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.
  • Bittern by the Wildlife Bug

    Author: Rupert Masefield, Communications Officer, Eastern England Regional Office (EERO)

    Some of my most vivid memories from my childhood are of seemingly endless hours and days spent playing in and exploring nature in the garden at my grandparents’ house. Here, together with my younger brother and assorted cousins and friends, I had many of my first encounters with all kinds of creatures in what, to my young eyes, was a veritable wonderland for wildlife. There were frogs hidden in damp nooks near the pond, where I learned about the amazing life-cycle that sees tadpoles emerge from the submerged spawn and transform as they grow into adult frogs and leave the water for the first time; and all manner of beetles, bugs, woodlice, spiders and other captivating creepy-crawly invertebrates living in the foliage, amongst the leaf-litter and in the soil.

    Years later (let’s not go into to how many years), I found myself on one spring afternoon at Minsmere nature reserve another wildlife wonderland for the many people of all ages who visit the reserve to enjoy close encounters with the creatures that live there. Standing on the boardwalk over the shallow water of the Island Mere, surrounded by reedbed and bathed in the warm afternoon spring sunshine, a series of low, mournful notes reached my ears and brought back a memory from those long-but-not-lost days spent as a wildlife explorer in my grandparents’ garden.

    Back in that garden, not far from the pond where the frogs laid their spawn, there was a giant ornamental glass bottle sat into a recessed brick alcove. Needless to say, our intrepid gang of garden explorers, because that is what we were, saw this as an opportunity to compete to see who could make the loudest noise by blowing across the mouth of this bottle. The trick was to get the angle just right and not blow too hard, or you got an echoing raspberry, hilarious, but not what we were after. Occasionally, to our delight, one of us would manage to get everything spot on to make a sound like a foghorn that would resonate around the little chamber the bottle sat in and almost deafen the lot of us. The adults in the house were less than delighted, apparently the sound travelled well, and would put a stop to it when it got too much, but there was always the pond!

    It was the same sound I was hearing all those years later at Minsmere. I didn’t know it at the time, but we had been imitating the call of the bittern in that garden and now I was standing listening to a ‘booming’ male bittern in real life. There were no bitterns in the garden at my grandparents’ (apart from us), but the time we spent there certainly helped to develop the fascination with nature the sends a tingle down my spine when I hear them today.


    Bittern among reeds. Credit: Andy Hay (RSPB)

    It is an evocative sound and one that today can be heard not only at Minsmere, but in reedbeds around the country. Now is the perfect time of year to get out there a go in search of the booming bitterns, and I would encourage anyone with an interest in nature to do so and take your kids or grandkids with you!

    Bittern factfile

    • Bitterns are members of the heron family
    • They were extinct in the UK at the end of the 19th Century but there are now more than 80 males in East Anglia alone
    • The call of a male bittern can be heard up to three miles away
    • Bitterns are typically very shy birds and are rarely seen, often preferring to sty hidden in the reedbeds where they live

    Learn more about bitterns at www.rspb.org.uk/bittern

    Where to hear (and if you’re lucky see) bitterns

    In Norfolk, RSPB Strumpshaw Fen in The Broads and Titchwell Marsh nature reserve in North Norfolk.

    In Suffolk, RSPB Minsmere on the Suffolk Coast and Lakenheath Fen.

    Find an RSPB reserve near you where you can go in search of bitterns: www.rspb.org.uk/reserves  


    Bittern gliding across a reed bed. Credit: John Bridges (RSPB)

  • Give a Frog a Home and Witness Their Spectacular Lifecycle

    Author: Sarah Osborn

    At first glance, frogspawn floating in a pond can have a slightly alien appearance. But looking closer at the black dots suspended in clear gelatinous orbs, soon to emerge as wriggling tadpoles, I can’t help but smile at how amazing nature is.

    Whilst most people are familiar with the lifecycle of a frog, watching it unfold right in front of your eyes is enthralling. There is something magical about seeing the little tadpoles gradually transform, bit by bit, into adult frogs as the days pass.

    And what a great way to get youngsters enthralled by wildlife! During the spring, this incredible drama is playing out in parks and gardens the length and breadth of the county in full squelchy, Technicolor glory.

    You have to look carefully into the depths to see clouds of spawn; then the resulting froglets are many in number, easy to spot and incredibly cute! Baby frogs will soon be appearing perched at a pond near you, their proud posture suggesting their delight at having made the leap from black dot to fully functioning amphibian.

    Female frogs lay an amazing 2000 eggs every season, but only a tiny fraction of them survive to become adult frogs. And the challenges for our amphibian friends don’t stop there. These days, adult frogs are struggling to find shelter in our neighbourhoods and countryside, and we have seen their numbers dramatically decline in the UK in recent years.

    To keep this miniature wildlife spectacle alive in your neighbourhood, why not consider giving a frog a home this spring? There are lots of different ways you can help provide them with a much needed home and a meal, from creating ponds and log piles to growing patches of long grass in your gardens and parks. You don’t have to do all the hard work, as frogs are happy hopping from garden to garden in search of all that they need, as long as you make sure you’ve provided a little hole in your fences to allow them passage.


    Common Frog. Credit: Eleanor Bentall (RSPB)

    Whatever you do for frogs will be appreciated by a whole host of other garden wildlife, providing you with many more mini wildlife spectacles in years to come!

    To find out about how you can give a frog a home on your patch, visit www.rspb.org.uk/homes.

  • The Ouse Washes Nature Friendly Zone Logo Competition

    Author: Gemma Wells, Community Engagement Officer, Ouse Washes

    Last month, I had a brilliant day taking students from Lionel Walden Primary School out into the open Fens to experience firsthand the fantastic work of a nature friendly farm in Cambridgeshire.

    Andy and Sarah Coulson, who own and manage Englands and Eatons Charity Farm near Wimblington, hosted 26 inquisitive Year 4 students on the sunny day that kicked off National Science Week. The children were buzzing to discover how the Coulsons were able to grow potatoes and other crops while also looking after farmland wildlife.

    While out on the farm, the children spotted deer tracks and signs of badgers, heard a skylark singing and found out all about nature friendly farm features such as ditches and beetle banks. By providing the “Big 3” – nesting areas, winter food and summer food – the Coulson’s farm also provides a safe haven for declining farmland birds such as corn buntings and grey partridges. And a highlight of the day was seeing gleaming hi-tech farm machinery and the seemingly infinite store of potatoes that will soon grace chip shops throughout the country!


    Corn Buntings. Credit: Andy Hay (RSPB)

    The adventure continued back at school as the children learnt about six very special farmland birds that rely on wildlife friendly farms in Cambridgeshire, and how local farmers have joined together to form the new Ouse Washes Nature Friendly Zone, an area designed to help declining farmland bird populations to recover.

    The Ouse Washes Nature Friendly Zone needs a logo! If you are feeling creative, why not join pupils from Lionel Walden Primary School in designing an entry for our logo competition, by thinking about how to represent the natural and farming heritage of the area in a simple picture?

    If you’d like to take part, please send your entry on an A4 sheet of paper with your name and contact details on the back to Gemma Wells, RSPB Ouse Washes, Welches Dam, Manea, Cambs, PE15 0NF or email it to gemma.wells@rspb.org.uk.

    This school trip was made possible thanks to generous funding from the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership, whose aims include connecting people of all ages to their local heritage.

    To find out more about the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership, visit www.ousewashes.org.uk


    Pupils from Lionel Walden Primary School