increase in the use of local green spaces and the enjoyment of nature, we must be sure that visitors and staff can return to our nature reserves safely and in line with government guidance. Re-opening visitor facilities will not be easy or simple and will take time to resource, this is because:
  • The health and wellbeing of our employees, volunteers and visitors at our nature reserves is our paramount concern
  • We have to make sure the wildlife living on our reserves is not adversely impacted. With reports of rare species nesting on and near access ways and paths, we need to ensure that wildlife is safe - this may mean restrictions to certain areas will be extended, even when more general access is permitted.
Today, Monday May 11th 2020, there are no changes to our position following last night’s government announcement. We await more detailed guidance on how changes could be made."

As such Tophill Low remains closed until further notice and we are in step with our fellow conservation bodies.  As before we will honour last seasons members whom lost out during the flood closure when we do re-open.  We are working in the background to try and resolve each of these issues so as we can get going at the earliest opportunity.   Please do not travel to the reserve the car park is locked and no pedestrian access is permitted.  The reserve is being staffed daily to ensure there are no visitors.  


An additional blow to opening the site is that on Thursday we lost one of our most dedicated and capable Volunteer Wardens Pete Drury.
With the closure some may not be aware but Pete had been suffering an illness for some time and unfortunately passed away peacefully in his native Beverley last week.  We've been doing to our best to support family and the close knit volunteer community at Tophill during this time.

Pete had a strong interest in nature having grown up in Leven and Walkington and spent his career at Blackburn Aircraft and subsequently British Aerospace straight from school building Bucaneers and Harriers.  Pete started volunteering at Tophill Low back in 1993 having answered the call to help on the 'new Yorkshire Water Nature Reserve' and has subsequently volunteered virtually every Sunday since then (we gave him a weeks leave pass to Scotland annually).  At one stage chairman of Hull Valley Wildlife Group, and latterly he could be found with the practical team and was present on site upwards of two days a week and was very much a face of Tophill.
If we had precision work then it was always Pete we would entrust this too.  Engineering jobs like the one way gates, telescope security mounts, lock fittings etc were always entrusted to his capable hands as we knew we'd get an A1 job.  A career as a work measurement 'time and motion man' also meant he was not afraid to criticise poor workmanship or general ineptitude!  Thus he did occasionally rub folks up the wrong way - but certainly myself and many of the team valued his straight up approach as invariably he was right - if not diplomatic.  From building aircraft Pete did not deviate from instructions, rules or procedures - and on occasion twitchers, walkers or fishermen trying to dodge the site admission or rules would incur the wrath of our 'Rotty.'  He would vocally (and verbally colourfully!) air his opinions - and his dedication to Tophill Low Nature Reserve, protection of wildlife and animal welfare was unquestionable.  To his credit he's been very supportive of all the works we've undertaken and taken the time to evaluate and look at the bigger picture and it was excellent to recognise this in having Pete and Cliff as 'guests of honour' to open the reception hide back in 2017.

Unfortunately there will only be a small funeral in the current Covid19 restrictions on gatherings but there will be a small delegation from Tophill present.  We will undertake more of a send off when times are simpler - but in the meantime a huge thanks and farewell from all.

So with he and the other great hands we've lost at Tophill this last few months the reserve indeed will be a very different place when we return.


Another big change to the reserve world today was the retirement of Geoff Lomas who has overseen the improvements to the reserve made over the last 21 years both with Peter Izzard and myself.  Whilst not daily visible, its Geoff's support, vision and work within Yorkshire Water which have seen the funding and go ahead for projects like the reception hide, path network, Hempholme meadows project, the water transfer scheme to restore wader interest on the south marshes, sand martin colony and welfare facilities - and crucially he's supported the reserve even through the rough times when questions were raised on its viability or existence.  So we can be thankful that what we see today Geoff has played a key role in safeguarding:

So in other news;

The reserve is still there and standing!
Whilst not getting into 'rarities' the success levels of greylags this year, after the fox ravages of last year where we saw zero greylags fledge, has been brilliant as a barometer and shows the potential for more exotic species to report on later.  A huge credit to the volunteers whom between flood and plague this winter managed to complete the fox fence which has created this.

Amy has been getting some great footage off the trail cameras and has collated this excellent video for World Migratory Bird day just gone:

There is some great stuff happening on the site - we very much look forward to updating everyone when we aren't inciting people to visit.  Though for any Tophill Low Listers out there we can confirm the squacco heron seen just south of Tophill has not been seen on site yet! - so you aren't missing a tick...

And some great news to end with is that we picked up a highly commended in the Visit Hull and East Yorkshire Remarkable East Yorkshire Tourism Awards last week.
Our category was the Remarkable Ethical Responsible and Sustainable Tourism class and our entry recognised all the habitat and community work we undertake whilst delivering a quality reserve experience.  So a good result and thanks to all the volunteers that have helped us over the years.

Its a great recognition - and like so many other business listed in the awards it will hopefully help kick start the brilliant East Yorkshire Eco-Tourism scene and all the businesses it supports.  If you have a moment its well worth a watch of the awards video (the flashy ceremony at Brid Spa became an online one - perhaps fortunate you don't have to witness some of Tophill's finest scrubbed up in posh gear!).  Its a reminder of just what great place East Yorkshire is to both visit and live.  Hopefully we can all get back to enjoying it soon...