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DWT manages the Avenue Washlands Nature Reserve, which is owned by the Land Trust (LT).

The reserve contains a variety of habitats - reedbeds, ponds, marsh, wet heathland and other wetland habitats, together with paths, trails and viewing facilities for visitors. The habitats support a wide range of wetland wildlife: look for great crested newt and water voles as well as wildfowl, dragonflies and butterflies. Viewing screens allow you to see the wildlife without disturbing it, and you can enjoy a pleasant walk or cycle on the paths and trails. A dipping platform alongside a dragonfly pond is used by young people of all ages to give them a closer look at some of the creatures below the surface.

Most of the reserve consists of wetland habitats, but there are also areas of grassland which are being managed by a controlled grazing programme using DWT’s flock of sheep and two Highland steers. Mixed grazing like this helps to create a varied grassland suitable for ground nesting birds and a wide range of insects and other invertebrates. The use of cattle in particular will keep the marsh and swampy edges open and attractive to feeding duck and wading birds.

Management of the reserve is carried out by DWT’s staff and volunteers. Some of the regular and annual tasks include:
• stopping the spread of hawthorn and willow into the grassland and wetlands
• mowing the grass around the open water to keep it in the best condition for grazing ducks and geese
• regular litter picks
• strimming paths
• livestock management
• general site maintenance such as building steps and nest boxes.

A local volunteer team meets on the last Sunday of every month to carry out some of these tasks. No previous experience is necessary - if you would like to join in please contact Sam Willis swillis@derbyshirewt.co.uk 01773 881188.

Volunteers also carry out regular patrols and wildlife monitoring. You can enter your wildlife sightings onto Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s website: http://www.derbyshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/sightings/sightings.php

Wildlife at the Avenue

Yellowhammer
This seed-eating bird of hedgerows, field margins and farmland has suffered a drastic decline in numbers across the UK. Fortunately the bird seems ever present on the reserve. The male has a bright yellow head and issues a rattling / wheezy song often described as sounding like ‘a little bit of bread and no cheeeeese’ ( a bit of imagination helps here!)

Yellowhammer numbers have been declining on farmland since the mid 1980s. It is thought that this is largely due to a drop in winter seed availability as farming practices change. At The Avenue Washlands a winter seed feeding programme should help to sustain the populations of this bird and the closely related reed bunting.

Great crested newt
Britain’s largest newt species, the great crested newt can grow up to 16 cm long. It is one of three species found in the UK, and is also known as the warty newt. Both sexes have a dark brown warty body and yellowish-orange belly with black blotches. In the breeding season the male is recognisable by the jagged crest and silvery-blue stripe down the centre of its tail.

Great crested newts spend much of the year on land but towards the end of winter they return to the water to breed, laying their eggs on leaves under the water. They prefer predator-free ponds surrounded by wildlife-rich grassland, and feed on a range of invertebrates including earthworms, insects, spiders and slugs.

Great crested newt numbers have suffered a decline in numbers throughout Europe and are now protected under both UK and European legislation. It is illegal to catch, possess or handle great crested newts without a licence and it is also illegal to cause them harm or death, or to disturb their habitat in any way. Although because of their nocturnal habits great crested newts will rarely be seen by visitors, The Avenue holds nationally important numbers of the animal and is probably the most important site for great crested newts in the area.

Kingfisher
The brilliant blue and orange markings of this lovely small bird are unmistakable, and while we can enjoy the thrill of spotting it as it flies swiftly away or swoops to catch a fish from the water, for the Victorians, its beauty proved irresistible. Kingfisher feathers were a favourite in milliners’ elaborate creations, and the birds were also a favourite subject for taxidermists.

Look out for kingfishers over any of the water bodies on the reserve. They are seen regularly on Redleadmill Brook, the Rother and the reedbed where they feed on aquatic insects and fish which they hunt from their riverside perches. These lovely small birds are very sensitive to cold weather and their numbers can plummet during a harsh winter.

Water vole
These small mammals have suffered huge declines across the UK, but The Avenue Washlands is one of a few strongholds for the species in Derbyshire, and they are widespread on the site.

Water vole numbers have suffered due to loss of their wetland habitat, but they do respond well to habitat improvements and can quickly colonise newly created habitats such as the reedbed that was created here. Other factors that have had an impact on water vole numbers generally are predation by American mink, which are efficient hunters, as well as flooding and disturbance.

Water voles can be identified by their rounded face with blunt nose, small ears hidden in the fur, rich chestnut brown colour and tail covered with fine hairs. They feed on the stems and leaves of waterside grasses and plants, often leaving the remains of their meal behind. They are active during the daytime and you may be lucky enough to spot one – however, when disturbed, they disappear into the water, making a distinctive ‘plop’ sound as they do so.

Water voles and their burrows are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Grass snake
The largest British snake, the non-venomous grass snake can grow to around one metre in length. It is usually olive green in colour with short black vertical blotches along the sides. The best way to identify a grass snake is by the yellow and black collar behind its head and you are most likely to see one in damp grassland, marshes or wetlands.

Good swimmers, grass snakes usually swim with their heads out of the water but can hide under water among weeds for up to an hour if disturbed. Their diet is made up almost exclusively of amphibians, although some may take small fish.

Grass snakes are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 from being killed, injured or sold. They are also now listed as a priority species in the revised UK Biodiversity Action Plan which was approved by the Government in August 2007. This lists species and habitats across the UK that are in need of protection to prevent their decline. Look out for grass snakes in any dense waterside vegetation and for them swimming in the slower sections of the River Rother.

Education

The work of DWT’s People & Wildlife team has developed and grown at The Avenue over the last four years reflecting the development of the site and the interest from the local community.

Our education and community involvement work is done to compliment the restoration of the site and encourage people to understand and value the changes that are taking place for the benefit to them, their local environment and wildlife.

Participation plays a key role in helping to get across these changes and how they can provide educational and recreational opportunities for local people and visitors from further afield.

Below are some examples of what we have been doing.

Over the last year, the Trust has been working with children from local primary and secondary schools. Activities at the Learning Centre and on the nature reserve have included:
• building a hibernaculum in the form of a Medusa head in the grounds of the Learning Centre. This is a sculpture containing hibernation chambers for animals like amphibians, reptiles and small mammals.
• making willow rings to decorate the Learning Centre. Learning about ancient crafts (willow weaving).
• making willow and tissue paper butterflies. This was done in conjunction with work on the reserve looking at and identifying the butterflies found there.
• path building – giving the youngsters a sense of ownership of the reserve by building sections and maintaining parts of it.
• scrub clearing with the older children.
• education activities, eg migration orienteering, pond dipping, river project, meadow work and art projects.

In addition, school holidays provide an ideal opportunity for families to visit The Avenue and get involved in the activities on the site, from mini-beast hunts to making bat boxes.

Activities are for children accompanied by an adult and they are all free. Numbers are limited so booking is required – to find out more and to book contact the Trust on 01773 881188.

Photo captions: top left - local children river dipping, top right water vole © Mick Hoult, bottom - pupils from Hasland Comprehensive School with their head-shaped ecological habitat

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