Rutland’s “coral reefs”
What are those structures that you can see from the side flap of Heron Hide?
From a distance they resemble circular-shaped fences, built below the high water level in the area sometimes called Heron Bay.
The picture below shows more clearly how they have been constructed. Reserve Manager, Tim Appleton, says that when the water levels rise they are similar to coral reefs in that they provide excellent spawning grounds for fish
Trevor Alcock from Brooksby Melton College explains:
“The sites were built by countryside students from the college. They have been constructed of coppiced willow, alder and cut grass from the reserve. Live willow stakes have been driven into the ground, and then rods of willow and alder woven in between like a hurdle fence all around the outside 1 metre high. The middle is full of cut grass and two have been planted with willow. Another two have alder and willow laid flat and piled up with planted willow rods in between. They will become permanent living islands when the water levels rise. It is also hoped that they will trap silt, which will create ideal nesting islands. Grebes in particular should find these attractive.”
Goosander, gulls, Goldeneye, Coot and an occasional wintering Bittern have all found the structures attractive feeding sites.
Floating rafts for Terns
Look out from the Anglian Water Birdwatchig Centre, or the hides overlooking the lagoons during the summer months, and you are sure to see Common Terns noisily defending their nests, and later, bringing small fish to feed their chicks.
Enter The Hebrideans
The story began late in 2001 when five black ewes arrived at the nature reserve - Hebrideans, an ancient breed which are beginning to become popular for conservation grazing. They are small, tough and lamb very easily. The flock has gradually been built up to enable control of the coarse grasses along the edge of the reservoir. The sheep are pictured here getting used to their new surroundings in the area immediately around the visitor centre.
And then the Dexters
Soon after the Hebridean sheep, came other conservation grazers arrived – four very small black cows and their calves. These are Dexters and are particularly suitable for grazing the grassy areas along the sides of the reservoir.
The cattle are being raised organically which will ensure that the cow pats they produce are particularly attractive to insects. The insects will, of course, be particularly attractive to birds.
The long-term aim is to create the right sort of habitat to establish Yellow Wagtails as a breeding species on the reserve. The Dexters will “puddle” the edge of the water and help to keep the grass short during the winter – ideal for grazing wildfowl such as Wigeon.
Initially the cattle “did the business” in the area around the Anglian Water Birdwatching Centre and by March 2002 their presence was already making a difference: a Green Woodpecker was seen turning over the cow pats in front of the visitor centre and the areas they grazed attracted Fieldfares, Redwings and Stonechats. When the animals were moved to a new area just to the north, it was very noticeable that the Stonechats moved with them.