I live near the Severn Vale and enjoy walking and birdwatching in the area. I find it a very interesting, atmospheric landscape so it seemed a natural step to volunteer for the project at the start of 2016.
Because of my interest in birds I volunteered for Coming Home to Roost High Tide Monitoring and in February I joined other volunteers for a day of training led by local naturalist Ed Drewitt, the RSPB’s Richard Archer, local birding expert Paul Bowerman and Miriam from the AFL Team. The first challenge was learning to identify different ducks and wading birds; not very easy when some look similar and their colours change at different times of year. Then we tested our identification and counting skills with some field work and enjoyed a little wind and rain.
At the end of the course we were assigned in pairs to designated parts of the estuary to count and record the number of birds present around the time of the highest monthly tides. The Severn Estuary is an important site for ducks and waders throughout the year, particularly during spring and autumn migration. The data we collect is used to build up a complete picture of the numbers and species of birds present during the year. This helps to ensure that any proposed changes to land use properly consider the potential effect on this important area for wildfowl.
I continued the water and wildlife theme by volunteering for two other projects, Water Vole Surveying and Pond Surveying for Great Crested Newts. Training was provided by ecologist Phil Quinn and AFL team member Katie. Both surveys involve wellies and poking about the margins of rhines and ponds with long sticks. Populations of water voles have declined due to predation by mink and the purpose of the Water Vole Survey is to check designated rhines each month for signs of voles – for example droppings, burrows, and vole lawns which are small areas with short vegetation where voles sit to feed. I don’t think anyone has seen a vole yet, but we have seen signs of them and hope to be able to confirm their presence at some sites later in the year.
Great crested newts are a protected species and we survey local ponds for water quality, size and depth, types of plants in and around the pond and the suitability of the surrounding environment to decide whether the ponds may have breeding populations of newts. Any ponds which we identify as having breeding potential can be surveyed in spring 2017 to see if newts are present and volunteers will be offered the opportunity to train for this and obtain a licence to handle Great Crested Newts.
If you like the outdoors, meeting new people and are fascinated by the Severn Vale Landscape, its wildlife and its history, I wholeheartedly recommend volunteering for A Forgotten Landscape. Put your wellies on, get out and enjoy it!