Summer Leys in Winter

We’re very lucky to have a lot of wetland nature reserves close to us in Northamptonshire; they’re great locations which for winter wildlife. After visiting our nearest sites of Pitsford Water and Ravensthorpe Reservoir over the last couple of weeks, we went a little further afield to Summer Leys today. The national nature reserve, run by Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust is a large, flooded former gravel pit about 25 minutes from us. It is located alongside the River Nene, south of Wellingborough and is one of a large network of lakes by the river as it passes through the county.

Parking in the Wildlife Trust’s car park, there is a good circular walk around the whole site and it took us around two hours today. We weren’t racing around, instead, we took our time to stop at most of the viewpoints over the water and we had lunch on a bench at the far end. We also stopped in the various hides, which were all on the second half of the walk (taking a clockwise way around).

It was a quite a dark and gloomy day and it didn’t take long to get quite cold when we stopped but not too cold to shorten our stay. The large open lake, with little bays here and there, is the winter home to a large selection of waterbirds. There were good numbers of duck, with mallard, gadwall, wigeon, teal, tufted duck, goldeneye and pochard all present in varying numbers, as well as small flocks of greylag and Canada geese and some mute swans. We had views of limited numbers little and great egrets, and a grey heron or two, plus quite a few cormorants on the low islands in the centre of the lake.

The most spectacular view on our walk was of a large flock of lapwings and smaller flock of golden plovers which settled on one of the small central islands. There were more lapwings at the reserve than I can remember seeing anywhere for a long time; they seemed to be everywhere. Every so often they would lift as they were spooked by something, with the flock on the central island being particularly large. We didn’t get a good view of what was causing them to lift, but they frequently rose in alarm, circling above together or splitting and taking dramatic evasive action. The lapwings were always the first to return to ground while the golden plover stayed in the air, often much higher, waiting for things to calm down again.

The bird feeding station was also very good with loads of tits, finches and reed buntings coming in and out to take the food put out for them. Someone told us they had seen a brambling but we had no luck. However, the good close views of bullfinches made up for it, with more in one place than I have seen for quite some time. Just around the corner, after hearing them several times on the walk, we saw a green woodpecker feeding on the ground in the open grass between the path and the lake.

In all we saw nearly 50 species during our easy walk around the reserve, almost as many as we saw in the much longer walk around Pitsford, which has a lot more variation in its habitats. It won’t be long until many of these species move on as the winter visitors move back north, and then replaced as summer visitors move in. However, there should be time yet to visit more of the wetland sites nearby and slightly further away before the winter is over.

CNCV: Wybunbury Moss

Our first fire of the autumn!!! Today I was out with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers again and in one of our usual haunts – Wybunbury Moss. We were working for Natural England cutting tree saplings and burning the brash.

Despite not having a fire since early spring, I managed to get today’s going first time and soon it was blazing away fed with brash, thick and thin, for over four hours. As usual, there were plenty of signs of wildlife around with a strangely coloured frog the highlight of the day plus bands of winter thrushes passing through.

We rounded the day off with some chestnuts roasted on the fire – perfect!!!

A hidden gem…

I spent most of Sunday with the local group I volunteer with, Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers (CNCV). I almost didn’t go; after a long day Osprey sitting on Saturday and getting up early to do a bird survey, part of me just wanted to go home and relax. What a mistake that would have been!


Wybunbury Moss is a fairly regular haunt for CNCV and it’s always a good task each time we go there. However, this day was special. While I’ve been at plenty of tasks in the woodland and meadows around the outside of the Moss, I’ve never worked on the Moss itself and what a place it is!

The Moss is a schwingmoor or quaking bog – essentially, a glacial depression that has filled with water and then, over time, has been covered in a layer of moss, which in turn has become peat.  This has resulted in what appears to be a solid surface but in fact is just a three metre skin floating on a 13 metre deep lake.  The ‘solid’ surface does indeed quake and visibly wobbles if you jump on it.  It’s not a very safe place to be and is not open to the public but plenty of people in the group have experience of the Moss and know where to go, and more importantly, where not to.


I arrived late after doing the bird survey and struggled to find the group but I eventually came across them lying in the Sun drinking tea and scoffing biscuits (not an unusual sight). When we decided to get back on with the task (they had already done some work to be fair), we spent the rest of the day pulling pine saplings from the surface of the Moss. Carried on the wind, pine seeds scatter easily and far from their parent trees, growing well where they land. If not controlled every so often, the woodland would start to encroach further and further onto the Moss.



We spent a few hours in total, under bright blue skies, with a strengthening Sun and fluffy white clouds, pulling the saplings and eventually we cleared them all. We did a final walk around the site just to make sure and then headed home. I parked some distance away, so wandered around the rest of the reserve on the way back.

We recorded a great deal of wildlife while we went about our task, including 31 species of bird, 5 species of butterfly and common lizard. There were also signs of fox, badger and rabbit. However, the most special sighting was of the first swallows of Summer flying past.

The reserve is a truly lovely place to spend a day and standing in the centre I could easily imagine that I was in the middle of the Scandinavian wilderness, particularly when the ravens went ‘cronking’ past. I feel privileged that I could visit a place that not many people can. To be honest, it really was a joyful day – and I was absolutely buzzing (in fact I couldn’t shut up about it!).

So few people seem to know that this place is there – probably a good thing too, as a few visitors would start disappearing if they ventured out onto the Moss. It really is a hidden gem, somewhere special and somewhere worth working for and protecting – and just on my doorstep too!