Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Turf and surf

Fen Orchids

Sutton Fen has been claimed to be one of the most biodiverse and untrodden parts of England. On a sunny June day it seems a fair claim as Swallowtails and Norfolk Hawkers zipped around and exposed limbs attracted a wider range of clegs and mozzies than normal. We were visiting Sutton to review the management for Fen Orchids. A good number were in flower as we wandered around pontificating on the finer points of orchid ecology and realising how little we actually knew. The population is doing well, with an estimated 700 spikes. It seems the orchid may have different strategies for different conditions. In dry years the seed pods may split and disperse the seeds as normal, but in wet years the seeds may be retained, and germinate in the pod the following year, or may be released to be dispersed by water. The role of animals or people in disturbing the ground and moving seeds is unclear. Although few people visit in recent years, this site would have been heavily managed for fen products in the past. This decline in 'disturbance' is likely to have led to the orchids decline. One method of restoring this ‘disturbance’ is to cut shallow ‘turf ponds’ where the fen vegetation is set back to the early succession state favoured by the orchids.

The following day we were down on the Suffolk coast at Dingle Marshes. Standing on the shingle ridge it soon becomes clear this is, as opposed to Sutton, one of the most trodden parts of England. The coastal pools looked good however; 2 Spoonbills, 8 Med Gulls, 7 Dusky Redshanks, numerous Avocets and an early returning Golden Plover were the star birds. However, the few nesting Little Terns are struggling despite the habitat looking good. Although fences have been put up around the colony, there is a conflict; in general people do not like fences on their beaches, and this is a major problem for Little Terns. Numbers are declining all around the coast as they a struggle with a lack of habitat, increased attention of predators, and wave after wave of holiday makers.

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