RSPB Campfield Marsh Summer Update

It has been a busy but successful summer at RSPB Campfield Marsh, from new species nesting on site, to record numbers of species breeding, and some big jobs being completed. Here are some of the highlights.

The big story of the breeding season was certainly the pair of marsh harriers successfully breeding in Holton Fen, with the chicks fledging at the beginning of August. This is a first for Campfield Marsh and, alongside a pair near Bassenthwaite several years ago, we think only the second successful nest recorded in Cumbria in the last 150 years! There have also been record numbers of breeding reed bunting, meadow pipit, sedge warbler, redshank, oystercatcher, greylag goose, and goldfinch, highlighting the positive impact of the habitat work undertaken around the reserve. Lapwing numbers were a little down from last year, perhaps reflecting a larger-scale decline, but we were able to capture chicks hatching and taking their first explorative steps from a couple of nests on camera!

There have also been numerous sightings of ospreys around the reserve and perching on our osprey platform close-by to where the marsh harriers nested. One even brought its recently fledged chicks on a couple of occasions and added some nest material to the as-yet unused nest. Things are certainly looking hopeful for next year on the osprey front!

Other notable sightings include nightjar on the border of our reserve and South Solway Mosses NNR, a bittern on Holton Fen either side of summer, a cattle egret stalking the cows on Holton Fen, a Spoonbill on Paisley Pools, a small-pearl-bordered fritillary, and – another first for Cumbria – a spiny mason potter wasp found in a clay wall in the Discovery Zone!

Spiny mason potter wasp and juvenile marsh harriers – photos courtesy of Judith Rogers

The big job of the summer was the boardwalk on the bog being completed, so that the whole of the route through the bog can now be completed without having to step foot on the peat. This is crucial in avoiding peat erosion and allowing key bog plants, such as bog myrtle and bog asphodel, the opportunity to colonise areas that were previously being walked on. It also gives walkers a much better view over the bog from this higher vantage point.

Elsewhere, the roof of the hide overlooking Holton Fen has been replaced following damage to some of the sheets. The new roof should be more hard-wearing and looks really smart!

Finally, we are currently busy cutting back the wet grassland fields, as well as roughing up the mud in the ditches, pools, and scrapes, ready for the impending influx of wintering waders and wildfowl, who will benefit from this work. Once we have let the water back onto the fields, waders will enjoy poking through the mud for invertebrates, whilst key species such as lapwing and redshank prefer plenty of open grassy areas between shorter rushes.

The new Holton Fen hide roof and tractors roughing up the fields ready for wintering waders

The meet and greet team are positioned at the visitor centre during weekends and bank holidays, welcoming visitors and informing them of recent sightings, works, and providing useful site information. In August they welcomed over 200 visitors from as close by as Silloth to as far away as Sydney, Australia. Many of the visitors were able to see the juvenile marsh harriers, as well as the range of birds, butterflies, and dragonflies and damselflies that the reserve has to offer. The volunteers do crucial work here in making that initial connection with visitors and helping them get the most out of their time on the reserve!

August saw us welcome three fantastic new volunteers to the Thursday work party team, which has been a really positive development, not least because the more volunteers that attend each week, the more we can achieve! Simply put, our volunteers make a huge difference.

The first work party of the month saw a group of us take in the temporary electric fence from around one of the salt marsh pools. This fence is put up in April to keep the grazing cattle away from areas that redshank and lapwing may use for nesting but is not required post-breeding season. We were super-efficient in bringing in the fence so spent the second part of the morning identifying the moths found in the moth trap that was set up the night before. In total, we recorded 15 species. including large yellow underwing, ruby tiger moth, and oak hook-tip. A visitor also spotted a humming-bird hawk-moth in the Discovery Zone the same morning!

The second meet-up of the month was more of a maintenance day, during which we painted and fixed the big screen that overlooks the Lower International Pools field and the benched area across the lonning that gives visitors a view of the southern half of Paisley Pools. The willow screen here was also given a bit of TLC. These tasks are always satisfying because the difference made is immediately clear, and this week was no exception as a new lease of life was breathed into the aforementioned areas!

The next two weeks were all about marsh fritillaries as we searched for the conspicuous webs that they create to protect their eggs and the subsequent caterpillars from predators in the leaf of their food plant, devil’s-bit scabious. Whilst not entirely unexpected given the marsh fritillary’s ‘boom and bust’ nature, we unfortunately did not find any webs. However, we did find hundreds of devil’s-bit scabious in the East Block, much of which appears to have self-seeded, as well of signs that the plants planted last year in other parts of the reserve are starting to flower. There are also large patches of it in the Discovery Zone (which is on the author’s to-do list to map!). This means that when (not if!) the butterfly reappears on the reserve, the habitat will be in a great condition to support it. We were also lucky enough to spot an adder and a slow worm during these two weeks, so it certainly wasn’t unsuccessful!

The final work party of the month saw us give the Discovery Zone some attention. Between us, we managed to clean the clay dabbin, tidy up the willow screen, improve the non-slip netting on the stepping-stones up to the bug hotel, and scrape the main path edges to widen it and prevent any further vegetation encroachment. This was hard work but, as with the screen painting task earlier in the month, the fruits of our labour were instantly apparent.

Work party volunteers painting fencing and carrying out maintenance in the Discovery Zone.

We are on the look-out for new volunteers to join us at RSPB Campfield Marsh. If you are interested in joining Thursday work parties or the weekend ‘Meet and Greet’ teams please contact Campfield via email… campfield.marsh@rspb.org.uk