Monday, 23 December 2013

Car Park Matting and a Rescue Mission to Blakeney Point

The Fen has been getting in the festive mood for the past couple of weeks. While the Education guys have been busy with all the Father Christmas visits, the Ranger team has been getting the fen ready for the Christmas crowds. Our biggest job has been to put some new matting down in the overflow car park to try and stop people getting stuck in the mud. It involved laying 28 rolls of matting, at 20m long each and then hammering over 100 pins into each mat. Needless to say we all had sore hammering arms by the end of the week. The result is that half of the overflow is now easier to drive when the bad weather hits over Christmas, though we will still have the tractor on standby just in case anyone needs a tow.

Andy and Lesley finishing the first section on a sunny Monday afternoon
End result of the first day
Nearly there, even if we couldn't see each other through the mist!
Last Friday Jack and I went to help our colleagues over at Blakeney Point on the North Norfolk coast. Due to high winds coinciding a spring tide a few weeks ago, the boardwalk had been moved around all over the point, so a team of Rangers volunteered from properties all over the region to help set it all straight again. Under the instruction of the North Norfolk Coast Rangers we managed to push, pull, lift, drop, squeeze and stretch the boardwalk back into place. It was like doing a very long jigsaw puzzle as the bendy and straight pieces all had to go back in the right order so that it followed the path around the sand dunes. This was made all the more exciting by having to herd protective seal mothers off the boardwalk which they and their pups had clearly claimed to be theirs. The bad weather has pushed the seal colony further inland than they would normally, and they can move surprisingly quickly when you have your back turned. All in all it was a successful day, we returned all boardwalk pieces that hadn’t been swept out to see and we all got to spend the day with seal pups!
First job of the day, move the seal out the way of the tractor! (And yes I did very nearly get bitten!)
Two cute seal pups who had been weaned and were slowly making their way to the sea for the first time.

This is our last post for the year, so from all the Rangers and staff, have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Monday, 16 December 2013

Stump grinding, butterfly trail management and horse movements.

The stump grinder from Acacia arrived at the fen on Thursday. We have brought it in as part of the scrub clearance experiment of Verrall's Fen. Three of 15 plots will have the scrub removed using the stump grinder, the other plots include a control plot, and the others will have their scrub removed by either tractor mowing, roundup treating or clearing saw. The reason that we are doing the scrub clearance project is to find the best way to clear the encroaching scrub on Verrall’s Fen, whilst still keeping the diversity of plant species for a tall herb fen or fen meadow habitat. The species for these habitats are currently found on Verrall’s, but the percentages of each are not as high as we would prefer.

The stump grinder in action

On the Sedge Fen, we have just started the management of the butterfly trail. The trail has been split into several sections that are to be managed in different ways. We started on the section closest to the bridge that leads onto the trail from the Sedge Fen, clearing the whole area and forking it off instead of raking so that we don't disturb the butterfly larvae that over winter in the bottom of the grass tussocks. Helen, Anita and Andy did a fantastic job of cutting and clearing. They got over twice the amount done that I had anticipated, and did a lovely job of it. I certainly can’t thank them enough.

Before the cutting of the butterfly trail

After the cutting of the butterfly trail

Forking off the cuttings

On the other side of the fen, the dividing of the breeding herd of Koniks occurred. Half of the horse herd was moved over two days by the whole ranger team and two vet teams.
We had two vets present with their nurses. Andy, our main vet was with Carol and her team, getting the horses into pens and then onto the trailer. Whenever possible we didn’t give any anaesthetic to the horses. The vast majority managed to be moved without been given any, which is fantastic.
The horses where then moved over to an area of Harrisons on Adventurers Fen, where myself and a team where there to unload the horses into pens. Georgie, the other vet present and her nurse team were to perform the vasectomies, castrations and micro chipping of the ones who arrived. Each horse had been marked with coloured paint to ensure that no horse was to be misidentified at any point, the grazing team know every horse and I had done a lot of identification work prior to these two days, but it was better to not risk mistaking a horse for another and having the wrong horse micro chipped or castrated instead of vasectomised. I had the task of identifying each horse and informing the vets of whether they needed a micro chip, their passports filling in, and in the case of the males, if they needed to be vasectomised or castrated.
The males were either vasectomised or castrated, a process that went well for each horse, and we have had no complications with them since. A hair sample was also taken from each horse which will be sent off for DNA analysis so that we have an even greater understanding of which horses are related to each other as this years foals are yet to have their paternity tested.
This herd will now be non-breeding, whilst the 27 horses still on Bakers Fen will continue to breed. They will be moved over onto Burwell Fen hopefully in spring 2014.

Loading the horses on Bakers Fen

Unloading the horses into the pens on Harrisons

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Tb tests, animal movements and winding down for winter.

This past month at the fen has been a busy one for the grazing rangers. The final set of TB testing began on November 19th for the cows on Verrall’s Fen and the two girls next to the visitor centre. All of our cows have now been tested and are clear of TB.
The next stage for the grazing rangers, occurring in the first week of December, is the movement of around half of the breeding horses on Baker’s Fen to Burwell Fen. The horses that are moved will become a non-breeding herd. The grazing rangers are using DNA results to aid their decisions about who stays as part of the breeding herd and who moves over to Burwell. While aiming to maintain family groups and a good age structure in both groups, the horses that are the most genetically diverse and unrelated will be the ones that continue to breed on Baker’s Fen.

On the Sedge fen the annual cutting of the droves has been completed, and the two of the tractors used in the summer cuttings have been put to bed for the winter months. The summer boat trips have also come to an end meaning that the pontoon needed to be removed and stored for the winter. Andy, our full-time volunteer ranger was the lucky one this year who got to tow the pontoon out of the water. It can be a tricky job, but someone has to do it!
The rangers are beginning to prepare for the winter jobs, including maintaining the reserves paths by putting out the duckboards for visitors to walk over on the wetter parts of the Nature Trail.

Andy pulling the pontoon out of Wicken Lode

East mere hide has recently been cleared over the space of three days by the ranger team, allowing for a clear view to the mere, and a view of the variety of duck species.

East Mere Hide after being cleared
Unfortunately everyone has been so busy this past month that we have only a few photos to show for our work!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Visit to Orford Ness

Today we had our countryside staff day, where all the rangers in the East get a chance to meet up and have a nose around someone else’s patch. So this year it was Orford Ness, which is a simply amazing place. From nuclear bombs to incredibly delicate shingle habitats to the LIFE project that is helping them to manage the delicate wetland habitats on the Ness, there is so much going on.

Grant and the team down there showed us as much as they could in a few hours. It is only open for a few more Saturdays this year but well worth a trip if you can get there. Access is mainly by boat which is fantastic as you meet the rangers straight away and can get a great start to the day riddled with info and help. It is also good to know where you can go on such a large site and especially one where in some cases straying from the path could lead to getting rather to close to potentially unexploded ordnance.
The place had a real bleak charm about it today, I am sure there are days when it is boiling hot but today the old buildings and windswept marshes looked fantastic with the wind and rain.

Here are some pics:

Friday, 11 October 2013

We finally got a new owl box on Burwell fen and one bit of TB testing is done

Many moons ago we managed to get some old telegraph poles cut to shape and size and augured into the ground on Burwell Fen. On Monday we finally got one of the barn owl boxes up. The main reason for the two new poles it to give the owls that live in the barn the option to move out, if they do we may be able to undertake repairs and such like without disturbing them. There are three more barn owl boxes and two little owl boxes to go out when we get a moment, hopefully soon. 

We had the cattle on Bakers Fen go through the crush for the second part of their TB tests on Monday, all clear which is good news indeed. Once this was done we dismantled the pen and constructed a new pen, race, and corral on Burwell fen. This has been the main focus this week as the weather has not been ideal for cutting on the days we had it pencilled in for. We use metal hurdles which can be configured into all kinds of designs and a crush with an extra wide end to allow our highlands long horns to get through. Mind you some of them have very large horns that can take a few tries to get through and some of them just take a while to work it out even with short horns. 

We did manage to get some of the smaller areas that need hand cutting done, cut and cleared like everywhere else but with a brush cutter and rake. I very neat job indeed outside the Visitor Center.

A new trailer to go behind our ride on mover is also coming along well. It was once larger and has been cut down, and basically rebuilt. Just needs the sides putting on and a few more coats of paint. Once done we can stick a strimmer, fuel and such like in the back and get many jobs done while also mowing the path edges on the way there and back.

@vision_warden is me on Twitter, couple of more pics as usual.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Cutting, TB Testing and a big helping hand from the Environment Agency

We have continued to get our droves cut on the Sedge Fen this week, been getting ready for TB testing, fixed things in the rain, pushed back a load of scrub with help from volunteers from the EA and had a nice catch up with the Gardeners from Anglesey Abbey.

Top of the list has been the cutting as we have until the end of the month to get it finished, party to allow the plants to get a bit of growth on before the winter and partly as the water table will begin to rise and the bad weather will soak the droves meaning we would churn them up. Another job with some serious importance is getting our cattle TB tested over the coming month or so, we have set windows to get the tests started and completed. With three groups of cattle and one crush and set of portable hurdles it is a big job but one that we have been planning for a while to get done. Lots of moving of hurdles and contingency planning for the ifs and butts. More info on that as the work gets going.

 We had a bit of a breakage when one of our acrobats snapped in half. We take a lot of care of our machinery, pre-start checks and regular repairs for wear and tear but sometimes it is best to use some old gear and accept that the stress and strain will break it and have spares handy. So we had one working acrobat and 2 largely complete spares, now we have one and a half spare. 
 Fixing a wheel, sometimes 4 hands are better than two.

A volunteer group from the Environment Agency came to lend us much needed hand on Monday. They spent the day working with Ruby and Andy pushing back scrub along the side of Wicken Lode and on a section of the Sedge Fen. Many hands make light work they say, but many hands working very hard and enthusiastically got a great deal done for us. The before and after pics don’t really do it justice as you can’t see how far they went down the scrub. The reason for the work was to allow us better access down the left side of the track so we keep off the right side leaving it to horse riders and pedestrians. The scrub had grown over the track so we just pushed it back, not felling any trees. It will soon grow back but it will be far easier for us to keep on top of now the bulk of the work has been completed.

Having the Gardeners over from Anglesey Abbey was very nice on Thursday. A bit of team building and learning for them and a nice chance to spread the work of our work at Wicken with them and when possible just have a nice catch up. Richard, the head gardener over there for almost 40 years also brought some exceedingly tasty cakes.
Thanks to Vicki For these pics

So the week ahead is manly TB testing and cutting. Plenty to keep us busy.
As usual I am @vision_warden on twitter if anyone wants to keep in touch that way.

Friday, 27 September 2013

A long overdue update

It has been months since I last posted any news and goings on from the Fen, sorry about that. Reasons and excuses range from not having the internet for a couple of months to being plain busy, but enough of that what is going on down the Fen?

With James leaving I managed to get the Senior Ranger roll leaving us to recruit a new Vision Project Ranger, which we just did last month. Congratulations to Maddie for getting that one! So we are now back to full strength in the Ranger Team at Wicken. There are currently six of us who are (there or there abouts) full time on the fen at the moment with another 6-10 people helping out on regular and occasional days depending on the season and workload. It is always worth saying just how important our volunteers are we simply could not function without them helping us with their time and skills. From the ranger volunteers this week:
  • Repairing a completely smashed bonnet of a tractor that went through a mower. (I thought it was un-repairable)
  • Operating all kinds of machinery to get the droves cut on the Sedge Fen
  • Building new bird tables
  • Managing the Osier Bed
  • Giving guided walks
  • Checking our grazing animals
  • Running the wind pump
  • Doing the butterfly transect
  • And loads and loads of small jobs that keep the place going.

The main work at the moment is managing the National Nature Reserve through the cutting rotation. At the moment that means cutting the droves. I shall have to get the map out when I have a moment and see how many miles there are, but it is fair to say that cutting and clearing the droves is no walk in the park. We disk mow the droves to approximately 6-8 meters in width depending on the location, leave the arisings to dry for a couple of days, then turn them into rows. This gets them ready to be buck raked away into piles to compost down, it also knocks the seeds out onto the droves. 

 Sorry I will have to take a buck raking Picture!
On the wider reserve we are very much keeping to a holding pattern, doing our best to keep the paths in good condition and the gates and so on functioning properly. Being a member of staff down for the Summer season has meant we have all worked very hard to keep things in good condition but have had little time to do all of the extra work we like to do to go the extra step, like replacing the gate handles, improving the fences near access points, replacing worn out signs and so on. 

Now I have finally got myself back on the blog, I hope to get it going properly again with the other rangers chipping in from time to time too. As usual here are a few pictures, more than normal as it has been a while. And also as usual you can see what is going on by looking at my and Wicken Fen’s twitter @vison_warden @wickenfennt