Bugs, Birds and Beasts in the East

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Bugs, Birds and Beasts in the East

All of our up to date fun and frolics in the East from office antics to great conservation stories and those magical connections with nature.
  • The true value of nature

    Guest blog from Dr Rob Field & Dr Richard Bradbury RSPB Conservation Scientists

    How do you put a value on a nature reserve like Wicken Fen?

    Man — despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication, and his many accomplishments — owes his existence to a six inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains. ~ Anon.

    The natural world has always provided for us, and throughout history we have valued that, but perhaps not monetarily.

    Is it possible to put monetary values on some of the benefits conferred by nature?  It’s much easier to put values on some things than others.

    As the proverb says, two of the chief benefits we get from nature are food and water, but we value one easily with money and the other less so.

    Cultural benefits of nature are difficult put a value on

    Flood control, water quality, regulation of climate and spiritual values are all examples of other benefits we get from nature, either directly or indirectly, but which are often not fully appreciated or accounted for within current economic models.

    Yet a reduction or loss of these “ecosystem services” can have severe economic, social and environmental impacts. But, because they are not easy to value, they lose out to the more easily quantified services in many assessments of the value of particular land-uses to a community.

    New Study puts a value on Wicken Fen nature reserve

    To help put a value on ecosystem services such as the cultural benefits we get from nature  a group of experts (including the RSPB, the University of Cambridge, Anglia Ruskin Universities and Birdlife International) have developed a Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment (TESSA) –  a set of methods that allow non-experts to make reasonable, scientifically credible estimates of some of the key ecosystem services a place may offer.  

    Marsh harrier. Photograph by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

    The study “Benefits and costs of ecological restoration: Rapid assessment of changing ecosystem service values at a UK wetland”, published this week, in Ecology and Evolution journal used the toolkit to value the ecosystem services offered by  a large area of restored wetland adjacent to National Trust, Wicken Fen NNR in Cambridgeshire.

    The study shows that compared with its former use as intensively farmed arable land, restored wetland can offer many valuable resources to people, of more than equal value to the ‘lost’ agricultural production and in addition to safeguarding the spectacular wildlife the reserve itself hosts.

    Wicken Fen nature reserve. Photograph by Paul Tuli

    The restored wetland can reduce flood damage and carbon emissions to the atmosphere and increase recreational use and the availability of grazing land.

    In 2011, each hectare of restored wetland was worth around US$200 more than if it had remained in arable cultivation, without taking farming subsidies into account, a cost to society.

    Whilst we cannot survive without the food that arable land produces, there is still an awful lot of it available (even locally – The Wicken vision area is 5,300 hectares of around 230,000 hectares of arable land in Cambridgeshire – that’s about 2%) and farmers are pretty good at getting a lot of food from each of those hectares. This study demonstrates that whilst food is more important than its monetary benefit alone, so are some of the other things that land gives us that are not so obviously valued.

    When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization. ~Daniel Webster, US Politician and Lawyer (1782-1852), Remarks on Agriculture

    Using the toolkit more widely

    TESSA has so far been used by conservation practitioners at more than 20 sites of conservation interest across five continents. The methods are applicable to a wide range of users, including natural resource managers, land-use planners, development organisations and the private sector. Find out more about the Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment (TESSA)

  • For the love of plants (this Bank Holiday) #OperationWildTimes

    Blogger: Adam Murray, Communications Officer


    Well we have come full circle, my name is Adam and I love plants and gardening. I dismissed plants outright when I chose Zoology over Biology (including botany) for my undergraduate degree. My shoulders sank and I huffed at the thought of doing chores in the garden as a kid. Now look at me, #OperationWildTimes is up and running and you and I are now in a world of “plantification”. So you can imagine my disappointment, head-hitting-hands moment when I went to Geoffrey’s place with my 3 ½ year old and came across this.


    Are they saying spend money on more plastic and pretend to do gardening – “just like home”? Surely it is better to kick open the back door at home and do the real thing outside, it is cheaper and better for the children too, the sort of things long lasting childhood memories are made of. Haven’t they seen that gardening is now the coolest thing to do especially for the teenagers aged 16-18s and Under 35s. Well OK not necessarily cool but really rewarding, calming, and you can give you and yours a little oasis. Then you can go all Noah on the wildlife and build a place where they can call home too.


    Every evening since our garden has been done (save a few tweaks like wobbly paving slabs, decking and hammock post) Mrs. M loses me to my thoughts and the wildlife buzzing around me in the garden. I can’t tell you how relaxing it is. So now that I have caught the bug (and on a mission to ban all plastic versions of reality) I have been released like a captive born gardening beast out into the big wild world, eager to learn and see other creations.


    My first stop this week was the Exotic Garden, on Thorpe Rd in Norwich. As I had walked passed it for the last 3 ½ years on the way to work I had been meaning to go for a while but now the bug-bitten Murray made it happen. I was blown away by this surprising small plot of land that had managed, with clever winding paths and vistas around every corner, to create a magical wonderland. With magnificent monumental cannas and cacti and cascading sedums and house leeks, I was in plant heaven. The butterflies and bumblebees were going mad for it too. Just think, their garden is only 5 minutes walk away from my house and with the same micro-climate and south facing aspect – maybe we will have our very own wonderland in the future.


    Next up on my visits of inspiration was to our good friends at the RSPB Flatford Wildlife Garden in John Constable country. A pleasant old fashioned train journey to Manningtree from Norwich ended and we were met by the smiley face of Mark who whisked us off to the garden. There I soaked up the atmosphere, the young families on holiday frolicking around the garden following the treasure trail while the more sedate visitors sat and enjoyed their ice creams, watching nature pass them by. If you look closely you can find similarities between the more exotic gardens. The orchid like flowers of the country garden sweet peas, the tall standing teasels and thistley pom-poms of the echinops and the rambling ground sedums – in my minds eye close counterparts to their blousy tropical cousins. Not only do the architecture of these plants inspire in the garden but I love going there to pick up some plants to bring back home and learn some top tips too. Here are a few of those gems.


    My name is Adam and I love plants and gardening. Your mission should you choose to accept is to join our band of merry wannabe green-fingered folk and get out there this bank holiday and get dirty, it’s is good for the soul.


    Take a look below at the attached file from my interview with Mike the gardener about his thoughts on the power of getting outside and your hands dirty. 

  • These are a few of my favourite things #OperationWildTimes

    Blogger: Adam Murray, Communications Officer


    How are you coping with the summer holidays? A bit soggy around the edges as you dodge the thunder storms? Noticed that the roads are quieter and your usual haunts are “full of screaming kids”/children having fun? Or have you managed to get away from it all and enjoy some natural spectacles like the wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings?


    With my wife on maternity leave and a primary school teacher this is first and probably only year that we will not be following the crowds (and exorbitant holiday prices). It also means that we are staying at home taking a "staycation” (read the report from Visit England for more info) - in other words enjoying the wonders of East Anglia and most importantly our new garden.  


    So time for a “papa smirk”, a Murray-ism for when my dad has a cheeky knowing smug grin (some say he looks a bit like Papa Smurf too). Now that our lovely garden is nearly down, bar my never ending to do list, these are a few of my favourite things that I will be enjoying this summer.

    1.    Flowers blooming and succulents taking hold


    2.    Kid-proofing the garden

    3.    Adventure Play (any excuse)

    4.    Hunting for Bugs


    5.    Outdoor Living

    And these are a few things I would do differently

    I would probably do this whole project at a different time of year so that bedding in the new plants would not need so much watering. I am sure you would get more bargains in garden centres later on in the year too. I would also set out with any contractors what my level of attention to detail is like and whether they can meet that level. Also how do you test this before they start?

    Things you can do

    Whatever your favourite things are, and feel free to be inspired by the good and great Dame Julie Andrews, you too can make your green space work for you, your family, friends and your local wildlife. Why not take a look at the RSPB Giving Nature a Home web pages and Adrian Thomas’ blog for more info. Enjoy the rest of the summer and see what you can do to avoid the crowds and enjoy your own wildlife oasis however small it may be.