Author Archives: Emily Reilly

A Week of Nature Spots

Staying at home might feel strange and takes some getting used to. But we have been taking the opportunity to record nature sightings throughout the week. Take a look at what we have spotted…

Weeds are a state of mind! These dandelions look like miniature suns in the warm afternoon light. They are great for pollinating insects such as bees, butterflies and beetles.

(Eddie)

Church Pool Covert, by Hams Hall Environmental Centre, has lots of spring plants emerging. Here you can see the green leaves of bluebells. The bluebells will come into flower within the next couple of weeks, creating a mass of blue. The celandine flowers are also a cheerful sight, their small bright yellow flowers dotting the woodland floor. (Emily)

Bluebell and celandine

Catkins on an Alder tree. Alder trees are wetland trees, playing an important part in improving the soil condition and fertility by fixing nitrogen with the nodules on its roots. The catkins are clusters of flowers. (Eddie)

Catkins on an Alder tree

This common toad was spotted one evening this week. Toads and frogs are more active at night, when it is cool. Their breeding season is in Spring, so you’re most likely to see them in your garden around this time of year, in the evening or early morning.

You can tell the difference between a toad and a frog by its skin. Toads have bumpy skin whilst frogs have smooth skin.

(Eddie)

Two butterfly sightings – a peacock butterfly (right) and a tortoiseshell butterfly (left). These two were spotted in North Wales, but can be found anywhere around the UK. (Tarik)

Tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies

Primrose is a definite sign that Spring is arriving. Its name derives from the Latin ‘prima rosa‘ which translates into the ‘first rose’ of the year. They are common across the UK. (Tarik),.

Beautiful cherry blossom tree in Birmingham. The cherry blossom symbolises renewal, associated with Spring. The blossoms don’t last long – depending on the weather, an individual tree only blooms for around two weeks.

Can you spot the bumblebee among the cherry blossom flowers?

(Gina)

Does anyone know what this plant is…? Whatever it is, it looks like it’s taken well to the garden bed.

(Su)

Bird Sightings – Week 1

Tarik has been recording bird sightings for the past week…

  • Chiffchaff
  • Chaffinch
  • Coal tit (in nest box)
  • Song thrush
  • Blackbird
  • Jackdaw
  • Crow
  • Buzzard
  • Robin
  • Dunnock
  • Woodpigeon
  • Willow warbler
  • Curlew
  • Sparrowhawk
  • Buzzard
  • Bullfinch
  • Great tit
  • Blue tit
  • Long tailed tit

Want to share your sightings? Email enquiries@tamevalleywetlands.co.uk.

Garden Bird ID

If you watch and listen closely, you can find many different birds in your garden. Here are some of the most common ones. Click on the player underneath each description to listen to the birds’ calls.

If you manage to get a picture of a bird your garden, please email them to enquiries@tamevalleywetlands.co.uk for a chance to feature on our blog!

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

Image credit: Wildnet – Chris Lawrence

Male bullfinches have a bright red-orange breast and cheeks, whilst the female is more brown-orange. Their call sounds like a whistle.

Niels Krabbe, XC25564. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/25564.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocpous major)

Image credit: Wildnet – Gillian Day

The Great Spotted Woodpecker is a medium-sized bird, about the same size as a blackbird. It has a loud, sharp call and is also often heard ‘drumming’. The male has a red patch on its head.

Jarek Matusiak, XC512286. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/512286.

Dunnock (Prunella modularis)

Image credit: Wildnet – James Rodgerson

Dunnocks are often seen alone, near to the ground by a flower bed or near a bush.

Patrik Åberg, XC27116. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/27116.

Nuthatch (Sitta Europaea)

Image credit: Wildnet – Jon Hawkins

Nuthatches are small, around the same size as a great tit. The upper side of their body is grey-blue and the underside is an orangey-brown colour, and they have a characteristic black stripe across the face. Its bill is long, black and pointed.

Sander Bot, XC35043. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/35043.

Chiff Chaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

Image credit: Wildnet – Janet Packham

Chiffchaffs are distinguishable by their song, which is where their name comes from. They are small and olive-brown. One sign that Spring has definitely arrived is when you can hear chiffchaffs singing in large numbers!

Patrik Åberg, XC26762. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/26762

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Image credit: Wildnet – Chris Maguire Photography

Robins are one of the most widely-recognised and best loved garden birds in the UK. Unlike many common birds, male and female robins look almost identical. They only get their red breast when they are mature – young robins are golden-brown. Robins may look cute, but they are territorial and can be aggressive!

Patrik Åberg, XC27554. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/27554.

Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)

Image credit: WildNet – Gillian Day

Collared doves are more often heard than seen, recognised by their cooing songs. They have a pale, pink-brown colour with deep red eyes and feet.

David Farrow, XC37443. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/37443.

Blackbird (Turdus merula merula)

Image credit: Wildnet – Bob Coyle

Blackbirds are another well-known garden bird. Whilst males are truly black, females are lighter brown and speckled. Males have a characteristic bright yellow beak and ring around their eye.

Niels Krabbe, XC25554. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/25554.

Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)

Image credit: Wildnet – Adam Jones

Blue tits are small, colourful and easily recognisable. They have a blue head and wings, white cheeks, black markings around the eye and beak, a green back and a yellow breast.

Patrik Åberg, XC28208. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/28208.

Great tit (Parus major)

Image credit: Wildnet – Sam Hockaday

Great tits look similar to blue tits, but are larger and don’t have blue markings. Their song is distinctive with only two different notes.

Stein Ø. Nilsen, XC45953. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/45953.

Long Tailed tit (Aegithalos cordatus)

Image credit: Wildnet – Bob Coyle

Long tailed tits certainly live up to their name, with their tail being longer than their body! Their wings are black with white flecks and they have a red-ish tinge along their breast and above the wing. They are noisy and sociable, usually gathering in flocks of around 20 birds.

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

Image credit: Wildnet – Bob Coyle

Chaffinches are widespread around Britain and Ireland. They have patterned plumage to help them blend in with the ground, but stand out more obviously when they fly, as they reveal bright white parts of their wings and outer tail feathers. Their call songs are varied and loud.

Patrik Åberg, XC27602. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/27602.

Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)

Image credit: Wildnet – 2020Vision

The greenfinch is bright green and yellow, with a wheezing song. They often squabble with other birds at bird tables! Their populations declined during the 1970s-1980s, but increased again in the 1990s. However, their numbers suffered again recently due to a parasite-induced disease called Trichomoniasis, which prevents them from feeding properly.

Sander Bot, XC35048. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/35048.

Siskin (Carduelis spinus)

Image credit: Wildnet – Margaret Holland

The siskin is a type of finch, smaller than a greenfinch. It is lively with a forked tail and long narrow bill. Male siskins have streaked yellow-green bodies and black caps.

Sander Bot, XC35044. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/35044.

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Image credit: Wildnet – Gillian Day

Goldfinches have a bright golden yellow patch on their wing and a red face. They have a twittering call. Goldfinches used to be named ‘thistle finches’, as their favourite food is thistles. Their scientific name Carduelis carduelis is derived from the Latin name from thistle, ‘carduus’. Their long beaks help them to get hard-to-reach seeds from the thistles.

Ruud van Beusekom, XC34678. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/34678.

Buzzard (Bueto bueto)

Image credit: Wildnet – Amy Lewis

Buzzards are the most common bird of prey in the UK. They are quite large, varying in colour from dark to lighter brown, and have broad rounded wings. You can spot a buzzard from its gliding, soaring flight pattern. Buzzards will eat mice, small birds and carrion.

Sander Bot, XC30950. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/30950.

Raven (Corvus corax)

Image credit: Wildnet – Margaret Holland

Ravens are the biggest members of the crow family. They are all black, with a large diamond-shaped bill and long wings. They, like buzzards, will eat other small animals.

Jordi Calvet, XC57509. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/57509.

Carrion crow (Corvus corone)

Image credit: Wildnet – Amy Lewis

Carrion crows are very clever birds. They have the largest brains of all birds apart from parrots! They are all black, but smaller than ravens. Carrion crows are usually solitary but may flock occasionally. They have a loud call.

Stuart Fisher, XC28238. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/28238.

Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)

Image credit: Wildnet – Gillian Day

Jackdaws are another type of crow which have a distinctive silvery sheen to the feathers on the back of their heads. Their call is a characteristic ‘tchack’, from which they get their names.

Patrik Åberg, XC42332. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/42332.

Jay (Garrulus glandarius)

Image credit: Wildnet – Ian Rose

The jay is the most colourful member of the crow family, but are often difficult to spot as they tend to hide themselves well in the woodlands. They are known for their feeding habits – they feed on acorns and you may see them burying acorns to retrieve in the winter.

Niels Krabbe, XC25647. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/25647.

House Martin (Delichon urbicum)

Image credit: Wildnet – James Rodgerson

House martins are small, black and white birds which usually make nests out of mud in the eaves of buildings. They spend a lot of time in flight, catching small insects as prey to eat. They are summer migrants to the UK, spending the winters in Africa.

Patrik Åberg, XC27279. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/27279.

Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Image credit: Wildnet – Ed Marshall

Starlings are smaller than blackbirds, and although they appear black from a distance, on closer inspection their feathers are glossy with a green and purple sheen. They are common in gardens but have declined elsewhere, bringing them to a conservation ‘red list’ status. Starlings sometimes exhibit a special flocking behaviour called a ‘murmuration’, where from a distance they look almost like smoke as they swoop through the sky.

Patrik Åberg, XC27154. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/27154.

Take a look at the video below from Warwickshire Wildlife Trust to see a starling murmuration back in 2019.

Nature spots competition

What can you see in your garden today?

Take a picture of an interesting sighting and email it to enquiries@tamevalleywetlands.co.uk with your name. We will display them on the blog!

Nature spotting with children? Download this printable worksheet to discover wildlife in the garden:

Here are some common animals and plants you might spot.

Queen bumblebees After surviving the winter, Queen bumblebees will be coming out to look for pollen on spring flowers.

Image credit: Wildnet

Chiffchaffs
Chiffchaffs are migratory birds, they arrive to England around March. You might be able to hear them sing their repetitive ‘chiff-chaff’ songs from the trees.

Image credit: Wildnet – Janet Packham

Frogspawn and toad spawn
If you have pond in your garden or near to where you live, you’re likely to see frogspawn in the water. Frogs and toads start spawning at the start of spring.

Image credit: Ian Wykes

Bluebells
Bluebells are considered one of the most beautiful Spring wildlife sights. They come out in masses in late April and early May, usually in woodlands.

Hedgehogs
If you look outside at dusk you might be lucky enough to spot a hedgehog. Hedgehogs come out of hibernation in the Spring. They are nocturnal, so they only come out at night.
Be careful not to scare them though – make sure to leave them alone if you see one!

Image credit: Wildnet -Jon Hawkins

Daffodils
Daffodils bloom in the early spring. Their bright yellow or orange flowers are unmistakable!

Image credit: Wildnet – The Wildlife Trusts

Activity for children: make an animal

What can you create from recycling items in your home?

We challenge you to make an animal of your choice only using recycled items you find around the house.

Think: toilet roll tubes, wrappers, plastic containers, odd socks (sock puppets!), paper mache…

Take a picture of your creation and email it to enquiries@tamevalleywetlands.co.uk with your first name and age, and we’ll post the best ones here on our blog!

Here’s an idea to help you start thinking… a butterfly made from an old toilet roll tube and cuttings from magazines.

Education at Hams Hall Environmental Centre: Session Plans

Click on the links below to download copies of lesson plans for each education session at Hams Hall Environmental Centre.

Please contact enquiries@tamevalleywetlands.co.uk if you have any queries or would like to book a school visit.

Re-profiling the River Cole

The re-profiling of the River Cole, located upstream of the River Tame in North Solihull, is an important project aiming to enhance the biodiversity and aesthetics of the river. Working alongside Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council and the Environment Agency, with support from our National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF), the project will make the River Cole better for both wildlife and people visiting the area.

Initial assessment of the River Cole concluded that it was an unsuitable environment for wildlife, because of its poor water quality and low variety of different habitats available for a diverse range of species to thrive. Therefore, project planning commenced to decide what improvements could be made to the worst areas of the river.

The poor quality of the water was found to be because of urban pollution further up the river, such as regular use of overflows by sewerage systems and runoff from roads or agricultural land. Work by Severn Trent will make sewerage systems more efficient, find alternative drainage options from roads, build buffers along the river banks and promote use of more environmentally-friendly farming methods. This will mean the water in the River Cole can be made cleaner so it provides a safer environment for the development of fish populations. Moreover, placing large hay bales along the edges of the river will help to catch any sediment; this clever technique ensures that sediments do not contaminate the river.

The habitat quality and diversity of the River Cole was another important area identified for improvement.

Because of human activity and the high energy water flow which had gradually eroded the river banks, the structure of the River Cole had been changed over time so that it became straightened and unvaried. This had a negative impact on the diversity and richness of different wildlife species inhabiting the river. It also meant that the river was unable to accommodate large populations of wildlife.

Work to improve the quality and variety of habitats in the river involved creating more islands and meanders (bends in the river course), planting more trees and shrubs along the river banks, and introducing gravel to the river bed. Adding these kinds of features improved the environmental diversity and allowed a greater variety of plants and animals to thrive in the area, especially different fish species. It also improves the visual aesthetics of the river, making it a more enjoyable place for people to visit.

Work on the River Cole project began on Monday 11th February 2019 and was complete by the end of the week. The re-profiling involved working mainly within a 300m section of the river. By improving this space, with a focus on the quality of the water and surrounding habitats, the project will yield many benefits in terms of the River Cole’s natural diversity and public appeal.

Hedgerow planting


As part of ‘Blythe Alive’, a project to improve the River Blythe SSSI and its environment, we are planting native riparian trees and hedgerows at various sites near to the River Blythe.

One of the benefits of hedgerows is their importance in acting as habitats for small animals such as birds and invertebrates. Hedges provide food and shelter for animals, and also act as corridors for animals to move along, improving connectivity between habitats.

Hedgerows are also important for preventing flooding. Hedgerows provide weather barriers and contribute to natural flood management by intercepting rainfall and slowing runoff from the land.

When planting close to a river, as we are doing for our Blythe Alive project, the flood management aspect of hedgerow gapping-up has been particularly important. The improved hedgerows will help to absorb rainfall and therefore limit the amount of water running into the river. They will also intercept sediment and pollutants from land run-off which would otherwise contaminate the river. This lowers risks of flooding, loss of nutrients from the land, and pollution of the river.

Hawkswell Farm

We have planted 1000 hedgerow plants and Black Poplars at Hawkswell Farm. This planting contributes to gapping-up the existing hedgerows, which is necessary for maintaining their longevity and structure.

This work was carried out with the help of our dedicated volunteers, and plays an important part in our project to improve the health status of the River Blythe and the quality of its surrounding ecosystem.

Tree planting – filling the gaps

Tame Valley Wetlands staff and volunteers recently braved the soggy conditions underfoot to plant some native hedgerow trees in fields adjacent to the River Blythe. Hazel, hawthorn, blackthorn, dog-rose, wild cherry and field maple were among the species used to fill in gaps in existing hedgerows. Species-rich hedgerows have multiple benefits for wildlife and the ecosystem as a whole by serving as a habitat for a number of organisms and movement corridors for wildlife. They also provide shelter, natural connectivity in the landscape, and reduce soil erosion by preventing excessive run off. The hedgerow planting is another part of our larger Water Environment Grant funded project focusing on improving the ecological status of the Blythe SSSI and surrounding land. Local landowner support has been critical to the success of this project and we certainly benefit from the strong relationships we have with our local farmers and project partners.

Posted by Tame Valley Wetlands on Thursday, 28 November 2019

Packington Farm

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, sky, cloud, grass, outdoor and nature

With the help of a team of volunteers from Severn Trent Water, we planted around 2000 hedgerow plants at Packington Estate to create a new hedgerow for the field.

The new hedgerow will provide more habitats and more protection against flooding for the field,

Watch the video below to see just how many plants were planted to create this hedgerow!

Hedgerow planting!

The results of a day's hedgerow planting with help from Severn Trent Water – around 2000 whips planted to create a new hedgerow!

Posted by Tame Valley Wetlands on Friday, 13 March 2020

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Tame Valley Wetlands team!

Here is a picture from our Christmas celebration with our volunteers, where we enjoyed a bonfire and jacket potatoes.

Thank you to our volunteers, project partners and staff who have helped to deliver work this year. We will be continuing with our two current projects, Blythe Alive and Love Your River Cole, in the New Year, as well as planning for new projects in the future.

If you are interested in volunteering for us, taking part in practical conservation work across the Tame Valley Wetlands, please contact enquiries@tamevalleywetlands.co.uk or phone 01675470917.

If you missed our 2019 newsletter, you can read it here: https://mailchi.mp/d5857e26756f/tame-valley-wetlands-in-2019. You may wish to sign up to our mailing list to keep updated with our newsletters and project updates! Remember, we also post regular updates on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Planting at Southfields Farm

We have been planting plug plants at Southfields Farm as part of our work to help restore and improve the River Blythe SSSI.

Plug plants in their trays before being planted

Plug plants are small-sized seedlings, grown in trays, which can then easily be planted into prepared soil. We are using species such as Meadowsweet, Reed Sweet Grass and Marsh Marigold.

Planting native plant species along the banks of the River Blythe will provide considerable benefits to the health status of the river. Firstly, the inclusion of a range of native species will help improve the biodiversity and species composition of the environment. This is important for the robustness ecosystem surrounding the river, making it more resilient to change and fluctuations. Additionally, the plug plants will help to stabilise the river banks and reduce sediment run-off, which will aid in enhancing the water quality in the river.

We have had fantastic contributions to this work from local and corporate volunteer groups.

After some initial doubts regarding the suitability of the weather conditions (considering the amount of rain we had in previous weeks!) our hard working TameForce volunteers braved the elements and aided in planting a huge number of plants at Southfields Farm.

Luckily, the rain managed to hold off for our two final planting days at the end of October. During these days, we had volunteers attend to help us with our work, as well as staff from Jaguar Land Rover. Morale was kept high by supplies of tea, coffee and biscuits, and we successfully reached our target of planting 14,000 plants in total.

Thank you to all who helped us to complete this work – we really could not have done it without you! Keep an eye out for more updates on our River Blythe work.

Beat the Balsam – Biological control of Himalayan Balsam

Working alongside CABI (Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International), Tame Valley Wetlands have been trialing a rust fungus as a method of biocontrol to target Himalayan balsam.

You can read more about Himalayan balsam here.

Biocontrol is a method of controlling the growth of a population – usually a pest or a weed. It has been successful in many other circumstances as it is much more environmentally-friendly than using chemical pesticides, and requires much less physical labour than manual removal of pests.

Biocontrol involves using one species of beneficial living organism (the control species) to limit the spread of another species (the target species). The target species must be controlled as it poses a threat to the environment. It is important that studies and monitoring are carried out throughout the control process to ensure the control species continues to work effectively against the target species.

The process of trialing the rust fungus for the biocontrol of Himalayan balsam began at the beginning of 2019. Initial studies were carried out to ensure the fungus would propagate on the plants.

What Himalayan balsam can look like if left uncontrolled – taking over everywhere!

The photo above shows what the Himalayan balsam at one of our project sites looked like before we started any of our control methods. The plants look strong and are growing in huge quantities, meaning they pose a threat to the other plant species in the area.

To initiate the biocontrol process, we sprayed test areas with the rust fungus to allow the fungus to establish on the plants.

After allowing the fungus to propagate and grow on the Himalayan balsam plants, we re-visited the site multiple times over the following months to monitor its progress as a biocontrol agent. Here you can see there areas where the fungus has established. The brown patches on the leaf show where damage has been caused by the fungus.

We hope that the rust fungus will eventually become fully established on the invasive species.

If the fungus is successful over the winter, we will be able to be confident that the fungus will make an effective long-term biocontrol mechanism by helping to reduce the growth of Himalayan balsam without harming other plant species.

Himalayan balsam leaves successfully infected with rust fungus biocontrol

Tame Valley Wetlands are also planning to carry out biological control, as well as mechanical control, of Himalayan balsam at other project sites.

We will post updates about this on our website and social media pages – keep checking back!