Author Archives: Emily Reilly

Habitat Management for Willow Tits

“Hey… it’s not just all about this guy behind me you know! Well on this project it is…”

Good news to end the year on, apart from actually spotting a few willow tits at Ladywalk Nature Reserve.  We have also delivered a couple of work party sessions with our volunteer group, Tame Force, through which we have been able to make a start at Langley Brook and Hams Hall to enhance and create habitats for willow tit as part of our project.

Within an area of the Langley Brook near Middleton, the Tame Force team removed a fallen willow tree to create a clearing.  The wood that was removed has been reused for habitat piles and deadwood has been placed to create great resources for willow tit nesting. 

Removing the tree manually and using machinery, rather than letting it break down naturally, meant the section of the river bank was opened up and allowed to flood. It was the perfect opportunity to restore this fantastic bit of habitat back from woodland to wet woodland. Now the fallen tree has been removed the established sedge in the cleared area will be able to spread.

At Hams Hall Church Pool Covert, the volunteer team also set out to remove some of the rhododendron from the area. Rhododendron is an introduced species and is highly invasive, so will easily destroy important habitats if left unmanaged. Eventually the areas will be regenerated with native species of scrub and trees, creating a more suitable environment for wildlife to thrive.

Thank you to the volunteers for all their amazing work on this.

Love Your River Cole Traineeships

Do you love wildlife and working outdoors?

Are you practical and willing to learn new skills?

Ever thought about a career in nature conservation?

The Love Your River Cole (LYRiC) project aims to transform the Cole Valley, enhancing natural spaces and training local people to look after this important natural river corridor.

If you are looking to start your conservation career, this 12 month trainee placement will give you the skills and experience you need, including a City & Guilds Level 2 Work Based Certificate in Environmental Conservation.

Click here to apply

Love Your River Cole Conservation trainee roles x 3
Placements: Hams Hall, Brandon Marsh, Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens
Duration: 12 months
Bursary: £9,000
Deadline: 6th January 2021

Applications to be made through The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country.

Vegging out

The vegetable patches at Hams Hall Environmental Centre are coming along nicely! Click on the link below to read more how Andrew created our no-dig beds.

We have even been able to harvest some produce already – radishes were on the menu for lunch today. Radish grow well in colder weather, under a fleece cover, and they taste fresh and sweet this time of year as opposed to the peppery hot ones that grow late in spring. The broad beans are growing very well and so far have withstood several nights’ frost without attracting any of the resident squirrels, rabbits or voles…. however the resident voles did find a way past the fleece in one of the no-dig beds and have demolished a whole lot of lettuce, pak choi and broccoli seedlings!

Our big compost heap stopped producing heat a few weeks ago as we added too many dry ingredients. However, after a thorough turn and adding some comfrey, nettles and water, it is now a steaming hot 50 degrees C again! Once the temperature drops again it will be ready to use.

Stay tuned as we are getting ready for some exciting plans in the spring and summer as well as creating more beds.

Love Your River Cole: Green Recovery Challenge Fund

With funding awarded from the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, Tame Valley Wetlands are leading a partnership project to help transform the Cole Valley.

The Green Recovery Challenge Fund is a Government fund developed by Defra in partnership with its Arms-Length Bodies, which the National Heritage Fund are administering on behalf of Defra.

Funding organisation logos

The partnership involves The B37 project, Birmingham City Council, Castle Bromwich Hall & Gardens Trust, North Warwickshire Borough Council, The Prince’s Trust, Solihull Metropolitan Brough Council, The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country and Warwickshire Wildlife Trust. These partners will work to deliver the project whilst involving and engaging local people.

Partner logos

The river Cole and the Cole valley form a fantastic green corridor linking the centre of Birmingham to rural North Warwickshire. With the support of the Environment Agency (EA), a vision for the valleyhas been developed, and this funding will help to make it a reality.

The Green Recovery project will expand on the current Love Your River Cole(LYRiC) work, delivering improvements to various key locations in the Cole valley including Glebe Farm Recreation Ground, Meriden Park, Castle Bromwich Hall Park and Gardens, and Cole End Park. The valley is a brilliant haven for wildlife, as well as a highly valued green space for the diverse communities living alongside it.

The project will involve tree planting, wildflower meadow creation and wetland habitat enhancements, as well as access improvements to paths and trails through the key sites. We will also be focusing on creating and supporting local green jobs to boost the local economy. The project includes six traineeships aimed at giving people the experience and accredited training required to pursue a career in the environmental sector. The Prince’s Trust will also be working with young people from a range of backgrounds, to offer first-hand experience of the local environment and support in finding work or further training.

“To have secured this funding is a tremendous achievement and is real testament to how partners can work together to make a real difference on the ground. The Covid crisis has demonstrated how valuable local green spaces are and this funding will go a long way to improve these for people and wildlife”.

Ian Wykes, Tame Valley Wetlands Programme Manager

Project Deliverables +

The project will deliver the following works between January 2021 and March 2022:

  • Creation and restoration of 2km of footpaths, trails and boardwalks to improve public access at key sites.
  • 100m of in-channel improvements to the river Cole
  • 7km of bank restoration, including removal of invasive species and planting of wildflowers and trees, to improve riparian habitats, prevent sediment runoff and sequestrate carbon.
  • 2 hectares of woodland management to provide habitats and enhance species diversity.
  • 2 hectares of wetland creation to support a variety of invertebrates, amphibians and birds.
  • 3km of wildflower meadow creation and restoration using well-established conservation techniques
  • Creation of 6 traineeships and delivery of 144 training courses for 16-24 year olds to provide opportunities for development of conservation-related careers
  • 50 short course accredited training opportunities for delivery partners and community groups.
  • 20 biodiversity and environmental audits carried out through citizen science with 50 volunteers from local communities.
  • Weekly volunteer opportunities to help deliver practical conservation work
  • 12 engagement events explaining the benefits of nature to wellbeing
  • Weekly blogs and social media posts to update on our progress and relevant events

These deliverables will have a long-lasting positive impact on the river Cole and its communities.

The project will significantly enhance the environment and ecological health of the valley by re-naturalising the river Cole, helping to move it into a better condition, and connecting habitats so that important native species are once again able to thrive.

Local communities will be provided with the skills and experiences needed to continue taking care of the environment after the project ends, to sustain these outcomes into the future.

Project Sites +

The project will focus on four main locations throughout the Cole valley: Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens and Park (Solihull), Cole End Park (North Warwickshire), Glebe Farm Recreation Ground (Birmingham), and Meriden Park (Solihull).

Click on the project area map to zoom in.

Press Release +

Click on the link below to read Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s press release announcing the project.

Read the press release

Get involved +

We will be posting more information about applying for traineeships joining training courses or volunteering on the project soon. Keep up to date by following us on social media.

Keep an eye on our website and social media for regular project updates, events and opportunities.

No-dig beds

When Hams Hall Estate was owned by the Adderley family, its walled garden was used as a kitchen allotment, growing vegetables and flowers for the manor residents. The manor was auctioned off in 1905, and today the walled garden hosts Hams Hall Environmental Centre, the base for Tame Valley Wetlands.

Andrew, our Water and Habitats Specialist Officer, has been working in the walled garden to restore the original vegetable patches back to their productive state, as they would have been during the Adderley residence. He has been using a no-dig method to enrich the soils and create a plot with a natural absence of weeds. So far, produce including dill, purple kale and lettuce have grown with great success.

No-dig methods are efficient and effective ways of growing produce in a garden. As their name suggests, the soil is not dug, minimising disruption to the essential microorganisms, fungi and invertebrates living under the surface. This means the soil retains a higher level of moisture, and the beds are less prone to weed growth. There is also research showing how no-dig methods improve carbon storage in soil, by preventing release of excessive carbon. Charles Dowding, an expert on no-dig gardening, has some helpful tips and detailed explanations on how to create your own no-dig bed on his website.

Andrew is hoping to develop this patch into a community garden in the future – keep in touch with us on social media to find out more about these plans!

Volunteering with Tame Valley Wetlands

Clare is a volunteer for Tame Valley Wetlands, and here writes about some of the work she has been carrying out alongside the team.

I began volunteering with Tame Valley Wetlands a few months ago and I feel like I have learnt so much in such a short space of time. I wanted to volunteer to ‘give something back’ and feel like I was helping to conserve and restore some of the nature in my local area. However I was also hoping that it might help me make the transition between careers that I was looking for.

My scientific background has always been molecular. I have worked in a research laboratory environment, have a PhD in Genetics and spent many years working in education teaching mainly GCSE and A Level Biology. During the last couple of years I have found a renewed interest in nature and the environment. I began to understand the massive impact that we have had on this planet and decided that I would like to work in a scientific environment where it felt like I was helping to restore things.

During my first few volunteering sessions with Tame Force I helped to clear overgrown areas of footpaths in nature reserves and helped work on the ‘daubing’ to form the walls of a replica medieval Roundhouse that is to be used as an outdoor classroom.

I have loved working outside during these sessions and meeting other volunteers who all have their own reasons for volunteering. Every session I learn something. It might be the history of a site, how to use a certain tool or even about a particular species that we stumble across during the session. Everyone shares their knowledge and each person brings their own skills to the session.

After chatting to some of the team at Tame Valley Wetlands I became interested in one particular project that was beginning at Langley Brook in Middleton and I began to get involved with this, working with Tame Valley Water and Habitats Specialist Officer, Andrew Apanasionok. The Langley Brook site has been identified as a site with the potential to be improved as a local wildlife site.

I have been assisting Andrew in preliminary assessment surveys at the site which included a Topographic survey and a Macroinvertebrate survey.

During the Topographic survey I learnt how to take elevation measurements along transects and investigate ground composition using an auger and a small trial pit. The survey concentrated on an area of low lying ground opposite the brook to assess its suitability for re-wetting. Sampling up to a metre deep, the ground was found to contain organic matter overlaying glacial and fluvial deposits. The elevation measurements taken will give us an understanding of the topography of the land and enable us to calculate where to excavate and the extent of excavation to allow the land to re-wet without risk of flooding to the surrounding area.

We also carried out a Macroinvertebrate survey of the brook. We chose 5 representative sampling sites along a 300m reach of the brook and using a standardised kick sampling method we collected the macroinvertebrates found there. We then identified the organisms found and scored each sample using the British Monitoring Working Party scoring system. This scoring system can be used as a way of assessing water quality. Invertebrates can be used as ‘bioindicators’ as many species are sensitive to pollution and sudden changes in their environment. Our survey found that all the sampled sites were categorised as ‘Poor’ in terms of water quality, indicating that they are polluted or impacted in some way. This survey will be used as a baseline to look for improvements following interventions. We are also hoping to establish an ongoing water quality monitoring programme using citizen scientists to take regular measurements using handheld probes. This will help us to identify any trends or pollution events and make appropriate interventions.

Each time I have visited the Langley Brook site I feel like I have learnt something new. I am understanding how important it is to work with local communities to conserve areas and some of the challenges involved.

Volunteering on this project is providing me with some quality training and practical experience in the field that will inevitably help me with future employment. I am loving being able to build on my existing knowledge, being able to work outside and being involved in a project where you can see you are making a difference. I can’t wait to see how the Langley Brook site develops and be able to enjoy it as a local wildlife site.

Non Native Invasive Species (NNIS)

Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) may look quite attractive initially, but it is in fact a non-native invasive species (NNIS) causing a major weed problem.

Himalayan balsam - an invasive plant with pink bell shaped flowers
Credit: Amy Lewis. Copyright © Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, The Kiln, Waterside, Mather Road, Newark, Nottinghamshire NG24 1WT. Registered Charity Number 207238. 

Non-native invasive species cost millions of pounds each year to control. Their negative effect on our native wildlife and habitats is of deep concern to conservation groups.

Introduced to the UK in the 19th Century as an ornamental plant, the spread of Himalayan balsam to the wider environment has negatively affected rivers, floodplains, connected ditches and waterbodies.  The plant disperses its seeds very widely and very efficiently, with each plant producing up to 2500 seeds that are released and catapulted to distances of up to seven metres! The seeds are then widely spread through rivers and floodings, meaning the plants eventually colonise and take over entire river banks and connected wetlands.

Because Himalayan balsam grows extremely rapidly, it out-competes the native plant species growing nearby. This is problematic: if other plant species are not able to survive, the biodiversity of the environment decreases immensely. It is important for a natural ecosystem to have a high level of biodiversity with many different species so that it is stable and more resilient.

The plant grows especially quickly on riverbanks, and the River Blythe is no exception. Part of our work during Blythe Alive! involves using biological and mechanical control methods to clear the area of balsam so that other plant species are able to thrive and bring back the river’s biodiverse and healthy ecosystem environment.

Biological control of Himalayan Balsam

Working alongside CABI (Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International), Tame Valley Wetlands have been trialling a rust fungus as a method of biocontrol to target Himalayan balsam. Biocontrol refers to when a living organism is used to control a pest or weed, and has been successful in many other circumstances.

Making sure biocontrol methods are successful requires lots of trialling and testing, which is even more important in this situation because the rust fungus must to grow specifically on the particular plant species we are trying to get rid of. It is essential to make sure the fungus survives over the cold winter; if it did not, it would not make a useful long-term biocontrol method.

Mechanical control of Himalayan Balsam

We have been using mechanical control methods alongside our biocontrol efforts to tackle the Himalayan balsam affecting the River Blythe.

Mechanical control is an alternative to biocontrol. Such methods involve physically removing the invasive balsam plants from the area. Whilst mechanical control is considered a more immediate way to remove an invasive species, it requires a lot of ongoing manual labour from workers and volunteer groups which can take a lot of time. On the other hand, mechanical control is a reliable method of removing an invasive species.

‘On a Tree by a River’ – Welcome

Welcome to the first blog of the ‘On a tree by a River’, a project to help bring back from the brink one of the most threatened native birds in the UK, the willow tit. 

There has been a loss of 90% of willow tit since the 1970s, due to habitat loss and intensive farming practices.  We are working within one of the largest areas of interconnected wetland of the Tame Valley, totaling over 1000ha. This area still holds a nationally important population of willow tit with strong holds at Ladywalk Nature Reserve and Middleton Lakes.

The aim of this project is to increase the population and local range of the willow tit within the area working from Middleton Lakes down to Ladywalk Nature Reserve. The map shows the areas we’ll be carrying out these enhancements, by creating suitable habitats within wet woodland areas.  These areas of wet woodland contain scrub and trees such as birch, willow and alder, which are preferred by the willow tit. The project will focus on improving nesting opportunities by using dead wood (more to come on this), food resources and removal of invasive species that are present on a majority of these sites.

Click on the map to enlarge the image.

To kick off the project we’ve made good inroads into identifying potential habitat enhancements that could be made within these areas. It’s been great exploring these sites, to see what is there and how the existing population of willow tits are using these sites, whilst thinking like a willow tit about what their preferences are and how we can replicate this throughout all the sites. There’s a great success story with Ladywalk Nature Reserve: originally only one pair existed at the site, and there are now potentially three pairs present.

The photos below show the type of nesting sites that the willow tits prefer, with birch being the main tree they would use for nesting. Typically the birds would nest at about 1 metre to 1.5 metres above ground, but these pictures show they could go higher. Click on the images to enlarge.

This photo shows a seed bank, an area planted with particular plant species which produce seeds favoured by willow tit. Seed banks are a great way of contributing to the seeds that willow tit could feed on. Hopefully we will also be introducing patches within areas that would help the birds, especially over the wintering period when food probably isn’t as abundant as in summer. Keep an eye on the blog for more information on this in the future!

We had an eventful afternoon whilst visiting Ladywalk Nature Reserve.  After spotting an amazing otter on the bank of the River Tame these amazing dragonflies, called common darters, were out in full force in the sunshine taking advantage of the bugs around and not being camera shy at all!

Fantastic Fungi

Autumn is the peak time for fungi to appear in woodlands, meadows, riverbanks, roadside verges and gardens.

Coming in all shapes and sizes, they are hugely diverse and play a major role in the ecosystem by recycling waste and organic materials to help trees and plants grow. The part of the mushroom growing above the ground, the fruiting body, produces spores to reproduce. Under the ground, the mycelium is a mass of branching thread-like structures (hyphae), which absorbs nutrients from the ground and, in some cases, connects the fungus to trees and plants.

Some are edible, some are poisonous – and it’s best to leave them alone unless you’re with an expert!

Here are just some of the fungi that have been spotted around the Tame Valley Wetlands. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Nature Spots 6.0

The last couple of weeks at Tame Valley Wetlands have been busy with Tame Force, plans for future projects and work delivering current projects. We’ve also got a few great nature spots to show!

This small white butterfly, Pieris rapae, has recently emerged from its cocoon. The pupa, which you can see in the background, has a pointed shape and attaches onto a surface with a thin silk strand. Once emerged, fluid is pumped through the wings, helping them to unfold. The butterfly rests whilst its wings dry, then is able to fly off and begin foraging.

A walk through Church Pool Covert and Lea Marston churchyard was rewarded with some fascinating fungi findings in the form of these large parasol mushrooms, Macrolepiota procera, and some bracket fungi growing on fallen dead wood.

These and other fungi play important roles in the ecosystem, especially in the nitrogen cycle, by acting as saprophytic decomposers. They break down plant materials and other waste from the forest floor, then release nitrogen back into the soil in the form of ammonium nitrate, for it to eventually be used by plants.

Click on the images below to enlarge.

Whilst carrying out habitat management and scrub clearance with Tame Force, we noticed two den holes in the ground underneath a bed of nettles, but it was unclear whether or not they were being used. Speculations were confirmed when trail camera footage from the next evening, recorded by Ian Wykes, our Development Manager, captured this fox exploring the walled garden!

The apple trees at Hams Hall Environmental Centre are now abundant with fruit. These crab apples are tiny and sharp tasting! They make excellent food for birds and other wildlife around the garden.