Friday, 25 November 2022

Re-opening all week

As promised, we have reviewed visitor access to different areas of the reserve and considered what other engineering works are to be carried out. We have decided that we can now open to the public daily including weekdays starting from tomorrow, 26th November. Member access will continue to be the same as always with access to the reserve outside office hours and access to the Izzard hide.

Many regulars will be thrilled to hear that the North Marsh hide is now open again and the habitats freshly cleared; 

Currently North Marsh is the most northerly hide accessible and the back to backs on south marsh the furthest south. 

The two fantastic vantage points that we have built are still awaiting hides on them, so access is not yet permitted as it causes too much disturbance until these are in place. We will have to wait a while longer for these areas to be accessible to visitors. Watton nature reserve can still only be viewed from the public bridleway, which is along Barmston drain, outside our reserve. We aim to get the hide and path to it through south scrub back open by next weekend.

And we hope in coming weeks to restore full access to a renovated Angus McBean hide on Hempholme. 

Unfortunately, one aspect of visiting our reserve, similar to others across the UK, is that you may notice birds that are or have been affected by bird flu. 

For us this seems to have arrived in earnest with the migratory pink footed geese before spreading into the naturalised greylag flock.  Typically symptoms of affected birds will be fitting or similar stereotypical behavior for which unfortunately we cannot cure or interject.   

This can be upsetting, and we are trying our best, when it is safe to do so, to remove any carcasses.

In order to prevent the transfer of bird flu between Tophill Low and other places we are implementing some simple procedures that will help. This involves your help as you arrive and leave the reserve by scraping your footwear and dipping in disinfectant at the entrance to the reserve. 

We have some substantial boot scrapers and simple instructions to follow. We are also asking you to clean footwear at the entrance to Izzard hide as this is an area where birds often walk across the path. 

These biosecurity measures are to stop the spread of bird flu between nature reserves. The infection is not airborne and the risk of contracting it is very minimal however good hand washing and simple hygiene is the way to keep everyone safe and always is good practice.

Visitors will notice that on the area near our butterfly border there is a new and exciting additional building, our brand new polytunnel.

Here we intend to propagate wetland and woodland plants, starting with greater water parsnip. A plant that has done very well at Tophill in recent years yet is a nationally rare wetland plant. 

This is an upgraded version of our old unit below which was lost to the footprint of the new water treatment works upgrade - a compensation from the scheme for disturbance to the reserve over recent months.

Our aim is to source plants of local provenance like bogbean, marsh lousewort, marsh pea to name a few that we can both increase biodiversity at the reserve, and spread to other local nature reserves.  

In a similar way we will be able to propagate woodland species and so increase the biodiversity of our woodland areas. The students from Kingsmill school and East Riding college, alongside our team of volunteers will be instrumental in the work being carried out so that in future years they can see the benefits of their labour. Recently they have planted plenty of acorns and are hopeful of seeing them germinate in the spring. They will be grown on in the polytunnel, protected from herbivores before being planted out in the woodland. 

The wet and cold weather, typical of autumn has meant the eruption of fungal fruiting bodies around the reserve. The vast majority of a fungal organism lies beneath the surface and its long mycelium strands can extend metres from the fruiting body that we see erupt above the surface in readiness to disperse its spores and begin the next generation. The names for many fungi in the woodland are very descriptively apt, with names like jelly ear, turkey tail and dog sick slime mould, all describing perfectly the appearance of these fungi. We leave plenty of dead wood on the ground in the woodland that is idea habitat for many fungi and in turn also good for invertebrates. Southcoates Lane primary school and Bugthorpe primary school have been busy investigating in our insect arena to find minibeasts, using pooters and pots to collect and study them. Great fun for these year 1 and 2 children.

With the shorter days it has been possible to see flocks of numerous species fly into the reserve to roost before leaving at the end of a working day. Last Friday a few staff members and colleagues witnessed a small murmuration of starlings all jostling for position in the reedbeds on south marsh west. All was still until a peregrine flew through them, unsuccessful it flew away only to be replaced by three marsh harriers also looking for a late snack. The starling flock is beginning to increase each week, so we are hoping for a spectacular sight in late December. Starling numbers are increased from flocks joining from the continent as weather conditions plummet and feeding becomes difficult. There has also been a huge influx of blackbirds, fieldfares and redwings recently, all seen on the reserve. Following them, along the east coast, have been small numbers of waxwing so fingers crossed they may grace the south scrub berry laden bushes.

The gull roost is building on both reservoirs, always a challenge for any birder!  A good scan through the flocks could turn up a Mediterranean gull or a kittiwake, both have been seen recently. Curlew and lapwing are roosting on south marsh and there is a big flock of mixed finches – greenfinch, siskin, goldfinch and chaffinch, feeding on the wildflower area. The car park is often a great place to start looking for finches, often the place to see siskin and the path along from north lagoon a good place to spot lesser redpolls feeding on the alder catkins. The D reservoir is attracting large numbers of wildfowl -tufted duck, pochard, great crested grebe, goldeneye, shoveler and gadwall. We have also seen whooper swans regularly on D reservoir and small flocks of pink footed geese flying over. A great white egret and several little egrets are common sights around the reserve and of course kingfishers too on any of the water bodies. Woodcock have been flushed from just off the nature trail path on a couple of occasions this week, great to see these birds using the wet woodland habitat.

There are several areas where you will see that our volunteers have managed the different habitats. One in particular that has taken a large amount of volunteer hours has been the clearing of much of the vegetation on north marsh. The island now has a clear section down the middle and the ditches are much clearer and wider to aid wildlife viewing. Amy was rewarded very early morning this week with amazing views of a female otter carrying what looked like prey under a willow tree. Earlier she had heard several high-pitched calls, indicating the presence of young kitts. So if you have the patience and the time then a visit to north marsh may be rewarding.


Tuesday, 1 November 2022

Temporay closure - November


Temporary closure of the reserve

Unfortunately, we have had to make the difficult decision that from THURSDAY 3RD NOVEMBER TO FRIDAY 25TH NOVEMBER INCLUSIVE the reserve will be CLOSED ON WEEKDAYS to ALL visitors.

The reserve will be fully open from 9am to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday for all visitors during this temporary closure with membership access as normal. The gates will be completely locked at dusk on Sunday.

We hope that on revisiting the reserve since its closure in February that you have noticed some of the many improvements that have been made to the different habitats around the reception hide and the south end of the reserve. We are sure that you can appreciate that some of these changes have been brought about by the very nature of this operational site.

In recent weeks you will probably have noticed that some more contractors are working on the site. These are to start the work on the new filter bed facility within the treatment works, to put in a new drain around D reservoir and to dredge north lagoon. Other work that has been going on during the last couple of weeks, but less in sight of the public, is that we have begun to re – instate the network of paths through D woods.

Parts of these schemes are now moving back to areas around O reservoir and as such require the movement of a number of heavy duty vehicles around O reservoir, along and across the perimeter of the treatment works, so directly impacting our access road and car park. This means that the safety of visitors is at risk and therefore we have made the decision to close during weekdays to ALL unaccompanied visitors.

We anticipate that this temporary closure will only be for the period stated but we will need to review working patterns and public safety before we intend to re-open after 25th November.

By this date we hope that the footpath to Watton nature reserve hide will be in use, allowing visitors views across to Watton where pink footed geese, pintail, flocks of roosting curlew and lapwing have all been seen recently. Also in a few weeks, we anticipate that we will be near to approaching completion on the paths and habitats that make north marsh such a special place for many of our visitors.

We thank you for your understanding and patience and hope that you will enjoy visiting at the weekends and experiencing what Tophill Low has to offer.

Please keep looking at our social media posts for updates.

Thank you

The reserve team – Richard, Amy & Margaret

Tuesday, 20 September 2022

One week on.....

September 2022

Our first week back open at the reserve has been a quiet return for visitors. Many regular visitors have taken the opportunity of enjoying a slow walk around the nature trail, where speckled wood, comma, red admiral and large white butterflies have all been spotted. The fantastic Tiddy Mun sculpture has been delighting people as it peers out from the reeds along the nature trail, along with Old Stinker. Both sculptures have had to be kept wet through these dry weeks over the summer, so that the clay and willow doesn’t dry out too much. The reinstated feeders outside reception hide have been visited by the usual woodland bird species; blue, coal and great tit, goldfinch, chaffinch, greenfinch and the occasional visit from a great spotted woodpecker. A pair of great spotted woodpeckers bred successfully in one of the dead trunks close to the nature trail path, with two young fledging. On a few of our guided walks and with a couple of school groups, the young could be heard from the path below.

Tiddy Mun sculpture along the nature trail

Numbers of wildfowl on D reservoir are starting to build up, a sure sign of the change from summer to autumn temperatures. The first goldeneye (3) were seen this last week on D reservoir and a flock of pint footed geese flew over. Several little gulls have been sighted along the wall of D reservoir, along with grey wagtail and common sandpiper, showing that’s its always worth a look along the edges as well as the main body of water.

Greenfinch (credit Maurice Dowson)

Although north lagoon, a favourite haunt of kingfisher and visitor alike is now totally dry, and the earth cracked after weeks of hot weather, there have been plenty of photos on social media of our much loved kingfishers in other places; mainly south lagoon and south marsh. The lagoon area is also a good place for Cetti’s warblers, still singing and still elusive, hiding down in the thick vegetation.

The south marshes have been a hotspot of bird activity in our first week back, the exposed mud attracting passage waders such as greenshank, green sandpiper, common sandpiper, snipe, little stint (maximum of 8 at once), dunlin, ringed plover, ruff and curlew. Other water birds seen have been a cattle egret, a great white egret, water rail, garganey and pintail. And it’s amazing how much we take the resident marsh harriers for granted as they are seen daily. Any sightings are welcome as they can give us a great overall picture of how the reserve is being used by various species. If you don’t use the digital platforms of Birdtrack or eBird to record your sightings, then you can always add them to the sightings book in the hut at the bottom of the reception ramp or let a member of staff know.

Common sandpiper (credit Maurice Dowson)

Habitat maintenance and management has continued throughout our site closure and continues throughout the year. Last week we had a team of volunteers from the Environment Agency helping out with clearing some of the reeds on north marsh to make more open water. A task that has to be repeated every few years. Once the new paths have been reinstated and the north marsh hide is back in use, then we hope that you will notice the difference. One result of removing the vegetation was to find evidence that harvest mice use the area. Their nests are a beautiful, tiny construction.

Volunteer team, north marsh

Habitat management, north marsh

Harvest mouse nest

Another team of volunteers keeps note of how the many nest boxes have been used each season. This week they checked on the barn owl box that is in the northern end of the reserve. Although there has been no evidence of successful breeding in the box this year, a collection of owl pellets means at least one individual is feeding in the area. And the box is being put to good use, giving a nesting site for a colony of hornets! Richard is seen here extracting a hornets nest from Hempholme hide a few years ago. On a similar theme please take care on the ramp down to the pond from the reception pond as unfortunately one of our volunteers got quite badly stung when she disturbed a wasp nest recently.

Hornets' nest

We hope that, as visitors, you have enjoyed the reserve once more and continue to return as we head into autumn and winter when we hope to lift some of the restrictions from the north end of the reserve.

Friday, 9 September 2022

Access updates

After much discussion  and making sure that the site is safe, we have decided to open the reserve on Monday 12th September so that our valued visitors can take the opportunity of visiting our fantastic reserve. 

Reception hide

We have to inform people however that the whole reserve will not be totally accessible. Work on various parts of the site is still underway or will be continued in the near future so please do expect to see contractors. The decision was either partial opening or not opening for yet more months. Due to the nature of further works we are able, by restricting access in certain areas, to safely allow visitors back so they can enjoy the wildlife that is special to Tophill.

The north end of the reserve, i.e. D woods, north marsh and Hempholme WILL NOT BE OPEN. Visitors will be able to view the wildfowl on D reservoir from reception hide and the birders hide. 

No access to the north end of the reserve

Reception hide overlooking D reservoir

Access to the reception pond, reception woods, north lagoon and south lagoon hides is permitted. Please be aware that work will soon commence on north lagoon which is now completely dry. This is part of the capital scheme of the water treatment works which requires north lagoon to be dredged and therefore useable in the future by the treatment process. It will also allow us to upgrade some of the habitat around the lagoon which will be of benefit to our wildlife.

North lagoon is now dry, ready for dredging

O reservoir can be viewed from the viewing screen overlooking the reservoir wall, this is the only place to view birds on O reservoir. Access to the west of O reservoir is not possible at the moment so south scrub and Watton hide are not open to visitors. The hide (L shaped hide) that used to overlook O reservoir has been removed and will be replaced by an accessible hide in coming months which will be situated on the extensive mound that has now been constructed and will give great views over the reservoir and the wider area.  Until the hide is in place access to the mound will not be permitted.

Limited access to O reservoir

New mound awaiting hide, overlooking O reservoir

Visitors can access the hides overlooking the south marshes at the east and west end and the hide that views south marsh west. Members only are allowed to access the Izzard hide on the members card access code as before.

All members who have a membership card that is valid for the 2020/21 or 2021/22 season which are cards that have the little egret (2020/21) or the otter (2021/22) photos ARE VALID TILL MARCH 2023 and will be accepted by the ticket machine. 

All other visitors will be able to purchase day tickets from the ticket machine by either cash or by using card payment. Our admission prices remain the same - £3.50 for adults, £2.50 for concessions, £1.50 for children, children under 5 years are free.

Whilst the reserve has been closed staff and volunteers have noted bird sightings around the reserve and although the coverage of observers has not been as extensive as when the reserve is open to visitors there have been some noteworthy sightings since we closed at the beginning of February. The overstaying male smew stayed on Watton nature reserve till the middle of March. Around this time a bittern was first noted on the reserve and began to start to "boom" at several sites at the south end of the reserve. At several times over the coming months two birds were seen, the booming continued and sightings were regular so we can assume that these birds made a successful attempt at breeding, a true success for our habitat management of this area of the marsh over the winter.  A single spoonbill was on north lagoon on 1st April and on 1st May a spotted sandpiper was recorded feeding on D reservoir wall, a highlight in the spring wader passage. 

Spotted sandpiper (credit Lee Johnson)

On 24th May a great reed warbler was singing along Barmston drain, near Watton nature reserve and continued in its plight to sing for a mate for several weeks, obviously to no avail but with several other records at other sites in the UK, a sign of changing climate and changing species. Later in the summer a red footed falcon was recorded over D reservoir by Chris Straw, one of our volunteers who also managed to see a juvenile black tern on the reservoir. A range of waders feeding on south marsh included wood sandpiper on several occasions, along with plenty of common and green sandpipers, greenshanks and both great white and cattle egrets. Unfortunately the pair of little ringed plovers were not successful in their attempt at breeding this year.

Great reed warbler (credit Lee Johnson)

Cattle egret (credit Lee Johnson)

A juvenile black necked grebe appeared on D reservoir in late August for several days and just when birds were stopping off at other local sites a spotted crake arrived at Tophill on south marsh east on 25th August. As we go to post hobbies have been seen recently over Watton nature reserve, green and common sandpipers on south marsh and 2 garganey also on Watton nature reserve.

Friday, 22 July 2022

The big guys move in


Reserve updates July 2022

The next stage of our engineering project at the reserve has now started. The arrival of some huge machinery, much of which passes through the car park, highlights the need for the site to remain closed for visitors.

Work has now started on the removal and redistribution of Tophill ‘mound’. This is to make way for the new treatment works and filtration beds. Truckloads of rubble etc are being taken from behind the residential area to one of two sites on the reserve: the east side of D reservoir and the south end of O reservoir. The rubble is going to create two new mounds upon which our two new hides will be situated. This will allow access for all visitors and fabulous views over the reservoirs and in the case of O reservoir, the wider Hull valley.

Today (Tuesday 19th) I accompanied the site manager to get some footage of the work in progress. Nearly 80 % of the mound material that will be the base for the new D reservoir east hide is now in place, raising the ground level so I could see over the reservoir wall. After each 20cm depth of material has been spread over the surface a second machine compacts the material down, thus making the mound a solid structure. At the front, facing the reservoir there will be a gabion wall to further support the mound, a concrete platform will form the base for the new hide and the access path will start and finish at opposite sides of the D woods.

Preparation of D reservoir mound

The new mound which will allow the new hide overlooking O reservoir is a much bigger structure and is less complete. Once built the top of the mound will sit 6m above the ground level, approximately the same height as the old hide roof. On top of that the new hide, which will be two storey will be positioned.

Preparing O reservoir mound

Dumping material in preparation for O reservoir mound

Each wagon carries 30 tonnes of material every 15 minutes to each site from the area of the new treatment works, passing along the reserve access road each time. Due to this volume of machinery moving at such a frequent rate we can no longer conduct any guided walks in this area at present. Once the situation changes and we can safely accommodate visitors on reserve walks then we will schedule and advertise these.

Late June and July are sometimes the quietest times of the year for birdlife. Raising new fledglings is the biggest issue for our woodland birds and there is a lot of alarm calling and contact calling within family groups of tits, thrushes and warblers. On the wetlands, the black headed gull chicks have now all fledged leaving south marsh a lot quieter. Volunteers and visitors on the guided walks have seen five juvenile marsh harriers on south marsh west, as well as one juvenile near south lagoon. The pair of oystercatchers successfully raised two chicks and we hope that four shelduck reached a viable size after an initial count of eleven youngsters on south marsh east, a welcome sight to see this species breeding at the reserve. We hope that we have seen some success in breeding for common terns with an increase in the number of birds on south marsh this year, a maximum count of 16 birds, far more than last year. Gadwall, mallard, greylag, coot, tufted ducks all appear to have had a successful breeding season on south marsh.

On our guided walks visitors and volunteers have regularly seen bittern, in some cases two at once on south marsh west. We have yet to record any evidence of breeding but we wait in hope to catch a youngster on the move. Hopefully the presence of this iconic reedbed species is a result of the management practice that took place over last autumn and winter, when different areas of the reedbed were cut to a variety of levels and a new channel dug along one edge.

Visitors enjoying a guided walk

                                                             Bittern  Photo  Credit Maurice Dowson

There have been some signs of autumn, with a few waders passing through recently: common sandpiper, wood sandpiper, ringed plover and ruff have all been sighted, all on south marsh.

North lagoon has now lost all of its water and the exposed mud has become very dry and cracked within the last few weeks with the hotter weather. We had hoped that if it had remained wet then passage waders may have been enticed down to feed. The water however has rapidly evaporated quickly than anticipated, therefore will probably be dredged earlier than planned, ready to be put back in use for the water works and be filled again. The ‘No Fishing’ sign is certainly being adhered to! Kingfishers have been noted feeding regularly on south lagoon and south marsh, spreading themselves around the reserve as they usually do, following fledging.

North lagoon July 2022

Many of our wildflowers are now passing from bloom to seed, with the bee orchids and the common orchids now nearly over. The yellow rattle, an important flower in our meadows is also setting seed and the seed has been collected. This is the plant that outcompetes grasses which can sometimes take over. It also helps to make the meadows nutrient poor, ideal conditions for many wildflowers, so it is an important plant. Our volunteers have been visiting other local wetland areas to collect a range of other seeds. These will be planted and propagated in our new polytunnel, due to arrive on site soon, then they will be introduced to various areas on the reserve. We have already successfully introduced some bog bean and marsh cinquefoil in the reception pond. Our main problem was protecting the plants from being eaten by water voles – now that’s a good problem to have! In preparation for the work that will be carried out in the polytunnel, volunteers had a very informative visit to Nosterfield nature reserve, near Ripon. Here they have a very established polytunnel and wet beds in which they grow wetland plants. Each species requires different water levels and the set up at Nosterfield allows for this with separate areas with different water levels. Once plants have been raised the team then distribute plants to other reserves and partnerships, something that we aim to do ourselves in the near future.

Flowering bog bean

Our own wetland plant propagation in reception pond

Nosterfield nature reserve wetland plant propagation set up

Nosterfield nature reserve poly tunnel 

Our volunteer team, as always, have been busy learning new skills on a few events this week. Last year we were lucky to have scything enthusiasts Martin Stevens and Heidi Marwan of the Scythe Association of Britain and Ireland approach the reserve for a venue to exercise their skills.  A resurgence in interest in this technique has seen the widespread adoption of the much lighter and, in modern hands, more efficient Austrian scythe which makes the activity much more user friendly, and in many comments ‘a joy to use’. With the need to start cutting our hay meadows on site this essential training has meant we can start this major task in a way that does not create hand arm vibration, emit fumes and carbon, or need a spill kit, a three day specialist course and personal protective equipment to operate. All benefits for both the reserve and the volunteers.

                                                Scything at Boltby reservoir, autumn 2021

                                                            Boltby meadow July 2022

At Boltby reservoir near Thirsk scything last year has helped deliver stunning meadows of oxeye daisy and bethony which are home to adders, palmate newts and the rare argent and sable moth.  Near Dunswell on the outskirts of Hull are ‘adits’ – horizontal bore holes cut into the chalk which gather water beneath protected meadows, one of which has been earmarked for biodiversity enhancement to protect species like lapwing and skylark on the very boundary of the city, and it is here volunteers are training on the tools under Martin and Heidi’s instruction on a classic hay meadow setting.  Likewise, another event at Yorkshire Water’s Brooks Bank Farm near Sheffield hosted a scything masterclass by professional Danny Hodgson, in conjunction with the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, to manage meadows and wader scrapes as part of the Sheffield Lakeland Landscape Partnership.  The partnership has allowed us to manage meadows, woodlands and wetlands on a landscape scale to deliver bigger, better and more connected wildlife conservation.

We will continue to work to improve and maintain our habitats on the reserve whilst the different engineering projects continue around us. We will keep visitors updated as much as we can, both on the works and the wildlife that continues to thrive at Tophill Low. We greatly value your support and understanding whilst the reserve is closed and thank you for your interest in Tophill Low.