Managing a nature reserve is about creating a diverse range of habitats to support the widest variety of wild species. Establishing and maintaining the right mix of wild plants in the right places will, it is hoped, attract the wildlife to the reserve and, assuming it is not disturbed, it will settle in and make a home. Of course, the appropriate species of wild plants and animals must be targeted; only those that are indigenous to the area are expected to move in. This is the theory anyway, but wild species often have their own ideas about the choices they make, which creates the air of mystery and always keeps life on the nature reserve interesting.
At East Dartmoor, the National Nature Reserve managers devise their plans to make maximum use of local resources. For many years, an old reservoir at the top of Yarner Woods has been left abandoned since it was last used to supply water to local homes. As a derelict feature, it hasn’t attracted too much interest from local wildlife and, other than occasional groups of mallard and mandarin ducks, has been fairly quiet on the avian front. This is an opportunity that Natural England have been keen to take as there are very few bodies of open water in this part of Dartmoor and this old reservoir, managed with care, could provide an interesting addition to the patchwork of habitats.
Another valuable local resource on the nature reserve is the team of volunteers. Each week they spend a day in and around Yarner Woods on a variety of tasks, using some well-honed practical skills. Since last autumn they have been building a track, gently rising alongside the old reservoir for walkers and wheelchair users to find their way to access a new bird hide. So new, in fact, that it is still under construction in early 2017 in preparation for a season of wildlife watching. On a wet February day the volunteers were hard at work, assembling a timber kit to make the hide.
The supporting structural beams, taking the weight of the hide, were positioned along the “shore” of the reservoir a few months earlier. These large joists came from yet another local resource. Timber thinned from the Bovey Valley Woods has been milled to size on site in the East Dartmoor NNR.
As the rain was falling, the volunteers were persistently working to fix the walls in position and raise the roof to keep the water out. Guy, one of the team, explained “it’s a good quality kit supplied in sections with all the fixings. It’s going together very well. We’ll also make a wheelchair turning area outside the door”.
Once the hide is fully assembled, there will be a view diagonally across the reservoir and wildlife will be accommodated on floating islands. To create additional wetland habitat, Simon Lee, the Natural England Nature Reserve Manager explained that “2 metre square coir mats will be used as floating rafts. They will be sown with local provenance seed to create areas of marginal fen vegetation. These plants will not only provide greater botanical interest but they will create a matrix for invertebrates to hide”. The vegetative rafts will have the dual purpose of cleaning algal blooms from the water. Simon added that “zooplankton will feed on the phytoplankton which will result in clear water”. Guy summed it all up, saying “this should give the birds some fox free nesting”.
The construction of the hide will be complete by the spring and the wheel chair accessible track will be ready soon after. As the year progresses, we’ll find out if the plan will bear fruit.
by Matt Parkins