This has been a productive, interesting, and exciting year at Buckland lake reserve, the crowning endorsement for all our efforts being the GOLD AWARD for Best Wildlife Garden from Kent Wildlife Trust. We thank both them and our volunteers for all the hard work that has made this possible. This is a superb achievement and what better end to 2009 could we have hoped for. Thanks to friendly farmers to the South and West of the reserve we now have the land needed to form new footpaths, and although these still need to be surfaced, the pathway is at last continuous around the lake and makes for a very pleasant mile and a half stroll. Fencing and hedge planting to these sides has been hard work at well over half a mile but is now working to keep in the moorhens that used to devastate the farmers crops and keep out millions of rabbits. This win, win situation also means that the shooters have gone elsewhere. Refurbishment works have just finished to our forty seat classroom, turning it into a smart, modern, and highly insulated building with wonderful views across the fishery lakes. This will become the centre of our educational programs next year and is a really exciting stage to have reached. After a huge effort at the start of the year to get the thousands of hedging plants, many trees and shrubs planted, a combination of drought and rabbits with advanced gastronomic tastes lost us at least a third. Many happy hours were spent spraying with a water bowser before we had to give up the battle and let nature take its course. The wildlife has been very exciting with two pairs of kingfishers nesting in the sandy south banks. We hope they will breed here again in the coming year. Some artificial nesting holes will be drilled in the northern chalk cliff near water level, to provide more nesting opportunities, because the lake used to support seven breeding pairs when more of the sandy south bank was above water. A Kestrel nested in the poplar trees, as did a turtle dove and four out of our first six nest boxes were used. The wagtail that used the Land rover suspension spring to nest in was a surprise and only goes to prove how carefully Mark drives! In addition to the mixed range of ducks and gulls that found their way to us, were many broods of chicks, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, Pochard and Tufted duck, all looking like tiny pompoms as they bobbed about on the water. The floating nesting rolls were very well used indeed with at least six broods out of four rolls (not bad) being hatched over the spring. A wide range of birds were sheltering and feeding around the outskirts of the lake also, including big flocks of Siskins and Greenfinches. Butterflies were good this year, especially on the north cliff pathway. This has matured to provide a superb all-weather shelter and food source. Painted lady butterflies particularly enjoyed the shelter and the buddleia, as did rare Clouded Yellow and Small Copper butterflies amongst the many others and swarms of Ladybirds. Woolly Bear caterpillars are still running about even now at the start of December and a Peacock butterfly was seen just a few weeks ago! Our first Bat and Glow-worm walk was well attended despite torrential rain and lightning (we like to keep things interesting) that made all the Glow-worms go to ground. In the clear sky that followed we found lots of bats, reinforcing our understanding of the importance of the reserve as a sheltered feeding area for bats when the weather gets wild on the marshes. Pipstrelles were most abundant with Noctules, Seratins and Daubentons close behind. Next year we hope to carry out a more detailed survey with better equipment. We need to find some keen experts on bugs, butterflies, birds, wildfowl, glow-worms etc for carrying out more in-depth surveys over the coming years.
The banks of the fishery have been ‘greening up’ at last and it is looking much more scenic, despite the Coots at the start of the year pulling the grass out as soon as it decided to grow. Willows and reeds are now growing strongly on the outer bunds and on the edge of the lakes. The trout lake is now looking well established.
The record Carp (caught by a very happy young angler) was 28lbs, and the biggest Rainbow Trout of the year weighed in at six and a half pounds. Our new fishery manager joins the team in January and is buzzing with plans for next year including a membership scheme, competitions, tuition, and new designs for the fishery. So why not come down to meet him and make any points or suggestions that you would like to see for next year? PADI Five Star Dive Centre certification has also been a marvellous end to the year for our Buckland Lake Dive Centre. This is the very top diving award and reflects the true professionalism and environmentally caring attitude of Steve and Linda. Not exactly sure how they fitted getting married into the year as well but they did. Congratulations. Divers underwater toys increased over the year including a 19-foot great white shark. We have learned many things this year about the underwater life of the lake and future diving projects include conservation works to the banks and maintenance of floating islands. Steve has made an incredible film ‘set to soothing music’ of the underwater delights of the dive centre, a must see for any curious diver. Next year is going to be busy! Planned works include the creation of a wildlife café garden with a big input from schools and the formation of many different environmental courses. Our particular educational angle is to encourage young people to engage with and learn to appreciate the environment in every way possible. Fishing, diving, camping, environmental work, conservation and wildlife courses are what we hope to achieve along with inspirational and creative thinking. Our trials last year, when many of these subjects were combined, proved the approach to be a big success.
Work has now begun on classroom 2, a small canteen and the toilet blocks. It’s all a bit of a headache design and cost wise and the quote for just one simple electric connection at around £40,000.00 was a big shock! We will therefore be going completely off-grid with renewable energy but this all needs careful design and our designs keep changing!
Three new bird hides are planned and an area along the southern side has now been cleared of scrub and graded to provide a new grazing area for ducks and geese. This will have a double aspect bird hide put next to it to get the best close up views of this area and the wildlife café to the rear. Response to the bird box appeal has been wonderful and we are now very busy positioning them ready for the birds to use as shelter during the winter and for breeding in spring.
The old haul road at the base of the north cliff is having a small track cleared through and when finished, it will be securely fenced at either end from predators and will have lots of duck nesting facilities provided. This will massively increase this type of habitat. Watch this space for ducklings next year!
We are keen to get as many volunteers involved with Buckland as possible, there is a huge range of activities to do, including gardening and path clearing, general maintenance tasks, conducting or assisting with surveys, publicity, or lending a hand at our event days throughout the year. It is a great way to get involved in a really worthwhile hands-on project. Make new like-minded friends, discover more about the wildlife of the Kent marshes and help where it counts – people and the environment. We still need to find a cheap source of grain and nuts to feed hungry birds over the winter months. It could make an enormous difference to their condition and survival throughout the coldest periods. Our thanks go to our volunteer team and to everyone too numerous to name here but no less important for that, who have provided the reserve with indispensable help, advice and assistance throughout the year, including those who have donated plants and equipment. Paul Larkin for his bird surveys, Mr Knight and family plus Kim Woodwaud and the students at Havering College for the wonderful bird boxes. Trevor Hatton for his help with the bats, Ben Plewes for keeping our website looking so good, Valerie and Paul who look after Grebe Cottage. Steve and Linda for making diving at Buckland so welcoming and enjoyable, Ricky the fish, Mark Stone for his work and vigilance as warden, and ‘fix-it-all’ Adam because the reserve wouldn’t be where it is without him.