Monday, 14 December 2020

A formal introduction

With the second lockdown being followed by tier 3 restrictions Tophill Low has seen yet another long closure. Not only did we shut the doors to the public but also to our volunteers who generously donate roughly 13,000 hours a year to help us keep on top of our habitat management programs around the reserve. Considering their absence and to help keep things ticking over we have reached out to seek assistance from some unlikely helpers, 7 Boer Goats.

Promo picture for upcoming horror movie 'Giant Goat East Yorkshire Rampage'
Lucy making herself at home in North Scrub

In early November Charlotte Taylor, a local grazier and owner of ‘Nibbles & Co’ moved 7 of her Boer goats to Tophill Low to work alongside the Belted Galloways to help maintain our scrub habitats and hay meadows. Unlike the Belties, the goats have a really varied diet and prefer to eat more fibrous, woody vegetation, have a natural preference for brambles and are thoroughly enjoying their new home in North Scrub!

With a varied diet Boer goats get a lot of their nutrients from bark, making light work of species like goat willow. Ring barking like this slows down scrub species encroaching into open spaces.

Our volunteers would spend days removing goat willow by hand. Relying on powered equipment and herbicides to try and stop scrub species from walking out into the scrub is a never ending battle. 

Boer Goats originate from South Africa and are predominantly a meat breed, in the UK they are the only pedigree meat breed and Charlotte intends to grow on the herd for this purpose. More information on the goats, their antics and their progress can be found on their Facebook page ‘Nibble & Co’.
Like all goats, Boers are agile climbers and do so to reach the more succulent leaves, twigs and buds a little further off the ground. Being a meat breed, they will soon be too heavy make any major escapes... we hope! 

With conservation grazing being the main objective, we are keen to ensure high standards of animal welfare are followed so we implore anyone visiting Tophill Low Nature Reserve, please DO NOT FEED the goats. They have sensitive digestive systems and any abrupt changes can cause serious health implications. Charlotte travels to the reserve daily to ensure the animals welfare needs are being met and this was a key factor in our decision to bring in ‘Nibbles & Co’ to take on the workload.

Our agile workforce enjoying some winter sun

Charlotte Taylor, Beswick local grazier introducing her gang

Our aim is to get the goats into some of the more unruly parts of the reserve, to work alongside the Belties opening up areas to create more edge habitat which is vital for much of our local biodiversity. With their help we can also strike a balance between the encroaching brambles, self-seeded hawthorn and willows to regain the important open grassy habitats that these scrub species have been able to take over in absence of our volunteer’s hard work.

They wasted no time getting stuck in. Within the first few days they were jumping into the brambles to get right in there to the 'good parts'. If there are any good parts at this time of year?!

The goats were a little weary of their big roommates to start with but now they've settled in they are rarely apart, always in close proximity to the gentle giants. 

Introducing the goats to Tophill Low means we can refocus our volunteer team allowing us to take on exciting new projects and give existing ones the time and effort they deserve. It is also significant because it is another step forward for Yorkshire Water and Tophill Low to reach the carbon net zero ambition by 2030. The goats enable us to leave the herbicides, the tractor, the brush cutters, the reapers and the chainsaws securely in the workshop, not having to use herbicides or fossil fuels, not burning the cuttings on a bonfire and probably most notably, not polluting the idyllic sound of nature that many of our visitors come to enjoy. Although, the idyllic sound of nature now features a lot of goat bleating!


The team taking down the intruding branches from outside the enclosure in a coordinated and serious effort to stop succession on North Scrub getting any worse.

We would have to dedicate many hours of work with powered equipment, over many consecutive weeks with almost all of our volunteer teams to achieve the same outcome as these goats.

In other news, work is being done to firm up the access to North Marsh Hide. With serious damp affecting the supporting beams under the boards we are working hard to replace the supports and get access back to the hide ready for future use.

With goats tackling scrub succession, we can refocus our efforts to ensure a safe and enjoyable time is had by anyone visiting the reserve. 

We look forward to welcoming you all back soon, when it is safe to do so and when the East Riding is downgraded to a tier 2. Until then, please stay safe and take care.

We aren't they only ones looking forward to safely reopening!

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Tiers at Tophill

Thanks for everyone's support and patience during the current lockdown.  There's been some good numbers of both whooper swans and pink footed geese here which highlights the importance of ensuring the SSSI reservoirs are not disturbed.  

The marsh level was brought back up to winter height; 
And is lapping at (and briefly within) the Izzard hide.  
More updates to follow - chiefly on 7 new occupants of Tophill Low that moved in over lockdown... 

Principally this post is to pre-empt the government local tier announcement scheduled for Thursday the 26th; and to pre-empt what social media commentators will decide on our behalf.   For the first time 'Wildlife Reserves' are specifically mentioned which allows us to be more objective and set expectations from the off;  As ever different reserves have different viewing opportunities, facilities, staffing and circumstances so please respect this is a balanced decision based solely upon Tophill Low rather than what other outwardly similar reserves are doing.

Tier 3; Reserve closed
“indoor attractions at mostly outdoor entertainment venues must also close (indoor shops, through-ways and public toilets at such attractions can remain open). This includes indoor attractions within:
zoos, safari parks, and wildlife reserves”

Our interpretation is that this means bird hides.  As per lock down, during winter when wildfowl are most pressured it means increased disturbance on SSSI reservoirs and marshes as people create their own viewing opportunities in the absence of hides.  Wildlife coming before people's curiosity is hopefully is something our regulars agree with.    

"you must not meet socially indoors or in most outdoor places with anybody you do not live with, or who is not in your support bubble, this includes in any private garden or at most outdoor venues"

We also need to factor the risk to staff maintaining and cleaning the reserve both in the context of a high local levels of infection with a higher than normal footfall as people look for things to do – and the sites' principle role of Water Production facility and the importance of operational key workers.   

Tier 2; Reserve open
“you must not socialise with anyone you do not live with or who is not in your support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place”
We return as we had intended prior to November lock down of one family bubble in one hide at a time.  No lingering or hide hogging – facilities must be shared responsibly by users.  If this does not work we close.
Tier 1; Reserve open
“you must not socialise in groups larger than 6 people, indoors or outdoors, other than where a legal exemption applies.  This is called the ‘rule of 6’”
We return to pre-October of maximum 6 persons per hide and shutters to physically distance individuals.  

So there you go folks.  Whether the reserve is open or closed on the 2nd of December now depends upon what tier East Yorkshire goes into.  

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Tophill Lock-down 2

Having reviewed all guidance regretfully we have had to close Tophill Low during the new lockdown.  The reserve will close at dusk on Wednesday the 4th November until at least the 2nd December.

This is far from a simple decision as many different conservation organisations and water companies are interpreting the rather grey guidance in various ways;  So our approach is very much a Tophill specific decision. 

It is regretful given how much an escape in the outdoors means to visitors, the social aspect and learning for our volunteers of all ages, and all the conservation work that won’t get done this winter but we need to put the safety of people and the welfare of the wildlife first. 


I appreciate this won’t be to the liking of all but please consider our reasoning below;

In terms of official guidance at the time of writing (link here) you must stay at home with specific exceptions – most notably to us is that of exercise outdoors or visit a public space for which you can travel a short distance; Which I am sure many will interpret in any manner they like. 

Perhaps more specific guidance is in section 4 relating to 'businesses and venues' – as this better describes Tophill Low – we are a private reserve not a public site nor do we have rights of way running through the reserve.  It is stated 'entertainment venues must close'.  Whilst not a 'zoo or a botanical garden' conversely the mention of golf courses is perhaps most applicable.  If it is deemed a golf course is not Covid secure enough then I do not see how we can operate safely here.

The crucial aspect of Tophill Low is hides.   Many reserves are big, open aspect outdoor locations where hides aren’t present or aren’t integral to a visit and people don’t gather.  Tophill Low however has the vast majority of habitats only visible from a confined hide which in our opinion is counter to the aims of a lockdown.  In meetings with our peer Water Companies the majority are closing hides from Thursday and we will be doing likewise.

Last time round some reserves retained open hides during lockdown and may do so again; But as we understand this was largely driven by anti-social behaviour issues which prevented closure.

We have discussed just allowing access to the path network but unfortunately we know curiosity will get the better of people whom will start creating their own viewing areas off paths, around hides or over reservoir walls creating disturbance to wildfowl at a time when safe feeding and resting time are crucial, within the context of shooting season which is actively pursued adjacent to the reserve and will no doubt continue albeit in a reduced capacity.  As site owners we have a legal obligation to ‘protect the biological interest of the site from activities that would be significantly harmful’ under our SSSI designation.   

This means an increased burden on staff and volunteers to supervise and police disturbance – at a time when the objective is to reduce inter-person contact.  Normally we rely on volunteers to assist with this – many of whom fall into at-risk categories.  We want to put the safety of our team first and see everyone back in better circumstances.  This needs to be put in a context of a potential increase in new visitors whom are potentially unfamiliar with site etiquette whom have nowhere else to go.  We also have to factor those elements whom wish to let off lockdown steam and frustrations against our staff.  Whilst the vast majority of visitors respected the necessity of our covid measures needed to remain open, it was not without incident.  In the last three months we have had one way gates kicked open or climbed over, brash walls trampled through and signage ripped down besides the general grumbling and ignoring or ignorance of one way routes and on occasions disregard for distancing or capacity in hides which forced us to shutter up windows and forcibly distance people.  So this does not fill us with confidence that respect and common sense will abound.    

The primary function of Tophill Low above a nature reserve is a drinking water supply.  As before we need to ensure the safety of operational teams working on site to safeguard production.  


We’ve had a number of members asking why we can’t just make it members only.   Presently we have over 400 members.  Unfortunately there is no vetting to say that all will adhere to site rules and guidance.  Even since East Yorkshire went into Tier 2 on Saturday I am aware we have had visits from Tier 3 residents.  To ensure it is only members we then need to vet everyone coming in; and by this stage we are effectively fully staffed and open with more complex admissions rules and more interactions and arguments turning away non-members.  Unfortunately ‘short journey’ has not been defined, but virtually all our visitors travel at least 4 miles to reach Tophill Low from the nearest villages.  We aim to support the stop of covid19 and advocating visits from increasingly distant towns and counties we feel is inappropriate.     

As per last year paid up members lose membership time so our present thinking is that we will simply extend the expiry of membership cards into April or find a similar manner to even things up.  Thanks to everyone who declined a refund on the 19/20 season – we set aside these donations and raised just over £300 towards environmental education materials like pond dipping and bug hunting gear for the school groups.    

Education and events

YW had already confirmed the education programme has been suspended until new year yesterday and any hopes for a winter photo exhibition have been extinguished.  We may look at trying to do something online as an alternative. 


As last time please keep an eye on the blog for updates on opening and don’t assume the gates will be open on the 2nd of December.  We will need to check, clean and prep hides and paths before re-opening that will likely take a period of time with the volunteers before we go public again. 

Wardening and security;

As before we will be maintaining a regular Warden staff presence on the reserve with our graziers whom are still checking livestock present reporting back.  The operations teams check the site daily and they are briefed to be vigilant for anyone on site.  Lastly our friends at Humberside Police Rural and Wildlife Crime unit have the gate codes to enter the site at any time and conduct sweeps day and night randomly. 

So thanks to all for your patience and please accept this is beyond anyone's control.  We'll try and put some updates on in coming days and with luck we'll see you all very soon.   

Friday, 30 October 2020

Tier 2 restrictions

You'll likely be aware that Tophill Low now falls within the new high risk tier 2 restrictions as of Saturday 31st of October.  Thanks to everyone visiting for respecting the site guidance and allowing us to keep the reserve open in what was the busiest summer for visitors ever.  You'll have noticed a paucity of updates simply as its been that busy trying to run a new membership season alongside covid measures and catching up on several months of lost habitat work due to flooding and lockdown (besides planning new works at the start of our 2020-25 OFWAT funding cycle - not just at Tophill but well beyond) and in the context of the passing of many good hands this last few months and others still isolating or shielding - so the wet and cold weather hasn't been totally unwelcome as a bit of respite and catch-up; But clearly events keep moving on.   

As for many the guidance can be a little blurry, especially in the world of nature reserves and bird hides.  Generally we've been happy with the efforts so far and the rule of six we imposed on the hides earlier to ensure social distancing is now a certain necessity.  The main change is that stipulated by 'no one must mix indoors with anyone who they do not live with' - and 'businesses must ensure that they operate in a COVID-secure manner' this of course forces us to reconsider the use of bird hides.  

It's a delicate decision as we appreciate that Tophill Low is an escape and refuge not just for wildlife but also people.  If we close all hides it would very likely increase disturbance as people attempted to look around and over hides / res walls etc.  In the context of access still being allowed and indeed encouraged outdoors, then we are not compelled yet to close the reserve outright, which comes with its own complications.  

For the high risk category we intend to keep hides open - but to comply with our duty as a venue only one household bubble is permitted within a hide at any one time.  So this could mean up to 6 - or just 1 person as applicable.  But we cannot pretend that the hides are large enough to sensibly distance multiple groups or even individuals as in a pub or restaurant setting.  

We don't have the personnel to stand on every hide with a stopwatch so we're not putting times on.  And indeed some hides you could sit in for long periods and not be inconveniencing anyone at off peak times.  The hides remaining open on this basis very much depends on users being courteous and sensible.  We would ask that if you enter a hide be vigilant for people waiting.  If there are people waiting we ask you move on and allow others a chance to view.  If two groups arrive simultaneously we ask you politely liaise to agree a limited viewing for a minute or two before swapping over.  

So a prime example is Izzard hide;  Many would formerly bring a cushion, flask, bean bag etc and set up for a 3hr photography session.  Unfortunately in the present circumstances this cannot happen - you will need to vacate and make space for the next users when they arrive in a timely fashion.

If we feel that this isn't working and people can't be on the whole sensible, then we will be forced to close the hides or reserve.  And indeed we need to set the expectation that in the event of Tier 3 Very High we may yet have to close outright. 

A great many of our visitors and members are from areas already in Tier 3 Very High.  As a reminder the current guidance is 'we are advising people not to travel into or out of an area if it has been categorised as a very high alert level area. This is part of wider measures to help manage the risk of transmission. You can continue to travel into or out of very high alert level areas if you need to for work, education, to access youth services or because of caring responsibilities'. So on this basis we would ask you do not attend the reserve presently if from a high risk area. 

So what I would say is put the emphasis on enjoying the reserve between the hides - fungi season is at its very peak presently with some brilliant species at the path edges to look at.  The starling roost is back and in force flying overhead at dusk, and redwings and fieldfares are starting to roll up in numbers at South Scrub.  

We were hoping to potentially look at photo exhibitions etc for this winter but alas that will all have to fall away for the foreseeable.  But we will endeavor to stay open where possible within the guidance.   

Friday, 28 August 2020

Changes to hide usage

We've been keeping a eye on the use of hides over the last month and watching what contemporary conservation organisations are doing and as such have made a few amendments in the current circumstances to ensure safe usage continues. From the 29th; 

Adults must wear face coverings within all hides 

The Izzard photography hide will return to members only as per last year.  Combination code for the gate (with new sanitisers) is on the reverse of the 20/21 card.  Membership is open to all via post or the reception hide.  

Due to numbers we've had to physically restrict viewing opportunities in the Izzard and North Marsh hides.  Please be courteous and allow others the chance to view.  

Thank you for your understanding.  

Whilst the weather is against us we have been dropping levels on the south marsh east to encourage autumn passage waders;  Hopefully in coming days we should see extended areas of open mud to maximise chances in favourable easterlies.  

Monday, 10 August 2020

Tophill Low welcomes families back to the reserve

Tophill Low welcomes families back to the reserve

Once the reserve had been open for a week from 20th July the education section of Tophill Low started to welcome back family groups to our family workshops to support home learning. These have been organised so that family groups (maximum 6 people) can get involved with activities within the nature trail area. Each session has consisted of four family groups, each doing a different activity, then rotating around the activities in order to abide by social distance guidelines, yet allowing children to participate in things that they have missed out on during lockdown, as all school visits were cancelled. 

Duncan who works in the treatment plant brought his grandchildren, Bertie and Betsy along. Bertie was even dressed for the part with his Yorkshire Water uniform!

Children and their families have been pond dipping, following the nature trail to spot a range of different and interesting features of the woodland, learning about plants and pollinators along the butterfly border and also hunting out minibeasts in our bug arena. 

Usually when schools visit the class collects valuable data about the health of the invertebrate life in the reception pond, so having family groups doing this will mean at least we have some records for summer 2020. 

Finding out what has been caught

There is always something to spot along the nature trail and the volunteers have done a great job cutting back the vegetation to allow this to happen, making sure that no one misses "Old Stinker"! 

The weather can affect how many butterflies can be spotted along the buddleia hedge but when it's been warm enough families have taken part in the Big Butterfly Count using an app on their phones then adding to this to the nation wide survey of butterflies throughout August. If no butterflies have been around then children have been searching for caterpillars made of wool that have been hidden in the bushes, a nice activity to demonstrate the survival adaptation of camouflage. 

Finally we have given families a real challenge and that has been to search for minibeast, a task that can prove quite difficult in dry conditions but you can always rely on children to hunt them out.

Feedback from those families that have taken part has been really positive and both children and adults, many who had not visited the reserve before, have enjoyed the activities and felt safe taking part with their families. 

Future dates can be found on the main education section of the Yorkshire Water website (click here for link)

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Lockdown life

So what happened whilst humans were out the way?  

Whilst I'd like to say I was at Tophill revelling in a private reserve on a daily basis there has been plenty more to attend to elsewhere in the region - and to be honest Tophill Low has been largely blissfully quiet so at some stages the wider reserve was left to itself for weeks at a time with only quick checks.  

Unfortunately we missed out on all the best bits of spring - the first signs such as wild garlic in D woods:
 Oystercatchers returned to site on March the 25th:
 Reed buntings were plentiful and continue to be actively around site now:
 The marshes were refilled at this time to strand islands from predators and kill off vegetation:
 Nice to see water vole droppings in South Scrub still:
Barn owls in the boxes at North Scrub.  Unfortunately it seems to have been a poor year for them with a bust following a boom in voles last year - likely also due to the wet conditions flooding them out. 
Meanwhile the stoats moved into the reception hide;  We're not sure where they got in but were using the floor to commute around emerging in the cctv cabinet:
Meanwhile kingfishers returned to nest outside McBean hide - perhaps fortunate we were on lock down as social distancing would have been an unlikely prospect based on 2018:
 Kestrels too seem to have fared the same as barn owls with no breeding but a constant presence:
 Yellow archangel:
 Pussy willow:
 Marsh harriers became more and more evident around site - seemingly peaking at 4 pairs active:
 Last of the wintering redshanks joined by a flash ruff on April 9th:
 First of the marsh frogs not long after:
 Nice to see lords and ladies becoming established in the reserve woodlands:
Not what we were hoping to see on the osprey platform - a pair of egyptian geese that were subsequently reported all around the upper reaches of the Hull:
 Due to the quiet nature of the site gadwall started nesting on the reception hide pond:
 Marsh harriers aplenty; these the North Marsh birds that bred within yards of the hide:
Kingfishers doing their thing at Hempholme; Ultimately we're unsure if they were successful - but there are certainly plenty around the site as is usual for this time of year:
 First yellow wags through around the 17th April:
 Sparrowhawk enjoying spring passage over the res;
 First goslings showing the success of the fox fence:
 Nice to see a spring passage black tailed godwit:
 House Martin on the 17th April:
 Springtime pond:
Amy was lucky enough to be on site during the spring arctic tern movement with 5 birds through on D res in late April:
One of the grey herons - loads of activity in the burgeoning heronry in D woods.  We never determined just how many active nests there were.   Unfortunately species 272 more than likely eluded us; the predicted squacco heron was seen south of Tophill flying north and later was seen around Bethell's Bridge and as such was almost certainly present - but seen by no one:
Common buzzards likely bred in at least one site on the reserve this year - a regular presence for the first time again likely due to lack of people:
 The first swift of 2020 on the 27th April:
 More marsh frog:
 Common whitethroat on east scrub:
 Spring snipe:
 Common terns too on the 27th and seemingly bred on South Marsh East:
 Willow warbler:
Marsh harrier causing chaos in the gull colony - where at least 45 pairs bred this year: 
Shelduck too but seemingly no chicks this year:
 Common sandpiper on the 1st May
 Bad weather put down good numbers of yellow wags:
 And brought in many hundreds of sand martins and swallows:
The belted galloways returned to Hempholme Meadow: 
The sand martin colony has been spectacular this year and is well worth a look with reportedly around 50% of holes occupied.  However on my 8th May visit there were none about; this was why:
 Hairy dragonfly:
 Harriers as ever:
 Building numbers of goslings showing the success of the fox fence:
 Opportunity lost; Marsh harriers eye to eye at the Izzard hide:
 Oystercatchers - likely hatched young but were likely predated as below:
 A lone mediterranean gull in the colony - one for the future?
 Terns a familiar feature though:
 Lapwings too certainly attempted to nest:
 But these characters were a continuous presence:
 The interspecies pair partnered up gain to make more fake barnacle geese to confuse visitors...
 Equally good numbers of greylags on Watton NR:
 By this stage it hadn't rained for weeks and the site was drier than we expect in September:
 And becoming ever wilder:
 First mallard broods:
 Picnic area going back to nature:
 Path disappearing:
Bee orchid on O res: 
 South Marsh East vegetating up:
 Lone little gull on June 4th:
Lingering teal:
Nice to see a pair of shoveler - but no young logged:
Whilst we've sorted the fox predation with high levels of hatching, chicks still seemed scant - this would likely explain why - the marsh appears to have become something of a buzzard take away with them using the shelter belt west of the marsh as a vantage point:
Mute swan fared better though with seemingly 6 cygents maturing:
Despite the lesser black backed's also looking for a meal:

So there we go;

In recent days we've had 4 green sandpiper, common sandpiper and little ringed plover so autumn wader passage is well underway and the marsh strimmed and ready to go with new mud ready:
So here's to a better latter half of the year...

In case you haven't seen the guide to the new access setup due to COVID there's a handy explanatory video here